SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (AP) — The gunman who killed 26 people at a small-town Texas church went aisle to aisle looking for victims and shot crying babies at point-blank range, a couple who survived the attack said. [Source]
Naked dining doesn’t sound like it has a damn thing to do with gun violence, does it? In fact, one might be inclined to think I’m setting up a satire piece or that I’m being intentionally facetious. Neither of those assumptions is true. I’m being quite serious in the discourse that follows and I hope you’ll stay with me long enough to see the point I am making. Gun violence is a serious topic. Naked dining doesn’t feel like a serious topic, though, so please give me a moment to show how the two merge.
First, though, let’s talk about First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Even though I’ve never been there, in some ways I know exactly the kind of town Sutherland Springs is because those are the kind of towns, population just under 700 people [source], and those small Southern Baptist churches were exactly the kind of churches my father pastored for over 40 years. Sutherland Springs is a town where not only does everyone know everyone else, everyone is largely related to everyone else in one way or another. The community is close-knit and while they may not always get along with each other when a death occurs in a family the entire town is affected.
Sutherland Springs lost 4% of their population on Sunday morning. To some, that number may not sound all that high, but to a town like Sutherland Springs, it’s like cutting out the town’s heart with a piece of dirty, jagged glass. This is a wound that scars every person in that town and I won’t be a bit surprised if the pain and sorrow do not contribute to subsequent deaths of family members whose hearts are completely broken by the loss.
Sunday mornings in small Southern Baptist churches are nothing like the services in big city megachurches. There’s a routine, a template, that these churches have followed for more than a century. How the service flows is a tradition that no one messes with. Trust me, Poppa tried on more than one occasion and was severely chastised each time. For the sake of most who are unfamiliar with this template, let me describe it for you.
11:00 AM: The stated starting time for the morning service passes without acknowledgment because half the congregation is still milling about, making the transition from Sunday School, visiting and catching up with each other. Even though the town is small, for many people in attendance this is the only time they see each other all week and catching up on life’s little details is important to them. No pastor in their right mind forces a hard start time. Instead, the pianist quietly plays hymns until the service is ready to begin.
11:06 AM: The music director, which is typically the person in the church with the strongest voice, who was strong-armed into service, steps to the pulpit and announces the first hymn. “Good morning,” he’ll say. “Please turn to hymn number 446, Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine. Let’s all stand as we sing.”
11:11 AM: The pastor, or a delegated deacon, offers an opening prayer. This is one place a bit of variation may occur. Some read a passage of scripture before the prayer.
11:13 AM: Church announcements are made. Yes, most of them are printed in the church bulletin everyone received as they entered, but the pastor knows that half his congregation isn’t going to read the bulletin at all, and in most small churches there’s a decent number of people who can’t read the bulletin. Therefore, verbal announcements are necessary. Most pastors try to keep this portion of the service as short as possible but the reality is that it can go on for as much as fifteen minutes in some churches. Any community event is likely to be mentioned here.
11:17 AM: Welcoming visitors. Okay, so the “visitors” are actually someone’s grandchildren who are in for the weekend. Everyone knows who they are. Still, this is another excuse to stand up and say hi to each other before having to sit still during the sermon.
11:20 AM: The music director signals the end of visitation time by stepping to the pulpit and announcing the next time. “Let’s all take our seats and turn to hymn number 308. Jesus Paid It All.” Depending on how much time was lost during the announcements, the hymn may be shortened by singing only two or three of the four stanzas in some churches, though be sure someone in the church isn’t going to like that. Typically, that person was me.
11:24 AM: A second hymn, for which everyone stands. Last chance to stretch those legs, or slip the little ones out to go to the potty before the sermon. The music director announces, “Let’s stand as we sing hymn number 429, Sweet Hour of Prayer. Again, depending on the time, the song may be shortened. Be sure that in a small church like this the tempo on this song crawls which often leads to only the first and last stanzas being sung. Ushers walk forward during the final chorus in preparation for receiving the
11:27 AM: Offertory prayer, typically given by one of the ushers, some of whom look upon this honor as an opportunity to demonstrate just how pious he is. The congregation is trying to stand there with their eyes shut, gripping the back of the pew in front of them so they don’t fall over. This can be really difficult. Go ahead, try standing in the middle of the floor with your eyes shut; it’s not easy. I’ve seen these prayers go on for as much as five minutes. I’ve also known Poppa to stop asking certain people to give a public prayer unless he needed an excuse to take a nap.
11:28 AM (hopefully): Offering. Typically, the pianist plays a quiet hymn during this time. There is a sense of reverence. No one talks or moves a lot. Parents return from the restroom with their children who have been strongly warned to sit still and be quiet for the remainder of the service. Said children are likely armed with crayons or some other form of distraction.
11:30 AM: Special music. If the church has a choir, they typically sing at this point. Understand, the choir may only consist of five or six people and half of those likely have some difficulty finding the pitch. Chances are high none of them actually read music, which makes choir rehearsals a whirlwind of fun (yes, I’m being terribly sarcastic). That’s assuming there was any rehearsal at all. In many small churches, they just gather before the service and the music director tells them which hymn they’re going to sing. If there’s no choir, someone sings a solo or duet. The pastor always hopes the song has something to do with the topic of his sermon, but on nine Sundays out of ten, it doesn’t.
11:34 AM: The morning sermon begins. The pastor typically has 20 minutes to say whatever he’s going to say. This is a small Southern Baptist church. Taking a morning service past noon is the type of offense that can get a pastor fired. No, I’m not kidding. I saw this happen more than once while growing up. 12:00 noon is the deadline. Folks have things to do. In our family, Mother often had a roast in the oven (we typically lived right next door to the church). If Poppa’s sermon ran long, the roast was burned. Poppa knew better than to let the roast burn. Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) is the rule.
11:55 AM: Invitation. Some folks refer to this as an altar call. In the minds of many, you’re not Southern Baptist if you don’t give an invitation at the end of every service. Typically, the music director leads the congregation in singing a hymn such as Charlotte Elliot’s Just As I Am set to William Bradbury’s familiar tune. If you’ve ever caught the end of a Billy Graham crusade you’ve heard that song. There are five verses to this song. If the pastor is really applying the pressure he’ll wait for all five verses to be sung. He has the option to end the invitation at any moment, though. There are some Sundays the dear pastor just knows his sermon bounced off the hard heads in the pews and there’s no sense in belaboring the point.
11:59 AM: Benediction. This is likely to be the shortest prayer of the entire morning, typically offered by a deacon. Everyone’s tired and anxious to get on to more exciting things. “Thank you, God, for this sermon (that no one actually heard). Please help us to apply it to our lives (as though we actually think we need to improve). Bless us through the week ahead (because you won’t hear from us until next Sunday). Amen.”
At this point, the pianist plays another upbeat hymn to usher everyone out the door. The pastor stands at the entrance to greet everyone. “Good sermon, pastor,” is the polite greeting from congregants. “Good to see you this week, Mrs. Fester,” is the pastor’s polite reply.
Week after week, year after year, every little Southern Baptist church in every little town across the United States follows a similar pattern. They rarely waver from this tradition. In fact, if one were to take a poll they would likely find that a number of congregants likely believe that the order of worship is a hard and fast rule set down by some ecclesiastical authority. It isn’t, but woe to the newcomer who suggests changing anything. This is the way our grandparents and great-grandparents worshipped. Therefore, we must do the same.
Devin Kelly grew up in a church like the one in Sutherland Springs. He knew the routine. When he pulled up to the gas station across the street from the church, he waited. Chances are reasonable that he could hear the congregation singing. He waited until the music stopped. Everyone except the guest preacher for the day was sitting down. At 11:30 AM, he drove across the street, pointed his rifle at the clapboard building, and started shooting. Nothing that followed was routine.
We’re not to the naked dining part just yet
Hold on, we’re getting there. First, though, we need to understand just why it is alternative solutions to gun violence are necessary. One would think, logic would seem to scream, that the correct response to gun violence is to limit who has guns and regulate how they are purchased. Multiple opinion surveys have been done in recent years and they consistently show that anywhere from 88% to 92% of Americans support universal background checks [source 1, source 2, source 3]. We know what we should be done so why have we not done a damn thing about our gun violence problem? Over and over and over and over, within minutes after another shooting takes place, someone says we need to do more to limit who has access to guns. Yet, never has a mass shooting resulting in any restriction on gun sales. None. Zero. Zip.
The United States is alone in the category of gun violence. No other developed nation in the world can touch us. Americans are 20% more likely to die as a result of gun violence than are residents of any of our peers [source]. Even in Switzerland, where gun ownership is every bit has high, per capita, as it is in the US, gun violence is a mere fraction of what it is in America. In fact, to find a mass shooting of any kind in Switzerland, one has to go all the way back to 2001 [source]!
Our president, who is walking proof that the zombie apocalypse has already begun, says that the Sutherland Springs incident is not a gun problem but rather a mental health problem [source]. So, we’re to believe that the reason America has such an appallingly high rate of gun violence is that we’re all crazy? If that’s the case, then why the fuck did Congress recently decide that it’s okay for those who are diagnosed mentally ill to have guns [source]? Doesn’t that seem to be just a wee bit counter-intuitive if not outright self-destructive?
Oh, wait, Congress might have allowed that bill to pass because, you’ll love this, there’s no evidence supporting the assertion that the mentally ill commit more gun crimes. If anything, the research piles up on the exact opposite end of the equation. Approximately one in five American adults are diagnosed with a mental illness and that’s okay because it is pretty much the same anywhere else in the world [source]. So no, we’re not crazier than everyone else in the world. Don’t go blaming the mentally ill for all the violence, either. Research shows that mental patients released to the public very rarely use any form of violence against strangers at all [source].
For all the talk about mental health in relationship to gun crimes, suicide, not mass shootings or even aggravated homicide, is still the leading cause of gun deaths in the United States [source]. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for persons between the ages of 10-25 and the fourth leading cause of death for those between the ages of 25-44 [source]. If there is an advantage to legislation that keeps the mentally and emotionally challenged from buying guns it is the possibility that doing so may save them from dying at their own hands, not that it will prevent mass shootings such as the one at Sutherland Springs or Las Vegas. We need to get it out of our minds that mass shootings are the fault of mentally deranged madmen; that assumption simply doesn’t hold true.
When we attempt to address America’s gun violence problem with gun control legislation or mental health regulation, we will inevitably reduce some levels of violence because any measure is better than the absolute nothingness we’ve done to this point. What we’re doing, though, is treating the symptoms, not the cause. Until we address the root cause of violence in America any legislation we might pass is ultimately limited in its effectiveness. We will still have more mass shootings than anyone else, still have run-away domestic violence, and still have an alarmingly high suicide rate because the reason we’re predisposed to violence in the first place has yet to be addressed.
Americans need to learn to chill—naked
Sitting at the root of the gun violence problem in America is a problem known as Violent Socialization. By broad definition, violent socialization is the culmination of all the things in our society that leads us to be more violent than anyone else. There isn’t just one thing we can eliminate and suddenly everyone be okay and the violence completely stops. Rather, there is a multitude of factors that, when combined, lead us to a greater tendency toward violence [source 1, source 2]. These factors not only include the prevalence and ease of gun ownership but other variables such as income inequality, lack of financial opportunities, insufficient education, the prevalence of aggressive sports coaching, overly-competitive attitudes in the workplace, and loss of personal time due to work demands. In all, there are over 40 factors that, when combined, lead us to be a more violent society than what is found in any other first world country.
In short, Americans have no chill.
Here, finally, is where naked dining comes in. The precedent has already been set in Paris where a restaurant opened this past Friday (1 November 2017) [source]. The restaurant, named O’naturel, is but the latest opportunity for Parisians who enjoy running around in the buff. Paris is a city that already has a public park, a public pool, and approximately 460 other areas where people are welcome to run around naked. While all this nudity does not protect Paris from violence related to religious extremism such as Daesh, the whole generally chill attitude residents have there goes a long way in diffusing the tensions that result in some overly angry person deciding that the slaughter of innocent people is a good idea.
One of the first questions one might have regarding the opening of a naked restaurant is how it affects its local neighbors. The answer, at least in this case, is that it doesn’t.
“It doesn’t bother me at all, or my neighbours,” a man called Mehdi told Le Parisien.
“We don’t see anything from the street. We know what’s happening. It’s not a massage parlor.”
Another factor that probably makes a difference is that the restaurant only holds about 50 people at a time, max, and those people are going to pay roughly $25 US (€30) per plate. This isn’t the fast food crowd we’re talking about. Patrons don’t disrobe until they’re inside the building, where they are provided with upscale lockers and changing facilities before being shown to their seats.
Granted, there are some limitations to dining naked. The menu at O’naturel includes relatively safe food such as escargot, medley de légumes, gravelax de saumon, and braised truffles with polenta. There’s nothing here that’s likely to give one severe burns if it happens to fall onto your lap while dining. Right away, those limitations could be a factor for Americans who tend to like their food bathed in grease and too hot to handle without a utensil.
There is also the matter of public health concerns. You know those signs about “no shirt, no shoes, no service?” Those are there by choice, not a legal requirement. While health codes stipulate various requirements for employees of dining establishments, there is no such requirement of their customers [source]. Most Americans think that there is a law requiring at least minimal cover, but they seriously don’t exist. We checked. Employees (especially those preparing the food) have clothing requirements, but not the customers. That being said, Americans are notoriously lacking in the area of personal hygiene. I mean, a large number of us don’t even wash our hands after going to the bathroom [source]. Maybe handing patrons a warm rag coated with disinfectant before being seated might not be a bad idea.
Why are the French, and Europeans in general, so into running around naked? Because they are more comfortable with who they are. Nudity is not over-sexualized and most Europeans long-ago nixed the religious morality argument that still holds sway in the US. As a result, they are very relaxed about being naked. Europeans, in general, don’t mind being naked because they don’t see where it is a big deal.
Nudity leads to a more relaxed attitude about life altogether. Being relaxed in attitude results in being relaxed in practice. Less stress leads to a variety of social benefits, not the least of which is a significantly lower rate of social violence.
Using only France’s crime statistics for comparison, since they seem to have more naked options than anyone else, here’s how severe the discrepancy is [source]:
- General crime levels: The US has 13% more than France
- Drug (Opiate) use: The US has 43% more than France
- Rape: The US has 69% more than France
- Homicide: The US has 19 times more than France
- Suicide: The US has 33% more than France
Am I beginning to make my point? There is zero evidence that these numbers are a coincidence. The same attitude that allows the French people to be comfortable with naked dining is the same attitude that keeps their rate of violent crime significantly lower than in the US.
There’s also a practical matter to toss into consideration as well. There’s no place for a naked person to hide a weapon. If we increase the amount of public nudity we decrease the ability of someone to sneak weapons into places where innocent people are vulnerable. Sure, I suppose someone could, in theory, lube up a small pistol sufficiently to stick it up their ass, but even if one was successful in doing so, extraction is going to be painful and not the type of thing one easily hides. Everyone in the room is going to know what you’re doing. Then, once you have it out, that thing is going to have to be cleaned before it can be fired safely. Plus, the caliber is small so there’s no standing at the front of the room and mowing everyone down, and the clip is only going to hold six shots. Naked shooters are too impractical to be taken seriously.
Sure, I suppose that if we all start going around naked, and even if we go so far as to make it a law that everyone who is in a public park or restaurant has to be naked, then only criminals will have clothes. Stop and think about that for a moment though. If we know that anyone wearing clothes in certain places is a bad guy, doesn’t that make it a lot easier to stop these idiots? One of the issues we have with preventing violent crimes now, especially mass shootings, is that we too often don’t know that someone’s up to no good until they start shooting. If only bad guys are clothed then they are immediately easy to spot and can be eliminated before they have a chance to cause any problem.
Yes, naked dining can absolutely reduce the amount of gun violence in the United States.
Okay, so Americans, in general, have this giant log of religiously-motivated morality stuck up their butt that makes them disinclined to support anything that includes nudity. The United States is one of the few developed countries where one is still likely to be jailed just for walking around without a shirt if one is female. Yes, it’s a double-standard. Yes, it is gender discrimination. Our attitudes regarding nudity, though, are symptomatic of just how uptight we are about everything. We are so afraid of doing something that is morally wrong, doing something that might offend someone else, doing something that causes us to make less money, that we have created an environment where it is almost impossible for us to relax, to be comfortable with ourselves and each other.
We need to do something drastic, though, to address this problem of gun violence that has reached epidemic proportions. The cost of violence in terms of real dollars is somewhere around $45 billion [source]. When we reach the point where newspapers have good reasons to publish articles on How to protect yourself during a mass shooting we have jumped the proverbial shark to the point where no solution can be considered too silly or too ridiculous to not be considered.
Americans have been screaming, “we need to do something about gun violence” ever since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. If there is one thing we’ve consistently proven since then is that the jellyfish elected to Congress lack anything resembling a spine when it comes to gun control. I’m over ever expecting that they are going to do anything meaningful to adequately reduce the number of mass shootings in the United States. Families like yours and mine don’t have as much money to buy Members of Congress like the special interests groups can. Therefore, the interests of families are ignored. We have to act for ourselves.
What can we do? We can dine naked. We can diffuse the stresses that feed violent socialization. We’ve tried thoughts and prayers and that didn’t work, not even in a church on a Sunday morning. We’ve tried religion and that only made the problem worse. What we’ve not tried is being naked, learning to be chill, to say “fuck it” a little more often, to not become so upset if we don’t win every damn time at everything we do.
Consider starting with your own family, minus the children. Try one naked dinner a week. Sure, the first one or two may be a bit uncomfortable because very few of us are accustomed to lounging around in nothing but our own skin. Give it some time, though. Maybe after three or four months, you can invite someone to join you. Keep a lid on the whole sexual thing, mind you. Part of what makes this work for Europeans is that they don’t think that being naked means having sex every time. Just be naked, enjoy the meal, have a pleasant conversation, then everyone goes to their own home.
More than anything, we need to learn to chill, en masse. We can’t rely on anyone to solve this problem of gun violence for us. Legislation might remove the opportunity for some but it’s not going to solve the underlying problem.
Get naked. Have dinner. Stay alive. It’s a recipe worth trying.
Abide in Peace,
The Old Man