During a recent family vacation at a waterpark my wife and I noticed that we were probably the only people between the ages of 16 and 60 in the whole complex without a tattoo. It was one of those moments (which seem to becoming more frequent) where we realized that we are the exception to the norm.
Growing up, tattoos were to be found on the arms of sailors and bikers. It was a sign that you lived on the edge of society. The guys in high school who were likely to have a tattoo were to be found smoking in the bathroom. You didn’t mess with a dude with a tattoo.
Today it’s very different… it seems that everyone and their mother has a tattoo.
Although due to a deathly fear of needles I would never personally get a tattoo, the ubiquitous display of ink at the waterpark had me pondering the Catholic teaching on tattoos.
My usual first stop in looking up Catholic teaching on anything, an on-line searchable catechism, provided nothing in the way of a formal teaching on tattoos. Further searches gave me opinions at both ends of the debate. Although the Catholic Church does not have an official teaching on tattoos, each side of the conversations has its own merits.
There are many people who would argue that body ink is a great way to evangelize. An argument supported by many of the tattoos on display at the waterpark. There were a plethora of Crosses to be seen, along with a few quotes from Scripture and a couple of Rosaries. All of these seem to be a great way to get God’s message out, a permanent expression of one’s faith; but the gift shop had a wide selection of t-shirts from Kerusso which both boldly and whimsically made the same kind of statements. I bought the shirt, so as to avoid the needle.
This being said, Catholic-Christian tattoos were in the vast minority of the needlework seen at the waterpark. The majority of tattoos fell into the acceptable realm of barbed armbands, sleeves and lower-back floral arrangements. Of course, for the parents in the crowd, there were the names of children scrolled across various body parts.
On the other side of the conversation (the side I’m more comfortable on), there is the argument that your body is a gift from God, made perfectly for you, and thus should not be disfigured. Even Pope Francis, who the relativist-modernists love to trot out in defence of their worldly actions has stated:
The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father… Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. (Laudato Si, 155)
Again, not an outright condemnation of body art, but food for thought in the decision making process.
In a great little article on the subject of tattoos and the Catholic faith, Matt Fradd takes a more in-depth look at the question from a biblical perspective. He also gives some great advice to those considering body ink. His argument against tattoos is best summed up in his final line:
Would you put a bumper sticker on a Ferrari?
Those who saw me at the waterpark in my bathing suit know I no longer drive a Ferrari (don’t think I ever did), but I also would never consider putting a bumper sticker on my Volkswagen either.