To understand where something is going it is important to understand where it came from so the Origins of tattoos will be discussed first. Then the Reasons people generally give justifying their decision to receive this mark. Thirdly and of most importance, the Root reason for these body alterations. Finally a word to Christians who have or may be thinking of marking themselves.
Some of the content discussed may be difficult to accept and offensive to some. This certainly is not intentional and like every worthwhile journey, of most importance is where we end up and how this knowledge equates to application. This means, rolling up the sleeves, getting right to the root and trying to ‘flesh out’ what is going on with this increasing fad.
Ultimately and like the gospel, which offers salvation for the lost and healing to the sick, there is no place for judgement without solution. Judgement is our heavenly Fathers prerogative, and salvations solution His gift, but we have to be humble, acknowledge we are all in need of The Saviour, Jesus Christ. Tattoo’s are just one area in which Satan has sought to pervert humanity, there are a catalogue of others. None of us are immune, we are a fallen people.
Therefore discernment for our age and the dangers that so easily ensnare us, are essential. We are to be equipped, so that we can share the wonderful news of the Saviour and the cross to those are so desperately misguided and adrift.
This article is both for secularists and Christians.
Never has there been a time in history when so many have sought to mark their bodies in some way. In the US tattoo parlours are one of the fastest growing industries.
This is interesting because of the negative statistics associated with tattoos in general. Undertaken by recent studies by the Pew Research Centre and the University of St Andrews in Scotland here are just a few.
• Tattoos are universally looked down on.
• Having tattoos lowers your chance of finding a job
• Employers across the majority of industries have a negative view of tattoos ‘dirty’ ‘repugnant’ ‘abhorrent’
• 30% of those without tattoos said they feel those with tattoos are more likely to do something deviant, 25% of them think a tattooed person is less intelligent and less healthy over all.
• Women are viewed less favourably when they have tattoos, viewed as less intelligent, but more honest, however viewed as likely drinking more and being more promiscuous.
Another finding the Pew researchers concluded was that;
‘Tattoos don’t affect how physically attractive someone is found, but rather tattoos generally effect how we judge a person’s character.’
However, there are those who would argue character is intrinsically tied to what is presented outwardly, this certainly holds true of fashion, clothing, hairstyle and even excessive makeup. Therefore a tattooed person while attractive in their former natural, ‘un-tattooed’ state could well be perceived as unattractive, when laden with tattoos.
Regardless of the statistics, the desire by both men and women to deface their bodies is on the increase, certainly in Western thinking cultures (this Western trend will be discussed in detail further along). One has only to go to any town in England for example and observe both men and women adorning some form of body branding. Additionally the media and its ‘celebrities’ glorify and advertise freshly acquired markings. This month’s Daily Mail Online featured an entire article on David Beckhams new ‘classical couple’ etched into his ankle.
Tattooing itself has been practised by humans just about since the beginning of time. Way back in the Torah (5 books of Moses) God instructs Moses to tell the people not to mark their bodies in any way.
‘You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD’. (Leviticus 19:28)
Tracing the origin of tattoos calls for looking at its etymology (the root meaning of the word)
The word means a ‘marking’ and many empires have used it in different ways for centuries to do just that. Almost always different empires branded (tattooed) slaves to symbolize ownership or enslavement over them. As time progressed (19th century) and especially in the West, ‘Tattoo’ became to mean a ‘mark of disgrace or reproach’.
Archaeology confirms tattooing is nothing new and has been done by cultures all over the planet for millennia. The modern rise of tattoos is not a unique idea to 21st century man but has its roots in thousands of years of history.
Of interest is The Creators prohibition in Leviticus 19:28. Like marking the flesh (tattoo’s) people were also cutting their flesh, the reasons for these mutilations were demonic in nature and were a form of worship to their demon ‘god’. This is why the spiritual realities behind tattoos cannot be underestimated and/or ignored, just because Western cultures are largely ignorant on these topics does not equate to them being untrue and unsubstantiated.
It is worth noting that not only has there been a dramatic increase of people marking themselves (tattoos) but also an increase of self-mutilation (cutting of the flesh) in the last several decades.
See what Americas mental health channel have to say about the problem of self-cutting and the supporting statistics;
Self-injury statistics show that this disturbing phenomenon is a real and present danger to vulnerable people worldwide, especially in developed countries, such as the U.S. and those in Western Europe. Frequently, untreated depression and other mental health challenges create an environment of despair that leads people to cope with these challenges in unhealthy ways. Check out these self-mutilation statistics:
• Each year, 1 in 5 females and 1 in 7 males engage in self-injury
• 90 percent of people who engage in self-harm begin during their teen or pre-adolescent years
• Nearly 50 percent of those who engage in self-injury activities have been sexually abused
• Females comprise 60 percent of those who engage in self-injurious behaviour
• About 50 percent of those who engage in self-mutilation begin around age 14 and carry on into their 20s
• Many of those who self-injure report learning how to do so from friends or pro self-injury websites
• Approximately two million cases are reported annually in the U.S.
While these self-harm statistics are from reliable sources, truly accurate information about rates and trends of self-mutilation are difficult to come by because the majority of participants conceal their activities. Their behaviour may never come to the attention of medical professionals or other social services.
The scope of this article is not about self-mutilation but tattooing, however the two are related and will be addressed again in the last section under The root reason.
Like many things which humans do in life there are various reasons behind their tattoos. And these reasons the justifications made when deciding to get branded. Deeper than these surface reasons though there is always more going on. These deeper reasons which are generally unknown to the person, are the real relevant reasons and can be sought in the realm that we call philosophy. Not some endless rhetoric and opinion inspired by ancient Greek orators but simply and as its word means ‘love of wisdom’, the desire to get to truth.
First a look at the most common reasons a person will ink themselves. These are the surface reasons a tattooed person will give to justify their decision to have a tattoo. The deeper relevant reasons covered after.
In a society of impulse shopping, impulse eating and impulse relationships, impulse tattooing is just another addition to the list. For no specific personal reason other than, “I just felt like it” and with no consideration to how they may feel about it in the future impulse tattooing is all about living for today.
This explains the strong link between alcoholism and tattooing, where the tattoo has become an impulse desire under the intoxication of foreign chemicals surging through the bloodstream. Or to the extreme where the person is completely passed out under the alcoholic influence, ‘friends’ have taken upon themselves to give them a tattoo all in the spirit of ‘having fun’ (see article on ‘having fun’).
This is the form or tattooing where the person has not exercised any great deal of thought and can only be put down to what the book of Proverbs describes as folly.
Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.
Being ‘Cool’ aka ‘Looks Good’ ‘Body Art’ Tattoo’s
Next in our list of surface reasons and possibly the most common is what is phrased as ‘body art’. Many just like the look of a tattoo, to them there doesn’t not have to be some existential reason for getting it other than that it ‘looks good’.
Whether is a rose located on the top side of the foot or a dragon hovering between the posterior deltoids, it looks good to them. Unlike the former group, folk who fall into this category at least have spent some time deciding what they like. Looking through magazines and templates and even designing their own are all a big part of the process to this group.
Alas, the thinking is incomplete and falls short on several fronts. Firstly, what a person ‘feels’ now and/or what they represent and stand for now cannot possible be a guarantee of what they will feel like and/or stand for and represent in five, ten, fifteen and twenty down the road. Life experiences change us, what we thought we liked when we are young can often change. If a person is determined to get marked, it is best to wait until your perhaps in your 50’s, at least then you will probably set in your ways and your inking of choice will still be valid in your eyes when you are 70.
Another argument is how we all view art. In truth the human body is already and art work, a created masterpiece. A masterpiece of beauty where each person is unique and beautiful as their nature self. Flipping through a magazine or brochure and deciding on a piece of art to fuse to the human body is akin to placing Van Gogh’s Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers on an easel at the base of Mount Everest. Any beauty the painting could offer will be lost and swallowed up by the surrounding scenery.
It is of interest those who use the body ‘art’ of a reason for tattooing themselves are generally not art connoisseurs. Do they frequent world class galleries? Do they know their Rembrandt from Monet? More often than not it is about themselves, how they want to look, how they want to convey themselves and be perceived by others.
Going back to David Beckman’s body ‘art’. Beckham has approximately forty tattoos, all symbolising different things to him. Approximately eight are related to family, birth of a child etc. Six relating to football, shirt number worn at the time ect. Thirteen to ‘spiritual’ symbolism and approximately eight relating to miscellaneous reasons.
Clearly in Beckham’s case in art is in his own eyes, the Spiritual imagery and Bible verses he has inked have been removed from their original context and reinterpreted by Beckham. More shockingly on his left pectoral is ‘the footballer as Jesus with three cherubs (supposedly representing his sons) lifting him out of a tomb. Now only Beckham will know what this means, but Jesus has nothing to do with football and football thing to do with Jesus, least of all the overtones of resurrection. This is a very prominent feature of tattoos and the thinking behind them, the line between truth and error becomes very blurred and a hybrid produced.
Influenced heavily by Eastern mysticism and their own personal feelings, many people create their own personal non absolute ‘truths’ and depict them via their tattoos.
These personal ‘creations’ are largely the product of hijacking already known spiritual imagery whether Hindu, Buddhist or some other deception of man and blending it with their own personal opinions and worldview.
In Beckham’s case, he has taken imagery from the Bible which is the inspired Word of God and blended it with his own opinions and worldview and in doing so, made a mockery of the sanctity of the actual meanings behind this Biblical imagery.
For centuries it was common place and quite sufficient, might it be added, to scribe one’s life experiences in a diary. The modern fad where the body itself has become a journal is actually more akin to a walking scrap book.
Consider also the ability of the tattoo ‘artist’ to replicate the chosen image onto human skin. A recent story of a woman from New Zealand who wanted Disney characters inked on her body was shocked when they turned out ghoulish when the job was done.
Moving to the more general, women have been known for getting what has been labelled as ‘tramp stamps’. These are tattoos which are placed on the lower back so whenever she bends to pick something up, there they are on full display. This label ‘tramp stamp’ was coined by the public and is indicative of what is going on in the minds of the observer. How does this give due dignity to that woman?
Unlike the former categories, those who have sought tattoos as a way of ‘honouring’ a conviction they have, at least have done so for passionate reasons and not just on a whim.
A lost loved one or an allegiance to military service would fall under this category. A person who has lost someone very special in their lives would feel a sense of meaning at having their name permanently etched into their bodies as a constant reminder. A serviceman who has lost comrades in war may feel a deep sense of loyalty to those lost in his unit and may want to symbolise this in the form of a tattoo.
However once again there are ways to honour those we have lost through a myriad of human expression without defacing the body. Consider also and especially for this category, the soul ties forged with those who have passed on. The concept of soul ties to many will be foreign and is beyond the scope of this article (For an in-depth look at who we really are see article on Sprit, Soul, Body). Additionally and as the case for any permanent marking, will it still be liked in 5, 10, 15 years time? Will that same strong conviction that scribed the original stand the test of time when the marking blurs and fades? Could having a mark that represents such strong emotions and memories actually prevent the person from moving on and enjoying future life experiences in some way?
Tattoos that remember a loved one, who has passed away, although unwise, can readily be empathised with. However what of those who have had their girlfriends or boyfriends name etched onto their bodies. What happens when the ‘relationship’ breaks down? (see article on Postmodern relationships)
What of any new relationship? Would Dorris mind seeing Maggie’s name on her newly acquired George’s forearm? This is really a no brainer, but once again demonstrates how so many are living for today exercising no wisdom whatsoever for the tomorrow.
There are many who have many deep convictions, (arguably in the bigger scheme of things, more important than a deceased love one or military service) who express these in healthy and wholesome ways.
One such person owns several controversial tee-shirts, not controversial because they are vulgar, but statements to make people think, and think for themselves rather than be ‘programmed’ by their culture through mediums such as Tv, peers and social media.
The difference is, that tee-shirt can be removed at any time, but still gets the message across when worn! Tattoos are akin to branded cattle, that’s it, they are staying there. And from that point on, just like that branded beast, the choice to have it taken away is not available.
Tattoo’s – The Root Reason
Pride covers every other motive behind why a person gets inked and is at the root of all the aforementioned reasons. They have consciously made a decision to mark their bodies for all to see and are proud of this declaration. Some may see this is a good thing, after all they have a strong sense of identity not afraid of what others may think and desire to let others know what they believe in. ‘Be ‘true’ self’, ‘you’re an individual’ are all words of Western culture. And in some ways this is good and right, think of those in times past who have stood even for a principle, even though they stood alone, and wouldn’t back down in their resilience. Think of the many freedoms we enjoy because of outspoken men and women down through the ages who have had a strong sense of identity not afraid of what others thought of them but stood upon what they believed to be truth. And I think most would agree, but is this what we are seeing today? Are we seeing men and women boldly stand in their conviction? Not really is it, in fact it’s very different. The boldness and sense of identity in those who fought for a cause is attractive, courageous and noble. The ‘boldness’ and sense of identity we mainly see today is arrogant and prideful. An arrogance that says “you can’t tell me what to do, I will do what I want’. There is not sense of humility, no sense of self sacrifice. Those who stood in independence and valour for a cause were mostly doing it for those around them, other people centered. Today our Western culture promotes self-glorification, Look at me, listen to my opinions. And this is what can be seen as the classic hallmark of Western Post Modern culture, opinion, opinion and more opinion. Look at ‘social’ media, look at all these outlets where people can post their opinion and draw attention to themselves. And largely this is opinion void of wisdom and lacking any foundation truths, its opinion based on fickle feelings. As the proverb goes;
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
Now, ‘social’ media can be a brilliant tool for promoting truth, and it should be used! However today where everyone’s opinion is posted, what basis of truth do we have? We many would say at this point, What is truth? Truth has become relative to each person. This is why we have endless opinions, as there is no truth. Well there is truth, Truth came and is coming again in the form of a Person, Jesus Christ.
To recap, having a sense of identity, a conviction to truth is noble and right to which many have lost their lives for, it mostly has the interests of others at the core. Today generally speaking people actually don’t know who they are, they don’t really know what they believe in, they are trying to ‘recreate’ and ‘find’ then selves to see who they are. This endless pursuit for identity is based solely on the reality that the Absolute God who created all and everyone and His Word, has been removed from Western culture and replaced with the religion of evolutionism.
You see people want to be recognised, we want to find meaning in our existence. People seek meaning behind many things they do and engage in and tattoos are no different in that regard. People want their tattoos to be seen and want others to enquire of its meaning.
Now the grand irony of the 21st century is we are a culture of social retardation. The human soul craves social interaction but through marketing we are told of these apps that we should get, why because everyone else has them and then we are sold the gadgets that make them work. For years we have been hiding behind pixelated screens, jumping from app to app, posting our opinion, updating our feeling, desperate for meaning for why we are here and craving the response we get from another. We have become all together socially inept. And a tattoo is different, struggling to express ourselves, like a fridge magnet we post another addition to the slab of advertising space.
The spiritual element behind tattoos is the primary root cause behind a tattoo. It us why they even exist at all. Leviticus 19:28 has been mentioned already as has its prohibitions. Both tattooing and cutting of the flesh are an abomination to God. This reason alone is more than sufficient to not do either.
‘You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD’.
Both tattooing and cutting of the flesh have both physical and spiritual components. People have their own private definitions of what ‘spiritual’ means. Spiritual can only be defined by what is revealed in the Word of God and not some drug fuelled high experience by someone sitting with his legs crossed chanting “ummmm”.
Biblical spirituality can be summed up simply as, the relational dynamic between God and mankind.
Firstly, Physical. Both tattooing and cutting the flesh result in defacing the human body. Whether we accept this premise or not, out bodies are not our own, we are subject to certain laws both physical and spiritual.
If one projects himself out of a high rise building he will readily grasp and succumb to the reality that our physical bodies are subject to and governed by physical laws. Many are happy to accept this, however from a position of ignorance unable to accept the latter, the spiritual laws we are also subject to.
Now the God who created everything (not allah or the plethora of manmade, demonic inspired gods) would have us hear the gospel message of how Jesus came to die and rise again for us. God’s Word teaches that we are sinners and in need of a saviour and ask God to forgive us and consequently live a way that honours and glorifies God. Such a person can readily accept and be thankful for Gods spiritual governance in their lives.
However, the Word of God tells us, we are inherently sinners, blind and unable to see such truths about our human state.
As a result we are not in control of anything least of all our destinies and spiritually subject to God.
A person who continually rejects what Christ achieved on the cross and the free gift of salvation remains under the Gods wrath and who if continues in his wilful rebellion will be judged by God. Do you see the point being made? Every one of us whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not, whether we are atheists or not, regardless of our world view are subject to God. Democracy is an illusion, every one of us really live under a Theocracy where God is Lawgiver and Judge who exercises His right over His creation.
A Word to Christians
To any Christian who is reading who may want to justify marking their bodies, you may think you want to show others your faith by getting a bible verse or an image of the cross, don’t. If sharing you faith means so much live, breath and walk the Christian example like many millions before you who did quite well without defacing their bodies. The fact you feel the need to display an icon of Christianity physically on your body suggest to me you are not living, breathing and walking the Christian life and therefore your good works are not being seen by man. In addition if you are bent on getting something symbolic, then get a necklace with a cross or fish on it, it can be removed and doesn’t violate Leviticus. And if you are saying to yourself “Leviticus is in the old testament, we are not under the law”, then read my other article on why we are to theologically heed the old testament and then turn to the new testament and read the apostle Paul spiritual insight in his letter to the Corinthian church;
‘What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?’
For ye are brought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s’ 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Tattooing is defiling the body the temple of the Holy Ghost.