“What takes place according to nature is not sinful; sin always involves man’s deliberate choice. It is not a sin to eat; it is a sin to eat without gratitude, … It is not a sin to uses one’s eyes with purity; it is a sin to to look with envy, arrogance and insatiable desire. It is a sin to listen not peacefully, but angrily; it is a sin to guide the tongue, not towards thanksgiving and prayer, but towards backbiting; it is a sin to employ the hands, not for acts of compassion, but for murders and robberies. And thus every part of the body sins when by man’s own choice it performs not good but evil acts, contrary to God’s will.” ~The Philokalia
It has always amazed me that many people consider certain parts of our physical bodies evil, while other parts are good. I could understand a person saying the entire physical body is evil—even though I wouldn’t agree with him—but why only certain parts? Curiously, if you travel the world, or simply study it, you will find that the supposedly evil parts of the body, or the parts that must be kept hidden, vary in different places and even among different people. Time is a big factor as well. There have been times in our past when a women wearing a skirt short enough to reveal her ankles was considered shocking and men wore bathing suits that covered the chest also. Short sleeve shirts were considered appropriate only for laborers and even today, if you do much traveling, you will find warnings posted in certain places that say something like, “This historical sight is considered sacred ground and wearing sleeveless shirts or tank tops is not allowed,” so apparently shoulders and arms are considered evil in these places. And if you visit the Bahamas, it is considered very rude for men to be seen with their shirts off anywhere but on the beach (are you reading this Spring Breakers?).
Arms are not evil, as the writers of the Philokalia say, it is what you do with them that is good or evil. Likewise, the tongue is not evil, it is what you choose to say that is good, neutral, or evil. The stomach is not evil, but gorging yourself on food is a form of greed and both greed and gluttony are rightfully considered sins. What so many people just cannot get for some reason is that nature supplies us with enough food for everyone, if we eat each only what we actually need. When we eat far more than we actually need, or process healthy food into crap having little nutritional value and eat tons of it because it can’t possibly satisfies the needs of the body, we are using other peoples share of that natural abundance so they must do without, and that is the evil.
It is not evil to walk a mile, ten miles, or even a hundred miles. It is evil to walk on the backs and shoulders of others, treating them as slaves or worthless vermin. And it is certainly not evil to take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the backyard (it’s actually a good thing, read Earthing).
If we were to discover a long-lost tribe in the Amazon jungle who considered the elbow the evil part of the body and they forbid anyone to be seen in public with their elbows uncovered, we would think they were crazy, or at least very odd, but it is really no different than those who insist that the face must be covered, or the feet, or the breasts, or the genitals. A body part cannot be evil, only what you do with it can be evil. Sin is not a thing, it’s behavior.
I am not suggesting that we throw out all our traditions in this regard and start walking into fine restaurants naked just for spite, but I am saying that we need to stop thinking of certain body parts as evil all by themselves. Like wise, we need to stop thinking that a person who is always well dressed is a good person. Sometimes the worst perverts and the most greedy and hateful people in the world dress very well. If there is a part of the human body that can be considered a source of evil it is the brain/mind. Maybe we should all be forced to wear hats. Unfortunately, that probably wouldn’t help.