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Tattoo or not Tattoo: Tat is the Question—Should Catholics Tattoo Their Bodies?

Are tattoos morally licit for Catholics? My first thought is to say ‘no.’ I am not confident enough in my answer, though, to say that tattooing, with its innate permanence, is a damnable offense. I can, however, think of a few reasons why Catholics in good conscience should avoid them.

The first is that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. An individual who chooses to tattoo his or her body is defiling that temple, by color and asymmetry and grotesqueness. These conditions are even worse when we consider the subject matter of the tattoos people are choosing to permanently mark upon their skin.

Second, the tattoo has its origin with Cain. God punished Cain for murdering Abel. Cain was afraid that when others encountered him, they might kill him. God, merciful as He is, placed a “mark” on Cain so that no one would kill him, for if they did, they would suffer the vengeance of God. This mark was a reminder to Cain of his sin and something shameful to him. Figuratively, this “mark” represents the stain of sin upon his soul.

At least in our culture, the trend of tattooing followed Cain’s trajectory until recently. Tattoos showed up on scruffy sailors and prisoners. If anyone else had one, they were sure to hide it in respectable society; it was a sign of rebellion. Nowadays, I have to carefully choose which checkout line to use at Sprouts, lest my children be scandalized by some pornographic depiction on the forearm of the 20- something cashier. Perhaps everyone in our modern culture is claiming Cain as his own.

Third, is tattooing art? Does tattooing lift one’s mind to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful? Is the medium appropriate for such depictions? Without distinction, I think I can answer ‘no’ to these questions. Perhaps tattooing is a species of vanity? St Augustine criticized woman’s use of make-up in The City of God as vanity and an insult to God’s creation and design. What would he say about tattoos which are so much more permanently disfiguring?

A human soul is housed in flesh. A soul is indescribably beautiful when in the state of grace. St. Catherine of Siena, gifted with seeing a soul in the state of grace, said that she would have thought the human soul was God, if she had not known from her catechism that there is only one God. Our bodies, God willing, will someday match this beauty, when they are glorified at the end of time. In a way, one could say our flesh is destined for heaven, too. Does bringing a tattoo along seem appropriate? Will there be tattoos in heaven? Seeing it from this perspective, it makes tattoos seem even more trivial and meaningless, and nothing less than mutilations detracting from the beauty housed within.

One final though: I have seen so many young women with horrendous tattoos, covering their arms and chests. I realize in this modern, feministic age we live in that being a “lady” is probably snubbed, but I think to myself, “How will she ever have a chance to be a respectable lady? Where is her class?” Perhaps my mindset is too old-fashioned, but behaving like a lady is a natural manifestation of a woman’s nature and is a kind of charity and modesty.

These tattoos are a rejection of that charity and a rejection of aligning oneself with the unique role God has given to women. How a person looks, dresses, and presents himself to others has just as much to do with one’s attitude toward our neighbors as it is telling about oneself. Therefore, tattooing is not only a defilement of the body that God gave us, but a lack of charity toward our neighbor and the respect and love one owes him.

82 comments | Add one of your own.

    1. J. Hanson

      We’ve got quotes around ‘origin’ and an unexplicated ‘wow’. How should we take these? As ironic disapproval or scholarly approbation?

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      1. Atticus

        My apologies. I thought it was facially absurd to suggest that ancient man looked at the sign of Cain’s stained soul and said, “Oooh, I’d like one of those!” Granted, there are all sorts of interesting cultural, sociological, and even religious questions raised by tattooing. But the suggestion that every tattooed person is carrying a representation of “the stain of sin upon his soul” may be intentionally provocative, but neither historically nor logically defensible.

        Couldn’t we just take this reasoning and extend it out to a number of things, including alcohol, tobacco, ear piercing, and the like. And before you try to clobber me with the permanence argument, let me point out that, today, tattooing is really no more permanent than piercing (more expensive to remove, yes). At root, this seems to me like a form of Catholic puritanism. A justification for a certain prejudice, perhaps, but no basis for sweeping condemnation.

        Indeed, I’m guessing there have been sailors who were tattooed, scruffy, and holy. Or, I can at least think of a few scruffy fishermen who found favor in the sight of God.

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        1. Christina

          My point was never that people said “oooh I want one of those.” And perhaps I should have said “the history of the tattoo finds its way back to Cain” instead of “origin.”

          I am not sure why you say it is not historically or logically defensible to say that the mark of Cain gave tattoos a certain connotation. If the history can be traced back, why would it not be logical to find some meaning in that context?

          Also, I am not sure how this argument would be extended to drinking, smoking, etc. How are those vain, idolatrous or defilements? There is no “catholic puritanism” here. Just respect for Gods creation and a genuine pursuit of truth as my basis. I have tried not to, but I take offense to your calling the basis for my arguments predjudice. If that were the case, I would not have bothered about the argument or reasoning, I would have just stated, without reason, “tattoos are bad and ugly and if you get one, God and I will not like you.” I would not have attempted the permanence argument because that seems accidental to the discussion. It is the actual defilement that I am wondering about.

          I never claimed that the sailors would not have been catholic or “holy.” I am only questioning if tattoos are good or bad objectively; not judging peoples souls.

          NB: A doctor I know has assured me that there are also health repercussions to tattoos. The ink contains toxic heavy metals and Hepatitus C is linked to needle use in a way that experts are unsure about. So, could it also be a breaking of the fifth commandment to tattoo?

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          1. Atticus

            First and foremost, I apologize for causing offense. (Interestingly, I’m surprised you didn’t take offense at my use of the word “absurd.” I apologize for that, too.)

            You obviously didn’t mean to suggest that the practice of tattooing itself can be taken back to Cain, just that we can perhaps draw some sort of spiritual connection between his mark and modern-day tattoos. But I still don’t see anything besides your speculation that this should be the case. It’s an interesting enough theory, I guess. Though one that assumes the tattooed generally to be mutilated idolaters.

            I see this as a cultural issue. The moral issue you raise is, at best, secondary. And I don’t see much of a moral issue here at all–besides those also found in such things as alcohol and ear piercing. Can’t those be made into idols just as well? Doesn’t alcohol, if misused, damage your liver? Doesn’t ear piercing require a needle to pierce your flesh? Is that not a “mutilation,” as you say? Hence my reference to a Catholic puritanism.

            Back to culture, though, I think there are Christian communities in Ethiopia that still practice tattooing as a religious-cultural rite. What say you? (I also caught something on the Internet about crusaders tattooing themselves to show that they had been to the Holy Land.)

            N.B. I bear an adorned ichthus between my shoulder blades. I assure you that I suffer from neither Hepatitis C nor any metallurgically-induced maladies. Well, none that I know of, at least. On second thought, does your doctor friend know whether toxic metals might cause defensiveness?

            (By the way, I’m thinking about writing a post about my own tattoo as a signifier of my pre-sacramental self. Interested?)

            Truce?

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  1. Cordelia

    I’m pretty sure that Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “Parker’s Back”, is really about this connection between a soul’s fallen state as in fallen out of grace and the defilement of our bodies.

    Parker was a sailor and he was not a believer. He picked up tatoos at every port as souvenir of where he’s been and what he’s done. He also has a fascination with the “art” of tatooing, manifested in his desire to have a tatoo done in all the different ways possible as is the case around the world. He was proud of his acquisitions all over his body–his tatoo habit was a form of abominable idolatry. The only space left for a tatoo is on his back and he’s saving that for something special.

    Parker was also lascivious–look to his initial hidden lustful thoughts about the young lady he ends up with. He pursues this girl I think just for the sake of conquering her and feeding his ego.

    Long story short, this girl in the story is a believer and after they are together he is inspired to get a tatoo of Jesus–a beautiful mosaic style one that takes days to complete. Does this end up impressing her? No. She can’t see past the idolatry of it and his efforts to please her are in vain.

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  2. Alishia

    I tend to think about it as an odd variety of vanity mostly because it automatically makes me think of the amount of time and money invested in procuring such body art. I would have a hard time feeling sorry for someone whose entire body is covered with tatoos in the same way that I would have a hard time with someone who plays lots of video games complaining that they don’t have time or money to accomplish the things they would like.

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    1. Cordelia

      Tatoos mean something to us, whether others see them or not. I imagine that some people think of them like a wedding ring–signifying something important about who they are, who they love, what they love. If you apply the same importance to your clothes, car, hair style–you would be in danger of worshipping false gods.

      I think tatoos can be a burden on our hearts when they are associated with sinfullness. I know a good Catholic guy who got a tatoo during college as a result of a bet after a night of drinking–it was only a shamrock on his upper arm, but, he was embarrassed about it for years afterward. His parents were divorced and I wonder if he was subconsciously trying boost his fragile ego. Or, was he deeply wounded and feeling himself to be more of a nonconformist with Catholic divorced parents?

      Is it scandalous to say with your tatoo that you are a nonconformist? If so, thank goodness that tatoos can be removed now.

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  3. Rachel

    This is silly argument. The mark of Cain was God’s judgment; does it therefore follow that someone born with a birthmark is in some way especially sinful? “An individual who chooses to tattoo his or her body is defiling that temple…” Why, exactly? Maybe give a reason for asserting this, rather than simply stating it. “…by color and asymmetry and grotesqueness.” Well, yeah, deliberately making oneself grotesque is offensive. But how does color and asymmetry offend? The natural, un-tattooed human body is, delightfully, filled with both. In some traditional cultures, the tattoo is a sign of honor and beauty. Indian brides often decorate themselves with henna tattoos as preparation for their wedding nights. There are quite a lot of traditional, practicing Catholics who would probably be offended by the shallowness of these arguments.

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    1. Denys

      Rachel, it seems to me as an observer who doesn’t have a dog in the ink fight that your comments are actually and intentionally offensive, whereas Christina’s arguments are detached and objective. They may or may not have merit, but expressing outrage, calling names, and claiming “I don’t buy it” is not going to help us investigate and discern.

      You call her post “silly” and “shallow”, and you raise the threatening spectre of “you are probably offending lots of other people too, so watch out!” There’s actually a veiled threat in that!

      I’ve re-read Christina’s post and I don’t see one statement that was a) intentionally offensive to anyone, b) let alone addressed personally to you. And even if there were, how would the gospel require you to respond?

      As a reader, I’m not personally offended by your comments at all–I’m just saying that you won’t get any kind of response to your questions about beauty or examples about non-Christian/non-Western cultures if “THIS IS SILLY AND OFFENSIVE” is how you announce your presence in the discussion. It’s a good way to get people to ignore what you say–so if you’d like to be answered, you’ll have to try different tactics.

      If you only want to be “heard” and not answered, well…you’ve been heard. (Now what?)

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      1. Rachel

        In my opinion, an article like the above ought to take itself a little more seriously than to throw around things like “defiling their body” without backing these claims up. It is indeed my fear that non-Catholics and liberal Catholics alike will read the above and be turned off to the Church based on a view that, in my opinion, does not in any way reflect true, charitable, mature Catholic belief. I do not see how this fear somehow translates into a veiled threat, but if you feel threatened by other people’s opinions, that is a problem for you, not me, to address. The reason that it has a potential to be offensive is that it makes a strong, judgmental claim (essentially, the writer claims that by getting a tattoo you are “defiling your body” and “rejecting charity” itself) about an activity in its entirety, without making any distinctions as to the appearance, size, and location of the tattoo, or the intentions and cultural context in which the activity is done. A deeper (less shallow) argument would have acknowledged some of these distinctions. An article, like a tattoo, has the potential to be a thing of beauty and reflect the truth. I see many tattoos that are, in my opinion, gross and silly, and I find myself thinking that it reflects poorly on the judgment of the one who bears it. Unfortunately, I feel the same way about an article that makes such logical errors as to assume that, because one tattoo is “horrendous,” all tattoos are horrendous.

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  4. Dr. Silverrose

    There are a million reasons that people get tattoos. It’s tough to say that all or most of them are morally questionable.

    Maybe all we can do is ask ourselves individually why we want or need one. Are we doing it to rebel or to signify non conformity? From what are we rebelling? Remember that there is one who signified his non conformity and rebellion with “Non serviam.”

    Are we doing it instead to signify conformity with some group (Harley riders, hipsters, whatever)? How essential is it that we ink ourselves to identify with this crowd? Is it a crowd with whom we want to identify? Forever?

    Is it part of a real, serious cultural Christian rite? Unless you’re an Ethiopian Catholic (allegedly), probably not.

    So why do you want a tattoo? Just ask yourself seriously before you do it. I’m not saying there aren’t good reasons. I’m just saying that more likely than not, yours isn’t one of them. Just be careful not to justify yourself by arguing that just because it’s fine for one person somewhere sometime to get a tattoo, that it’s okay for you to get one. Ask yourself why, and take your answer seriously.

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    1. c matt

      I would have to agree with you – it is not so much the tattoo itself, but the reasons behind getting it that factor into the moral calculations. Would a simple “AMDG” tattoo be sinful? As a personal aesthetic matter, I see tattoos as trashy, but that is a personal preference.

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  5. Mathew

    Very provocative post!

    I do largely agree that getting a tattoo in the ‘non-conformist’/rebellious attitude is incompatible with living a Christian life – not because of what a tattoo is, but because of what it represents – rebellion without cause.

    I agree that tattoos and piercings are vanity of vanities. I used to work where there were several people who had ‘sleeves’ and back work and lots of other ink. I once asked after complementing the intricacy and artistry of the tattoo, ‘what is that tattoo going to look like when your’e 65?’ I never did get a response. Tattoos and piercings (especially plug-style) assumes a youthful immortality that doesn’t exist. Though, considering the lifestyle many of the guys professed, perhaps the tats and piercings were manifestations of the choice toward immediate mortality.

    However, I would like to consider in what circumstances a tattoo might be compatible with the Christian life. A friend of mine became a father to a second child recently and got his daughter’s and his new son’s names tattooed on his shoulders. I thought it was kind of bizarre; but his motivation was purely out of love – to mark himself as a sign that he belonged to his family – much the same way a certain Lord demanded all males in his family to be circumcised…

    Atticus brought it up earlier, but I agree that piercing (ears or anything) is worse than tattooing. Afterall, there’s more biblical evidence against this practice. Earrings are mentioned in the Bible. In Genesis 35:4, Jacob buries the earrings worn by members of his household along with their idols. In Exodus 32, Aaron makes the golden calf from melted earrings. Deuteronomy 15:12–17 dictates ear piercing for a slave who chooses not to be freed.

    Though, according to the encyclopedia of body art, sailors used to get earrings for the specific purpose that if they died at sea and were washed ashore – the earrings could pay for a proper Christian burial…

    Just my thoughts…

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  6. Cordelia

    My mischievous twenty-month-old put marker on my newborn’s forehead the other day…mercifully it was washable! :)

    Seriously now, here are two things we need to think about and discuss more:

    1. The idea of putting a tatoo of the miraculous medal or the scapular on our bodies. How about these holy images which are sacramentals? If having tatoos like these aren’t appropriate, maybe no tatoo is appropriate.

    2. Let’s just talk about the norms here: Tatoos are not a tradition of civilized western culture. In fact, for Westerners, the tatoo is more counter cultural. I would argue that a Westerner who gets a tatoo could be expressing a deeper reality in their subconsious mind–a feeling of rootlessness.

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    1. Christina

      Cordelia, I like these questions you have put forth. For the first, I am always turned off when I see a “religious” tattoo on someone. My first reaction is to think it is an oxymoron (I hope that word works here). One of our family members just got a tattoo “fiat” (which is the reason this topic was on my mind) and I can only describe it as false piety.

      As for your second question, my opinion about the religious tattoos is rooted in the idea that tattoos are counter-cultural. They used to be so much more taboo because, as I see it, culture used to be so much more Christian, and, as you say, they were not the norm.

      Now they seem to be so widespread because the culture is so much more secular that they are considered acceptable. I also agree with a previous post that mentioned that tattoos and piercing point to “a youthful immortality”. Our culture definitely strives to forget about aging and mortality.

      Anyway, I like what you have to say.

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      1. Cordelia

        And maybe they point to self-absorption, a rampant vice of the culture we are surrounded by these days, which I think you can say is a real hindrance to objectivity and virtue.

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          1. Cordelia

            Hey, Atticus, all things are good–ink, needles, artisans. It’s the context that matters, I think. A tatoo is a morally neutral subject–people’s actions are not. We can be motivated by evil or good. So, what I’m getting at is that maybe this is the appropriate framework in which the topic of the morality of getting a tatoo should be explored.

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            1. Atticus

              Some other morally-neutral topics we should discuss: (1) ear piercing; (2) pet ownership; (3) veganism; (4) automobiles; (5) underpants.

              This whole thread is baffling to me. We could pick any number of “morally neutral” topics and have at it. But I’m guessing that we would choose to discuss only those topics that we happened to hold some particular prejudice toward; some cultural pet peeve. That, in my humble opinion, is what’s happening here.

              Christina, I ask the following questions with sincerity:

              Would you, or have you, sent your freshly-inked family member a link to this blog post? Why or why not?

              Would you, have you, or should you accuse your freshly-inked family member–to his or her face–of false piety? Of idolatrous self-mutilation? Rejection of charity? Adopting Cain as his own? Self-absorption? Vain defilement of God’s creation? Grotesqueness? Why or why not?

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              1. Christina

                Atticus, all of this has been discussed by my husbands family. ALL OF IT. Why? Because we love the family member.

                The “adopting Cain as his own” was a flourish, meant to point to something unconscious in the culture.

                I thought we had a truce. If you think it is “silly” stop reading the comments and let us “silly” people discuss what we want.

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              2. Cordelia

                I am sincerely interested in the objective truth, if any, to be found here. I should have added to my comment above:
                Images are not morally neutral because they signify something that is either good or bad. When we talk about tatoos, we are speaking of images on the body. It’s easy then to say that getting a pornographic tatoo is sinful–like piercing the ear to show your sexual orientation. Tatoos that have no evil significance are the ones we are having the most trouble with here–the only answer can lie in the moral rightness of the action/intention.

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                1. Atticus

                  If that is actually the direction this conversation heads, then I, of course, agree with you. One can certainly have intentionally and unintentionally immoral motives for tattooing his body. (We can discuss, in person, my evaluation of my own motives for walking into the Crawling Squid some ten years ago. You might be surprised.) But your premise requires you to provide for the possibility that not all acts of tattooing are immoral. The original post, at least, does not provide for this.

                  Or, if it meant to, then the the thesis was poorly stated. Because what I read above is a sweeping (and, frankly, insulting) condemnation of all tattooing. Condemnation is one thing; insulting condemnation is another.

                  So, perhaps this was all one giant misunderstanding. Or maybe it wasn’t. Or maybe Christina will say that her stance has been refined after considering the comments. I don’t know. But if all we’re talking about is whether one can have immoral, misguided, or even foolish motives for tattooing his skin, then I agree. In fact, that’s even a conversation worth having–but only if we’re open to recognizing that one might not have immoral reasons for doing so.

                  But, again, if all we’re interested in doing is psycho-analyzing a group of people who have engaged in a cultural practice that we disapprove of, then I don’t see the point. This seems inevitably, or at least in this case, to lead to insult (see, e.g., mark of cain; vain defilement of God’s creation; grotesqueness; rejection of charity; etc. etc.). Rejection of charity indeed.

                  Really, do you see my point? That’s a sincere question. I’m not raising these issues just to be a jerk. I hope you know my heart.

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                  1. Cordelia

                    Remember, just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should. It’s not my prejudice, it’s Christian prejudice, if you will.
                    I think what Christina is trying to say is that tatoos have heathenistic roots. And by the virtue of the fact that Christians have not adopted this practice by now that maybe we should say that it’s not compatible with Christian culture and never should be. (Western civilization by the way is rooted in Christian culture. If you don’t take my word for it, read Pope Benedict.)

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      2. c matt

        Actually, I associate tattoos with pagan rather than secular culture, and therefore the paganization rather than secularization of our current one.

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  7. Atticus

    Okay, one more question, then I’ll pack it in. Promise. With perhaps the exception of the Cain reference, couldn’t your reasoning be applied, without exception, to ear piercing? Especially given your apparent concern for self-mutilation and admitted lack of concern about permanence. Why or why not?

    N.B. I’m not talking about tongue piercing, belly-button piercing, or any of that. Just good ol’ fashioned ear piercing.

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  8. Christina

    yep. absolutely.

    From the cultural stance, ear piercing has had a long history as an acceptable part of Christian culture. Whereas, tattooing was a rebellion against that culture.

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    1. nathan

      from my point of view if you have faith you can tattoo your body but if you don’t have the faith then what is the use of tattooing the body it will be useless.if there is no faith then it will be like a body without the soul

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  9. FestivAle

    Two points I am compelled to make from reading the comments to this post:
    1. There is no such thing as a morally-neutral topic. As a Catholic, it is evident that every decision and action we make has moral implications both to the individual soul and to the souls of our neighbors. Tattoos do not exist in a vacuum. So the question in this case of moral ethics is whether tattoos are ever justifiable, in both the implications to the individual and the society.
    2. Within the body of the article, the author has given plenty of objective observations and justifications for her positions, while the likes of Atticus and Rachel (who seems to be defending non-Catholics and liberal Catholics, who do not really hold Catholic morality at all) are making arguments of self-defense and name-calling. If I were Atticus or Rachel (whose positions I am glad I do not hold), I would feel obligated to argue how tattoos are morally good, or how they promote virtue. I don’t even know how I would start to play devil’s advocate here and prove that tattoos promote good.

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    1. Atticus

      FestivAle, my brother in beer, please point to one incident of name calling, at least from me. Defensiveness? Admitted already. So what?

      And let’s not pretend like you don’t have something (or someone) to defend here.

      Pax.

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      1. Christina

        Very uncool, Atticus. How does FestivAle and my relationship have anything to do with discussing this? We have two brains between us and have our own opinions and modes of expressing them. Bad form. To disregard what anyone says because they might in someway have a relation to someone else is unfair.

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        1. Atticus

          Christina, as I said, I’m done with this. Though I feel this comment must be addressed. FestivAle attempted to discredit my comments here because I was “name calling” and being “defensive.” The former is demonstrably false. The latter I found to be a bit ironic, to say the least.

          This has really become much too personal. Perhaps we should make our Papago trip a double date. I think some face-to-face interaction would be good. I’m sincere about that; I hope you’ll consider it. It would be good for the community that we’re building here.

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  10. April

    I will. I like playing devil’s advocate in this case, because it takes us back to this Scripture passage:
    “Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:5

    We can have discussions about all of this and indeed, you all have. Discussions of any nature regarding moral issues must be done carefully, or irritaton within the debate will occur. I think what may be the source of irritation is that it must be done by acknowledging the intent of the heart. How can we judge the heart of the “non-Catholics and the liberal Catholics as not holding any Catholic morality at all?”
    Ouch. I know many Protestants who hold to higher morals than many good, non-liberal Catholics.
    I would suggest we all meditate on the truth that “He will bring to the light what is hidden in the darkness…” and judge not the motives behind anyone’s choice – that is, if there seems to be some truth of Christ promoted. Fiat is beautiful. False piety or not, who are we to say that God is not working through it?

    Personally, I do not promote tatoos. And every time I see a negative, pornographic or satanic one, I pray and hand the person to the intentions of their Blessed Mother.

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  11. Atticus

    FestivAle, if you’re willing, tell Hanson to give you my contact info. I’d like to take you out on a very manly beer date. We’ll go Dutch, lest we give Denys any ammunition for a post.

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  12. FestivAle

    Atticus, when is tattooing morally good?
    April, this argument is the ultimate neo-Moderist argument of “I’m good, you’re good, we are all good and all one church, as long as we follow our consciences, no matter how it is formed.” I agree, I cannot judge the heart of any one man. That would make me God. But I sure as hell can judge the actions of man, such as a undergoing a tattoo. Otherwise, God would not have allowed us to have free will, the use of our senses, rationality, etc. So assuming the best of heart and intentions, whether or not a conscience is well-formed under the guidance of Mother Church, discern this: is a tattoo ever morally good?

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    1. Atticus

      Still don’t see that name calling you referred to. My, my–you “sure as hell” can judge the actions of man? Your tone seems disproportionate to your participation in this discussion. Who’s defensive again?

      Look, aggressive, good-natured argument is healthy and good. But your invitation to argue in anger is declined.

      Besides, I don’t really see that your question has much to do with Christina’s post anyway (that was kinda the point of this whole discussion).

      I take it back to the Ethiopian Christians I mentioned earlier. Let’s assume they’re real (I believe they are; research needed). And let’s assume part of their cultural coming-of-age custom is to tattoo every child on his or her thirteenth birthday; it’s a religious tattoo, but one steeped in Ethiopian culture. This custom has been handed down for 50 generations.

      Now, I’m not really sure what you mean by “morally good” (please define), but I wouldn’t exactly jump at the chance to denounce them as grotesque, vain defilers of God’s creation. Would you?

      (So, this gets us to the “ever” in your question; I’m not talking just about Western culture.)

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  13. Cordelia

    This has nothing to do with the question of the moral rightness of getting a tattoo. I just wanted to share that I can think of an example of a tattoo on a Catholic that would not repulse me, but, remind me to forgive sinners and admire the one who bears it–the tattoo of a concentration camp survivor.

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    1. Atticus

      Sure it does. If you can’t tell me it’s wrong in my example, then it undermines the universal condemnation that FestivAle seems prepared to level? (Unbounded by cultural lines. Westerners and tattoos=usually a bad idea.)

      This has gotten exhausting. And it’s clearly too personal for most. I’m bowing out. It was fun.

      And FestivAle, I’m serious about the beer date. Papago. Bear Rupublic Racer X. You. Me. In?

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  14. Cordelia

    One last comment. Sorry, Atticus. I’m not sure if you understood me. I meant the numbers forcibly tattooed on someone at the time of their imprisonment in a concentration camp. It is evil to force someone to get a tattoo against their will. The person with the tattoo didn’t choose to do it so there’s no issue of moral culpability unless you want to argue that they should have refused to cooperate and are somehow at fault.

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  15. Christopher Milton

    Ok, I’m a late-comer to the conversation, but here is what immediately occured to me:

    Solomon ornately decorated the temple in Jerusalem at God’s direction. Filling it with images of nature and the wonder of God’s creation. We point to this as the difference between edifying art and idol worship.

    Indeed, Christians have a long tradition of building ornate temples to worship God in – stained glass, gilding, fine carvings, etc.

    Could we apply this to our temple of the Holy Spirit? What if I covered my body in edifying imagery – perhaps something that both humbled me as a disciple, but built up the city of God?

    Final thought: Has the Church really never issued an opinion on (non-pagan) tatoos?

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  16. Cordelia

    I don’t think that we can apply the same elements of what makes a beautiful church with the body being a temple of the Holy Spirit and what makes it beautiful. The church building is supposed to represent nature glorified, i.e. matter transformed into the House of God.

    I think it would be missing the mark to assert that tattoos would be an effective way to transform our temples to make them more glorious, more “edifying.”. St. Teresa of Avila’s “Interior Castle” says that the heart of worship is interior. She says that God dwells at the center of our souls and the gateway is prayer.

    Maybe it is easy to become confused by the present culture of bumber stickers, sound bites, and other similar ways of communicating and think that we should bear our souls on our sleeves, like bumper stickers on cars. We probably give too much time and attention to the utility of things and to externals. There is a deeper way that God wants to dwell in us and it is a glorius crystal palace in our souls where we are truly beautified.

    And this is probably the reason why tatoos have never been and never will be incorporated into authentic Christian culture!

    Reply

    1. John R.P. Russell

      Tattoos have indeed been “incorporated into authentic Christian culture!”

      http://www.curkovic.ca/?p=45

      “Tattooing has a long history and tradition among the Catholic women of Bosnia and Hercegovina.”

      “It is believed that Catholic women during this time (1463-1878) started getting tattooed as a way to avoid forced conversions to Islam (through marriage) or to prevent being taken into captivity (i.e. harems) by the Ottomans.”

      “The tattoo designs featured mostly Christian symbols such as crosses….”

      Reply

  17. Mike in KC, MO

    A side business I run is in real estate. Properties are across the board. Upper B class houses/duplexes, down to very low C class apartments. Through my experience with the many people I meet and get to know in my day to day life in this way, also my experience in college and my normal day job, I have found one thing to be very true: There is nothing ‘unique’ about getting a tattoo. It doesn’t make you any more individualistic than buying a Harley Davidson, despite what the marketing says.

    I have no problem with people who get tattoos, of course. If that’s what you want to do, knock yourself out. However, the more and more people I meet, I keep remembering P. J. O’Rourke’s statement:

    “When I see a kid with three or four rings in his nose, I know there is absolutely nothing extraordinary about that person.”

    In my growing experience, I begin to see more and more that it also applies to most people who get tattoos.

    Are there some great people out there that have tattoos? Sure! I’m simply speaking from my experience, here.

    Reply

  18. C.S. Thomas Aquinas

    Body mortification is not inherently evil, Pope John Paul II was known to commit body mortification, and many Saints have a history in body mortification. Tattooing is a body mortification and like drinking is not sinful in itself. However, doing it for the wrong reasons, or doing it without judgment can make it sinful.

    Reply

    1. Atticus

      Interesting take. But from my experience, I wasn’t trying to mortify my body. I may have been trying to sanctify my body, but not by defeating my flesh (which is the right aim of mortification). Indeed, it’s much more accurate to say that I was trying to glorify God through my flesh. Misguided, perhaps. Sincere, definitely.

      Anyway, I’m not so sure that most who tattoo themselves are trying to mortify their flesh.

      Reply

      1. C.S. Thomas Aquinas

        If you kill someone and didn’t intend to kill them, does it mean that you didn’t kill them? No, it means that was not your intention.

        Yes, glorify God by all means. I know of One who glorified God with His entire body, and He was not misguided. I don’t know what you mean by misguided, but I would not feel ashamed.

        I have marked myself as Jesus’ servant. I have known two brothers who are covered in religious ink, one a Father and the other a Friar in the Dominicans. I am sure they would have come against a reasonable argument against tattoos, but neither have to my knowledge.

        Reply

  19. sweetjane

    I think this is an interesting post and argument, albeit one to which I do not subscribe. I have two tattoos, one a rosary with a Celtic cross around my ankle and the top of my foot, and the other, above my shoulder blade, is the Jesuit seal (IHS within a sun) taken directly from the tapestry in St. Ignatius’ ancestral home. My tattoos clearly mark me as a Catholic, permanently and indelibly. Living in LA, I find them much more effective at prompting people to re-think their ideas about Catholics being retrograde or out of touch than dressing in floor length shapeless sacks, as I’ve seen some orthodox Catholic women do to indicate their piety.

    Furthermore, the only sources of argumentation for tattoos as body defilement, etc., that I have read previously came from evangelical Christians and Mormons. I don’t think their arguments are sound, and I don’t think Catholics should follow down those paths. While tattooing is not for everyone, and certainly there are many awful tattoos out there, done properly, it can be a beautiful statement.

    Reply

  20. Mike B.

    *I haven’t read all the comments, I don’t have that much time*

    But nonetheless, I was courious what some might think of tattoo’s of a faithful nature. Praying hands, a rosary, crucifix, Christ the King, or of a saint, verses of scripture even.

    Reply

  21. Marty W.

    Interesting perspective. While I diagree that all tattoos are objectionable or were traditionally shunned in society (fraternities have tradional tattoos – albeit discrete and minimalist – going back centuries), I think you raise many valid points.
    It’s true that genuine “ladies” seem to be few and far between these days.

    Reply

  22. Joseph Reierson

    Catholic Apologist Patrick Madrid posted a PDF of an article written by Deacon Robert Lukosh, taken from Envoy Magazine about this very subject on his blog about a year ago:

    http://patrickmadrid.blogspot.com/2009/08/physical-graffiti-catholic-perspective.html

    It takes a pretty in-depth look at the “body-art” issue and ends with some interesting questions. What I liked about the deacon’s article is that he approaches it from the Catholic perspective which acknowledges that both the ends and the means have to be morally licit. I do not intend defend the deacon here so any objections should be directed to the author in the proper manner.

    Christina has posited a few of the reasons why she thinks that Catholics should not get tattoos. I have two tattoos and had I read either of these articles beforehand, my decision to (not) get the tattoos may have been a lot more prudent; however, I’m not certain that I would have chosen not to get them – rather my motives would probably have been more appropriate.

    If we suppose that any of my tattoos were inked in a fit of vanity but their subject is morally licit, is it now justifiable to make them mean something more than they perhaps once did? Put another way, do you think it still possible to keep them provided I can show how the particular tattoo would express the beauty of God’s creation, is morally neutral or unoffensive with respect to the dignity and souls of my brethren, and does not inhibit the proper function of my skin?

    Reply

  23. Cordelia

    Thanks, again, Tea Turalija, for sharing. I need to clarify my point about tattoos not having been incorporated into authentic Western Catholic culture. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the practice of tattooing in Bosnia and Herzegovina is not relevant to the discussion because this is just like the example of Ethopian tattooing practices. It’s really interesting to know about but the fact remains that tattos are not a mainstream part of Western Catholic culture. Why not?

    In our contemporary culture, a tattoo is a form of self expression and we should ask ourselves who are we speaking to:
    God? He doesn’t need us to tatoo ourselves to speak to him. In fact, look to Catholic tradition and doctrine for a more solid answer about how we can speak to God.;
    Others? There are more effective ways of communicating with others and more of a Catholic perspective attributed to scripture and tradition to say that we shouldn’t be displaying our piety for others to see.

    Are we getting a tattoo because we think that it’s some neat practice that some Catholics did somewhere for some isolated period of time and therefore making it OK for me to do it, too? Never mind the reasons why.

    It seems to me that these are all non-Catholic attitudes or reasons for getting tattoos in our day and time.

    Reply

    1. C.S. Thomas Aquinas

      God doesn’t need anything, what is your point? Do you also dismiss the non-mainstream devotions within the Latin Rite?

      Reply

      1. Cordelia

        If the question of tattooing only is a question of religious devotion, I guess we’re all free to do whatever we are inspired to do by the Holy Spirit. By process of induction, permanent tattoos could be justified as moral if they are seen as a form of mortification and evangelization, i.e. starting with the conclusion rather than with a universally true premise. In that case, anyone could conclude that the present time is calling for the creation of a new devotion–Christian tattoos for God to glorify Him at the same time as convert the “new pagans”.

        Reply

        1. Atticus

          Pointing out that something has “pagan” roots isn’t exactly anathema to Christianity. As Chesterton argues from history, “There is one thing, and one thing only, in existence at the present day which can in any sense accurately be said to be of pagan origin, and that is Christianity.” I’m not real sure where this “pagan roots” argument gets us.

          Again, the arguments that have been raised against tattooing are all cultural. Is it something that one ought to avoid, especially in Western culture? Probably yes. But these would all be secondary-effects type arguments (e.g., tattooing might cause loss of social standing, ill health effects, and so forth). Similar arguments can be made against smoking, drinking, and other so-called vices.

          So, what about tattooing puts it in a special class? I just haven’t seen any persuasive argument that tattooing is, in its essence, immoral. Am I missing something?

          Reply

          1. Cordelia

            http://www.tattoosymbol.com/christian/christian1.html
            This article parts 1 and 2, is so interesting. Apparently, a German mystic and Dominican of medieval times–Heinrich Suso–tattooed “Jesus” over his heart. And maybe a girl in 1501 was tattooed as part of an exorcism.

            According to this link there is only one scripture reference that has anything to do with tattooing being a negative thing and might be saying that tattoos are only immoral in relation to tattooing being a joining in, I think, or a participation in heathen practices. Tattooing of this nature has been banned before by at least one pope (Pope Hadrian in the late 700s) but religious tattoos seem to have been praised as well.

            Reply

            1. Atticus

              Another point of interest — a doctor recently advised my wife and me to tattoo on our soon-to-be-born son (when he’s a bit older) a notice that he has a certain medical condition that emergency-medical providers would need to know about. Although he could wear a medic-alert bracelet or the like, these devices could easily be displaced in the type of accident that would implicate this condition.

              Reply

          2. c matt

            I’m not real sure where this “pagan roots” argument gets us.

            I suppose it is a directional thing – it is one thing to have a pagan practice and baptize/Christianize it, but a different thing to have a Christian idea and paganize it. The question seems to be does this move is from pagan to Christian, or Christian to pagan?

            Reply

  24. Michael

    No doubt about it….I was brought up exactly the way Christina wrote about to start her thread, but that was back in the 50s and 60s in Southern Africa where blacks (and whites) did not get tattoos which leaves me puzzled about the Ethiopian story. So, definitely, I was very prejudiced on arriving in the USA and more so to be met by all these folks both black and white with tattoos of every description on every part of their bodies…..and in color!
    But over the years I’ve been here I got to talking to lots of these tattooed folks and to my amazement they were/are not the trash I’d been lead to believe they were, well, not all of them. Some of them were/are so well educated and well spoken and seemingly so nice, it gave me a headache even trying to comprhend why they would desecrate their bodies in this manner. Then I was shocked to find that many of them were/are in fact Catholics who believed in and knew their faith much better than me. This really shook me to my shoes! Eventually at an audience with my bishop I asked him about this and whether Catholic teaching condemned tattoos as I thought, as per a verse in Leviticus, or from the Magisterium and he said “he was not aware of any declared prohibitions” ( never answering my Leviticus problem) but did comment that “those who tattooed themselves with sacred images to show respect or committment had better ways of doing that.” So it would seem that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with tattoos or for that matter ear-piercing and other (what I would formerly have regarded as mutilations) desecrations to the temple of the Holy Spirit. I’m finding it very difficult to accept that position but it seems I must. On another plane, altogether, I just find tattoos very unsightly and I just think they look like dirt that’s been there for a week. But whilst I would never have a real tattoo I would consider a henna one (i.e., one that washes off in a couple of weeks) to cover some bad skin blemishes, so does that make me a hypocrite? I hope not.

    Reply

  25. Ren Witter

    I have not yet had time to read all of the comments on this post, however I do have some thoughts on the original article:

    I think this is a fair question. I was eighteen when I got my first tattoo and I spent alot of time researching the Catholic Church’s teaching on the subject. Interestingly, what I found in my research, and this is my second thought, is that one of the strongest origins of post-biblical/post B.C tattooing comes from the early christians themselves. In fact, not only was tattooing prevalent amongst the early christians, but more than this, they practiced the far more controversial art of “scarring,” (cutting deep into the body so that the permanent wounds create a clear image.) This is a quote from one of many websites that speaks of the christian origin of tattooing:
    “Procopius of Caesarea, who lived during the first half of the sixth century and wrote number of official histories, once reported that many Christians were tattooed, on their arms, with a cross or the name of Christ.5

    Charles MacQuarrie, in his work, “Insular Celtic Tattooing: History, Myth, and Metaphor,” details how “marks” that are mentioned in the Life of Saint Brigit may have been tattoos.

    At the council of Calcuth in Northumberland, the 786 Report of the Papal Legates mentioned two types of tattooing: one of pagan superstition, which doesn’t aid any Christian, and another for the sake of God, which provides certain (unnamed) rewards.8

    Crusaders, arriving in the Holy Land, often tattooed a small cross on their hands or arms as a sign that they desired a Christian burial.9″

    I find this history interesting, seeing as several comments have stated that religious tattoos in particular are misguided.

    As I mentioned earlier, I got my first tattoo at eighteen and have since had two more done. I am in the process of designing my fourth. I am a Catholic, and I also, in reference to the original article, consider myself very “lady”like. I do not understand this comment at all “These tattoos are a rejection of that charity and a rejection of aligning oneself with the unique role God has given to women.” For those who question an individual’s motivation for getting a tattoo, this has been and continues to be my own: I believe the desire to manifest physically and sensibly beliefs or realities that are already alive in the soul is innately human. In the language of the sacraments, we desire to make an outward sign of an inward reality. It is this that makes us desire to have sex with someone we love, (the outward union expresses the inward reality of love and oneness with another,) to act out in forms charity the love and care we feel towards other people, and even seemingly superfluous habits, like dressing differently to match where we are or how we feel on a different day. I believe art follows the same pattern. It takes a single reality in the soul and makes it manifest in a perceptible way. This may be for the general good of all who see it, or it may remain something private. I know this is a bit long-winded, but I say it because I believe that this is a true nature of tattoos. I am not referring to a tattoo someone drunk and acting on a bet – as mentioned in a previous post – gets by walking into a shop and picking out some relatively meaningless image from a large collection already available. I mean those tattoos had by individuals who – and there are many – find some belief, or saying, or image that is central enough to their life that they desire to bring it out of invisible reality and make it clearly manifest in a perceptible form; they design it, they think on it, and in a clear state of mind they have it done. In my own case I couldn’t care who sees my tattoos, (they are all easily covered,) or if anyone besides myself ever does. They are for me – to remind me of something I am prone to forget, or to serve as a motivation towards something good.

    Also, lets not forget the simple difference of aesthetic differences. I love J. S. Singer. My friend loves Monet. I’m all for artist objectivity, but I think that too often the more shocking nature of images on the human body lead people to catagorize them as “grotesque” without giving them the fair scrutiny they give to any other art. There is good and bad tattoo art (concerning the quality of the artistry displayed.)

    Lastly, I really do not understand how some individuals are unwilling to equate the moral questions raised by tattoos with those so clearly surrounding drinking, smoking, etc. You say tattoos are permanently disfiguring, but alcohol by its nature deforms human judgement, and smoking causes instant physical harm to the body. I smoke, and occasionally drink. I consider my tattoos the least morally questionable habit I carry. In fact, I really do not consider it a habit at all. Maybe people are more willing to forgive drinking and smoking and eating what they want because it feels good and it doesn’t make you bleed.

    Reply

  26. kirsten Philadelphia

    the article, as originally posted, was unduly harsh, inflammatory, and in fact made several assumptions of INTENT.
    intent to defile the body
    intent to be grotesque
    intent to be “like cain”
    intent to be coarse, unladylike, scandalous

    are some tattoos grotesque? yes. Are some are intended to be, yes.
    are they all? no.
    some are intended to show affiliation with a group (including the Catholic church, but not limited to that) some are intended to be “beautiful”.
    you may argue whether these decisions are well considered, just, or correct… but when someone says ” i know what you intended, i know what is in your heart” i am extremely dubious.
    i have considered following in ST. Alphonsus Liguoris footsteps and marking myself as belonging in the household and service of Mary. he wanted a brand….. but out of obedience he didnt get one.

    i am dubious about a tatto because of our esteemed Jewish friends attitudes toward them.. that they are assumed to be “a marking of the flesh to commemorate the dead” and not permitted.

    so i am left wondering if a tattoo, or brand, or whatever, that glorifies God or carries a permanent statement of the faith forever as a winess.. is in error.

    i dont have a tattoo. i am saying that first because a LOT of assumptions seem to be made about commentators by other commentators. i have also sadly noticed a LOT of accusations of abuse, being thrown BY THE PEOPLE DOING IT.
    the most accusations of name calling have come from people whose posts are full of name calling.
    and i dont know any of you. i have no personal attachment to any of you. so i have no reason to take sides.

    Reply

  27. Russ

    My father was a career sailor. When I went to sea for the first time he took me aside and warned me against tattoo’s. He said you are a Catholic sailor you are not to mark the body God gave you it’s a sign of moral weakness. Saying the rosary in the berthing compartment in your rack every night is a sign of moral courage.

    He had no tattoo’s and I have none. Sailor tattoo’s historically served two purposes one was protection from drowning (ropes around the wrist) the other was to lessen flogging (the Virgin Mary or the Crucifix on the back). Neither worked very well historically.

    I’ve seen converts with their prison or gang tatts visible, but as they learned the faith they had them removed or covered during mass.

    Tribal tattoos, celtic tattoo’s, nautical tattoos etc. are not Catholic nor Christian in origin. They are always a sign that says look at me. I prefer to have people look at Christ whose body was marked for us.

    God Love You All

    Russ

    Reply

  28. Clare

    I know this is an old post and probably no one will read it, but I feel the need to put my two cents in. I’m a 22 year old, I work in theatre, and i am tattooed. My fiancé and I are thinking about converting to Catholicism, and the attitude about tattoos is one thing I’m concerned about. I love my tattoo and I could never even pretend to be ashamed of it. It has many meanings, but above all it’s a reminder of how I fought my way out of a horrible depression a few years ago, with the help of my friends, my family, my job, and my faith. I do not drink. I do not do drugs. I am faithful to my fiancé. I consider myself a Christian woman with intelligence, ambition, morals and class. And if my mother can love me after I put ink in my skin, I’m pretty sure God can too.

    Reply

  29. Ally

    I realize I am slightly late in this debate, but i would like to point out that wether you are for or against tattoos, it is all in your own personal social upbringing. a great friend of mine spent her school years in a private christian school, loves god, and is covered in beautiful tattoos, none of which are offensive to any religion or person. I myself have two tattoos, and plan on getting more. the acceptance or decision of getting any tattoo, piercing, branding or body modification lie not within a religion or a ‘rebellion’ but the innate desire to be un-uniquely unique. being human is completly conditional. your decision of devoting yourself to any given ‘god’ or ‘gods’ is as foreign to me as getting piercings and tattoos is to you. i myself do not believe in any one given god, religion, or divine power, but i do believe there is a purpose to life, and that is to fufill your lifes ambitions and stand behind every decision you ever make right or wrong. I am writing a research paper on the social and psychological aspects of getting tattooed and pierced and i appreciate everyones comments, as well as this article. every one of your opinons is 100% entitled and have been very useful to my research. and christina- thank you for writing this article, I love a good debate.
    -Ally

    Reply

  30. Peter

    The tatoo craze is, in part at least, the result of secular societies inability to grasp the sacredness of the body. It’s a kind of reductionism that veils the truth about the body. The body is seen as an artifact to be decorated, a place for me to express my creativity, my individuality. My body becomes a kind of wall upon which I send messages to the world about myself. The body is a means, a thing at my disposal to be used as I see fit. In addition, its another expression of the idea that “my body is my own.” My body is something I possess, something I own, and therefore it’s mine to do with as I choose.

    We don’t paint sacred things (different than a painting, e.g., an icon, that is a sacred thing), and my body is not my own, it belongs to God. Secular societies dualism also plays a part. My body is a shell which houses the real me. Not so, rather I am a body-person; my body is integral to my personhood.

    I’m not claiming the final word on this subject, just haven’t heard compelling arguments in favor.

    Reply

  31. c matt

    stand behind every decision you ever make right or wrong.

    I would hope to repent of my wrong decisions rather than stand behind them. That is generally known as learning from your mistakes.

    Reply

  32. Faifunghi

    I wholly agreed with this article until I met a group of young (20-30 something) Arab Christian men from Syria, Iraq and Jordan. They were at the beach and literally covered in huge tattoos of Christ, Our Lady, the Cross etc. I chatted with them a bit because they were playing with my children, racing them in the water and so forth. These men have these tattoos done because if they ever go to jail there is no way they can deny their faith and if they are tortured, the tattoos serve as a source of strength. To me this was a stunning and ultimately beautiful reminder that these people are tested as Christians in ways that are unimaginable to us in the West.
    I still agree with your premise, there are a lot of really dreadful tattoos out there, but there are legitimate and quite beautiful reasons for having tattoos too.

    Reply

  33. J J

    Coming ultra late into this topic, as a devout Catholic- I will say that I do have a tattoo. So my bias is there.

    I doubt this article was meant to attack, and while this can be an argument of culture, we cannot deny some things about the Church herself, that She in her wisdom has throughout history- adopted pagan traditions and transformed them in herself. Just think about Christmas Trees, the pagan notion of the evergreen tree, lasting in the winter symbolizing eternal life, the Church has incorporated this for our own tradition because when she came into the other pagan cultures she did not destroy them but adopted them into her own heart, because the natural call of all mankind is to God, we are all drawn to Him knowing him or not. We all desire the permanence, the eternity that we see in the evergreen tree. We find this in God. All over the Church are ancient pagan symbols, could we say then, that the Church herself is in a way adorned with Tattoos, symbols and traditions from ancient pagan culture.

    Obviously she has chosen them with taste, and with the notion of human universality.

    We have the anchor which I have seen on many stained glass windows, which is so rich in our Church history, the symbol dates all the way back to the earliest Christian circles-the symbol of the fishermen, the strength and hope of holding fast in the midst of the storm-this was used by early pagans also, because the symbol meant the same thing- it kept you grounded, it would save your life, and help you get your food source.

    There are so many more symbols and traditions, I would doubt that those who have Celtic crosses in their houses would throw them out because of their pagan roots. These things have been transformed by the light of Christianity, under God’s own universality because the pagans, though living away from God were still meant to be for God. As Christians we can either do two different things with history, deny that some of the symbols and practices we use were originally pagan (good luck) , or we can acknowledge them as part of God’s plan to prepare those individuals for Him. I mean come on lets not be so shrewd as to think that God only prepared the Hebrew people for Himself. Even something like the fertility goddess worship-while the practices had numerous sinful characters, they held to the basic notion that Eve, the woman gave life to the human race, and honor was to be given to the woman who can bring life into the world, does this not prepare for the teaching of Mary and Christ, the woman we give honor to for bringing our new life and salvation? If this can be transformed, in the knowledge of Christ, why cannot tattoos?

    If you want a more modern example think of Christian Rock music being played at Youth Masses. Rock has a lot of counter cultural rebellious roots. But this too can be seen within the Church as a tasteful adaptation of secular or even neo pagan culture.

    Furthermore, I would hope, that many Catholics are devoted to the Sacred Heart, right? I would strongly suggest Catholic individuals take a closer look at what Jesus said to Margaret Mary Alacoque to tell the King of France about the Sacred Heart. ” It wants to Reign in his palace, be painted on his standards, and engraved on his arms, so that they may be victorious over all his enemies”

    Note the engraved on his arms bit. Now as Catholics we do not have to follow the Sacred Heart devotion if we do not want to or don’t believe it, but I am kind of doubting Jesus is being metaphorical here. I could be wrong , but if that causes you to no longer follow that devotion I am most sorry! Because it is one of the most beautiful in our faith.

    While I firmly agree there may be reasons why tattooing on an individual may be sinful, but if Christ demanded, the King of France to engrave the Sacred Heart onto his arms, I do not think that it can be inherently sinful. Just like the evergreen tree, and the anchor symbols or some adopted traditions are not inherently sinful, if they were just because they were of pagan origin.

    It must be up to the individual, are they choosing to wear their tattoos as a way to evangelize to the culture, to transform pagan ideas into Christian ones like the Church does? Are they using it as an image that is offensive to show off and be a part of the culture, or are they using it to glorify God a like Christmas tree in a Catholic Church?

    In the end this topic has alluded to the many other Catholic cultures that use tattoos for symbolism of their faith, is not the Church universal? How can we say that this here is bad, and it is not there when it is prevalent in other Catholic cultures? Most likely the Magistarium does not say so because of this understanding, that’s because the Church goes beyond mere western culture. One only need go to a Byzantine Catholic Church to be glad of that!

    Pax. Good topic, if anyone is still out there.

    Reply

  34. Tom

    I’m not too interested in this topic but I was bothered by the following statement in the original post:

    “How will she ever have a chance to be a respectable lady? Where is her class?”

    My guess is that the writer of this post probably finds heroism in the courageous women who form the organization Silent No More. I doubt the author of the post would ask these questions about these women. And, that’s good. Yet, isn’t procuring an abortion a much graver action than getting a tattoo, or even 10 tattoos? The implication here is that any woman with a tattoo is trashy and irredeemably in a state of mortal sin. If she is in a state of mortal sin, it will not be because she has a tattoo. To see a woman with a tattoo and respond in this way is itself a distortion of caritas. Behind each face is the hidden narrative of a personal history that finds its origin in the womb of each person’s mother. We have no idea what is written in the narrative of each individual’s personal history. I’m reminded of a famous maxim usually attributed either to Plato or Philo of Alexandria: “Be kind, for every person you meet is engaged in a great struggle.” We have innumerable, brief encounters with people in our lives, such as at restaurants or checkout counters like the original post mentioned. We can neither draw any conclusions nor make any judgements about the person across from us based upon some images inked upon their skin, just as we can make no judgements about a person’s goodness just because they go to mass every Sunday (“Why do you call me good?” Lk 18:19) Such a judgement is objectively speaking a prejudice, in the strictest sense of that word. If your child notices something on the forearm of the cashier, talk to your child about it. If it was something inappropriate, explain to your child why it’s inappropriate. But, charity ought to be modeled to your child in your explanation. There ought not be any hint of judgements that are not ours to make. We have to guard against casting matters of mere taste in the mould of moral righteousness.

    Mary Magdalene most certainly would have been one of these bedraggled and tattoo-riddled lost maidens who have no class according to some. The same could be said of the woman who washed Christ’s feet with her tears. I have no doubt that Christ, were this episode of salvation history to be played out here and now, would have welcomed both women in just the same way he did back then and restored them to their proper place as rightful inheritors of the kingdom of Heaven:

    “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him. (Matthew 21:31b, 32)

    He is our model in all things. If we believe what we profess, our place is with Christ, welcoming those he welcomes. This does not mean condoning certain actions we believe are wrong. But, it does mean always doing our utmost to keep the other’s personhood before us always and remembering that each person is created imago dei, and loved by God. Love, not righteous indignation, is the best lens through which to look at others. If that 20-something, tattoo riddled damsel at Sprouts were the only person alive, Christ would have made the same sacrifice for her as he did for us, “though we were stil sinners”. The greatest Catholics are converts. I would bet that Mary Magdalene understood more about femininity than many Catholic “ladies.”

    The orginal post smacks of the tone that probably predominated at the time when it was decided by the clean ones that the dirty ones (lepers) must carry bells and shout out their uncleanliness to passers-by so they could scurry away quickly, although in that case there may have been a real hygiene concern.

    One is free to ruminate upon the merits/demerits of a given action, but do let’s refrain from assumptions about the character of others. C. S. Lewis cited spiritual pride as the most insidious of all sins.

    One final comment on the word “defilement” used in the original post. The writer seemed to suggest that tattoos endanger the redemption of the flesh because they defile the flesh. What then of bodies ravaged by cancer, or emphysema, or any other number of diseases that defile and destroy the organs of the flesh? No one has any idea how the redemption of the flesh will be achieved. But, through the theological virtues of faith and hope, we believe that it will be achieved in whatever manner God determines. And, if He wills it, His will shall be achieved regardless of any defilement that may have occurred in one’s earthly sojourn.

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