Tattoos as a Search for Fixity in a Liquid World

R. R. Reno is thoughtful and always worth reading. (HT: Lawn Gospel)

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78 comments

  1. well thoughtful and always wroth reading is one way of putting it… but maybe an extremely bit biases to one position, in which I’m sure deals with his age and culture up-bringing, more than his theology and worldview. By addressing all those that have Tattoos as, “we are heading toward a more fluid cultural situation” and “manipulation of our bodies creates an impotent symbol of permanence” is not dealing with the issue of tattooing but attacking the person who has tattoo’s. Tattoo’s Right or Wrong – there are a number of ways to deal with the topic in a more “thoughtful and always worth reading” way.

    Of course this is my “comment” on your blog, which is only my opinion. But dealing with unbelievers and believers in many of American cultures that where tattoo’s have became a large part of the culture, (unlike Europe) I think (I may be wrong) but I think that assuming Tattoo’s make a “cultural liquid” and “unprofessional” is a statement is going to far.

    Professionalism – is white collar people, someone who does a skill and is best at doing that skill in the connection they have with it. Is not Shaq a Professional at his line of work? Is not Michael Horton a professional in his line or work? Professionalism is not based upon what one looks like, but how good he does his skill in the postmodern cultural. What is a professional professor? Suite, tie, pressed shirts? Or someone who gradated with a Ph.D. knows their subject and teaches it well to their students? Would a tattoo change your professionalism at WSC in your teaching role as a prfessor?

    However for the TYPICAL American – professionalism IS what you LOOK LIKE when you are between the ages of 35-60, growing up in the Republican, white collared, typical American society that untouchable is and made the distinction between white-collar and blue-collared.

    In all and I will being writing a review of this later tonight when I can, but I am saying you cannot link tattooing to being “unprofessional” without offending the individual that is tattooed.

    • Michael,

      I think you misunderstand.

      The question is: what motivates folk who, 20 years ago, would NEVER have tattooed themselves to do it now? What’s changed.

      Reno has a point. What has changed the movement of the culture from an earlier phase of modernity to what Zygmunt Baumann and others have called “Liquid Modernity.” Cultural mores and morals are changing so quickly (see Thomas de Zengotita’s book on this; see RRC where I deal with this) that people are reacting by grasping for something fixed, something that has the appearance of permanence — although wait till you’re my age and that dove, as one comedian said, will start to look like a vulture!.

      It wasn’t a personal attack but a chance to ask why people do this to themselves?

      We’re not talking about a massage here. We’re talking about needles and ink.

  2. I do not know R.R. Reno, do not know if he is a believer or unbeliever. But IF a believer this is my concern with how the older, modern culture deals with the younger generation who are growing up in a different postmodern way of thinking. From one era professionalism in America was created, and from today’s era professionalism is being changed to the quality of work and the person doping it instead of the look and life style.

    If you are a believer, and deal with America’s culture with unbeliever’s, who see that tattooing is a way of placing something on them that they like (9 times of out 10) you should not attack their line or work, who they are as person. I guess if you believe it to be 100% a sin, then okay, do what you please.

    But comments like “shaken my head” at tattoo’s, refer to them as being “unprofessional” and then refer to the person with tattoo’s as “manipulation of our bodies” you have shut down your opportunity of relaying the message of the true gospel to them.

    What I am saying, coming from that exact background in which he attacks, he comes across as a professor that is better, one that knows better, thinks he is too good, and that will not effectively relay a message of the gospel to those who desperately are in need of it.

    • I should have added to this statement,

      “What I am saying, coming from that exact background in which he attacks, he comes across as a professor that is better, one that knows better, thinks he is too good, and that will not effectively relay a message of the gospel to those who desperately are in need of it.”

      That I am NOT saying he IS this nor am I saying that he trying to act this way, BUT that is what the tattooed, unbeliever, young postmondern think of him when he makes those comments or read those posts.

  3. That article was weak attempt to understand the reality of the souls of the people in this ‘liquid modern’ age.

    All his observations were based on irrelevant data. He could of done a number of things to support his case, but I guess coffee shop observations from a Phd. is as good as anything else. Why consult professionals in the trade? Oh yeah, probobly too afraid to go into a tattoo shop and they hate Christians for the reasons that he stated.

    And most people think that their tattoos(not me) were a mistake(that comes from an actual reliable source too!) and thus he elicits no compassion, just crap talking.

    No wonder that people hate reformed theology when all their ‘scholars’ do is talk crap about things they dont know anything about. Keep observing from the tower, you will keep missing the details of souls.

    I agree with you Mike. Keep it coming, let me know when your review is up.

    • Nick,

      I’m a little surprised by the tenor and tone of your response and that of Michael’s. I understand it’s fashionable but fashions fade– tats don’t. What does it mean that people mark (and not infrequently) disfigure themselves in such large numbers?

      I’m an old guy — Reno and I are about the same age — but I’ve noticed the same change. It wasn’t long ago when only sailors (“Mom” or “Betty” the like on the bicep), Bikers, and hookers had tats.

      I’ve struggled to understand why so many young people are attracted to tats. What do they think people of my generation will think of them? I’ve hired people and, frankly, I would think twice about hiring someone with tats. I’m not saying I wouldn’t hire them but I would think about it.

      What do 20 somethings think will happen when, assuming they get into law school and pass the bar, they come into court with a neck tat. What will the judge think of them? What will the jury think of a tattooed lawyer? This is what Reno is thinking about when he says “unprofessional.”

      Perhaps you and Michael can explain to me how tats are not a form of self-loathing or a way of trying to find permanence in a transient age?

  4. What do 20 somethings think will happen when, assuming they get into law school and pass the bar, they come into court with a neck tat. What will the judge think of them? What will the jury think of a tattooed lawyer? This is what Reno is thinking about when he says “unprofessional.”

    My point is that in due time with America’s cultural change, this will not matter. Like the acceptance of a black man in office, and the woman voting, the tattooed professor of theology and the tattooed lawyer will not have those who once was the typical white-collard look at them differently, you’ll all be dead by then. Tattoo’s will be a way of the culture and not looked down upon.

    Let me do this for Examples: assuming I know your view… which I think I do.

    R. Scott Clark 40 years of molding and shaping of the mind and thought to his surroundings —> mind has been set to think of sailors, bikers, and whores when seeing a tattoo —> He sees a tattoo —> negative notations come into play —. questions arise like, “why?”

    Me, Michael Dewalt 25 years of growing up where everyone places what they like, what they are, and what the live on their bodies as a way of living —> mind has been set to think that tattoo’s describe who you are and what you do —> I see a tattoo —> neutral notations come into play like, a skull, not my thing, the five Solas or a picture of WSC Symbol “cool I like it!”

    What i am saying is two things.
    #1 in 25 years to come professionalism will not be judge by the way you Dr. Clark thinks unless they are the typical white American still living in the 20th century. Why? because postmodernism is more accepting of seeing what is on the inside of a person and not what they look like on the outside. And it is also more willing to “not judge a book by its’ cover” which something that America has always said, but hardly practiced.
    #2 Tattoo’s will be more cultural acceptive (not that this is a good thing or bad) to society, in which the normal person will not think twice about a tattoo on someone’s arm, or neck.

    Like dress once was associated with your profession, those type of trends I believe will die out in due time to wear the professor wear jeans and a polo, to wear the president of the USA is throwing out the 1st pitch of a MLB All-Star game in jeans a MLB jacket to wear tattoo’s will not have the history of America’s bad-biker’s, easy-riders, hustler magazines, and cussing sailors in the Navy.

    My children when they see tattoo’s will not think twice about the biker from easy-rider in 1970’s nor my father-in-law that served in the Korean war that had 7 faded tattoo’s.

    But besides cultural change in acceptance of them, if the older modern generation wants to deal correctly with the changing one like myself, and even more so with the unbelieving generation that is growing up 25 and younger, you must not attack them as a person, because their worldview of tattoo’s is different. and is is also important that the modern generation understands that what may not be offensive with you 30 and older, can be offensive to 30 and younger. I know my per’s, I know my best unbeliever friends, and I know the mindset in postmodernism youngest between 14-25 is “don’t judge me!”

    So in-order to maintain a proper Gospel-centered way of living and reaching those youngsters in the world and showing them the gospel, it is important to try to see their view of tattoo’s because they are thinking a whole different way in which 30 and older has seen, been taught, and lived in.

    hope this makes some sense, i am not re-reading this, so forget editing a blog comment.

    • Michael,

      These are precisely the same arguments my older sister (and her hippie friends) made for long hair and jeans etc in the 60s. By the late 70s they all had cut their hair and put on suit and gone to work. The prophesied that the culture would change to accommodate their ostensible revolution. In certain ways it did (jeans became no longer “dungarees” but they also became high-end status items) but in certain ways it didn’t. Baths and haircuts remained the order of the day in the workforce, even on casual Friday.

      I’ve seen news stories that suggest that there’s a backlash against tats now — on the part of those who have them and who want to get rid of them! I did a site search (site:news.google.com) for “tattoo removal” and I found jpgs of newspaper articles going back to the 80s on removing tats. Google “removing tattoos” and three commercial sites pop up. There’s a June 09 story in the Jacksonville, FL paper on tat removal and getting a job.

      You still haven’t really addressed the question that Reno is addressing:

      Why tats in the first place? What does it mean? The medium is the message? What message is in the very existence of the medium of tattoos? It’s difficult for all of us to stand apart from our culture, time, and place but it’s necessary to have some self-critical ability –especially if you want to be a scholar.

      Is the whole discussion merely a generational conflict or is there something else afoot? Jeans and hair can be cleaned and replaced easily but tats are permanent, painful, and sometimes disfiguring.

      Why do it? What does it mean? How does it fit with a Christian anthropology? (I’m not saying that it doesn’t but I’m asking for reflection on how it does)

  5. I understand it’s fashionable but fashions fade– tats don’t. What does it mean that people mark (and not infrequently) disfigure themselves in such large numbers?

    tattoo’s for the record have never been a fashion that has faded… The Lord had his nation of people not partake (Lev. 19:28) in the giving of various laws during the giving of the civil and ceremonial law so that they would then be separated from the cultural and the wordiness at their time. Something that I’d assume has been a “Fad” for nearly 6,000 to even maybe 8,000 years.

  6. I’d love top answer those for ya.

    Why tats in the first place? Because people use them in a number of ways, some being their identity, which is never a good thing if their true identity is in Christ. But people use them for symbols of who they are, where they come from, what they like and what they believe/stand for.

    What does it mean? Can mean all sorts of things, from their belief’s to their feelings, to remembering someone who passed away.

    The medium is the message? What message is in the very existence of the medium of tattoos? It’s difficult for all of us to stand apart from our culture, time, and place but it’s necessary to have some self-critical ability –especially if you want to be a scholar.

    Scholars should never lose their roots from where they come from. I for one grew up, lived and saw 1st hand, the bikers, the rednecks, the freaks, gothic, and punk kids, my culture relaid their message in the means of tattooing. Not always right, but NOT many think twice about your tattoo unless your like me. I have 26 religious tattoos that in some form of fashion relay the message of the reformed Faith that I came to reading books and namely the Bible. which brings me to your next question…

    Is the whole discussion merely a generational conflict or is there something else afoot? Jeans and hair can be cleaned and replaced easily but tats are permanent, painful, and sometimes disfiguring.

    Why do it? What does it mean? How does it fit with a Christian anthropology? (I’m not saying that it doesn’t but I’m asking for reflection on how it does)

    Christian anthropology, we can argue sin or not a sin, but for me as you can see and have, I try to switch the role around and use it for apologetics and my personal life as a ministry to those around me. I personally have thought, and looked into the Scriptures myself and never came away with the conviction that tattooing was what you seem to agree with reno, “manipulation of our bodies creates an impotent symbol of permanence.”

    I knew that having tattoo’s in my home town of Ohio that they woudln’t be looked down upon, I knew my culture and said to myself “hey, a Luther Rose, a cross, a trinity symbol, a dove, a french hugenot cross etc. would be something that others in the culture (unbelievers) would ask “why this?” So I decided long a go that I would use the means for a way to witness to those in my city, and in my circles.

    Now the older, more conservative generation has two options.
    #1 see my point.
    #2 say i am wrong.

    But doing #2 will not affect me, it affects those that see the christian, act towards another christian in that close minded way of thinking.

    For the recorded I understand your argument of “hippies said that too.” But the hippies WAS a fad, came and it left the culture (besides the 50 of them in norwalk, Ohio) and tattoos are not. Tattooing may becoming larger in America today, but it has been something that has lasted thousands of years, unlike that of the peace, love and have casual sex hippie movement. Tattoos have been around longer then 6,000 years and have played a part of different Culture even since they have started.

  7. “That’s the sort of argument the Free Masons make in favor of their claims about their origins. You’re not serious are you?”

    I have no clue what you are getting at by this statement. but… MY point is to say that Tattoos I do not believe to be a movement, nor a fad. I believe they have been around for sometime. The issue is that now that there are more people, they are more noticeable.

    Also, some part might have to play that in the history of American, most of us have roots from European culture, which have never arguably accepted tattooing. For it was the Asians and Africans that where tattooing was largely acceptive.

    So finally after 200 years of the melting-pot, America’s growth in people and acceptance, tattooing grows larger and larger among the people that live in it. As a Fad I do not believe so, as a something here to stay like it has in other culture’s.

  8. K, for the record I understand your guy’s points totally, I just wish the older Reformed side would be a little more willing to see other cultures then their Dutch/Scottish backgrounds.

    Tattooing is just one issue that I think the older and younger will never grasp totally and show me left alone, like my mentor Joel Beeke does with me, Not worth talking about, because neither of us can begin at the same point no matter how hard one tries.

    And Dr. Clark, In no way do I hope that I am disrespecting you, your blog or belief’s. I love your work, your ministry and am just making my case seen from the younger generation and from heartland of Ohio.

  9. “I understand it’s fashionable but fashions fade– tats don’t. What does it mean that people mark (and not infrequently) disfigure themselves in such large numbers?”

    Disfigure: To mar the figure or appearance of, destroy the beauty of; to deform, deface. (OED)

    Tattoos are not viewed as a disfigurement by this generation. I know that you may actually be talking about people who do alter their bodies with piercings, but I just wanted to clarify that the reason that tattoos are gaining popularity is because they are not seen as damaging, marring, or a destruction of any sort. They are outward expressions of what a person finds important.

    I think tattooing is more of a symptom of the internet and media, where profiles and slogans and images are used to communicate your personality. If I can get the 5 solas tat’d on my leg, then most Roman Catholics will know where I stand and young theologues will be like, “nice tat.”

    We also need to be careful in communicating the seriousness of tattooing to our friends. Words used for shock value sometimes come off as straw men. Such as: “Dude, the are shoving needles in your skin.” “It could get infected” “It is permanent.” etc.

    1. We know they are permanent. We can reason this out quite well.
    2. Women get needles shoved through their ears causing loss of blood and run the risk of infection all the time.

    Tattoos, I think, are also gaining popularity because the arguments against them lack so much substance. A good reason has never been given most people to not get a tattoo.

    I certainly did enjoy the post, and the dialogue here.

  10. my take…

    I think the hippie analogy is a strain because its very customs were tied in with a specific attitude that was inherently unsustainable. Insofar as they were conscious of what they were doing and not just following the crowd, they had a negative eye towards any authoritative institution. And since society is based on institutions of authority, they were saying in their appearance and behavior “We are boycotting the need to be a productive part of society”, thus a big part of a generation doing massive social sit-out, opting to pursue new experience on the fringe.

    The problem was the bills don’t just stop coming, and the foundations of society cannot just be wished away. They would need to re-integrate into society, hence the baths and haircuts, co-opting of their music and art cultures by the entertainment business, etc. The attitude and its decorative references had to get overhauled, or at least sanitized. “the war is over… the bums lost”

    Tattooing is more broadly referential, in and of itself it just doesn’t speak of one’s particular stance one way or another towards society and one’s productivity therein. At least it hasn’t for a while. It’s not so closely linked to a narrow identity and social attitude like the hippie ensembles. But tattoo does speak of identity generally, which is neutral as far as that goes. What is being identified in the type and kinds of tattoo is where the neutrality will often end.

    j

    • “broadly referential” of or to what? As I’ve reading the responses I wonder if what’s going on (part of it anyway) is an assertion of autonomy? “I can do what I want, I’m the sovereign arbiter of my body, my identity.”

      Sent from my iPhone

  11. Does 1 Peter 3:3 have any import in this discussion? I know the Apostle is addressing women, but is there something there that is normative for all people? Calvin comments:
    “They who object and say, that to clothe one’s self in this or that manner is an indifferent thing, in which all are free to do as they please, may be easily confuted; for excessive elegance and superfluous display, in short, all excesses, arise from a corrupted mind. Besides, ambition, pride, affection of display, and all things of this kind, are not indifferent things. Therefore they whose minds are purified from all vanity, will duly order all things, so as not to exceed moderation.”
    Just a thought.
    Grace.

  12. Michael,

    I believe the significance in connecting professionalism and tats has more to do with ethical matters than with the “passing standards” of older conservative men (such as myself). Professionalism, as I was taught it during my years in the military, has a great deal more to do with personal character and morality than it does a rather truncated definition of technical skill or competency. There are many reasons why people put ink in their skin, and almost all of them orbit around a self-centered, self-expressionist mode of thinking. Tattoos are also still primarily associated by many employers and those in positions of authority with certain subcultures in our society, as well as with persons who are immature in their decision making. I would apply that even to young professional women studying for their doctorates. It indicates to many a failure of those ink up to see the long term significance of their decisions, and how such a decision might reflect poorly upon themselves to others. I do not believe that those insights and positions will just pass away with the older generation, especially as the younger generation in the church continues to mature, reflect upon the Scriptures, understand their life in Christ and to see why it was that they got their own ill-placed tattoos in the first place. They may bring some sympathy to the table for those folk, but it will still not go as well for them as if they came to a job ink-free.

    Regarding a Christian who was a tatting maniac before his conversion, I suppose that you could use your ink as part of your testimony to a changed heart and mind, but only in the same manner as any other sinner in the Scriptures who could point back to the foolish things they had done, and to the grace they had received in Christ, not to justify their past mistakes or to argue that they (or others) should continue in them. There are much better ways to witness to the power and gift of the Gospel, and the apostles give those ways to us in their letters. They have to do with word and deed in the life of the believer, and have nothing to do with outward attire, or in this case body art.

    There are lots of foolish things that have been accepted by our culture at large, maybe even for as long as our culture shall survive, but I do not think that because that is the the reality in which we live that we should ever argue for the acceptance and inclusion of them in the church. There is a difference between unreservedly loving a brother sporting a crucifix on his shoulder (would that give new meaning to “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus”?), and encouraging those in the church that it is perfectly acceptable to go out and get one.

    You will receive no animosity from me here, merely a desire to point out some things that you may or may not have already considered.

  13. As far as in 1 Peter 3:3… I am not sure what you are referring to with tattoo’s…

    Seems that Peter was not saying a “NO” but warning believer’s that what really matters to God is the inward state of the woman and the godly character that the woman represents and not the high class of the Roman society during which many tried to look, act and be like.

    As far as in your Calvin statement… I do not know the context of “THIS” in your statement is that you provided. “that to clothe one’s self in ?THIS? or that manner is an indifferent thing, in which all are free to do as they please, may be easily confuted…”

    What I do know is that tattooing during the Reformation did not have much to do in their culture. And as far as Geneva and much of Europe they have never dealt with tattooing like America today nor have they ever been very accepting to the art of tattooing… I was in Europe 2 weeks ago and was looked at quite differently but everyone… and look at in disgust. 🙂

  14. It seems Calvin is making the point that any superfluous adorning (specifically clothes/jewelery, which I’m extending to tattoos/piercings) of the body stems from vanity, and excess arises from the corrupt mind. I can’t help but think that tattoos are excessive and unnecessary-making them the product of man’s depravity, regardless of its cultural expression. But in my mind, that’s not the question. I agree, tattoos are a generally accepted fashion trend for this generation. The question comes back to Clark’s, why get them? Michael, you’ve said you use them as a connection to culture and unbelievers (as if we all don’t have enough of a connection under Adam and the Law). Great! But that doesn’t immediately sanctify them, especially if Calvin’s point (as I read it) holds true.
    Grace.

    • “They who object and say, that to clothe one’s self in this”… what is THIS?
      I’m not justifying getting tattoo’s, my argument is exactly what you stated,
      “I can’t help but think that tattoos are excessive and unnecessary-making them the product of man’s depravity”

      something, someone, your background, your religion has formed you to think exactly that. and what I am the younger generation says to that is “why do you think that way?”

      I do not have a problem with your statement and you are entitled to believe whatever you may about tattoo’s…

      But most that believe that way, close their minds, close their hearts and react the way Reno’s post is making comments which harden the heart when he says,

      “Self-mutilation will provide a powerful symbolic compensation for our inability to commit and bind the soul.”

      There is no need to use your basis opinion of a tattoo and then attack the man, and use terms in which will only lead to closing doors for the gospel. Like when he says,
      “manipulation of our bodies creates an impotent symbol of permanence.”

      My point in continuing the convo on here is that you and the rest of older gentlemen understand that it is offensive to all that have tattoo’s but even more so to those that do not know the gospel.

  15. Why do I think that way? Because I can’t help but see that superfluous adornments of the body (clothes, jewelery, or tattoos) cannot be supported by the witness of Scripture (even if you’re John Owen). Scripture has formed my thoughts on this. And it hasn’t come without “personal sacrifice.” I’m a member of Generation Y (as Wikipedia defines it), have tattoos (plural), and at one time eight body piercings including the eyebrow and tongue. It’s not a matter of a closed mind, it’s a matter of a conviction formed by Scripture. I found when I employed what Clark calls, “self-critical ability” that these things were born of a rebellious and corrupt mind, the desire to express myself by engaging in “mass un-conformity” and individualistic tendencies (not very God glorifying). So if I’m being offensive to those who have tattoos, I’m being offensive to myself.

  16. “superfluous adornments of the body (clothes, jewelry, or tattoos) cannot be supported by the witness of Scripture”… that is one’s view and not black nor white in the Scriptures.

    however if you stand by such a statement, “I can’t help but see that superfluous adornments of the body (clothes, jewelry, or tattoos)” I only hope that you then can stay consistent with such a view to where your wife and daughters do not have her ears priced, wear makeup of any matter nor wears any jewelry… nor any cultural trendy, and superfluous clothes.

  17. Dr. Clark, “I can do what I want, I’m the sovereign arbiter of my body, my identity.”

    For any Christian tattooed individual such as myself I think I know where my identity lies, and who that is in, Christ.

    If and I do not know if you are, but it is the mindset that the younger generation takes offense at, when one thinks he or she finds their identity in one’s tattoo’s, because never once has that thought came across my mind when getting nor being tattooed.

    • Michael,

      It’s remarkable that one could have a MESSAGE (that’s a a picture is) sewn into their skin with NEEDLES in colored ink and yet be surprised when someone wonders what message is embedded not only in the picture but in the medium of the tattoo.

      Isn’t your response evidence of my theory that tattooing is an assertion autonomy? You don’t even want me to try to interpret the layers of messages you’re sending!

      Do you see the irony here?

    • I’ll leave it as it is. There is not much use in debating the issue.

      My point I have made several times.

      That is, that we as believers need to be a little more carful than some of the terms in which Reno used when referring to the “tattooed” that can shut doors when dealing with non-believers about the gospel.

    • Michael,

      I’ve been trying to get you to think and to articulate some things. I’m sorry you’re giving up. Here’s another question to ponder: what exactly does evangelism have to do with Reno’s point?

      Why does evangelism trump everything else, especially in a discussion like this?

      To be sure, if I’m talking to a tattooed person I wouldn’t even talk about their appearance, unless they wanted to talk about it. For one thing it would be rude. For another it would be beside the point. I want to talk to them about grace, about Christ, about forgiveness of sins. I’m not saying anything about superiority or class or anything those sorts of things. For me this discussion is about what they used to call “semiotics” — analyzing inherent messages. I guess that’s what I do for a living.

    • When speaking about how to relate the gospel, and being carful about the terms that one uses to a tattooed individual, I’m not speaking about evangelism.

      I’m saying that it is when the tattooed person sees us argue about this, and when the tattooed person reads Reno’s post that is what closes doors to speaking about the Gospel.

      Reno could have used terms that would be less offensive to the unsaved.
      Also, I just do not agree that tattooing is a fad in America’s culture. I believe it has been here before bikers, sailors, etc.

    • Michael,

      Your argument that tattooing is not a fad is just historical rubbish. I’m sorry but I’m old enough to remember when ONLY bikers, sailors, and hookers had tats. That’s it. Tats were stigmatized and stigmatizing. For sailors it usually meant that a guy was enlisted (I doubt there were many midshipmen wearing tats, but I could be wrong) and that he got drunk one night in downtown SD or Tijuana and had “Mom” inked on his arm or chest. In the cases where it wasn’t just drunken stupidity (e.g. wrong girl’s name or sailor married Joan instead of Betty) it was peer pressure to fit in with the rest the guys on his part of the ship (or whatever). The same was essentially true for bikers. It’s part of the initiation ritual. It’s a prison initiation ritual. Cops can spot prison tats a some distance.

      As to 6,000 years you’re not seriously arguing that tattooing has been a socially significant communication ritual for 6,000 years and that it’s making a comeback?

      This is what I mean by a “Free Mason” argument. This is the sort of thing they do when they appeal to OT characters for justification for their claim that Free Masonry is some ancient, secret society. Rubbish. Free Masonry is an 18th-century invention invested with antiquity through anachronism and faux history.

      The current fad cannot be invested with significance in the way you are attempting to do here.

      I think the significance lies in the unintended messages, as I say, embedded (literally and metaphorically) in the act itself and in the medium. Have you read McLuhan?

    • “I’m sorry you’re giving up.”

      I just have never commented so much on one blog post, and don’t see much worth to the conversion on a blog for all the world to see. It would be great to seat down and talk about the issues dealing with tattoo’s. I am done replying on here because we both see differently and it is hard to discuss issues online without taking in person – without someone else making comments that are not necessary like “And you should do your mentor a favor and think twice before you hit “Submit Comment.”

    • Dr. Clark,
      Don’t Fads come and go?? Fads are long hair, bell-bottoms, bleached hair, hippies, leather pants, wearing Chuck Taylor’s with your suite, fads are like the 80’s big-hair, Nike shoes that said “A-I-R” on the side in the later 90’s. Fads are not a way of culture that has existed since Ancient Egypt in the practicing of tattooing Mummies and Pharaohs. We know that Egyptians Mummies were tattooed, European Tribes were tattooed, Julius Caesar in his fifth book titled Gallic Wars mentions tattooing in his culture. Lastly the Asian tattooing has been part of their culture for as long as we know, and then the largest influence in the American culture was the European soldiers which had been influenced by the Polynesia islands, their culture and their tattooing.

      My point is that tattooing has been a part of culture’s and a part of many different culture’s throughout all of history. Because of its growth in American (which I agree) doesn’t make it a fad, nor does it make it a negative fad because it is something you do not understand or agree with. Whatever you view is on tattooing, it is always important to look at the “thing” which here is tattooing and see that no matter where it has been done, and when it has been done, that it is always placed with a culture and done for longer than 30, 40 50, or even 100 years. It stays in the culture.

      Maybe you are saying that tattoos in America are for the 1st time done as recreation? and so that is a fad? If so, I’d agree with that. But tattooing as a whole fad in America?? or a fad that some other culture hasn’t done, no.

  18. Michael Dewalt,

    You should reread and edit your comments before you hit “Submit Comment,” because they are mostly unintelligible and read as though you wrote them while a tattoo artist was emblazoning a particularly sensitive piece of your flesh with a hypodermic needle full of skin dye.

    And you should do your mentor a favor and think twice before you hit “Submit Comment.”

  19. Christians have been “marked” in their baptism (I am a Baptist) therefore for a Christian to get a tat is to ignore or deny the *sign*ificance of the Water!

    • Wow, that just doesn’t follow, sir.

      1. Christians have been marked by baptism.
      2. Therefore any other outward expression denies baptism’s significance.

      =/

  20. Dr. Clark-

    I appreciate the link to the blog and the healthy theological conversation that ensued over here. As I mentioned in another blogpost on tattoos and Christians, the question that is so easy to forget in regards to this issue — and yet so often remembered in the rest of Church history — is “What is the positive Scriptural support” for tattoos? The Christian life and witness is about much more than just finding the blatant “Thou shall not(s)” of Scripture, and then living accordingly. In light of the Reformed understanding of the Creation/Fall/Redemption framework, we see that God the Father created us “good”, man’s sin and rebellion plunged us into death and depravity, and Christ came to “redeem” and “deliver” us from the power of that sin. Because of truths like that, Paul reminds believers that we were “bought with a price” and should therefore “glorify God in [our] bodies”.

    Therefore, defensive debates over “messages” and “means” are really overshooting the “first things” and fundamental questions that you brought up in your reply, namely “Why do it?…How does it fit with a Christian anthropology?” And that’s the brunt of this issue. How does it play out in the way we view the creature’s relationship to His Creator, and the fact that the creature bears within himself the image of God. That Christ himself, “came in the flesh” means something in this debate. That man is not just spirit and not just body, but is rather an embodied spirit means something too. That the resurrection is “bodily” does indeed make a comment upon how we treat the body, and of course, what and why we write on it. Inks and needles are not devoid of theological significance, whether we choose to admit it or not.

    Again, great conversation. Thanks for bringing the question to the floor. After all, that’s much better than leaving it hidden under a shirt sleeve…

    • Brother Hank, that is a good word. Do you have an answer, though? I can agree that creation, the fall, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and complete redemption have something to say. But what does it say?

      It says to most my age. “A lawful way to express yourself.”

      Much like women allowing NEEDLES to be shoved forcefully through their ears and covering their faces with makeup and braiding their hair and shaving their legs (what a fad that is!). We have to be so careful in making things like needles and ink of such significance that we cast the whole church into outright hypocrisy (unless it is).

  21. @Chadd-

    Just for the record, I’m probably pretty close to your age. 🙂

    That being said, (as I’m sure you agree) this is not an age issue, nor is it a cultural issue, per se. These massive themes of Christian anthropology that we are bringing up are timeless because the Word of God is timeless, and they know no cultural boundaries because every nation trembles at His footstool.

    So what’s the answer? Well, we know a few things for certain. While inks and needles do have theological significance, it is only because man has created them for a certain purpose, and that purpose is what comes under the light of Christian consideration (Hence the constant return to “Why?”). A needle is not sinful. The purpose of that needle however, can very well be sinful or glorifying. If it is used to heal and make well, it can point to the ultimate healing that will one day come in Jesus Christ, the Great Physician. If it is used to kill children in the womb, it will point to the one who was a “liar and murderer from the beginning.” If it is used to pierce the skin and leave permanent ink blots on the flesh of man, the ‘theological direction’ of the act is a little more difficult to ascertain. There is no immediate “harm” done to person, but neither is there immediate “profit” done to him. Thus the question must be posed in a way that is more than skin deep,…

    …which takes us to the heart. What purpose of the heart is driving you to get a tattoo? That was the actual question that Reno was answering in the article linked above. He argued that many get them out of fear of impermanence, and I’ll that may not be true for all. However, if it’s not fear, what other heart condition could be pushing this? We know man is incessantly tempted towards vanity, selfishness, pride and self-exaltation and any number of other sins of the heart. Knowledge of those dangers should cause us to tremble at these kinds of decisions, rather than be carried away with the Christian sub-cultural stream of “jesus tatts”. That doesn’t prove anything wrong or right, it just says we need to think. My purpose in discussing this issue is to remind Christians that actions are never neutral, because they flow from an embattled heart – that is constantly (or should be) warring against the flesh by the Spirit of Christ. It’s not just a question of our heart, however, which Scripture reminds us is “desperately wicked” — rather it is a question of God’s heart as well. Does he desire and has he revealed (either in creation or special revelation) that his heart towards tattoos is a positive one? The orthodox Christian understanding of humanity, that neither rejects the body as a material shell for the soul or exalts the body as the supreme state of reality, argues that Christians treat there bodies as if they were not their own — but belonged unto their Creator and were designed by Him to bring glory to Himself. Can we improve upon that glory by inking? Or can we take away from it with a Celtic cross on our backs? At the end of the day, I don’t know — but I want to talk to people who are theologically convinced they do know, and weigh their arguments in light of the Word of God. I’ve heard many arguments that men “can” get tattoos, but I’ve never heard a powerful argument (with any philosophical, theological, or biblical support) that they “should”. And that fact alone troubles me…

    • Thanks for the response. I don’t think a philosophical, theological, or biblical argument could be made that one “should.”

      I agree with everything you said.

  22. Man, I can’t believe I am reading what I am reading.

    The rise of tattooing in western culture flows from the rise of and resurgence in paganism. The gospel obliterated tattooing in the western/European world until it came back in when Capt. Cook visited the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands in the 1700’s. Not only did he bring back some some tattooed natives, some of the English sailors adopted the practice. From there it spread.

    Yet regardless of its recent history – or worse, justification – the locus classicus of the argument against tattoos, much more body piercing and modification, is 1 Corinthians 6:19,20, if not Lev. 19:28:

    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 bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

    That is to say, a tattoo is by its very nature, an attempt, whether conscious or no, to defile and deface the temple of the Holy Ghost. It is as if one were to scribble in a book or a take a paint can to the side of a building. It is not art or artwork, but is an artificial marring of the looks the Lord has given someone.

    Is it a/the unforgivable sin? No, but Christians ought to realize it is something they ought not and don’t need to do, especially reformed believers.

    As for “evangelicals”, well imo, they are so compromised, it’s no surprise that they think it’s cool and a legitimate way to witness to the world.

    But then again evangelicalism can’t get the 4th commandment straight, all the time they’re upset with those who would advocate marital rights for lesbians and sodomites (the 7th commandment). IOW both the sabbath and marriage are creation ordinances. One may not pick and choose between the two.

    Which is merely to say schizophrenia rules in evangelicalism and compromises with the world and worldliness are to be expected. Hence the sinful and ungodly fad of “Christian” tattoos and tattoo artists.

    • Bob, you’re taking all the fun out of my childhood memories of going to the laudramat with my mother and buying wads of bubble gum and fistfuls of tattoos. What’s next, my daughter’s happy meal this afternoon? Maybe my wife’s make-up and earrings?

      Speaking of baby-boomer mom, she can recall her country-club mother having a fit over her getting her ears pierced because “that’s what the gypsies do.” You have to admit, protestations to certain cultural practices have at least as much to do with culture as they might with cult. I get the marring of the imago dei argument, but sometimes it’s just a bit of fun in a pack of gum.

    • Bob,
      You might not like tattoos on the basis of 1 Cor. 6, but that is a logical deduction you’ve made. How about I make the argument on the basis of 1 Cor. 6 that you should never eat chocolate again? Like it or not, the NT is silent on the issue of tattoos and it is an issue of Christian freedom/personal taste.

      Zrim,
      My dad warned me that the day I showed up at his house with an ear-ring, would be the day he’d tell me to “sling my hook. No son of mine is going to look like a p**fter.”

    • You wrote:

      “Like it or not, the NT is silent on the issue of tattoos and it is an issue of Christian freedom/personal taste.”

      I’d like to chime in here in say that Scripture “speaks” even in its “apparent silence”. I think the default position of much of contemporary evangelicalism is to take the absence of a direct prohibition in Scripture to mean that such an action is thereby a “Christian liberty”. Unfortunately this totally undermines a healthy view of the inerrancy of Scripture, not to mention it makes hash out of Paul’s own definition of liberty as such. When Paul warns the brethren not to use their liberty as a “opportunity for the flesh”, he’s obviously teaching that such an action is possible. I don’t think Paul was speaking particularly of skin here, but the force of his comment still touches our current conversation. The manner in which we discern what actions are “opportunities for the flesh” is by coming to the rest of Scripture and being conformed, not only to its prohibitions, but also to its mandates, precepts, principles, counsel, and examples. The Bible is not a rule book, its a Life book, and it speaks to us in “totality”. As D.A. Carson explained, “Biblical Christianity embraces both creed and conduct, both belief and behavior.” In my own field of bioethics, I’m confronted with the fact that the Bible makes no direct prohibition against human cloning, cryopreservation (the freezing of human embryos), or any number of other genetic engineering techonologies. But I’m consistently and abundantly thankful that God’s last word was not “No”, but rather Christ — and the redemption of all things in Him.

    • Sure, the Bible isn’t a rule book and I know that it doesn’t need to speak directly to situations to have authority over them, as per the examples you cited above. I’m just concerned that the logical deductions of one can end up binding the conscience of another in matters that are at best debatable.

  23. It’s strange to hear some of the youth on this thread state that they are aware of the permanence of tattoos, because it is very seldom, if ever, that you find someone under the age of 40 (plus or minus a few) who has any sense of their life’s brevity or any corresponding reference point to understand the length of time that is contemplated by the word “permanent.”

    I think the reason these kids mutilate their flesh isn’t because of a quest for permanence. Rather, I opine that they engage in acts of self-mutilation because of an inability to process “permanence” because, generally speaking, they still feel a bullet-proof sense of youth and are driven by the flights and fancies of their immaturity.

    Take, for example, the plight of this girl who employed the services of the world’s ugliest freak to mutilate her face. Her problem wasn’t that she understood “permanence” and then had a bad case of buyer’s remorse. Her problem was that she never understood the permanent ramifications of her decision, which was not predicated on anything rational as far as I can tell. One minute she loved every star on her face and the next minute she broke down in tears realizing that her constellation was a permanent feature of the hideous galaxy Tattoo on the planet pate. She acted on the impulses of her youth and had no point of reference to grasp her mistake until it was too late. She thought it was cool.

    Now consider that some in this thread think it would be cool to mutilate their flesh by carving the five solas into it. I submit to them, respectfully, that they no more understand the meaning of the five solas than the moron in the end zone understands the meaning of the words “John 3:16,” which he inscribed on a banner to wave at the cameras whenever someone scored a TD.

    If you love the five solas, then you should write them on the tablets of your heart. And when you finally understand what these doctrines really mean, as well as how their permanence should shape your character and your life, then you can join the apostle Paul who understood what it meant to bear in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

    • Chunk, I agree with your take on permanence. Folk really don’t think how their tattoos are going to look when it ‘all goes south’ in their 60s and 70s. It’s all about how they look now.

    • Chunck,

      My country-club grandmother protested my mother’s ear-piercing because it was what the gyspies did. Her country-club father, on the other hand, a wise country MD, took a more reserved view and chortled that every kid should allowed to do at least a few stupid things without it being held against him/her. Granted, mom’s ear piecing isn’t as asinine as not understanding what it means to tattoo one’s face. But, instead of questions about im/permanence, this all might be explained as the plight of adolsecence where synapses aren’t firing quite right yet. Not sexy, I know, but most things can be explained more ordinarily.

      Carving the solas into the body seems like the Reformed version of the WWJD bracelet or those ghastly promise rings.

  24. Zrim,

    I appreciate the “ah shucks” story about grama and grampa; I think we’re saying the same thing. But I can’t agree with your final analogy. The difference between a bracelet and a tattoo is the same as the difference between temporary and permanent. Or, the difference between a WWJD bracelet and a “Reformed” tattoo is the same as the difference between a stupid piece of jewelry that one can remove from their wrist at any time (hopefully when they embrace the Reformed faith) as opposed to a really stupid act of self-mutilation that stains the original beauty of God’s image in the human body with an ugly blotch that was painfully injected into the flesh with the misguided intention of honoring the Reformed faith. Therefore, if I may be more specific, there is nothing Reformed about it. Or, on a more personal note, I am thankful that, unlike Greg Allman, I cannot say, “Let me show you my tattoo.”

    • Chunck,

      Like I implied to Bob, I’m not much for the imago dei argument. Mine is more an Old School resistance to wearing it on one’s sleeve, as it were. Self-expression, whether permanent or temporary, is fubar. It’s made worse by expressing moralism (e.g. behavioralist bracelets and purity rings).

    • Zrim,

      I think that’s the first time that acronym has appeared on the HB in 8,902 comments! Ding, ding, ding! You win the prize. This being a G-rated blog however…. (I’m a pastor and my congregation reads the HB).

      I’m not sure we can dismiss the appeal to the image so easily. I agree that such an argument can be abused but consider Michael’s repeated appeal to tattooing as an ancient Egyptian, as if that legitimizes it. What if it were a Baalistic practice? That’s ancient but it’s also pagan and I think I’m safe in assuming that the Egyptian practice (which has re-surfaced in the last 20 years; I found a news.google.com newspaper clip from ’87 about tattoo removal) was also pagan.

      Clothes are, within bounds, adiaphora. I’m less sure that tats are adiaphora in the same way. They may be but it should be recognized that they belong to a different category.

      I still think that they and their recent proliferation testify to something about our culture and response to it. I think Chunck’s point about it not being permanent is interesting but it’s evident that folk often seek permanence in things are that, by their nature, not: sex, drugs, rock and roll to name but three (or golf, martinis, and the symphony for our upper class readers).

      When I think of the discomfort associated with tats and the fact that people willingly subject themselves to it — that must say something about how they view themselves, even if they aren’t conscious of it. When people voluntarily subject themselves to elective and considerable pain, isn’t it because they are in pain or angry or some combination of the two?

    • Scott, what if your associate minister showed up one Sunday with a sleeve-tattoo poking out from his Genevan gown? What, in your opinion, would be the consequences for his ministry?

      Or if someone who ran a tattoo parlour was asking for membership in your church, would that be a problem?

      I’ve always considered this a matter for the conscience of the individual. Was just wondering if that was your take?

    • In Oceanside that’s a real possibility!

      Well, a lot of companies require professionals to keep them covered during work hours. That wouldn’t be unreasonable for a church. Why let tats be an obstacle to ministry. I had to cut my beard in Kansas City because an older woman in the congregation said that she could never trust a minister with a beard. That’s just the way it is in ministry. My freedom ended when they ordained me.

      If a person ran a tat parlor and wanted to join, oh my, I have no idea. That would provoke some interesting discussions in consistory. I would want to learn whether selling/providing tats is a legitimate and honorable vocation. Personally, it strikes me as a little dubious but that’s my personal reaction not my principled position nor am I saying that I would vote against receiving such a person. I don’ t know. I guess it would depend on a lot of variables.

      Would we receive a liquor store owner w/o question? I don’t know. Does he operate on Sunday. Does he sell to drunks/addicts? Does he sell to minors? There are a lot of variables to consider. Running a pub is a potentially honorable vocation but it’s difficult to run one honorably. Ditto for liquor stores.

      Honorable tat parlor? I don’t know. Can giving tats be a vocation? Doctor, milkman (hey, those floats [milk transport in the UK] are/were just cool), mailman, fireman, accountant, stockboy, cashier, clerk, but tat parlor?

    • LOL, that’s a cracker about the beard.

      I think the tat parlour owner would have to agree never to do lewd tattoos, demonic symbols and religious tattoos of any kind. Kind of restricts him I suppose!

    • I had to cut my beard in Kansas City because an older woman in the congregation said that she could never trust a minister with a beard. That’s just the way it is in ministry. My freedom ended when they ordained me.

      Yeow. So, what if I said I couldn’t trust a chrome-dome minister? (Shaving a beard is different from growing hair, especially for those of us follicle-challenged.) Maybe I should be counseled to get over myself.

    • Would we receive a liquor store owner w/o question? I don’t know. Does he operate on Sunday. Does he sell to drunks/addicts? Does he sell to minors? There are a lot of variables to consider. Running a pub is a potentially honorable vocation but it’s difficult to run one honorably. Ditto for liquor stores.

      Honorable tat parlor? I don’t know. Can giving tats be a vocation? Doctor, milkman (hey, those floats [milk transport in the UK] are/were just cool), mailman, fireman, accountant, stockboy, cashier, clerk, but tat parlor?

      I realized you are thinking out loud, but aside from the question of the Sabbath, these are curious questions to consider when receiving members. Why would one ask if the liquor store owner sells to drunks and minors? Would one also ask if the broker is selling bad mortgages, or the executive pushing unsafe cars, or the dentist pulling the wrong teeth, or the politician backing a controversial war or legislation? Wouldn’t it be more in keeping to ask if there are any flagrant and unrepetant violations of faith and morals in body and/or mind?

      And I’m curious as to what it means that it’s any harder to run these sorts of businesses honorably than it is to do anything else honorably. Again, it seems like “lawful” is the better adverb here than “honorable.” One is objectively measurable, the other is much more subjective and prone to problems.

    • Zrim,

      I agree that it’s obvious that a mortgage broker can do a lot of damage by selling bad mortgages to people who can’t afford them — look at our economy! Maybe my concerns are prejudice but they come out of experience. I’ve known a lot of substance abusers and alcoholics and I’ve spent very little time with mortgage brokers so I’m more familiar with the habits and patterns of pub/bar/liquor store owners who make a living selling booze to drunks (who, obviously, consume a lot more than they should on a regular basis and thus increase their profits). I haven’t known many (I’ve known some bar tenders with scruples who cut people off) booze merchants who cut off alcoholics and drunks (i.e the pros and the amateurs).

      I agree completely that all the folks you mention have an obligation before the Lord to do business uprightly — that’s what we confess in HC 110:

      10. What does God forbid in the eighth Commandment?

      God forbids not only such theft1 and robbery2 as are punished by this magistrate, but God views as theft also all wicked tricks and devices, whereby we seek to get our neighbor’s goods, whether by force or by deceit,3 such as unjust weights,4 ells, measures,5 goods, coins usury, 6 or by any means forbidden of God; also a covetousness7 and the misuse and waste of His gifts.8

      Some vocations are more obviously lawful. Some vocations bear further consideration. No one blinks at a baker. There’s nothing intrinsically dangerous to society in baking. There’s a lot more potential for harm in selling booze or even in selling tattoos. It’s unlikely that buying a loaf of bread will wreck someone’s life but getting the wrong tat might. Have you seen the results of tattoo removal? I go back to “Betty” on the arm when one is married to Joan! That could be complicated to say the least. If one buys a fifth (and drinks it) and drives…. Whereas if one eats a loaf of bread, well, indigestion might follow but no one else is likely to be killed. Booze and bread are inherently different.

    • RSC,

      Yes, that “booze and bread are inherently different” is true. I certainly want to be careful of being Pollyanna here.

      At the same time, I suppose my main point is that I also want to take our freedom in Jesus as seriously as our binding in him. That’s not easy, especially since we are naturally inclined to legalism and fearful of liberty.

      But, like Darren is saying, it is interesting how this discussion easily moves from a sociological observation into one of sin and grace. The latter is probably the wrong direction and may reveal my point about us being naturally inclined to legalism, etc. When it’s the sociological consideration, I still say the fulcrum is not im/permanance but self-expression versus self-comportment. The former is fubar, the latter is not. (BTW, I’ll accept my prize for using the word “fubar” when you’re here in September. It owes to watching “Saving Private Ryan” recently and being reminded how much I like that word. It’s so broadly applicable.)

  25. So a few things,

    1)I meant no disrespect to Dr. Clark or R.R. Reno.
    2)These comments are way too long for me to read, sorry I currently have two jobs, wife, and seminary to pay for.
    3) The Diagnosis of Tat issue is trumped due to the lack of actual evidence. R.R. Reno does not bring ample evidence to support his argument. He does not have relevent experience or any verifiable data outside of his own opinions, so that he is why he is trumped. He bases it all on coffee shop musings.
    4) Im not saying that they are not a sign of ‘liquid-modern culture’ but the diagnosis does not go deep enough, and every culture has had its search for permanence.
    5) No one brings up the validity of Christian tattoo tradition, which is largely held in the eastern church, but it still needs to be reconned with.
    6) Finnally what is more dammaging the judgmental graceless attitude that pervades all of humanity and is manifesting itself in R.R. Reno’s blog post or a tattoo? Attitudes, racism, divorce, or abortion for instance. Thus R.R. Reno is not scratching deep enough and using Baumans rhetoric to sound interesting.

    Dr. Clark wrote:
    “Why tats in the first place? What does it mean? The medium is the message? What message is in the very existence of the medium of tattoos?”

    to these questions I would answer off the cuff, since I am just catching up this afternoon on this issue.
    1) Why tats? Because they explicity portray a message. And it could be the folly of this generation in getting them without thinking about them. Or due to the permanence of them, they are more dedicated to the life they have chosen then people who dont get them.
    2) It can mean anything, I think thats too broad of a question to answer, you have to start searching out more specific sub-cultures to get more depth on this exact issue, which is what R.R. Reno failed to due. Shoot he could of called me, or walked into a tattoo shop, but it was probobly too scary of a place for him since they are all ex-cons apparently.

    • Nic says, “It can mean anything.” Maybe it’s about people trying to define themselves as opposed to being defined by others? That would take us back to the “autonomy” theme/idea.

      I understand asserting autonomy viz advertisers, who class us into demographic groups and who seek to re-define us, who seek to cause us to re-define ourselves in their image (as consumers of their products).

  26. -Why not tattoo John 3:16 on our foreheads and then we’d really have people asking questions?

    -Look up swank, pretension, and ostentation. Those words have pretty much been dropped from everyday use in American English. Because they sting. A person who is described as such is thought to be out of line, deviant, and inordinate. As far as I know in America, these things are commended as virtues, yet there’s this lingering latent sense that there’s something wrong, but everyone’s worried about being sued for saying something or being viewed as intolerant, so they pin their lips shut (lit. or fig.).

    “…the services of the world’s ugliest freak to mutilate her face.”
    -That guy kind of reminded me of a later version of Iron Maiden’s mascot “Eddie.”

    -I don’t buy the falling asleep bit. It was alleged that she thought was going to get 3 stars or some comparatively miniscule number and she wound up looking like the American flag. How can you fall asleep when a person is poking you with a needle so close to your eye (especially when the needle-holder looks like him)? Whatever!

  27. BTW,
    I speak being one who had 6 earrings (3 in each) and who was about to get a large tattoo on my back. I know ostentation when I see it, I strive against it daily, in the way I talk, think, etc. It is one of my “old man’s” favorites.

  28. @ Chunck

    “t’s strange to hear some of the youth on this thread state that they are aware of the permanence of tattoos, because it is very seldom, if ever, that you find someone under the age of 40 (plus or minus a few) who has any sense of their life’s brevity or any corresponding reference point to understand the length of time that is contemplated by the word “permanent.””

    There are multiple ways to find out life’s brevity. One is by meditating on the Word. Another is by having family die unexpectedly and ‘before their time.’ Perhaps you have a greater understanding. I would be willing to bet that you do, but having a greater understanding on permanence is not the same as denying that youth can really know what it means because they are not 40.

    “I think the reason these kids mutilate their flesh isn’t because of a quest for permanence. Rather, I opine that they engage in acts of self-mutilation because of an inability to process “permanence” because, generally speaking, they still feel a bullet-proof sense of youth and are driven by the flights and fancies of their immaturity.”

    How many mutilated kids have you talked too? How many responders on this comment board have told you it is because we have a quest for permanence? Why do you think this is the reason? What reason do you think this? If all of your evidence leans on the plight of one girl, then I’m still suspicious.

    “Now consider that some in this thread think it would be cool to mutilate their flesh by carving the five solas into it. I submit to them, respectfully, that they no more understand the meaning of the five solas than the moron in the end zone understands the meaning of the words “John 3:16,” which he inscribed on a banner to wave at the cameras whenever someone scored a TD.

    If you love the five solas, then you should write them on the tablets of your heart. And when you finally understand what these doctrines really mean, as well as how their permanence should shape your character and your life, then you can join the apostle Paul who understood what it meant to bear in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”

    I’m going to be a little frank, here. I respect the attempt of admonition and exhortation, but saying someone has a moronic understanding of the 5 sola’s because they are tattooed on him/her is neither researched, warranted, nor smart. Insinuating that somehow, by tattooing the solas on your flesh, removes its truth from your heart (or shows it was never in) is rubbish. Your idea that the 5 sola’s should shape someone into a person who does not get a tattoo is assuming your answer to the question we are asking. How do the 5 sola’s or scripture influence us towards not getting tattoo’s?

    Aside from dysphemisms, I’m not sure what you have added to this conversation.

    I’ve read and reread your post. I apologize in advance if I have misplaced your tone, or didn’t fully understand your statement. I hope, though I avidly disagree with your statements, I appear respectful.

    • Chadd,

      Don’t worry about me, you’re plenty respectful and I’m glad to defend my comment. However, I encourage you that if you want to impeach my position then you should try a different line of inquiry.

      You ask, “How many mutilated kids have you talked too?” In the past year I had the unfortunate experiencing of speaking to two incredibly lost souls who dedicated their respective bodies to misery. The first was an 18-year old girl who was working the returns counter at Home Depot. She was a tiny little creature who couldn’t have weighed more than 110 lbs and she had this incredibly ugly tattoo of a dragon circling around her neck. Did I mention it was incredibly ugly? Anyway, the tat was so ugly on her tiny frame and she looked so young (not a day older than 14) that I asked, “Can I ask you how old you are?” She told me 18, and I said, “Why would you do that to your body?” I don’t know if she noticed the shock in my voice or the pale-white expression on my horrified face, because she said, “Because I think it looks cool. My brother has four and we want to look just like our mother.” Then she described the other tats she intended to inject into her flesh, extremely flighty and completely oblivious to the long-term ramifications of her self-mutilating goals. I was, however, still stuck on the word “cool.” “You mean you like it?” I asked, referring to the monster on her neck and not thinking of how I could be offending her. She affirmed with a giggle and I realized that I’d gone too far. I apologized to her for being so forward and got my money back. It was none of my business if her goal in life was to look like she just finished 20 years of hard time in Chino.

      The second encounter took place at a nursery where I returned a tree. The manager dispatched a young man to help me offload the tree from my truck and this kid had the identical frame as the Home Depot girl — he was 5 foot nothing, probably weighed about 120 lbs, and looked like he was 15 years old. After we got rid of the tree, I asked, “Can I ask you a question?” He said, “Sure.” I replied, “Why would you do that to your body?” He said, “What?” I pointed to the string of tats crawling up his arm, across his shoulder, around his neck, and back down the other side. Like the girl, he just turned 18 but his goal was a little more aggressive in that he wanted his back and legs to look like his arms and stomach (he lifted his shirt to show me the grotesque image injected into his abs). He answered, “Because it looks cool.”

      These are two conversations from this year and if I had the time I could share others. But I want to relate a story about a very close friend who had one of the most remarkable conversions I have ever seen. His name was Mike Lewis and he was the toughest man I’ve ever met. He grew up in a broken home in a bad neighborhood where he and his twin brother deliberately went bar hopping with the intent of engaging in barroom brawling. These guys were bikers from their youth up and they fit the stereotype described by RSC above. They rode Harleys, wore leather, were in and out of jail since their early teens, and had tats all over their bodies dedicated to every woman they ever knew.

      Mike’s conversion was a thing of beauty, as well as his brother’s conversion and their respective girlfriends who each had a few tats that accented their overexposed anatomy. They all got married and the two brothers eventually entered the ministry. But neither man nor his spouse knew what to do with the tats because they had become sore spots — constant reminders of their life of sin. It’s kind of awkward when your wife’s name is Renada but you have a tattoo on one arm that says “Annabelle” and another on the other arm that says “Eva.” “Hey pastor, who is Annabelle?” Mike didn’t have the means to surgically remove his mutilations so he put tat on tat, tattooing a big thick cross across the names from his past. Afterwards he liked to say that the cross covered his sin.

      This is just my observation, but I have concluded that the act of tattooing one’s flesh is a fundamentally religious ritual that is performed by people who are without God and without hope. All of the instances above fit that profile, which I believe bears a closer resemblance to the priests of Baal cutting their flesh than the sons of God walking in the Spirit, and I have never heard of Christians mutilating their flesh in the name of the gospel until I read this thread. This, however, is just my experience.

      You ask, “How many responders on this comment board have told you it is because we have a quest for permanence? Why do you think this is the reason? What reason do you think this? If all of your evidence leans on the plight of one girl, then I’m still suspicious.”

      Reno made the “quest for permanence” argument in the article that led to this thread and I as I noted, I do not think it’s a sound argument. It gives these kids too much credit. Most of them will wake up in 20 years and say, “What have I done!” And as far as the contributors to this thread are concerned, every one of them has convinced me by their comments that they are no more informed than Home Depot girl or tree guy: “It looks cool.”

      You write, “. . . . Your idea that the 5 sola’s should shape someone into a person who does not get a tattoo is assuming your answer to the question we are asking. How do the 5 sola’s or scripture influence us towards not getting tattoo’s?”

      This is true. I begged the question. Therefore, my argument, in a nutshell, is that self-mutilation is self-destructive behavior and God has not called us to commits acts of self-destruction. Moreover, I argue that since self-mutilation is self-destructive, it is therefore unnatural behavior, except to the natural man. Which of these points do you disagree with?

    • Thank you so much for the time you took to respond. You have given me a lot to think about.

      “Moreover, I argue that since self-mutilation is self-destructive, it is therefore unnatural behavior, except to the natural man. Which of these points do you disagree with?”

      Well, I disagree with the underlying premise that tattoos are self-mutilation and therefore destructive. I don’t see it as any more mutilating than earrings. Neither is it seen as effacing a temple any more than writing on paper is effacing the paper–or, as the saying goes, ‘adding stained glass’ to the temple.

    • Chadd:

      We should start with our definitions and finish with your analogies.

      DEFINITIONS
      mutilate
      to injure, disfigure, or make imperfect by removing or irreparably damaging parts

      Disfigurement or injury by removal or destruction of a conspicuous or essential part of the body. To deprive of a limb or an essential part; cripple. To disfigure by damaging irreparably: mutilate a statue.

      To make imperfect by excising or altering parts.

      mutilation
      1. to cut up or alter radically so as to make imperfect

      2. to cut off or permanently destroy a limb or essential part of

      self-mutilation
      injury or disfigurement of oneself

      disfigure
      1. to impair (as in beauty) by deep and persistent injuries

      tattoo
      an indelible mark or figure fixed upon the body by insertion of pigment under the skin or by production of scars

      If you grant these definitions, then I think you have to concede that injecting pigment into the flesh to leave an indelible mark on the skin, altering it from its God-given original beauty, is a form of mutilation, or disfigurement. And when someone voluntarily mars, or disfigures, their flesh by leaving an indelible mark on it, we should call it self-mutilation.

      ANALOGIES
      “I don’t see it as any more mutilating than earrings.”
      Earrings are not mutilating, they’re jewelry. However, pierced flesh to accommodate jewelry, such as earrings, is another subject.

      “Neither is it seen as effacing a temple any more than writing on paper is effacing the paper — or, as the saying goes, ‘adding stained glass’ to the temple.”

      Paper is not a collectable; we manufacture it to write on it, which is not defacing (unless you happen to be the only person on the planet who prizes blank sheets of paper as rare forms of art). It exists for this purpose.

      You didn’t complete the stained glass example, so I presume you’re using stained glass in the same way you used paper. If so, then stained glass, unlike a plain sheet of paper, is a form of art because of the skill involved to leave impressions on the glass. And both writing and creating art fall within the scope of the cultural mandate.

      But neither paper nor glass bear the image of God and neither of them are comparable to the only body that God gave to you as your vessel to use to worship him. If you want to make an analogy, then you should compare your use of your body with Christ’s use of his, and in the gospel the only time we see him disfigured was when he bore our sin — not as recreational body art (though he did act voluntarily). And the only NT appeal to disfigurement that I recall, apart from “the circumcision,” is Paul’s claim that he bore “the marks” (stigma) of the Lord Jesus (Gal. 6:17).

  29. “Why tats? Because they explicity portray a message.”
    -For some reason, I’m thinking that this is similar to the logic behind having “drama” in the worship service rather than proclamation of the Word and its contents being the drama. Take the Word away from the sacraments and you have an empty fill-in-your-own-meaning ritual.

    -I failed to mention I used to have electric-teal blue hair. Again, ostentation.

  30. I suppose I’m anxious to make the tattooed who come to faith feel welcomed in our churches. Given the Reformed doctrine of the freedom of the believer, Reformed Christians should be the most tolerant, welcoming and inclusive in the church (i.e. not because we don’t care about doctrine, but that we have a concept of freedom rooted in doctrine) without passing judgement on secondary issues.

    So when we get vociferous about a secondary issue using rhetoric like ‘mutilation’ etc, we immediately alienate a specific group/sub-culture because of our personal tastes. The danger is that we give off a moralist stench. (It works both ways though. The goth crowd, in turn, shouldn’t be sneering at the ‘stuffy’ bloke in the suit or the kid in the drainpipe denims with a white shirt buttoned up to the neck.) Given our judgement of charity, there’s no reason why our assemblies shouldn’t see dudes with half sleeves and neck tattoos singing Psalms beside white middle class families in business atire.

    • Nick,

      Yes, we should MOST DEFINITELY welcome the tattooed (and every other sort of sinner, including the respectable middle class who, perhaps, hide their sins best of all) in our churches.

      Amen! Indeed, more than one of the folks who helped inspire and start our church is tattooed.

  31. While defending a Christian’s liberty to get tattooed, I’m a bit surprised at the vehement reaction against the article.

    For example, I practice wushu, a martial arts style known more for its aesthetics than practical combat value. If someone were to write an article on the rise and fall of wushu popularity, how it reflects a postmodern clime of the fetish of all things asian, substituting an commie construct for ancient culture, shifting value to taste, my wushu buddies and I would probably get a chuckle out of our foibles, and go back to working on how to spin our swords and spears in cooler ways.

    I freely admit it’s more due to being a dork who watched Jet Li movies and martial arts anime than any real cultural inheritance; maybe it says more about my postmodern penchant for style over substance. And while it’s a fantastic cardio-vascular workout, it is also highly injury-inducing… no not because of combat, but because we hurt ourselves through extreme movements (I’ve sustained torn ACL and a type II hamstring tear… and I’m still at it). And we regularly laugh at ourselves over it.

    Maybe we need to lighten up a bit. After all, isn’t our postmodern condition marked by irony and parody?

    • You know Darren, the thing I am concerned with is sin. I hate sin. And if I have it, I want to confess it and repent. The reason I think this article is receiving so much attention is because it ultimately deals with sin.

      Sinners don’t normally want to admit they are sinners. And people who are innocent of sin don’t want to say they have done it.

    • It seems that most here (with a few exceptions) would agree that tattoos are not inherently sin any more than practicing martial arts is inherently sin. And there are sinful reasons for getting tattoos and sinful reasons for practicing martial arts. And wretches that we are, we’ve always mixed tainted motivations in.

      Where we need to lighten up is when someone weighs in on possible reasons for a social shift. Is the article condemning every single tattooed person as engaging in damnable practice? If so, then I’d understand the mad reaction against Reno. But I don’t get that sense. It’s a sociological piece, which inherently makes it overly broad. As one of my literature professors kept repeating to us, “sociologists aren’t that smart.” So let’s laugh a little.

      But it may point to an idol we’re not aware of because we’re part of our culture. Just as there are potential idols for the wushu practitioner. Or for the the coffee drinker. Or for anything we do. We may profit by the occasion for reflection on how we’ve been influenced by the culture. Maybe sometimes it’ll be a serious reflection on sin we need to put to death and idols we need to smash. Sometimes it can be more of an occasion to laugh at how absurd are.

  32. Ok, I got it. Stephen gets to tell us all the new words he learns from the movies/school/streetcorner. Like how cool is that?.
    Or is it just a nominally reformed member of a nominally reformed church being boorish and a potty mouth?
    FTM would it be too hip or existentially authentic if you were to actually spell out what your new word really means?
    Don’t bother.

    As re. tattoos – not the vocabulary of those who sport them – drollord and Chunck made some excellent points.
    Further in that regard, and regardless if he can’t get the Second Commandment straight, S. Schlissel kills it in his rather graphic Tattoo You? of 8/8/02: Self loathing as a sadomasochistic sacrament/atonement, whether tattooed or pierced.

    The sum of it, for him, is to be found in Eph. 5:29: For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church. What remains to be said when a professing Christian equates piercing, cutting, burning and slashing the body with nourishing and cherishing it? Pity his wife!! (Eph. 5:28). And if we are to love neighbor as self, my advice to his neighbors: Move!

    Yes, it is a pity when Stevie can’t get justification by faith alone right, having bought into the Federal Perversion, but he’s got some stuff figured out, as opposed to his namesake.

    (Maybe somebody ought to stop watching movies if they are so impressionable/immature.)

  33. Mine of today #78 July 28, 2009 at 10:43 pm is in reply to #77 July 25, 2009 at 10:12 am regardless of where the comment software puts it.
    Thank you.

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