Tattoo's & Skin Piercing
by Bill Wyler, 1997
"You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh, for the dead; neither shall you make in yourselves any figures or marks. I am the Lord." -Leviticus xix. 28
Another problem that has infected Catholics in this century is the practice and/or acceptance of self-mutilation in the form of tattooing and skin piercing. It has now become the "fad" among men and women to tamper with the body that God gave them in order to appeal to a perverse sense of what is "attractive". Instead of catering to the natural law and trying to be whole, they instead are intentionally making imperfections of the skin. We as Catholics should strive to be whole not only in Soul but also in Body; what is meant by whole is the complete or perfect man. We say that a person is not whole in body when they are missing a body part or afflicted with a disease; because they are deficient in some perfection of man. They have in some way deviated from the perfect man: Adam. Created sinless by Almighty God, Adam could be nothing but perfect. He had the perfect body and the perfect soul. It was when he sinned that his body began to deteriorate and die. Adam was created with a perfect essence and a perfect nature. All imperfections (evils) of man, such as death and disease, are due to some type of sin, either Original or Actual. These imperfections are not natural, they are not of God, and they were not meant to be. It was due to us acting contrary to what our free-will was designed for (to adhere to God's will and our universal nature), that we had to suffer being an incomplete man--no longer perfect, no longer whole. We are born with Original Sin on our souls, and also with some physical deviation from what we were designed to be. When and if we are saved, we will not only be perfect in soul, but also in body. In our glorified bodies after the resurrection, we will be the perfect age (most probably 30-33), will suffer no more diseases, never feel pain again, and will have every perfection that was meant for all men as men. We will be whole and by being whole we will act fully according to our nature.
How do we know what is the perfect man? Being Catholics we have a living platonic form: Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus, being not stained with any sin whatsoever, did not suffer any of the bodily imperfections that the rest of man had to be born with. Christ had 10 fingers and 10 toes, so in order for all human beings to be whole, they would have to have the same. Christ also had the perfect skin, no moles or blemishes or birthmarks, so humans in order to be complete would have to not deviate from this perfection. Any deviation from this perfect man, would be an imperfection, hence an evil. Now humans, naturally, are always to seek the good and never to seek that which is evil. Understanding all this, we can then know that we as Catholics are not to seek any imperfection of the body, unless of course a greater good is sought, and the imperfection being an unavoidable evil. For example, a doctor would be able to perform surgery on a man trying to remove a tumor, knowing that it would scar up the tissue. He would be allowed to do this because his desire is to keep the body whole (alive in this case), and not to intentionally damage the skin. For if the doctor could avoid damaging the skin in any way, he would do so, since a doctor is man who tries to keep the body whole (healthy), and not destroy it nor allow it to be destroyed. In the same manner we may consider a Priest to be a doctor who tries to keep the soul healthy or when necessary, restore it to health.
So what would Catholics be forbidden to do? Anything which would deviate from keeping the man whole--Tattoos, Skin Piercing, Branding. These would all be prohibited under the natural law. The intentions behind having these things done are solely for show. To show what? To flaunt our bodies in an unnatural way for the sake of vanity and in doing so, being immodest. There is no one on earth who gets a tattoo and does not desire to have people or themselves look at it. Even if having a ring in the nose would make one prettier, it would still be wrong, because we would then be making the ends justify the means, and the end in this case would be deviation from being whole without striving to keep the body intact. Besides where and when did this "fad" of having people pierce their skin (ears and noses) and tattoo their bodies come about? Tattoos were brought over into Western Culture primarily during the World War Campaigns in the Pacific Theatre. It was from the pagan Orient that men began to scar their bodies with different inks and call it "art". Ear piercing for women also didn't start until this century. Prior to that, Catholic women would have never dreamed of mutilating their ears for vanity. They were too busy trying to be whole spiritually and bodily to do something so contrary. They were trying to get away from the vanities of this world, not indulge in it! But as with all sin, it usually starts off venially then works its way up and before one knows it, one is at the gates of hell. A person doesn't just wake up one day and become a malicious killer. He first gives in to one small temptation of anger to another, until he commits his first murder. After that, it is much easier for him to kill and make it a habit, since his conscience was muddied from his past mortal sins.
That is exactly what happened with the "fad" of skin mutilation. It started off that only men having a small tattoo was deemed acceptable by society; it was trivial, nothing seen to be wrong with it. Then it built up to the men getting their bodies completely riddled with this abomination. From there, the devil enticed women into believing "well, since the guys are doing it, what is stopping you from doing it too?" There wasn't anything stopping them! There was nothing "masculine" about tattoos; it is as barbaric for men as it is for women. The obverse has happened with ear-piercings as well. It first began with the notion that women having their ears pierced was okay and "feminine". Then it worked out to be that guys were allowed to have "one earring" since it was "Cool" and two would mean being like a girl. As time went on, these bogus excuses began to wear down (since there was no logic in them), and eventually men started to wear earrings in both ears as well. Who could complain, and where does it stop? The conclusion is, that it won't stop until people understand why it is wrong to desire even the "tiniest imperfection". Today we can see, thanks to the introduction of hindu culture in America, that men and women are now piercing other parts of their bodies, from eyebrows to noses to even unmentionables. How is a person who has their ears pierced or a tattoo on their arm to complain about this? What excuse would they use? "Oh that is too much!" Too much of what? Is there then a right or perfect amount, and if there is a "perfect" amount, does that mean we as Catholics should make a virtue out of striving for this Perfection? Which again comes down to, perfection of what? Man? Certainly, as proven before, this bodily mutilation cannot be deemed a perfection of man, for Christ had all the perfections. Who would dare say that Our Lord had His skin intentionally mutilated for show, lest he blaspheme?
Catholics can really solve a lot of confusion on how to act, if they ask themselves at least some of these questions prior to doing that act...
Would a Saint do it?
Would I be embarrassed if Our Lord or His Blessed Mother was to see this?
Am I really doing all that I do in Christ Jesus?
Would what I am doing be accepted in every century of Christendom PRIOR to this one?
Given a choice, would this be deemed a Virtue or a Vice?
Would I allow my family, friends or children to do the same?
Would the majority of Catholics do this, and if not, WHY not?
Would I be a good representative of my Catholic Religion by doing this?
Drawing a line between those who would condone this act and those who wouldn't, which side of the line would I be on and who else would be there?
- CATHOLIC APOLOGETICS -