The Naked Vicar

In a fit of nostalgia, for lack of a better excuse, I recently re-watched A Room With a View. I suspect I saw it with my wife near the time it first came out since I had trouble recalling having viewed any of it before. Until the skinny-dipping scene. Even then, it was unfamiliar until Mr. Beebe, the vicar, jumped into the pond. Now perhaps in the Victorian era same-sex cavorting was permitted for the young, far from repressed eyes, but it was the implications of seeing a priest in the nude that was particularly jarring. As Lucy Honeychurch comes primly along with her fiancé, she is scandalized to see the boy she truly loves unclothed, but the minister in similar state is a laughing matter, a novelty. In the light of the many church scandals that have become public knowledge since 1985, this particular scene has perhaps accrued additional, unintended freight.

Embodiment is a popular topic for theologies these days. I’m no theologian, but as a member of the human race I do participate in the embodiment question. Everyone from biologists to psychologists seems to be rethinking the implications of the soft machine. Some theorists are already preparing to leave behind their bodies to have their consciousness electronically preserved. Their new bodies may be robotic or simply virtual, but I suspect they will find the experience deeply disappointing. We are closer to the cockroach and the goldfish than we are to the disembodied divine. Our bodies are who we are, and embodiment analysis is the attempt to make sense of it all. At the same time, some neuroscientists are speculating that human brains work perhaps in closer concert than we generally suppose. We human beings are more like cells in a great organism that encompasses all of us. The Portuguese Man O’ War, which resembles a human brain in some respects, is a communal organism and not a single creature. The implications are worth considering.

Our rules for getting along with biological bodies include some pretty straightforward permissible behaviors. We don’t penetrate the body of another person without their express approval. They have to be competent enough to give valid approval. We don’t end the existence of another human being’s life unless they’ve been convicted of being exceptionally naughty and they live in the United States (the only “first world” country where the death penalty is still routinely carried out) or unless we are mentally unstable or emotionally overwrought and have easy access to firearms. Bodies are limited, and so are brains. Although, since I’ve upgraded my operating system I notice that my laptop has now claimed my name as its own identity—(if anything looks weird, please let me know!) In the Victorian era it was assumed that the brains of the clergy were attuned to higher things. The naked vicar accepts the good-natured laugh at his expense because he is no threat to either young ladies or young men. In the technological era we are more savvy and less carefree. And given the choice, the religious would prefer a room without a view, thank you.

6 thoughts on “The Naked Vicar

    • Steve Wiggins

      Thanks for stopping by, Amanda. This post requires reading a bit deeper than what’s on the surface. The movie raises some of these issues in its own way, and I’m simply adding to the conversation.


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