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Are tattoos sinful?

  • Published Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Father Joe Nassal, Missionaries of the Precious Blood in Liberty, Mo.: Most biblical scholars suggest the prohibition in the book of Leviticus, “You shall not … print any marks upon you,” has more to do with ceremonial markings the Canaanites used as a sign of mourning than with morality.

The ban against body art reminded the Israelites that they were made in the image of God and so did not need to mark their body with images that neighboring religions often did to identify their gods.

Some might look at tattoos as idol worship or an exercise in vanity. But on the surface, tattoos are not sinful, unless the person uses the canvas of the body to promote hate speech.

Making a blanket statement about tattoos disrespects some indigenous cultures where tattoos are common. So, perhaps the question is not whether tattoos are sinful, but rather, what is the motivation or meaning behind the mark?

There is a story behind every tattoo. Perhaps a religious tattoo might offer an opportunity to share one’s faith.

Every year on Ash Wednesday, Christians participate in a ritual of rubbing ashes on our foreheads in the form of a cross. This “ash tattoo” calls Christians to conversion, to turn away from sin and return to God. It is a kind of body art that reflects outwardly our inner call to reclaim our identity as children of God.

The Rev. Duke Tufty, Unity Temple, Kansas City, Mo.: I believe many things in the Bible are not the word of God, but rather cultural taboos conceived by man.

If a person freely chooses to be a member of a particular culture and abide by its taboos, that is that person’s right, just as it is the right of another person to not be expected to comply.

The book of Leviticus states one should not go with an uncovered head; one should not wear a fabric blend of wool and linen; if one sees his neighbor working on the Sabbath he should kill him; men should not shave or cut their hair. A menstruating woman is deemed unclean and should not be touched until seven days after. This is the way people of that time chose to live their lives.

Yet I feel no obligation to follow these rules.

In regards to tattoos, some deem them sinful, some deem them as sacred adornments, and still others view them as expressions of individuality.

Which perspective is right? They all are. I recently met a young woman who had three sets of kissing lips on her back. Her sisters had actually kissed her back and she had the exact shape of each kiss made permanent by tattoo. For her it symbolized the ever-present love of her sisters.

Far from sinful, it touched me as sublime.

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