Tattoos are commonplace in today’s society, more so than they have ever been before. However, tattoos actually predate the life of Christ. Some people look at tattoos as art or even inspiration, while others look at tattoos in a much more negative light. Some religions even frown upon or outright prohibit tattoos.
Can Catholics get tattoos? There are no specific rules mandated by the church against getting tattoos. There are several scriptural references to marks on the body, as well as other communal considerations that you should consider before tattooing your body permanently.
When thinking about getting a tattoo, there are many things to take into consideration before taking the step to permanently mark your body. The Church has not taken a formal stance on the issue, but some individuals feel that scripture is clear on the subject.
Others, however, feel that the scriptures in question are being taken out of context. Reading the scriptures may help you to understand the confusion. The questions outside of scripture are also good food for thought for the Catholic seeking a tattoo.
Scripture to consider
- The Catechism in No. 2288 notes, “Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good.” These are lessons that Catholics are taught from a young age.
Many would look at this particular lesson and remind you that the process of getting a tattoo can be dangerous. Numerous stories back up the danger- with individuals contracting various infections or even communicable diseases from unclean needles or tattoo artists who do not take appropriate precautions.
Tattoos also leave you with a somewhat open wound, and without proper care can lead to further infection and scarring.
Others look at these arguments and remind you that you can contract these same infections from a mere bug bite. Nurses, teachers, police officers and others are frequently exposed to communicable diseases – so getting a tattoo is no more dangerous than dealing with the public.
With proper care, tattoos will heal quickly with no side effects, outside of the same kind of itchy skin one experiences after a minor sunburn.
- “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
Our bodies are gifts from God. He means for us to glorify Him through what we do with our bodies. We do this in many ways- from the way we dress, our appearance, and even the way we speak.
So, the question here is will a tattoo glorify the Lord? Will a tattoo mar the natural beauty that the Lord has blessed you with? We have seasons in our lives where we appreciate one thing or another.
Characters, TV shows, songs, and even specific Bible verses may speak to us more deeply at one time than another. Tattooing something on our bodies based on something that speaks to us during a time in our lives could be a mistake as in 6 months, we may very well regret that decision.
That cross that you were going to tattoo on your body could be worn around your neck- that scripture that is speaking to you could become the mantra for your life- helping you to live your life in a more Christ-like manner.
Others might say that a tattoo can stand as a testament, or testimony, to a period in your life that you want to remember. It can also be a symbol of strength- a sign to others what you have overcome.
Cancer patients and abuse survivors may place tattoos on their bodies to symbolize the battles that they have overcome. Those who have lost loved ones may use tattoos as symbols of remembrance for those lost loved ones.
Recently, large groups of individuals have used tattoos to spread a message or gain support. “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life,” explained the late Amy Bleuel, founder of Project Semicolon, an organization dedicated to the prevention of suicide.
Another argument that tattoo enthusiasts give when facing 1 Corinthians 6:19 is that tattooing or decorating your “temple” is merely affecting your exterior. They point out that many individuals do more damage to their temples by what they do to the interior. Fatty foods, smoking, drugs and alcohol all have more of a negative effect on our bodies than tattoos.
- “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:28).
During Biblical times, tattoos were symbols of pagan worship, placed on the body as part of mourning practices of the Canaanites, as well as idolatrous Canaanite worship. Looking at scriptures surrounding this verse helps readers to understand the context better.
These Old Testament laws are no longer binding on modern day Christians.
As with many other Old Testament laws, they were written based on the times that long-ago Christians lived in. Taking these scriptures out of context would make most people in today’s society sinners. Women wearing pants and cutting their hair, for example… stoning in the public square. These are outdated and inappropriate to use in the world that we currently live in.
That is not saying that scripture has no bearing on our lives, but specific verses such as these should not be taken in singularity and used out of their intended context to focus on one set of words rather than the entire picture.
Outside of scriptural basis- there are other considerations when considering whether or not to get a tattoo. This is a choice that you really need to think about before moving forward. Remember that this is a permanent addition to your body. Yes, there are ways to remove tattoos- but those options are much more expensive and painful than the original tattoo will be.
When contemplating a tattoo and your religion, ask yourself some of these questions to see if tattooing yourself is in line with your belief system.
- Why do you want to get a tattoo? When thinking about that question, does your answer revolve around vanity or pride? This attitude would be unacceptable to the church and to the Lord, who knows your heart, but also wants you to live in a way that does not promote your pride or vanity.
- Will the image or wording offend? Many times, we see demonic images, unkind words, or unfavorable attitudes. Something you might feel is humorous may be hurtful to someone else. Is that something you want permanently on your body?
- Would your tattoo offend colleagues, friends, neighbors or your family? Is it somehow scandalous? Is it something your mother would approve of, let alone your God? A great question is would you be embarrassed if your pastor saw your tattoo?
- Can you afford it? Tattoos are not cheap. This may be the least of your worries when considering the moral aspects of getting a tattoo as a Catholic, but it is something to be considered.
Is the expense of a tattoo something that your family can afford? Will it keep you from taking care of those who depend on you? Does it detract from those in need?
When asking if a Catholic can get a tattoo, it is again important to point out that the church has no specific stance on tattoos for parishioners. You can take scripture into account, you can look at other moral factors, but- like everything else in our lives- God has given us Free Will and tattoos are an individual choice for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
If you are interested in learning about other Religions in the world, then check out this book on World’s Religions on Amazon.