“When the concept of “modesty” is mentioned in today’s culture— particularly on secular college campuses— any hope of rational dialogue is drowned out by accusations that those who promote modesty are “slut shaming” and advocating “rape culture” by failing to be “body positive.” There is anaphylactic reaction to the word, as if modesty required a woman’s rights to be rolled back to the Middle Ages. But John Paul displayed a sensitive understanding of why the term often ignites such a volatile reaction.
Throughout history, people have blamed the body— particularly of the woman— as the cause of lust. The woman is seen as the seductress, the occasion of sin. But in John Paul’s mind, lust is a problem of the heart, not the body. Blaming the body for lust is a loophole to avoid the true issue: our hearts. 104
If every woman clothed herself from head to toe, lust would remain. Put differently, a thief does not become a philanthropist when jewels are locked away. The cause of theft is not the jewels in the window of the store but the greed in the heart of the robber.
Consider why police sometimes place “bait cars” in high-crime areas. They leave the keys in the ignition of a vacant and unlocked car and put valuable items inside to draw attention to it. People who feel no need to steal walk past the vehicle without difficulty. But those who are inclined to commit larceny often seize upon the opportunity and end up in jail . . . only to blame the police for “setting them up.”
It is the same with the body. Only a mistaken idea of modesty transfers the evil of lust to its object. In human sexuality, the object of desire isn’t evil. In fact, the Pope pointed out that “victory must go hand in hand with an effort to discover the authentic value of the object.” 105 This is one reason why it is so counterproductive to shift the blame of lust to the body; by doing so, a person robs the body of its simple and pure meaning. 106
The body isn’t the problem. If anything, it’s the answer! In fact, one Orthodox scholar noted, “Beauty is the only thing that can make the eye chaste.” 107 After all, virtue can only be gained by love of the good, not by merely warding off evil. What’s needed is not for the body to be permanently veiled, but for its meaning to be unveiled, so that the glory of God can be seen in the body. What’s needed is the transformation of the deepest movements within the human heart.
This is not to say that people ought to wear whatever they wish, without regard for the weakness of others. In fact, modesty plays an essential role in transforming the hearts of those who are inclined toward lust. This is because modesty is an invitation to contemplation. It is a reminder that a person’s body is not public property, nor is it the best thing a person has to offer the world. Rather, the body is an invitation to love. But this spousal meaning of the body needs to be protected from concupiscence, and that is the purpose of modesty.
This isn’t merely a woman’s job. In fact, modesty isn’t the exclusive duty of females any more than lust is the exclusive problem of males. It is the heart of the human person— male and female— that is in need of redemption.”
-Evert, Jason. Theology of the Body In One Hour (Kindle Locations 590-620). Totus Tuus Press. Kindle Edition.
104 Cf. TOB 44: 6.
105 TOB 45: 5.
106 Cf. TOB 31: 1.
107 Dr. Timothy Patitsas, “Chastity and Empathy: Eros, Agape, and the Mystery of the Twofold Anointing,” Road to Emmaus 1, no. 60 (Winter 2015), 7.