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Agnostics Anonymous

Agnostics Anonymous

N09AA.jpgThe media has recently glanced over Models of Life, a new modelling agency that's been recruiting young women in London. This might not seem a particularly newsworthy event, except that Models of Life is an avowedly Christian organisation. Some journalists have implied there's something incongruous or sinister about the notion of Christian catwalk modelling. But is it incompatible with scriptural values?

The book of Esther describes an early 'Miss Persia' contest: after a makeover that includes six months' anointing with myrrh oil, 'many maidens' are paraded in front of King Ahasuerus. Old Testament civilisation places an unapologetically high value on physical comeliness.

But the New Testament's writers firmly reject this brazen glorifying of the physical. St Peter tells us (in the NIV's sensitively modern wording) that 'beauty…should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.' St. Paul enjoins (in traditional KJV form) that 'women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety'. In the apostolic age the garish flaunting of female pulchritude was frowned upon.

One could argue that the fashion world celebrates lust, immodesty and ephemeral physical beauty, rather than Christian values founded in otherworldly eternity. 'The fashion of this world passeth away,' as St Paul elsewhere says. But Models of Life have staged shows in Anglican churches; clearly, not all modern Christians have a Pauline problem with modelling. These days only the most unreconstructed of Christian dinosaurs feel obliged to lean on the literal words of the Bible, particularly on the subject of women. No need for (post) modern Christians to be bound by anything as crude as Apostolic pronouncements.

But even if you can convince yourself that Jesus' Kingdom is also of the fashion world, the question remains: what's the point? Models of Life girls 'are taught to display exemplary beauty through posture, walking, posing, and etiquette training.' To complete this vision, MOL models learn how to build character through the Bible.

If posture and etiquette do show us 'exemplary beauty', what does this beauty lack, that it needs to be 'completed' through Biblical study? Beauty is truth, truth beauty, as Keats and the pagan world before him knew. Physical beauty is self-sufficient; it doesn't need to be draped, painted, or adorned with godliness. Beauty is a value in itself, and it's misguided to try to co-opt it into specifically Christian virtue. St. Augustine wrote: 'Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked.' Amen, brother!