punchy line

...and he (Simon Peter) saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth ... not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. - Jn 20: 6-7
-Jn 20: 6-7

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Girl with the ‘Interior’ Tattoo

The upcoming release of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has sparked some discussion about the morality of tattooing, and Msgr. Charles Pope’s excellent post on the topic makes it nearly indisputable that permanently altering our appearance for decorative purposes is not what God intended for our bodies.

Getting tattooed is not a sin, per se, but, as Msgr. points out, the book of Leviticus speaks against it, and, given that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, the act of using them as a canvas upon which to inscribe worldly designs is, shall we say, somewhat of a desecration of them.  The same can be said for excessive, bizarre piercings.   And, did I fail to mention that both require the puncturing and repetitive wounding of the skin? Msgr. Pope, you had me at “infection.”

The purpose of tattoos, as we all know, is to depict something of personal significance outwardly.  The media glamorizes such self-expression through TV shows and movies that practically mythologize tattoo parlors, tattoo artists and the people who get ‘tatted.’ In The Girl with A Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander is a computer hacker extraordinaire ‘set apart’ in so many ways, one of which is having a dragon tattooed on her back.  “She’s different,” we hear one character remark in the preview as she struts across the screen with bleached eyebrows and a black mohawk. And so, naturally, big companies trust her with their background investigations.

Why look anywhere else for quality employee assurance?
What Hollywood would like us to think is that we are somehow more “ourselves” with an external sign, which is the opposite of what Christianity teaches.  We believe that we are not what we adorn ourselves with whether it’s body art, material goods, or even other people.  At our innermost core, we are made in the image and likeness of God, and while no tattoo can ever take away from that, neither can it, no matter how religious it is, ever fully express it either.  

Of course, Christians who evangelize by getting ‘inked’ are just responding, in a very human way, to the supernatural desire to love and honor God.  Still, I would argue, they haven’t gone far enough.  How about this:

Instead of sitting in a tattoo parlor undergoing the pain of rapid pin pricks, why not obey God’s law and feel the ‘sting’ of dying to yourself as you place God’s will above your own.  Now try doing that all of the time, especially when it’s hard, and then your might get a taste of what the path to sainthood really entails.

Want the face of Jesus, or Our Lady on your body?  Instead of doing that, why not get to know them by reading Scripture, or by reading the writings of the saints in order to let the Holy Spirit more deeply forge the image of Christ within you?

Want to entrust yourself to the artistic talents of someone else?  Why not spend time before the Blessed Sacrament with the confidence that God can make your life a masterpiece of His grace if you let Him?

Want a piercing?  Be like Our Lady: allow your heart to be pierced.  Say "yes" to God, in other words, and experience what having love for Him and others truly means.

Instead of an external mark or tattoo, why not be the gal, or guy or with the ‘interior’ tattoo? The kind that can’t be removed by lasers because its been inscribed by God on our souls through frequent reception of the sacraments and perseverance in faith through the trials, failings, redemptions, risks, rejections, sacrifices and daily penances of Christian life.  The kind where if someone were to peer inside our hearts, there they would see a rendition of Christ crucified, or Our Lady or another Mother Theresa or Padre Pio.  Ink not required.

What role Salander’s ‘tat’ actually plays in a movie that is a collection of every brand of sexual sadism out there is difficult to discern (it’s the self proclaimed ‘feel bad’ movie of the Christmas season).  But Lisbeth Salander, in a way, is basically what Catholics are supposed to be but in a perverse rendition: ‘different,’ and a dragon tattoo supposedly proves it. 

As we get closer to Christmas, it may to helpful to reflect on how Christ’s coming has permanently altered us, has made us ‘different’ from the culture all around us...on the inside, that is.  As the Christmas song goes, "Then He appeared and the soul felt its worth." 

From Isaiah, we learn that God, remembering his people has "inscribed you on the palms of My hands" (Is 49:16 NASB) and later, Christ would bear actual wounds on His hands for our sake. Now those are a physical markings that bring us closer to our true identity than any tattoo ever could.


  1. I agree with your point wholeheartedly. However, I would like to point out that linguistics is very important for understanding the message in the word of God.

    That being said, Leviticus says "Do not mark or tattoo your body *for the dead*". To pretend that it does not say 'for the dead' is missing the mark.

  2. Hi Omar. Thanks for reading. You sound scripturally knowledgeable. Let me ask you this: if we are not to tattoo ourselves for the dead, for those who are closest to us and whom Christ came to redeem, wouldn't you say it's reasonable to surmise that we should also not tattoo those things which are less important than the dead and which are passing, world things (symbols, affiliation, objects etc.)? I recommend reading Msgr. Pope's post. God bless you.

  3. I'm an old fuddy-duddy and thus am incapable of appreciating tatoos, piercings etc.. I wonder if they aren't a somewhat sad cry for recognition.
    Good article. I liked it.

  4. Excellent commentary with insightful suggestions! When I was growing up, the only people we saw with tattoos were sailors. I was also told that people that had difficultly in relationships had tattoos. I guess I put tattoos, piercings and pants worn so low (they reach one's knees) in the same category-- for people that need attention and want to fit in somewhere.
    Mrs. Scott

  5. It has been really sad to witness the proliferation of tattoos in the last couple decades. Rather than making an individual more unique, they actually reduce a person's uniqueness, rendering the individuality of the skin that God has given them with the sameness of an off-reddish-greenish-blueish pattern of another person's design.

  6. I think water transfer tattoos are cool and fun. I got some Christmas-y ones that are very festive.

  7. While I totally agree with the idea that tattoos are pretty awful, I would shy away from using Leviticus as a reference both because it's an incomplete quote an because there are many admonitions in Leviticus that are pretty scary (much worse than tattoos) by current standards.

  8. I disagree. Outward signs are powerful and important as evidenced by habits, tonsures, vestments, scapulars, etc.

    Appealing to Leviticus is not convincing because of the many things prohibited in Jewish law that are perfectly acceptable to Catholics. We aren't Jews!

  9. @ Anonymous - thank you for reading! While outward signs may make an impact, we must be careful not to assume that they are necessary for achieving our essence as children of God. The same can be said for all of your other examples. Of course, in the case of religious garb/ symbols, they make a powerful statement without altering our bodies permanently, thus, the our bodies remain "as temples un-desacrated. Of course, everyone is free to have their own opinion about whether tattoos desecrate us. And everyone who reads this blog is free to disagree, of course so long as they stay respectful. Thank you for remaining respectful.GB
    @fx kelli - thanks for reading! Even without the Levitcus txt , I think Msgr Pope makes some very good points. Click the link in the post to read more!
    @ Anonymous- I used to 'play' with those as a kid and they were always fun...they look pretty awful, though as they start flaking away, and eventually, I stopped considering them very fun for that reason!
    God bless you all.

  10. I believe tattoos are for those who want to make a statement. I am a visual artist who enjoys making statements about my beliefs. I am also a face painter, who paints with non-toxic paints. However, I do put BOUNDARIES on my art work.

    What I take issue with is the SIZE of the tattoo, the NUMBER of tattoos, WHERE they are placed on the body and the SUBJECT matter.

    For example, the famous barbared wire tattoos on the arm or ankle suggest bondage, slavery, pain, or a tough guy image. It's meaning, I think is sadistic.

    The image of a small beautiful butterfly sounds fine but when it is placed near the breast or near other private body parts, it can be very sexually provacative, suggesting immoral SEXUAL behavior. If the butterfly were placed in a modest area that no one could see except their spouse that would seem acceptable to me.

    The body that is covered with tattoos suggests an addiction to this art form or perhaps other addictions like sex, drugs, alcohol. This "Anything Goes Attitude" would make it hard to relate to the rest of society.

    More importantly, I believe it displeases the Lord for us to disfigure or inflict pain on the body he gave us. I would like to see this creative energy channeled in other directions to help the poor, the sick, the hungry.

    I thank God He gave us the freedom to make choices. He's such the gentlemen, He would never force Himself upon anyone. his son set us free by dying on the cross. We have freedom and hope and eternal salvation if we follow him I pray you seek him with everything you got and know the Peace and the Divine Plans He has for you life. "plans to give you hope and a future" Jeremiah

    God Bless You!!