The devil has one tactic which he seems to put to regular use; at least, it seems to be in current vogue. The devil regularly uses a truth as a foil or as a kind of backdrop against which he perpetrates a monstrous lie. At present integrity is his “thing.” Recently, he has been making integrity his cardinal virtue. One would scarcely expect this from the father of lies but, nevertheless, that seems to be the case. Let me elaborate.

Not so long ago on NBC television a newsman interviewed the Dean of Students at Antioch College. The reporter asked about the very permissive attitude which this “far out” college takes towards cohabitation of the sexes in the dormitories. The Dean replied that their pregnancy rate was no higher than it is at less permissive schools. Besides, in the stricter schools the students have to sneak off to motels on weekends to carry on their under-cover activities.

So integrity is Antioch’s new twist to an old ploy. Two wrongs don’t make a right but if you eliminate one of the wrongs by honestly engaging in the other wrong, the remaining one ought to receive some sanctification from your honesty. In other words, in the current moral register, honest fornication is hardly wrong if compared with clandestine fornication. The act isn’t all that bad if you avoid those nagging guilt feelings.

Not too far from the integrity line of defense were those who some time ago came to the defense of a lewd play which was presented in Ann Arbor, Michigan for the benefit of the university students. According to our hinterland news media, a nude couple engaged in erotic maneuvers during the course of the play. The police closed the play as unfit for student viewing. Thereupon, the president of the university, Robben Wright Fleming, Ian Fleming fashion, came to the defense of the play by suggesting that there is nothing obscene about the nude human body. Nudity these days is a symbol of integrity because presumably one is not trying to hide anything by the dishonest use of clothing.

If it is possible for the human nude to be nothing but a nude form then perhaps Robben Wright is right. But taking into account the fact that the nudes were erotically active, Robben Wright was certainly wrong. Presumably, the devil would argue the same case somewhat as follows: People certainly do act that way when they become sexually involved with one another. Integrity demands that we tell it or show it like it is. Wright and integrity are on my side.

Of course, naked bodies are not in themselves obscene. They may even be entirely pathetic. But as long as they are alive they are animated by one kind of spirit or another. They can portray various moods and meanings through posturing and gesticulation. The professional mime is well aware of the significance of the slightest physical gesture. To use the innocence of nudity per se as an excuse for nudity on the stage must certainly betray gross naivete or gross dishonesty.

Furthermore, if, using the jargon of the stage, one wants to contend that everything can be brought out on the boards (the stage) which is permissible in the boudoir, then he neither understands moral responsibility in art nor the limitations of the stage as an art form. If I need a replay of all the byplay connected with sexual activity in order to understand its impelling force; or if I need the same kind of portrayal in order to understand how two people are tied to one another in a liaison or legitimate heterosexual relationship, then perhaps I missed some basic biology somewhere along the line.

Recently, Princess Grace of Monaco was asked about her opinion of the current trend in movie making. She replied that she was bored with the undressing that was constantly coming off. Nudity is offered as the fare which will tempt TV watchers out of their homes and away from the, till now, more conservative tube. On the stage the dress rehearsal has become the undress rehearsal. One observation is to the point here. We should mark this. Once the prurient appetite has been whetted the ways of ordinary heterosexuality will no longer do. Titillation will be sought in all manner of perversions, shades of decadent Rome. Indeed, the body was created good, but who can deny that man has sought out many inventions.

The integrity argument is also immediately advanced whenever someone wants an excuse to use obscenities in print. Recently, Cheryl Arvidson, editor of the Daily Iowan, student newspaper of the State University of Iowa, argued, “Crime and sex and violence and even dirty words are part of the world in which we live. With an respect to good taste, we have occasionally risked upsetting some of our readers in order to ‘tell it like it is.’”

Honestly now, what does integrity demand? Does it demand that we repeat every foul word that the profane and vulgar may choose to use in a given situation? To report one of the current student protests, do we have to repeat the deliberate obscenities which are part of the protestor’s arsenal. The good taste which Miss Arvidson wishes to “honor more in the breach than in the observance” could easily get by with the report that obscenities were used without a verbatim repetition.

There are times in the course of human events when words that carry emotional shock need to be used in order to stir men to action. But what kind of situation would come to mind in which obscenities would have a constructive use? Speaking the language of the people means speaking with directness and without confusing the issues. Clarity can hardly be served by the use of obscenities as punctuation marks.

In much of what goes on in those areas where integrity is the watchword, the old Kuyperian argument for sphere sovereignty has been given a satanic twist. Wherever and whenever it serves his purposes, the modern secular devotee of the arts assumes that expression is its own excuse for being. Its various forms are not subject to moral law. The humanist assumes that everything human is his rightful province even when that human expression is the expression of the human as sinful. This does not mean that the Christian submerges his head to avoid the sight of sin. Of course not. But neither does he hire someone to recreate it for his enjoyment.

Sometimes well-intentioned Christians assume a great deal of latitude in the selection of their recreational activity. They assume that the fact of their faith places them above the law. They develop a kind of aesthetic antinomianism. Because they are in the faith they presume to be immune to the blandishments of those wiles and ways which are not of faith. College students, at times, argue, “If we’re all Christians, why do we still need so many rules?” They forget that full salvation and full sanctification are not coterminous in the chronology of the Christian life.

Again, some Christians assume that the ordinary cautions which signal the dangers of stumbling and offense are not directed towards them. Those cautions are for the weaker brother, a characterization which does not include them. Moreover, they have special perceptions and appreciations for the aesthetic. A gap exists between themselves and their non-sensitized brothers. But they often return from their arty adventures giving more attention “to the technique of the art than moral standards, what is or should be out of bounds.” (Cf. Paul De Koekock, “Gap Stretching” The Banner, March 28, 1969. p. 11.)

Finally, I would allude to the fact that there are some in the Christian community who feel that they may and must make honest use of all art forms whatsoever. As a result, they make ·a rather large place for the use of nudes in their gallery of visual representation and symbolism. This again is not without its hazard. I think it was John Donald Robb, Dean Emeritus of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico who tells of his disgust when he first viewed some of the nudes of Rouault. Then, just as he was leaving the gallery he decided to join a guided tour. When he learned of the intentions of Rouault as to portrayal of the nudes, then only did he appreciate their use. He then realized that the painter was not presenting mere sensuality but wanted to protest the exploitation of sensuality.

The experience of Dean Robb points up the fact that the indiscriminate hanging of nudes serves neither the purposes of art nor those of Christian morality. Different artists have different reasons for their use of nudes. Those reasons are not always immediately obvious to the viewer without some information from the biography of the artist.

In art, much of what is seen and experienced depends on the subjective conditioning of the observer. It is important then for everyone to know what he is doing and where he stands. Each of us ought to ask ourselves, “Honestly now, what can I absorb with benefit and with integrity?” Blessed is he that is not condemned in that which he alloweth.


Prof. Nick Van Til is professor of philosophy at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.