A Conversation I Keep Having

In the last 3 months I have repeatedly had conversations with my (conservative) Christian friends about tattoos.  For many of my friends tattoos are absolutely morally indefensible.  I, however, do not share their convictions.  The purpose of this post is to explain my position. I’ll start with putting my biases on the table.  I have no tattoos, but many people I know well have them.  I don’t understand them on any level.  Fashion and style trends change, but tattoos don’t.  I've never seen a tattoo that I thought was attractive. Nor have I ever seen a tattoo that I thought enhanced the looks of the tattooee.  I have, however, seen tattoos that I think are really neat.

So here is the question at hand; are tattoos morally right or wrong? It is my position that they are morally neutral.  In fact, I can envision a scenario in which not having a tattoo would be wrong.  Imagine if you will, a mission scenario in which to have an audience with those God has called you to minister to, you must get a tattoo.  Let’s say it marks you as an adult and therefore worthy of respect.  If you refuse it, you also refuse to be an effective witness and are disobedient to God’s call.  Is this not a situation where getting a tattoo is morally proper?

When students in my youth group ask if it is wrong to get a tattoo (which they rarely do anymore) I always ask them why they want it.  It may come as a surprise to you that most teenagers haven’t thought this question through fully.  Most of the time they answer that they want one because tattoos are “cool.”  They rarely attach any morality to it whatsoever.  My answer to them is why do you want the tattoo?  If it is so guys will look at your body, it’s wrong.  If it’s so that you can rebel and say, “Nobody can tell me what to do.” It’s wrong.  If it is because you just have a couple of hundred bucks in your pocket and can’t figure out what to do with it, it’s a really bad idea.  You think this kid is gonna regret this? Otherwise, I say it is something you need to really think through, not just say “Tattoos are cool.  I need one.” (I would actually say this chart is pretty accurate (be warned – it has swears.))

I believe that most people are opposed to tattoos are really opposed for cultural reasons.  They associate them with certain immoral types of people.  However that is no longer the case.  My survey from yesterday was interesting.  For one thing [and off the subject], from my comments I would have guessed that more women than men read my blog, but more men voted.  I was hoping to show that more than half of 20-35 year-olds are tattooed and that more women than men have them.  My very unscientific survey didn’t reveal that.  It did show that tattoos are more common for women than men, which is anecdotally my experience as well.  This study from Pew research says that about 40% of that age group is tattooed.  Even though that number is lower than I expected, it is still enough to make my point.  Tattoos are not just for bikers and prisoners anymore, and getting one does not say you want to associate with them.

Whenever I say to my friends that their view of tattoos is an issue of preference and not necessarily one of morality they invariably quote Leviticus 19:28 to me.  I then am forced to ask them why there is no fence on their roof, if they like bacon, what about their jacket, are mules sinful, or where is their beard.  Christ came to fulfill the law and we are no longer bound to it.  We have no need to be ceremonially clean for the temple because we have the great high priest.  (This may bring up another post altogether - why do we follow some OT laws but not others? If you think it’s necessary for me to answer that in a post, let me know in the comments.  I’ll answer that as well.)

As always feel to tell me why I’m stupid in the comments.