on a christian philosophy of tattoos

So, I just read an absurd blog post about tattoos. I will not link it up, but because I am an INTP, I feel an almost compulsive need to dismantle this person’s post. Especially as I read comments like “you’re an inspiration” and “this post was beautiful”. For the record, I am not emotionally involved in this debate; however, my body is and will remain tattooless. ((My genuine hope is that this post will be as offensive as possible to all of my tattooed friends.))

First, the baptized philosophy on tattoos.
(1) He likes the “cultural” (???) aesthetic of tattoos. In other words, he first simply likes this as an artistic medium.
(2) He likes what they stand for: Tattoos represent an unconventional way of life that appeals to his bold and rebellious personality. They stand for rebellious, “out-of-the-box” thinking.
(3) His “theological” justification is summed up in the quote “Jesus struggled so we could be free and now we are free to struggle.” His rationale goes something like this: because our value and worth comes not from us but a work of Christ and we are freed on the basis of Christ’s merits—and not our own—we can now be free to be open and honest about our struggles and weaknesses.
(4) Tattoos, therefore, represent a way of telling our story and being honest about our struggles and regrets. Tattoos provide a documentation of sorts of our life’s regrets that have been redeemed in Christ. This translates into the rationale that I should get a tattoo that I know I will regret because it will afford me an opportunity to tell my story.

I believe that faithfully summarizes his justification. Now I must put an end to the buffoonery.
(1) I can understand the taste for the aesthetics. There are some cool tattoos out there. Here is my problem though. Tattoos are born out of a generally low view of the body. Correlations have been shown between tattoos and low body/self-image. That is tattoos are more likely to be found on the bodies of those dissatisfied with their selves as is. This is the same way that cutting or plastic surgery is related to poor self-image. Now, this is not to say this is everybody’s underlying motivation; however, it is often times the case that tattoos are related to cultural or personal beliefs and attitudes, which have a generally low view of the body. In other words, the body is an inconsequential and temporary thing that we will rid ourselves of when we die. (Admittedly, tattoos mean different things to different cultures. In one culture it something they do to their slaves. In another, it is done for status. But I believe underlying it all is a general view of the body as dispensable.) The doctrines of creation and resurrection, however, do not allow us as Christians to follow this line of thinking. The body is not the canvas; it is the work of art. The body is an essential aspect of our person. It is every bit the object of God’s redemption as the soul. In other words, God made it good, and he plans for you to take it with you when you die. Remember Jesus’ resurrection, Paul tells us, is only the first. All will follow suit in time. If Jesus took his scars with them in the resurrection, it is possible that so will we.
(2) It is hard for me to swallow the argument for individuality and individual expression. People do not get tattoos to be an individual. People get tattoos to be accepted by others. It is funny to me when groups identify themselves as nonconformist. Oh really? Is that why you all look and dress the same? It is for this same reason that I don’t take the tattoo as an act of rebellion. When it is the cool thing to do, it is not an act of rebellion. Anymore, keeping the commandments is the true act of rebellion.
(3) The theological justification is a good one...for me to poop on. I do not think this represents the mind of the person who penned that quote—at least it should not have been. There is a fundamental difference between admitting we are sinners, and trying not to be a hypocrite about our weaknesses, and writing them across our foreheads (or forearms as the case may be). The freedom for which Christ died is the freedom from sin—a freedom from the need to obey our flesh—not the freedom to indulge it or exalt it. The argument that somehow displaying our struggles on our bodies has more integrity is poopy to me.
(4) Now, the argument for a story perhaps has the most merit, but not in the form that it takes in this person’s head. I totally understand that when a change happens in somebody’s life they want to mark it in some way. They want to tell the story. This was why the Israelites built monuments where significant events took place. It was a way of remembering. It was a way of retelling the story. So also, in this way, maybe a tattoo could be a logical way of making such a marker. However, the argument that “I will do this permanent thing that I know I will regret, and I know will look terrible on me at 65 because it will give me a story to tell” is a bit like saying, “I want to get plastered tonight because I know I will regret it tomorrow morning, but it will give me an opportunity to tell the story of how my regrets are redeemed in Christ.”

One of my favorite responses to this idea of evangelistic tattooing came from the mom of one the guys in our college group. She told her son, who was set on getting a tattoo of a fish or something, “If you need a tattoo for somebody to know you are Christian, you’ve got a problem.”

***I will say it again, I am not as against tattooing as much as I am against stupid reasons. Perhaps, you will find my reasons just as arbitrary.***


PG said...

WOW, the big guy comin in hot!!!!!! I now feel horrible for getting my fratoo. Haha!

Is being young and stupid a reason for getting one?

BAB said...

Hahahahah. You gotta come hot to get comments around here!

I don't look down on you...that much.

Travis said...

Brett, first of all I think you have a low pain tolerance and a limp libido for communicating with the outside world (i.e. outside your head), and thats why you dont have tattoos.

Just Kidding. (no really, I'm kidding)

Actually, I think that guy's reasons sound pretty dumb as you quoted him (or maybe misquoted him for all i know).

I disagree that tattoos have to necessarily correlate with a low view of the body, but I do agree that our theology of the body affects (and should affect) what we think of them. I think most people only asked the question "is it ok or not, (based on the Levitical command)".

So yea, I think the better question would be "what is the value of our bodies, and how would tattooing it, affect that?"

I agree with the whole pseudo-rebellion. Its a catch 22 for all people, and thats why no matter what you're trying to be like, there is nothing new under the sun.

More to come on this one you smug bastard....

BAB said...

That's what I am talkin' about! You have to be a bit of an a-hole to get some engagement around here.

This is probably just an elaborate justification for my extreme aversion to pain, but my libido is quite strong I'll have you know.

It would be worth exploring the logic of the Leviticus command (Lev 19:28). I don't have an answer on it right now. I don't think the law itself is binding to us, but I wonder if there is a logic--a theology of the body to it. (But then we do have to explain why we shouldn't shave our sideburns.)

I don't think it is necessarily a low view of the body either. Each culture that tattoos does so for a different reason, but I do think that a lot of what I see today especially when it gets excessive (and usually starts to be accompanied by lots of piercings) comes from some distortion of body image.

I still love you and Jyll and Justin.

PG said...

Wait....you shave your sideburns?

Travis said...

On the 'low view of the body', upon further reflection I thought does this mean that God has a 'low view of the body' for his body modification of circumcision that He instated?