LOST WORK: THE COLLECT’D WRITINGS OF ST. HERETICUS – NATURISM

The following satire was written by Robert McAfee Brown.  It appeared in the book The Collect’d Writings of St. Hereticus (1964) and is reprinted here for posterity.

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The World’s Important Religions (A Series) : Naturism

In contrast to Americanity, which persists in season and out of season, Naturism is a seasonal cult whose popularity waxes and wanes with the temperature and the time of year. It is not, for example, the most popular religious faith in the middle of a March blizzard, nor does it usually gather its full quota of adherents when the temperature is hovering around 107 degrees in the shade.

But in the summertime, in places where there are cool breezes, mountain vistas, forest glades, sylvan lakes (how easily the phrases from the devotional literature of the faith come to mind!), the adherents of Naturism begin to go on a spiritual spree once more, and a delightful kind of heresy once again reasserts itself. To be sure, with the coming of winter, the popularity of the cult dies down. But a couple of months of heresy each summer are quite enough to inoculate the believer against the real thing for the intervening ten months.

The gods of Naturism usually receive fullest homage at the interfaith gatherings known as Summer Conferences. At such places there is usually a Cathedral of the Pines, in which worshipers are directed to meditate upon the beauty and straightness of the trees rather than upon the Creator of the trees. At such places there is always an Inspiration Point. It may look out upon a lake shore, it may look out upon a mountain — but whatever it looks out on, it will be just loaded with Inspiration. To be sure, the content of the Inspiration is very hard to define, but all Inspiration Points have at least this much in common religiously: they are soothing rather than demanding. Indeed, I am thinking of offering an annual St. Hereticus Medal to the first summer conference each year to report that it has no Inspiration Point, with second place going to the one honest enough to admit that its Inspiration Point is heavily infested with mosquitoes or black flies.

Do not overlook the reference to the “gods of Naturism” at the beginning of the last paragraph. For if one asks about the deity worshiped by the Naturists, the reply always has to be given in the plural, for this is polytheism with a vengeance. The devotees of Naturism, however, practice a high degree of selectivity in the choice of gods who may inhabit their pantheon. They acknowledge the god of the sunset (peaceful and calming), the god of the starry night (“inspirational”), the god of the sky-blue lake waters (comforting), and the god of the storm-seen-at-a-distance (majestic and awe-inspiring). But they over­look or deliberately fail to worship the god of the forest fire (wantonly destructive), the god of the jungle animals (wantonly destructive), the god of the poisonous mush­room (wantonly destructive), and the god of the lightning bolt that killed a three-year-old child (wantonly de­structive) .

There are numerous cultic sayings and ritualistic prac­tices by means of which the believers in Naturism can be distinguished. There is, for example, the familiar phrase, “Finding God through nature,” with its interesting im­plication that God has gotten lost. There is the phrase, “Through Nature to Nature’s God,” a highly original inversion of the attitude found in the Bible. And there is the rubric, ” Kneel when you light a fire,” with its implication that you are thereby engaging in an act of rever­ence. Perhaps so. But in the rather more sordid circles in which I am sometimes forced to travel, I have discov­ered that the act of kneeling is likewise associated with the incantation, “Seven come eleven” or the manna-producing versicle, “Roll them bones!” These may like­wise bespeak acts of reverence, but surely they are to a different deity.

Thus we find among the varieties of Naturism such well-defined subcults as woodsology, featuring forest glades or sylvan beauty; sunsetism, featuring canoe prows or pine trees in the foreground and flaming colors in the background; and campfirology, in which worshipers sit crosslegged in a circle (symbol of eternity) and gaze into the fire (symbol of transitoriness) and sing ” Vive la com-pagnie” (symbol of fellowship). Campfirology, however, must not be confused with camphorology, a ritualistic practice engaged in during the month of June, designed to keep winter vestments safe during the summer months from that ingenious little creation of the god of nature, the moth.

The most popular form of Naturanity, however, is the Tee cult. The creed of this cult is very brief, indicating that the cult is still young, for no anathemas have yet been added at the end of it. The creed goes, “I believe {Credo) that you can worship God better on the golf course than you can in church.” (Such are the linguistic peculiarities of this creed that for “you” one must read “I” throughout.)

Members of the cult demonstrate their devotion to the creed by making their Stations of the Course (18 in num­ber) each Sunday morning. Along with this goes a type of sacramental experience known as tee-drinking, by means of which an extraordinary sense of good fellowship is stimulated, sometimes to the extent that the believers break forth in songs of praise — or what must be assumed to be songs of praise, since the words are not always readily distinguishable.

In sum, all the varieties of Naturism are such as to fill the heart of the heretic with joy, precisely because Natur­ism is so close to the real thing that it can often be mis­taken for it. All it really does that is wrong is to take the things God has created and make those things into gods. Making things into gods . . .

I, Hereticus, and I write it with my own hand, could ask for no more. And I need not worry that the believers in Naturism will read my words and see the folly of their ways. No. They will be too busy watching the sunset.

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