Do Tattoos Define the Person?

Tattoos have been linked with certain cultures for over 5,000 years, the most prevalent being the Egyptians of the second millennium B.C. In most ancient civilizations, they were expressions of tribal, religious, or philosophical identity. Today’s body art obsession seems to have the same objectives. Does that mean tattoos, especially extreme ones, reveal the true heart and soul of the host? If so, it’s a sad reflection of our culture.

I just returned from a fun family week at a popular theme park. Our day at the water park included an abundance of skin on display, most of it covered with ink. I could not get the who, what, and why out of my head regarding this craze that is trending upward. A recent Harris poll found that 30% of Americans have at least one tattoo. Pew Research shows that, among millennials, it’s over 40%. This theme park may have been a demographic anomaly, but surely over half the tourists had tattoos. Is it peaking in popularity, or will essentially all newborns become living canvasses someday?

A clarification is in order here. I am not anti-tattoo. They’re not for me, but I appreciate a reasonable size design of good quality that expresses something positive or of personal value. I have many friends and loved ones who have modest statements of this nature in appropriate body locations. Furthermore, I don’t feel animosity toward those who choose to have more radical, suggestive body art, but I just don’t understand why they make that choice or what it means.

There are many reasons not to subject oneself to tattoos. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has hundreds of reports on file of people developing physical complications from the injected ink. Scar tissue sometimes builds up after getting a tattoo. Ongoing FDA research on the long-term effects of tattoos is not yet definitive, but there are concerns about delayed allergies and cancers.

Some Christians consider tattoos a sin based mainly on Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.” However, placing that statement in context with the culture of that day, I believe God desired His people to be set apart from pagan worshipers and sorcerers who tattooed themselves in those ancient times. Personal interpretation as to whether the biblical prohibition applies to tattoos today is between the believer and God. Perhaps a more applicable teaching concerning tattoos is from 1 Peter 3:3-4, “Your adornment must not be merely external…but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” In other words, let your outward body represent your inward heart. Therein lies my concern with many tattooed people. Do the adornments that cover their bodies really reflect the nature of their inner selves–their hearts?

When the lavishly tattooed proudly display skulls that represent death, satanic figures, and evil dark world images, are they baring the true reality of their souls?  I would rather think that most are just wanting to command attention. But, that is also a character issue. Do they crave attention so desperately that they promote evil and darkness to be noticed? Are they so displeased with their body that they yearn to mark it up with images that have shock effect? Often the attention comes from the tattoo location on the body’s sensual areas that invites ogling. Some say it is creative art. If it’s about art, why not take up painting? I don’t have the answers to what drives people to extreme tattoos, but here is my prediction. Today’s newborns will not all be tattooed someday as I alluded to earlier. Rather, as young adults, they will look at their tattooed elders with washed out images sinking into their wrinkles and, with disgust, resolve never to do such a crazy thing. Grandparents with radical tattoos will be explaining to their grandchildren why they chose to permanently cover their bodies with scary images.  I just resolve to love the profusely tattooed people, but to not love that which mars their bodies.

That is my opinion. I invite your comments.



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