LEARN TO LIVE, LIVE TO LEARN
“To know much and taste nothing-of what use is that?” ―St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio
Over the past decades, tattooing has vastly grown in popularity. The question for some still remains: Is it wrong for me to get a tattoo? We’re going to answer this question below, and give a thorough explanation. Whether the info you’ll read below will encourage you to take that important step in life and ink a part of your body is on you.
"Good morning po, kuya! May I ask something po? Ano po bang sinasabi ng Bible about sa tattoos and piercing? I was recently asked by friends and I’m afraid that I cannot explain—either with simple, or complex words. I want to be ready with an answer whenever my friends ask for my insight about this." <Bea V.>
Beatrice, I admire you for your intention to give your friends godly advice or wise counsel. You're an amazing friend to have! Perhaps the answer to this question is not as straightforward as we would like it to be. I think the best thing I can do is to offer some insights to help you come up with a good verbiage.
1. A study conducted by Dalia Research in 2018 shows that nearly 40% of global respondents from 18 countries say they have at least one tattoo. But before you raise your eyebrows on millennials, know that young people don’t have the highest rate of tattoos: 32% of respondents age 14 to 29 have a tattoo compared to a whopping 45% of people age 30 to 49 and 28% of people over 50. And contrary to popular opinion, more women (40%) than men (36%) are inked. With the increased popularity of tattoos comes the question of their morality. Are they sinful? Is it okay for Catholics to get inked?
2. Many conservative evangelicals often cite Leviticus 19:28 as explicit instruction by the Church not to get a tattoo:"Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves. I am the LORD." While this sounds like a fairly clear condemnation of tattoos, we have to keep in mind the context of the Old Testament law. If understood in its context, the prohibition was against the Canaanite practice of tattooing the names of the deceased on one’s body as a form of grieving over someone's death. The objective of the instruction is for Israelites, especially the priests, to exclude rites and practices associated with the Canaanite pagan religion. In ancient times, getting a tattoo as part of bereavement ceremonies expressed devotion to a false god.
3. Leviticus includes rules about offerings, clean and unclean food, diseases, bodily discharges, sexual taboos, and priestly conduct. These ceremonial laws related specifically to Israel’s worship. Their primary purpose was to point forward to Jesus Christ. Therefore, these were no longer necessary after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Unless these coincide with the moral law, these are not binding upon Catholic Christians at present. The prohibition in getting inked is no longer binding upon Catholic Christians for the same reason that prohibitions against eating red meat (19:26) and trimming one’s hair and beard (19:27) during a funeral are not binding upon Catholic Christians. We can’t cherry pick laws from the Old Testament and weaponize them to attack others. The New Testament makes it perfectly clear that the ceremonial law is no longer binding: Romans 10:4 says, “For Christ is the end of the law for the justification of everyone who has faith" Colossians 2:13-14 says that God "having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross. Hebrews 8:13 puts,"When he speaks of a 'new' covenant, he declares the first one obsolete. And what has become obsolete and has grown old is close to disappearing."
4. Culture, I believe, is one important aspect to look at when discussing the morality of tattoos. Responding to the question on tattoos, Pope Francis recalled how different cultures have used them as cultural expressions of belonging. He gave the example of Christian girls in Eritrea where a tattoo of a cross on their forehead were used as a symbol of beauty and religious faith. "Tattoos often signify membership in a community. You young man, that you're tattooed like that, what are you looking for? In this tattoo, which community membership are you expressing?" Answering a question from a Ukranian student-priest about how to respond to present-day culture, the pope told his audience of around 300 young people that tattoos were not necessarily a bad thing, "Don't be afraid of tattoos," he said - "but don't exaggerate either. If anything, use the tattoo as a talking-point to begin a dialogue about what it signifies."
5. From a moral standpoint, no. Tattoos and acts of body piercing are not intrinsically evil. Consequently, I would like to ask instead: What is your motivation for getting your self inked or pierced? Are you trying to get attention, to shock or offend, to intimidate, to look cool or sexy, to express rebellion? Do you want a tattoo/piercing just because you're bored, because your friends have tattoos/piercing, because they’re pretty or because it’s fun? Altering our hair color or having cosmetic surgery is not fundamentally different from getting a tattoo or body piercing. All are efforts to alter the appearance of our bodies. But what are you really trying to say with these tattoos/piercings?
6. Body art as a form of adornment, is ordered to the ultimate good of the person, if it observes modesty and avoids vanity, and if it respects the fundamental integrity of the human person—including the integrity of the body. In this case, it is morally permissible. Persons considering tattoos and body piercing must be aware of the implicit messages that these expressions convey in a particular time and place. When choosing a tattoo, the best rule is that of the apostle Paul taught in Philippians 4:8 "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." In 1 Corinthians 16: 19-20 he exhorts us to honor God with our bodies. The images should not be immoral, sexually explicit, Satanic, or in anyway opposed to the truths and teachings of Christianity and thus scandalize others (cf. Catechism, no. 1868, 2284).
7. In closing, I would like to remind you that God made each of us to be unique, special and beautiful in our own specific ways. His love for you is not based if you have tattoos or not. It doesn't matter to him if you have piercings or not. God loves you and will not forget you. In fact, God has ‘tattooed’ your name on the palm of his hand (Cf. Isaiah 49:16). Amazing, Isn't it?
Personally, gusto ko rin magpa-tattoo. Di ko lang alam kung saan ako uuwi pagkatapos. 😅😅😅
I hope some of this helps. Choose wisely. God bless.
Living under God's mercy - Kuya Jeff
Jaspers, N. (2018, May 17). Who Has The Most Tattoos? It’s Not Who You’d Expect. Dalia Research. https://medium.com/.../who-has-the-most-tattoos-its-not...
Pope Responds to Young People’s Questions at Pre-Synodal Meeting. (2018, March 19). Vatican News. https://www.vaticannews.va/.../pope-young-people...
Leviticus. (2015). In The New American Bible. Washington, District of Columbia: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. http://www.usccb.org/bible/leviticus/19
Catholic Church. (1994). Catechism of the Catholic Church. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum