From a reader:

Dear Father – can you please advise if it is ok to have a tattoo. My
son who is 18 would like to have a tattoo in latin, via, veritas et
vita. I have searched the web, it does not look like the church
prohibits it.

Is it okay?  It is prohibited?

I don’t know and I don’t think so.

Holy Church doesn’t prohibit getting a tattoo.  But tattoos are subject to cultural taboos and customs.

However, if your son is living under your roof, you could lay down a house rule that people who get tattoos can’t live there.

I suspect no one here will have an opinion about tattoos.  Nope.  No chance.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Centristian says:

    Well, he doesn’t need the local bishop’s permission to have it in Latin any longer, but will he be able to find a tattoo artist who is able to write “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” on his arm in the Extraordinary Form? That will be the challenge. He may have to drive a couple of hours one way in order to find a tattoo parlor that offers that sort of thing.

  2. BillyHW says:

    Tattoos are ugly, disgusting and demonic.

  3. Elizium23 says:

    Tattoos can often be a source of regret. He will need to go through some amount of soul-searching, and hopefully consult with his spiritual director, or confessor, to determine if 20, 30 years down the line, he will not be ashamed to reveal his tattoo or look at it in the mirror. Being that it has a holy and Christian theme makes it easier to accept.

    I certainly came to regret my decision to pierce my body parts. Years later, it was my reversion to Catholicism and the well-placed homilies of a certain holy priest which convinced me to take them out and allow them to heal up. It’s much easier to reverse a piercing than a tattoo. So, by all means, consider the feelings of your future self.

  4. acroat says:

    They can be an obstacle when interviewing for a job. My husband’s nephew can never wear a short sleeve shirt to work because if his.

  5. Fr. Terry Donahue says:

    Jimmy Akin addresses the morality question here, stating that there is no prohibition of tattooing in the moral law. I’d recommend the following additional questions to ask oneself before getting a tattoo:

    1) What is my motivation for getting the tattoo? This could range from good motives (legitimate self-expression, to remind oneself of a truth) to questionable or bad motives (a sign of rebellion, a desire to attract attention, a desire to shock others for the thrill of it, or to promote a cause that is unjust).

    2) Will the tattoo be a distraction to others, or draw too much attention to my outward physical appearance? It is important to take care of our outward physical appearance and to be presentable. People also use make-up, hair styles, etc. to draw some attention to their outward appearance. This is legitimate self-expression provided it is done in moderation, according to the situation (i.e. people legitimately draw more attention to their appearance at a costume party or on stage than in day-to-day life). The same standard of moderation would apply to tattoos, especially if they are in a prominent location.

    3) What do the images and words in the tattoo mean to me? How will others who see the tattoo interpret its meaning? The issue here is avoiding symbols or messages that could easily be misinterpreted, causing scandal.

    4) Could the tattoo become an obstacle in fulfilling God’s plan for my life? Some vocations can be lived out within a given culture, or even a subculture where tattoos are common. But some vocations and ministries involve interaction with a very broad spectrum of society. People from various cultures and backgrounds have different reactions towards tattoos, so a prominent tattoo (i.e. a size or location that make it difficult to hide) may provoke negative reactions that are a hindrance to ministry. Some jobs are not available to those with visible tattoos.

    5) Am I too young to get a tattoo? As a young person, it is easy to make a rash decision that you will later regret. The decision to get a tattoo can have an impact on your future, so it requires wisdom and maturity. This is especially true for tattoos that are large or easily seen, as they can make it more difficult to interact in certain cultures and subcultures. If you are under 18, you need to be obedient to your parents on this issue. Reversing the decision to get a tattoo by removing it at a later date is much more expensive and painful than getting it in the first place!

  6. asperges says:

    Like many others I instinctively dislike tattoos. Times change, but in this country, they have – until pop culture suggested otherwise – been considered mostly proper to criminals and the underworld. An exception exists in a certain tradition in the navy, for example.

    The Jewish attitude to tattoos is most interesting. They see it as a deformation of God’s image and it remains forbidden by the Torah. It was long seen as a mark of slavery, including piercings, and rings particularly in the pinna of the ear. There is a interesting and balanced page here . It seems though, according to Isaiah and Job, that tattooing of the name of God was not unknown in the early days: “another shall mark his arm ‘of the Lord’ and adopt the name of Israel” (Isaiah 44:5), “See, I have engraved You on the palms of my hands…” (Isaiah 49:16), and ” …is a sign on every man’s hand that all men may know His doings” (Job 37:7).”

    What is sure is that tattoos are a bodily disfigurement and today’s ‘hip’ design – or worse, name of current girlfrield etc – is tomorrow’s shame. Best leave them alone.

  7. StevenDunn says:

    Tattoos are disgusting and a sign of poor breeding. I haven’t reached the point in my career where I have the final say in hiring(though I do assist), but I would always choose the un-tattooed candidate over the tattooed one, all other things being equal. Tattoos == poor impulse control and an identification with the trashiest elements of our society(with all their associated problems).

    I’m 28, btw, and not some old codger. While cultural attitudes towards tattoos have changed among the young and the underclass, I’ve never found a successful upper class person of any age that likes them. Tell your son that getting a tattoo is equivalent to having “I have no class” permanently written across his forehead.

  8. liebemama says:

    We have been watching the European Meisterschaft (championship?) and it makes me shudder when I see the fully tatoo’d arms of the professional soccer players from all countries. I can’t decipher what is actually printed on their arms, be it in Latin, Swedish or German. From the distance it is just plain ugly. I wonder how their arms will look at age 70?
    Last summer at the public pool I was one of very few women without any kind of tatoo. I was in the minority. One of the women who delivers our mail has 3 piercings in her face/lip! I really have to master my eyes not to stare! This whole tatoo and piercing culture really disturbs me.
    Am I old?
    To the parent making the request: JUST SAY NO!
    (coming from a mother of 4)

  9. I do not think that tattoos are immoral per se. I think they can be, and perhaps often are, such as when they are done for vain reasons, or when the subject matter is impure or obscene.
    I think that tattoos are acceptable if done for devotional reasons, or, for instance, in commemoration of something significant. However I think prudence dictates that they be easily covered and discreet, and of course that one thinks about the decision long and hard before having one done.
    I’m rather a fan of the Coptic practice of tattooing a cross on the hand/inner arm. I think it’s a lovely practice. Once in a while I wonder about doing something along those lines, though not seriously yet.

  10. Burke says:

    My tattoo is a memorial to my wife & I’s first child which we lost to miscarriage. It is hidden under my clothing & has only been seen by a few close family members. Nearly 20 years later I have no regrets. When I see it it is a reminder of that little life, of the joyful expectation we felt when he was with us, and the sorrow we felt at his loss.

  11. Dorcas says:

    I have a small tattoo of a flower, on the back of my shoulder. It is not very noticable. I do rather regret it, even though it is almost never noticed, and it still looks ok after 22 years. But still…I would recommend 1. wait 6 months and see if it still so all-fired important and meaningful to get one and 2. consider getting it in a place that is not too inconvenient to cover up. The hard-core biker dude who did mine had enough kindliness and good sense to out and out refuse to do the tat where I had orginally wanted it…God bless that man.

  12. jflare says:

    On the whole, I can’t say that a tattoo would be immoral per se. I CAN say there’re far better means of expressing oneself than acquiring a tattoo. Having one seems rather more a bother than it’s worth.
    I HAVE come across one major particular exception to that rule: Some military personnel DO acquire a tattoo that distinctively marks them as members of some form of elite unit, Army Rangers or Navy Seals might be appropriate examples. I consider this to be acceptable because the tattoo acts in a manner rather similar to the ribbons and medals that one might receive for one’s actions.

    So, having made that exception, why not one that expresses religious sentiments?
    While it could be done, I guess, the only people I’ve ever seen with religiously related body art..tended to be people who, in my opinion, tended to exercise questionable judgement at best, poor judgement at worst. In other words, having a tattoo has tended to highlight character in a bad direction.

    And, like I said before….
    When we have SO MANY means of expressing passionate faith in God, when we have SO MANY ways of demonstrating a holy life, when we have SO MANY ways of marking ourselves out in faith, when we have so MANY ways of giving marvelous public witness to the love of Christ, it makes no sense to me to mark the body in a manner that casts doubt on one’s character.

  13. Dr Guinness says:

    “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:28.
    ‘Nuff said.

  14. Burke says:

    Dr Guinness ,
    No, not ‘ ’nuff said.’ Lev 19.28 is commands the Hebrews not to emulate the mourning rituals of the Caananites (see p 746 of the New Jerome Biblical Commentary). It falls into the category of cultural laws (such as not mixing fibres etc) rather than the moral (such as sexual ethics).

    As Fr Z pointed out, the Church does not prohibit one from getting a tattoo. It therefore remains a matter of individual choice.

  15. RuralVirologist says:

    As long as it’s not on his forehead or right hand, and isn’t required to buy food, it’s okay. HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis D, and especially Hepatitis C are risks with tattoos. A tattoo also then limits your ability to donate blood or organs, usually only for a year or a few years, depending on what local regulations say.

  16. Malvenu says:

    Burke: What a wonderful reason to have a tattoo. I, like Irenaeus GS, have wondering (not particularly seriously) about getting a tattoo. It would obviously be discreet and I would need to come up with an image or word or phrase that really meant something before I seriously considered it. Like you obviously did.

    My wife suffered a miscarriage recently and I wanted to mark it somehow but I did not know how. I asked my priest (not about tattoos) just about marking the loss and he seemed not to have a clue – I’m not being unkind he simply didn’t respond when I asked him. The pain has gone now and I am comforted by the thought (derived from reading a wonderful book called, “Angels in my Hair” by Lorna Byrne about her experiences of seeing angels as part of her everyday life) that our child that did not make it into the world, as it were, will be close to her mummy with other sibling(s) that we have not known, but that God knows and loves. I’m sure a tattoo would keep our child in my memory longer but I would hesitate for two reasons. 1, I’m not sure how many other miscarriages we have suffered and I wouldn’t want to ‘miss anybody out’, and 2, I wouldn’t know what to get inked as I hope that we would have a child in the future and we would almost certainly use the name we had had in mind previously.
    Still, I don;t think i’ve ever heard of a better reason for getting a tattoo!

  17. Tradster says:

    My pre-conciliar nuns used to touch on this subject fairly often. They would state in no uncertain terms that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and so tattoos were as sinful as painting graffiti on a Catholic Church.

  18. kab63 says:

    Burke, your story is lovely.

    I have a tat I got at 16 in secret. Thank God this young man is asking his elders for their opinion. Perhaps because I was sneaking the tat, I chose a hidden place for it, which is wise.

    The tattoo-ing was silly and rebellious, but I have no regrets. A tat is painful to get, and will live with you from then on. Choose well. Be moderate and modest, as in all things. Our skin is marked by all kinds of life events: worry, joy, sun, injury. To consciously mark your own skin is just another event, in my opinion.

  19. tperegrinus says:

    Interesting article by Fr Peter Joseph (Diocese of Sydney) on the topic at this link: http://www.latinmassmagazine.com/articles/articles_2002_SU_Joseph.html

  20. APX says:

    I always thought they were not permitted except in very select circumstances. At least that’s what we’re taught in school. We were told they’re a form of self mutilation in which someone is indtroducing a foreign substances into the body without sufficient reason.

    Btw: tattoos don’t look too hot when you’re old a wrinkly. Just saying’…

  21. albizzi says:

    More than often tattoos are ugly rebellious signs rather than works of “art”.
    That’s a clue towards an evil rather than a good. I agree with Asperges regarding the jewish tradition: Tattoos are distorting the image of God in our bodies which are the Temple of the Holy Ghost and I would take the Leviticus quote in its basic meaning “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.”
    In my opinion that quote looks perfectly intended to the men of the times being, rather than the Canaanites.

  22. NoTambourines says:

    I would be terrified the whole time of a “tattoo typo.” Better be sure the tattoo artist can spell, or one could wind up with a permanent version of a “cake wreck.”

    I like the idea above of waiting six months or so. “Permanent,” after all, is a very long time, so it would be good to live with the idea for a while before going forward.

  23. teechrlady says:

    My husband and I both have tattoos and got them at the same time. I had wanted mine for 10 years so it wasn’t some “impulse”. Also, we made sure we both got them in places where no one knows they’re there unless we want to show them. Neither of us regret the decision and for a while we wanted to get a second.

    I do agree, ugly tattoos or too many can and do detract from your image, but one or two little ones, if you really want them, are no big deal.

  24. teechrlady says:

    APX: Nothing on our bodies look good when we’re old and wrinkly. Just sayin’…..

  25. frjim4321 says:

    I see a lot of older guys at the gym who got tattoos probably in the service when they were in their late teens or early 20’s and they are faded and blurry and very unattractive. Personally I would suggest no tattoos until age 35 . . . the skin is still growing and maybe even stretching a lot.
    I’be been considering a tattoo (would be the logo I designed for my First Mass) for my left shoulder, but I think first I would get a henna version just to see how I like it.

    The son of a friend has an entire sleeve, from his right wrist up to his shoulder and back. It’s beautiful work, but to certain extent I see it as a mutilation. Also, he always has to wear sunscreen on it, which seems a great inconvenience, not to mention the cloying smell of sunscreen and it’s not washing out of clothes and other fabrics.

  26. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    I am a Byzantine Rite priest with body art, and my wife has body art also. We grew up in the punk rock scene and it was the thing to do. Here in the Lower East Side of NYC I have quite a few parishioners with body art, but hey, even NYPD officers have body art everywhere today as do doctors and social workers here too.

    Now, I have not gotten any new body art since my baptism well over a decade ago, and do not plan to do so. That said, some of the outright bigotry in these com-boxes towards body art is almost unbelievable! Body art is “demonic” I will not hire anyone with “body art” etc. People, Jesus freed us from the law!

    St. Augustine said, “Unity in essentials, diversity in non essentials , and charity in all things.” Since body art is a non essential a little more charity from others is in order.

  27. SonofMonica says:

    Why not get the phrase printed and matted and framed? Such a classier way to display it.

  28. Denise says:

    As tattoos have become mainstream, it is also interesting to see that the cosmetic industry for removing tattoos is booming. Clearly, there are a large number of folks who regret their tattoos. As a physician, I have seen quite a few tats that are usually not on display to the general public. Remember, that as you age, your body shape and tone changes, so what was once a tight canvas for the tattoo may become a bit saggy. Back in the 90’s I worked as the doctor for the student health service at a university. A 19 year old came in with a small teddy bear holding a balloon inked on her bottom. When I saw it, all I could think was that after a couple of pregnancies and a bit of middle-aged spread, that cute teddy might look more like a grizzly!

  29. jlduskey says:

    Years ago when I was in college, I had a roommate who had a tattoo. One of the first things he did was to show it to me. He had it in case he were ever unconscious or unable to respond and somebody needed to take care of a health emergency on him. As I remember, the tattoo read “O+” and indicated his blood type.

  30. madmatt says:

    I have a tattoo. I was given some advice before getting mine. Decide exactly what you want, even have it drawn up by an artist. Decide exactly where you want it. Then wait at least a full year. If you still want the same image in the same place. Mine is also totally concealed when I wear a t-shirt. So there is no scandal in normal day to day interactions. Just some thoughts.

  31. Filipe says:

    Tattoos are awesome. Cool tattoos, that is, not dumb ones.
    The Tattoo your son is thinking of getting certeinly sounds like it falls into the former category.
    If he really wants to do it, I wouldn’t object. I’d just say it can be discrete… no need to get it on his forehead.

  32. Southern Baron says:

    Big men should get tattoos that say “MOM.”

  33. acardnal says:

    Hey, if he ever commits a crime his tattoo will help identify him as THE criminal.

  34. Kypapist says:

    I’d tell him to wait until he’s my age (low 60’s). Then he could just use a cheap ink pen to connect the dots in his vericose veins!

  35. Batfink says:

    I have two tattoos and am considering a third.

    They are both in places which don’t show except in swimwear. I thought carefully about work/church/sagging body bits etc. before I got them done (in my late-20s and at 30). They are black ink only and not huge. Put it this way, no one has ever said to me “Wow, your tattoo really complements your mantilla!”

    They are both Bible verses which are especially meaningful to me, one with a cross.

    They have led to interesting moments for evangelisation, such as with beauty therapists, but mainly I got them done because they are special to me and a good surprise reminder to myself at times of some of God’s words.

    People have called tattoos trashy but then they get confused by me and other people who actually have them. I went to Oxford, work for the Church, attend TLM, dress modestly etc. etc. If a judgmental person ever starts on me about tattoos I just smile and say “I have tattoos.” and they’re usually speechless.

    As the line goes: “The difference between people with tattoos and people without tattoos is that people with tattoos don’t care if you’ve got tattoos or not.” Not quite fair or true but there is a grain of truth in it.

  36. acardnal says:

    Why not just get a rosary and wear it around one’s neck.

  37. Imrahil says:

    Dear @tradster,

    but graffitiing a Catholic Church is forbidden because you do not have the permission of the responsible person (the ordinary, I guess, the rector would probably not suffice) and generally done from a vandalist-don’t-care or also from a sacrilegist attitude. If all of these are absent – the graffitoist has permission, and he does not want to do vandalism or sacrilege but make the Church more beautiful – then the question reduced itself to one of art and taste.

    And what concerns one’s body, while they are temples of the Holy Spirit, the responsible person for how to adorn them is oneself (plus the parental guide, of course).

    That said, I generally do not like tattoos. But to hold them demoniac and such-like things is totally impossible, with all due respect to the one who said that.

  38. Random Friar says:

    I found Tattoo to be a terrible attempt at a humorous sidekick to Ricardo Montalban.

    The Church should have prohibited Tattoo… what? Oh. Never mind.

  39. patrick_f says:

    I guess I cant add much to what others say. I always go back to Leviticus 19, but then people like to say “BUT WAIT!!! WE ARE A NEW TESTAMENT PEOPLE!” So, I guess its a hard one to understand – The Body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, so, decorate teh temple appropriately – The exact text of Leviticus mentions “Marking or Cuttings in your skin of the Dead” – or something like that – Also the roots of tatoos, as some mentioned slavery, many times Occultism, so again I think its very important to carefully consider what we do to our bodies, less we turn the Temple into a flop house. My Two cents

  40. DisturbedMary says:

    Young men – okay. I am more bothered by the trend of women getting visible tattoos. Not long ago I saw a young mother on subway with a big tattoo on her bicep holding her little baby close to her tattoo-ed neck. Whatever happened to the idea that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

  41. Dies Irae says:

    I know a priest and a permanent deacon who both have a tattoo on their arms. The deacons says his name, and I’m don’t know what the priests says, let’s just say he was pretty rough before he heard God’s call.
    I personally don’t like tattoos, just not very classy. There are some that are pretty disgusting. Esp. when they are paired with lots of piercings.

  42. irishgirl says:

    My late father had a tattoo on his arm, probably from his service in the Navy in World War II. I could never figure out what it was, though.
    But I don’t like seeing all this crazy stuff that people put on themselves today. It’s disgusting and embarrassing, especially now that summer is approaching. I don’t like it particularly when women and girls wear them-it’s so unfeminine.
    As a matter of fact (going back to Navy tattoos), King George V of England had a dragon tattoo drawn on him when he was a young man in the Royal Navy.

  43. cblanch says:

    I wonder how much family strife has been caused by the whole tattoo question? Is getting a tattoo and upsetting your family doing the will of God? I never got one (even though in my wilder days I was pretty much the only person in my crowd without one). It would have broken my father’s heart.

  44. mamajen says:

    Well, based on many of the comments here, I would say he should NOT get the tattoo because it could create an occasion of sin for those prone to judging people at a glance. Sigh.

    I do not have a tattoo, nor do I have any desire ever to have one, but I know many good people who do have tattoos. It really doesn’t affect my opinion of them. I do think there are limits though, just as we shouldn’t indulge in gluttony, get drunk, etc. I think all-over body art or excessive piercings would be a problem.

  45. Personally, I consider tattoos a mutilation of the body, which I think the Catechism refers to; however, that’s my personal view! No one but me is bound by it.

    I did have a thought, however; had I ever gotten a tattoo, I should have gotten a nice image of a church on my stomach. Today it would be a splendid image of the Hagia Sophia.

  46. Batfink says:

    @acardnal: I do. Well, not quite. I usually carry my Rosary. But I wear my white scapular, St. Dominic’s medal, and soon Angelic Warfare cincture and medal (once they have been blessed next week) and often a cross.

    Like I said, I don’t have the tattoos primarily as a visible expression of my faith. Like the scapular, they are reminders to me.

  47. Indulgentiam says:

    When I decided to change carriers and went to Nursing school I saw tattoos by the hundreds. After a certain age they are no longer “art” they actually look more like something you would see during a Rorschach test. Some people even develope warts on the tatts as a reaction to the ink. I agree that since our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit writing on our bodies is like putting graffiti on the walls of a Church. Perhaps you could tell your son to put the design on a T-Shirt, maybe he would find all his friends wanted one and bingo cottage industry. If his intention is to do somthing for the Lord then surely Tees will be more visible, more readily acceptable and more widely read than one mans tatt. Plus if he sells enough Tee’s he can get himself some wheels.

  48. Mary Jane says:

    I don’t have a tattoo, have never considered getting one and never would get one. I’ve never seen a tattoo on anyone else that has sparked the thought, “Hey that’s classy.” Usually my reaction is opposite to that.

  49. Centristian says:

    “I’ve never found a successful upper class person of any age that likes them. ”

    Exactly what Jesus would have pointed out to any disciple of his, I’m sure, while he was growing up in Mainline Philadelphia.

  50. MarylandBill says:

    While I consider tattoos to be morally neutral, I generally don’t think it is a good idea to do anything to your body that costs significantly more to undo later.

    The big problem with tattoos is that even ones with christian religious symbols might have significance in gang culture (celtic crosses and images of the Virgin with the baby Jesus for example). There is just no way to be sure.

    That being said, I hadn’t know about the copts and their tattoos, and I think that is rather cool.

  51. digdigby says:

    Crosses tattooed on the bottom of the feet so that with every step one is trampling on the cross – that I have a problem with. (Yes, this Satanic practice is more common than you might think).

  52. greasemonkey says:

    I have 3 tattoos, which can not be scene when I am in dress clothing. 2 of these tattoos are Catholic. One is a Sacred Heart and the other is an Angel that has a Latin inscription around it from the litany of the saints. I see my tattoos as a “stained glass window” of sorts.
    That being said, I find some of the negetive comments here to be judgmental, self righteous, and condescending. It is true that tatoos are bound up somewhat in culture. My tattoos honor the Lord, pure and simple. I reject our of hand the notion that they have disfigured the temple of the Holy Spirit, any more than a stained glass window of the same image has disfgured a building.
    Like any form of art; a tattoo can be good or bad beautiful or ugly a good choice or a poor one.

  53. contrarian says:

    Ha ha. This is an awesome thread!

    I’m reminded of what my dad said to me when I wanted to get one when I was 17. He said, “There are lots of ways to show your coolness and originality. Try something more creative than a piercing or a tattoo.”

    I also, I think, want to second the thoughts of StevenDunn, although I’d qualify my own remarks slightly in that I don’t find tattoos to be disgusting (or demonic, as mentioned in an earlier comment). I just find them silly, and, as StevenDunn points out, a sign of poor impulse control.

    Though, while this is not true on many issues, on this one, I’d say that reasonable people can disagree.

  54. Jay E says:

    A Latin tattoo! Absolutely! Awesome! Get one of Jesus, or the Blessed Mother, or an angel, or the Eucharist or something else too! I think it would be very cool to have what you love most (and will be spending eternity loving) permanently part of your body.

    Yeah, I don’t understand why there’d be a problem with it except for the cultural taboos of the sorts of tattoos people get, and the sort of people who get them. But in themselves, what’s wrong with the idea? I don’t understand.

  55. jaykay says:

    “but I think first I would get a henna version just to see how I like it.”

    Seems like excellent advice, FrJim4321, and exactly what I would have said to him. As others have suggested, better if the young man holds back a bit to see whether it still seems like such a good idea in say 6 – or even 3 – months, but if he really feels like he wants to go ahead now then a henna tattoo can easily be got rid of if/when he (or a girlfriend!) decides that, on balance, it may not be the coolest thing around.

    That said, I do applaud his choice of motto, and also the fact that he has talked to his parents about it. Good man!

  56. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    @asperges, et al.

    Perhaps I have just been “corrupted by today’s culture, ” but tattoos are decidely not just for criminals, the underworld, ne’er-do-wells, gangsters, satanists, etc. Perfectly reasonable people have tattoos. Stupid ones, meaningful ones, big, small.

    As a 20-something, I can assure you many of my friends in college were model students, some Christian, and a lot with tattoos. They ranged from meaningful statements to the senseless (one man, sadly now deceased, had the letters BBQ tattooed on the inside of his lip, simply to celebrate his love of southern foods). Never have a looked at someone with some tattoos and thought, there is a hoodlum. I had several friends who had near full arm sleeve tattoos. You get to know a person, and you can tell if their tattoos are some form of marking themselves as different and rebellious, or if they just happen to like body arm.

    More and more, I am seeing such people with children of their own. Still odd to my eyes at this point, but it is becoming more natural for me to see. These are not bad people. They are just of an age where such a thing is as common as piercing your ears or styling your hair.

    Yes, there are some tattoos that hurt job prospects, but keep it above the wrist and below the neck, and there is no reason it should ever be an issue (although a long sleeve shirt may become uncomfortable in extreme heat). If you’re work uniform shows any more of your body than that, its probably not an employer who cares about body art.

  57. AvantiBev says:

    Thanks for posting this today, Father Z. Later on, I have an appointment with a cosmetic dermatologist to get some of Father Time’s (and King Sun’s) body art lasered off my face. I am having an – ugh, I hate the term– “age spot” lasered after years of fooling around with topical creams and lotions which failed to lighten it.
    So funny to hear of those younger than I who want to mark up their skin while I am busy at 56 trying to keep mine as smooth and clear as possible. With the advent of high def, we actors can’t be lax about our skin’s healthy glow. *lol*
    Anyway, as the old TV commercial used to say: “Thanks! I needed that.”

  58. AvantiBev says:

    Perhaps in Leviticus, God was just trying to prep Jewish actors for high def!

  59. jarhead462 says:

    I am probably one of the few Marines without one. (Usually a young Devil Dog wakes up with one after a night of binge drinking) While I am not opposed to tattoos per se, I usually find them distasteful, particularly when they cannot be covered with a tee shirt and shorts. (On the neck is repellent- I believe it says a lot about a person’s ability to make good choices). I will be a chauvinist here, and state that I find them very unattractive on women. Now that they are “In”, I refuse to get one, because even as a child I did not like to give in to trends.
    BTW- I don’t know if the rule has changed, but 25 years ago, you could not serve in the U.S.M.C. as an Embassy Guard if you had visible ink when wearing your”Charlies” (service uniform with short sleeves)
    What are really GHASTLY are those stupid ear gauges- I always want to ask the young man or woman wearing them with their tattoos – “when you grow up, what are you going to do about that?”
    Am I ranting?…I hope so, my ranting gets raves ;)
    Semper Fi!

  60. Lucas says:

    My wife, and mother of my 3 children, has several tattoos. They all have deep meaning to her, some of her heritage some of remembrances of what she has gone through in life. And I can assure you she is not demonic, a criminal, trashy or a evil person. Also for what its worth, neither are the people who do them.

    I’ve never really had a deep interest in getting one, just a passing interest. While I grew up in the punk scene as well, my group of friends were never that into tattoos. Piercings were more their style, but I was not going to do that.

    The problem is so many people get tattoos of demons/violence/ugly art that people don’t realize they can be very attractive and pretty. It all depends on what you have done. (And how good the artist is)

  61. Pingback: QUAERITUR: Tattoos | Catholic Canada

  62. Gaetano says:

    I look at the question this way. How many decisions did I make at age 20 that I would have made differently given the perspective of years? Given the permanency of tattoos (or the expense of their removal), I’m not willing to take that wager.

    I will confess that every six months or so I think about getting a St. Benedict Medal or Shield of the Trinity tattoo. Then I let a few weeks pass, and the impulse (and that’s what it is, an impulse) fades.

  63. contrarian says:

    Deep breaths, big guy.

  64. The Sicilian Woman says:

    I greatly dislike tattoos, no matter the artwork or how well the artwork is done, and I especially dislike them on women. That’s one of the few areas where I am very traditional.

    All of my nephews have tattoos and their girlfriends/fiancees have tattoos as well. My one nephew wanted to get one before he was 18, but his mother, my sister, who feels as I do, said, “No.” The first thing he did on his 18th birthday was get a tattoo. He since has gotten at least three more. So far, at least, the only one that’s visible is one that peeks out from under a short-sleeved shirt. I try to remain neutral about them when he shows me, but at some point I’ll probably gently suggest that he stop. And he’ll gently ignore me.

  65. bourgja says:

    If he gets one, he won’t be able to be buried in a Jewish cemetery!

  66. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Tattoos are in the nature of man-made scars, and hence intrinsically frightening and intimidating. So they have generally been used in human culture to frighten the onlooker, and as proof of bravery or depth of sorrow (by frightening the onlooker).

    The idea of a Catholic priest getting a tattoo… it seems to go against the usual command that a priest or a sacrifice not have injuries, blemishes, scars, marks, and so on. If you haven’t committed your entire body to God, it’s a bit late to start with your shoulder; and if you have, it’s a bit strange and unnecessary to draw stuff on yourself. It’s also not very fitting for some poor artist to have to go drawing on or puncturing a priest, because it puts unfair amounts of worry and responsibility on him. (And kinda not right to see a priest half-naked, when it’s not a matter of going swimming or to the doctor’s.)

    You’re a priest. Forever. What the heck do you need a tattoo for? Do you take a bar of gold and cover it in buttercream frosting to make it “better” or “more attractive” or “more reminiscent of gold”?

    Why not print out a bunch of stickers or buttons with your logo, and wear them every day on your lapel, if you like the image so much?

  67. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The reason Coptic tattoos are different is that they are an emergency identification measure, and meant to discourage Muslim people from kidnapping Christians (Not that it does, alas.), and hence to discourage Christians from becoming Muslims. If you are seriously worried about these possibilities, fine. If you’re not, by frivolous imitation, you trivialize the courage of Coptic Christians. (And you proclaim yourself a Copt, which will probably give you some troubles with funeral ritual if you die in a car wreck without ID.)

  68. Jayna says:

    I have 8 tattoos at the moment with plans for at least one or two more. All can be hidden with a short sleeve shirt, save for an anchor I have behind my ear, but that is easily covered if need be (it’s only about an inch or so tall, so most people don’t notice it). None of them are generic flash, they were all drawn up by my artist after I told him what I wanted. They aren’t all religious, but most of them are, and I have gotten nothing but compliments from those who have seen them. I also have two Masters degrees and will be starting a PhD next fall, so not quite as criminal as many of you seem to think.

  69. TMKent says:

    I was recently at an international gathering of a major Catholic lay organization. I am 50 years old, and the mean age of this group is probably 65. Out of less than 100 women present, I counted 5 tattoos that were visible. Keep in mind that at all functions these women were dressed conservatively and usually for mass. I would guess that only one individual was younger than me. Of an equal to slightly larger number of men, I saw no tattoos as they were in their business suits. I have nothing in particular against tattooing from a moral perspective, but I must say I was shocked and appalled at the lack of judgment on the part of these older women who were unable to wear business dresses/ suites without displaying their body art. They have no clue at the message they send. At times, I am so very embarrassed on behalf of my gender. Too many “baby boom” women have no clue!

  70. jflare says:

    ” ‘I’ve never found a successful upper class person of any age that likes them. ‘

    Exactly what Jesus would have pointed out to any disciple of his, I’m sure, while he was growing up in Mainline Philadelphia.”

    If we truly want to take up this line of thought, Centristian, I think it likely he WOULD.

    In the Bible, when Christ rails against something, he does so AT TIMES almost as much because of the public scandal it inflicts as anything. Or, he might point out how a publicly visible practice might be more aimed at demonstrating a comparatively superficial faith than being a genuine act of worship.

    I begin to consider too that, in my lifetime, I cannot think of even one person I’ve ever met who, after acquiring a tattoo, will not grouch about being required to wear a suit and tie or dress. Or, in those cases when appearances are important for other reasons, those who have tattooes, even if they don’t openly challenge the idea of covering the “art”, will nonetheless be..somewhat less than pleased..at the idea. I think it worthwhile to consider that we’re allowed to be particular about some matters of culture.

    I think here in the United States, at least, a tattoo still DOES essentially mark one as a member of a de facto underclass. If you wish to be capable of fully living out God’s will for you, a tattoo might be wisest to avoid.

  71. Jael says:

    Coptic Christians wear a cross tattoed on the wrist because in Egypt it is illegal to wear one around the neck, as a ring, etc. I think the Coptic tattoo is a very brave thing to do in that hostile environment. If I had one in the (currently) free West, I would feel like a poseur.

  72. Jael says:

    Bourgja–did you read the link to “My Jewish Learning”? It says that Conservative Jews will bury someone with a tattoo. Did you mean no burial in an orthodox Jewish cemetery?

  73. robtbrown says:

    Tattoos are permanent and at one time reflected a permanent dedication. My father had my mother’s name tattooed (and misspelled) on his forearm. The Irish monks of hundreds of years ago had (if I remember correctly) a dot tattooed on their eyelids. With the sacrament Roman soldiers not only took an oath but received a tattoo (or a brand) that marked them as soldiers. Those in the US military often got tattoos that would forever mark them as veterans.

    Tattoos as body art are another matter. In addition to the question of whether it is a mutilation of the body, the idea of permanent fashion seems to me an oxymoron.

  74. AnAmericanMother says:

    I understand that some folks think tats are O.K. But when you get indignant at some of the comments here and think people are being ‘mean’ or ‘judgmental’ or ‘holier-than-thou’, think again — that’s really not the issue.
    Tattoos directly affect your employability in just about any middle-class or professional job. Unless you’re in the arts or in academia, having tattoos that are visible in ordinary dress (including, in the case of women, evening dress) sends a very negative message and will directly impact your hiring potential and your relations with customers or clients. Like it or not, it’s just “not done”.
    You may disagree with that, you may think it’s unfair, you may fulminate against those old fuddy-duddies that think that way, but it’s still just a fact in the business world. And the business world is not going to change just because you think it’s unfair.
    Especially in this economic climate, no business owner is going to take a chance on losing a sale because a potential customer might be freaked out by the dragon (or even a ‘tasteful’ Celtic design) coiled around your neck.

  75. Jael says:

    I have a hard time liking or trusting a so-called banker with cleavage showing, let alone gross studs in the tongue, tattoos, etc. It all seems so disgustingly bacteria-ridden and/or juvenile.

  76. JKnott says:

    @Dismas Thank you for the link to Msgr Charles Pope’s article on tatoos. Here are a few of his points.
    “You may say, keep your opinions to yourself Father, tattoos are way cool. But actually it is not merely my opinion. For God too looks askance at the practice, and actually forbids tattoos in one place. As the practice became widespread in the 1990s I often reminded people from my pulpit and the bulletin of the scripture forbidding of the practice:

    You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, neither shall you tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:28)

    It would seem that God did not intend for the skin to be a canvas or a bill board. It is a shocking thing to permanently alter ones appearance, particularly when we consider that our bodies are not our own to simply do with as we please. For again, Scripture says,

    Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Cor 6:19-21)

    Some may wish to argue that the Levitical outlawing of tattoos was more a concern for idolatry than tattoos per se. But then I must ask, Is not the modern faddish practice rooted in a kind of idolatry all its own? It is all the rage, and the obsession to fit in, (no matter what God might say, or that the body belongs to Him and is his masterpiece), is a kind of idolatry all its own.

    I realize that many who have tattooed themselves acted in ignorance of the Leviticus text. But it is not a text simply to be ignored, and once it is known, it seems to me that we ought to accept that God is not pleased with the practice of tattooing, and cease practicing or praising it.” End quote

    I personally think it is a disgusting form of body mutiliation which counters the God given beauty of the human form. It speaks of something foul and impure. My heart and prayers go out to the marred up young ones who may feel a sense of loneliness and need for love and attention in this very secular society.

  77. Lucas says:

    AnAmericanMother: Heh, if you only knew where my wife worked. And the companies she has worked at previously. It certainly hasn’t affected her employability. She makes 4 times more than I ever did.

    BillyHW: I hope that wasn’t directed at people who are arguing for them. I can just as easily find a link that says somebody with AIDs gave blood and infected people. Whats your point? No matter you do, there are always bad apples. In the Church, at Work, restaurants, etc etc etc.

  78. Here’s my take:

    As a youth myself, seeing my own generation and how they treat such things, I can tell you that quite often, tattoos serve the purpose of quieting insecurity by fitting in and covering the body as a way to express one’s pain and disdain for their body. The attitude in the second sense is similar to self-harm and self-abuse. I’m not saying that everyone who gets a tattoo thinks like this, only that it is *often* the case.

    I myself would never get a tattoo. The fact is that my body is not incidental, nothing in it is bad or needing to be permanently covered by ink, and all of it will be used for the good by God. Just as in the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb, He is all mine, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, so I am all His, body and soul. In that marriage, I live for the one who died for me, not for myself. My body is not mine to mark, mar, or mutilate how I ever fancied.

  79. Ellen says:

    I really, really do not like tattoos. There’s a student I see frequently with a garden of flowers tattooed on her chest, a full sleeve tattoo on one arm and a half sleeve on the other. She has tattoos on her calves as well. She’s a nice woman, but her body art is going to hamper her job prospects.

    The worst I ever saw, was the man who had a blue tribal band tattooed on his forehead. Ghastly.

    I’ve seen vulgar and profane ones, and some that I suppose the owners thought were pretty. Trust me – they aren’t.

  80. Just Me says:

    Years ago one of our sons, a marine at the time, asked me what the Catholic Church taught about tatoos. Looking up information I found that the Church said when we are bapitzed we are blessed with holy oils and are consecrated to God, therefore when a person gets a tatoo it is the desecration of a consecrated thing.

  81. AnAmericanMother says:

    There are always exceptions. Perhaps your wife is so good at her job that people overlook the body art.
    That said, I’ve been 30 years in law practice in a large Southern city, and the only lawyers I’ve ever seen with a tat are the flamboyant criminal defense types whose entire schtick is attracting the wrong kind of attention.
    Maybe that’s going to change in the next generation . . . but it’s the older generation that does the hiring.

  82. Joe in Canada says:

    “all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.” It’s too bad we get reduced to such legalism that we decide that since something is not explicitly forbidden, any criticism of it is petty and pharisaic. I agree with Fr Martin Fox who suggested that it is a mutilation of the body, which is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, part of the image and likeness of God in man, and is not mine.

    Someone suggested above that he would not get a tattoo after reading judgmental posts lest he lead someone to sin in such judgmentalism. I suggest that people considering tattoos might consider what message they are giving to those who see the tattoos, what lifestyle they might appear to be promoting, what respect or lack thereof they might appear to have for their created humanity. In the end, yes, in the absence of a teaching of the Church, it is left to the individual to decide, but to switch examples, I Cor. 8:13. We are not free to do as we wish and to hell with those around us.

  83. Suburbanbanshee, that is certainly one purpose of the Coptic tattoos today, but it was not the original purpose, nor is it the only purpose.

  84. cl00bie says:

    I notice that this thread is pretty evenly distributed between people who dislike/hate tattoos and people who tolerate/like/have tattoos. I think this mirrors what I’ve discovered in society at large. When you consider having something done to yourself that will disgust/repulse/etc. half the population, you have to consider long and hard before you do it.

    Those who like tattoos can be judgmental of those who don’t if you like, but I like to take reality into account when I make life-altering decisions. If you sincerely don’t care what other people think, go for it. But don’t be surprised when you receive unpleasant consequences for doing it.

  85. Supertradmum says:

    Long ago, in school, the nuns taught us that tattoos were desecrating the body which God had given us for His Glory. I grew up thinking they were not only pagan, but morally wrong, just as any dishonor to the body is wrong.

    If this is not so, did this teaching change? I had smart nuns.

  86. Rachel K says:

    No-one has mentioned that the Nazis tattooed the Jews!Including my father in law and his parents.
    This marked them as objects and not persons.
    I had also understood from my Catholic upbringing that tattoos are a form of self-mutilation and uglfication. And that it is practice of Satanists to have their women tattooed on the upper thigh.
    I sense that having a tattoo is a sign of immaturity- a teenagey thing to do.
    I have never yet seen a tattoo that I think improves the look of the wearer- and there are plenty which are downright demonic.
    I am amazed though at how many people here are in favour of them!
    Our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit- can we be sure, in prayerful consideration, that this is pleasing to God?

  87. UncleBlobb says:

    @fatherz: Isn’t a tattoo a form of self-mutilation, and isn’t that wrong for a Christian?

  88. nstaib says:

    i feel i must add my 2 cents worth. i have 13 tattoos, but 1 of them had to be redone equaling a total of 14 inkings. i must admit (sadly) that they span the last 19 years of my life. the very first is almost indistingushable. the last is very clear. the difference isn’t due to the age as much as the quality of the inks now being used. the last 7 are the only ones i DON’T regret. they represent my son, my grandparent’s 5oth anniversary, and the newest represent my (new) faith. the last 3 are on my right wrist, and are seen on a very regular basis (i’m right-handed). more often then not, people aren’t put off by them. they say in latin, “true faith” and “have mercy on me”, and in english, “be not afraid”, also writen in blessed jp2’s handwriting from the back cover of the book, “the threshold of hope”. everyone who asks about them is treated to the translation, and the meaning behind the english. even the non-catholics (many in my area) think that they are “cool”.
    the quality of the ink being used today v. the inks used only 15 years ago has improved greatly. the black ink used is truly “black” rather than the blue we’re used to seeing on the crusty old sailors (including me), making them less attractive, and easier to make out, visually.
    i think that, in the case of my own son, i would suggest that he wait for no less than one year once he settles on a design (his own) before he gets it. also, to remember the #1 rule in the tattoo parlors: you can have it done cheap, or you can have it done right. and remember that your mother and your GRANDMOTHER will be looking at these for the rest of their lives!

  89. Imrahil says:

    Dear @AnAmericanMother,

    Like it or not, it’s just “not done”. You may disagree with that, you may think it’s unfair, you may fulminate against those old fuddy-duddies that think that way, but it’s still just a fact in the business world. And the business world is not going to change just because you think it’s unfair.

    I consider that a wrong argument. (Not saying anything about the other arguments such as the ones @JKnott brought along; to these I have no opinion.) Because it is precisely the question whether we like that or not.

    Everyone must anyway – in the world of today at least, and if he wants to avoid despair and depression – decide at some given time in life that in the ultimate, he retains the right to limit the commanding power which environment, convention, the General Code of Things to Feel Embarrassed Upon, etc., have upon himself. Call that pathetic, but I think that is reality. It is by the way a very practical charm of religious morality that it makes clear what the commandments are; only then, practically speaking, we can get a somewhat freer attitude about the conventions. (See Chesterton, Manalive.)

    If Society will reject a person for a thing that really does not make the person deserve this reaction (leaving aside for a moment the question whether this is true about tattoos), this is Society’s problem. The person in question may still get some job after all (and it might seem that a Christian can rest assured, for the moment, that he’ll get some food somehow). He may live in the street. He may live on public assistance. He may emigrate. He may starve. He may die. But – and forget for a moment that it is this comfortable, slack coward which is myself who says so – nothing more.

    Once we’ve settled that, we might indeed say that it is more comfortable to leave this point of offense out. Then a man might avoid a tattoo which otherwise he would want because of the thing he actually gets for the avoidance: say, a higher salary in a better job. Even if I’d like tattoos, I’d say that that’s pretty much is worth avoiding them. But for all things in the world, let us not make out of this act of legitimate and sympathetic comfortability and prudence one of despair in the face of the Compassionless Laws of the Business World.

    Forgive, however, the direct attack. In the practical effects both our thoughts might pretty much look alike and you do not deserve any reproach for what you said, nor was this meant to be such reproach. Only you touched a point of principle which, I think, needs a different approach; which I only managed to put down in a principalist and pathetic way.

  90. gambletrainman says:

    You DID have smart nuns. The nuns I had never explicitly mentioned tatoos, but the idea that we were temples of the Holy Ghost, and, therefore were required to keep modest at all times. Another thing that I don’t remember seeing in these comments is, of what chemicals are the etch markings? With today’s “technologies”, and health concerns, the markings enter the bloodstreams, and COULD be one of the causes of cancer. The symptoms may not be revealed for several years, or even decades, but there are always consequences for our actions. And, once the chemicals get into the bloodstreams, there is no reversal, even by having the mark removed from the outer body.

  91. Imrahil says:

    if I’d like tattoos meant to say if I liked tattoos. (If and would, that’s no good.)

  92. Jael says:

    In sum, it seems like tattoos have historically been signs of slavery, ethnic cleansing, allegiance to a gang or other worldly power, or maybe even membership in a Satanic community. Uh, no thanks. I don’t like the precedents. The current tattoo craze appears to be one more sign of the world’s current project of wiping out the customs of Christendom, and substituting a vastly inferior culture. Another example of this is all the public spitting you see these days. Where will it end?

  93. AnAmericanMother says:

    No offense taken & none intended I’m sure.
    I think we agree — on matters that matter, so to speak, I’m with you 100 percent.
    If this were a question of belief or faith . . . as one of Donn Byrne’s characters remarked, “as it touches my soul, or my honor”, then it would be the Christian’s duty to stand by his faith in the face of disdain or disapproval from the business world (the reaction to dirty foreheads on Ash Wednesday in certain quarters, say).
    But — unless you’re a Copt — there is no faith-based reason to get a tattoo that I know of. And the social mores of a particular community are something that every business owner, and indeed every individual that is part of that community, has to consider. And that will be different depending on whether you are hanging out in a rural county (where unless you were “in the service” tattoos are associated with convicts, bikers, loose women, and “trash” generally) or Midtown Atlanta and Little Five (where you’ll see body art on quite a number of young people with no particular association with a negative subculture). So if you put a non-religious preference up against the ‘community standard’ with regard to tattoos, I don’t think there’s a strong moral argument to be made in favor of asserting that preference ‘just to show’.
    Now, there’s no reason that a mature adult doesn’t have the right to make the decision to do what he or she likes, with the understanding that certain fashion and lifestyle choices will limit other choices. But I don’t think a kid not yet out of his teens is ready to make that choice.
    I know my son wasn’t, and I told him so in no uncertain terms, and he abided by my wishes. Now that he’s a U.S. Marine, a husband, and the father of a cute little girl, he can do what he likes (but he hasn’t gotten one unless he did on his last tour in the ‘Stan.)

  94. Imrahil says:

    Dear @AnAmericanMother,

    thank you very much for your kind answer!

    I think where we do differ is the following thing. You seem to me to say “No one may force me to act against faith and morals. But in all else, I surrender to the circumstances of the world as it is. Whether I like them or not, they may command me.”

    And I think that even and precisely about matters that do not matter, this would be short of freedom and human dignity. (We are not talking about the obedience of a soldier in combat towards the local leader, or things like that.)

    But I don’t think a kid not yet out of his teens is ready to make that choice.
    I know my son wasn’t, and I told him so in no uncertain terms, and he abided by my wishes.

    I’m 100% with you on that; also I think that we might best use some other things to assert our independance than things about which I cannot really see how they effect the only thing they can (if they can) legitimately be intended to effect, viz. adorning the body.

  95. Imrahil says:

    Chesterton’s Manalive, Innocent Smith, didn’t break conventions because his faith and morals demanded that, but because they were not commandments. And while I probably wouldn’t do all he did, I cannot reproach him, too.

  96. Imrahil says:

    Another thing: What I called short of freedom and human dignity is not only that, which might be not so trivial to prove. But it even quit profanely spoken, to satisfy the claims of the world in all but sin is a physically and psychically impossible task, and might easily lead to despair and/or to one of the diseases the psychiatrist takes care of (burnout comes to mind).

    Unless of course that caring for oneself which avoids this is included among the moral duties. I do not think it is not only amount of work that this is about.

  97. Imrahil says:

    But even quite profanely spoken.
    I do not think this is only/i> amount of work


  98. Rachel K says:

    You have summed it up for me. Thinking further, I realised that tattoos are vulgar; now there’s a word we don’t use very much any more, but it is the opposite of refined!
    The Christian culture is one of refinement, and that is what is being corroded rapidly before our eyes.
    Christians should not have any part in the vulgarity of the world- we are to be salt and light!
    Yes, the spitting we see so often now is a clear sign that we are losing our refinement.
    Let’s set a good example, especially to the young.

  99. Ecclesiae Filius says:

    Wish I could post a picture of my tattoo. I have the Carmelite Shield on my right arm, with the Latin banner: zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo exercituum.

  100. AnAmericanMother says:

    I understand what you’re saying — but when I conform my behavior to the general standard of the community, I am not being commanded and I am not surrendering my free will. I am following a standard of courtesy, and charity, and thinking of my neighbor when I do not flout the customs of dress or speech or behavior in a community. Why should I inflict that sort of discomfort upon others for no good reason (honor or faith or morality)?
    If for some reason my personal inclinations ran completely contrary to the local community standard, I would move. When we were young just-marrieds, we rented in an in-town neighborhood in Atlanta. Very trendy, very artsy, very left-wing . . . very amoral. To put it mildly, we did not fit in. That’s why when it came time to build a house and start a family, we moved to a more congenial area.
    Chesterton was writing at a time when English society had been stratified, fossilized, and far too preoccupied by “what would Mrs. Grundy say?” for years and years. Even the Great War (which we now see as its death knell) didn’t change that right away. And a slavish conformity to meticulous, detailed social laws is hardly the problem in America today. A little more attention to the social conventions — or courtesy, to call it by its old-fashioned name — would probably do everybody a lot of good.
    Given that the public display of tattoos has no ethical or moral basis other than “I want what I want” — and on the other hand is rejected by a quite substantial number of people on moral/religious grounds, on prudential grounds, or on the “yuck factor”, I don’t think that’s the hill to die on. Or even to annoy my neighbor on.

  101. Bev says:

    My priest told me that tattoos were a violation of the 5th commandment, thou shall not kill. He said tattoos were mutilation and mutilation falls under this commandment.

  102. Mary Jane says:

    @ Bev – I wonder what your priest would say about ear piercings?

  103. acardnal says:

    ear piercings are not a permanent mutilation of the body. . . the temple of the Holy Spirit . . .made in the image and likeness of God.

  104. AnnAsher says:

    I will add to the Leviticus 19:28 discussion that the admonition was over lacerating their flash in a grief that didn’t know of eternal life. Not tattooing. It is really a beautiful passage to mull over with the implications.
    Secondly, I went with my son in honor of his 18th and my 40th birthday. He has the motto of the knights of St John in Latin and I have an 8 petaled flower With a Cross in the Center. 8 petals for each of my 8 kids. It is on the instep of my right foot, that I may always walk in the path of Our Lord and Luke 10:19.
    Finally – at various times in Christian history Christians have tattooed themselves with crosses. Our Coptic brethren still do; it signifies the desire for Christian Burial.
    People who say ugly things about tattoos as if their view is the immutable truth are usually hopelessly insecure people who can’t even explain why they hold said opinion. It bears no greater weight than if I were to say ” anyone who does not have a tattoo is vain and a Satan worshipper” ;)

  105. AnnAsher says:

    I have a 4th comment re:mutilation. The implication is that to altar your appearance at all is mutilation? I take issue with anything that celebrates evil – so if view dark tattoos in the desecration column. Not every tattoo is desecration. If it were than it is also desecration: to be too fat, to be too thin, to cut your hair or shave your legs or face, to wear makeup or earrings, to style your hair, heck even wearing clothes and anything less than the piqué of physical perfection. I’m guessing most of you here have done one or more. Blah blah permanency … So it’s better to desecrate daily? See its not a logical argument y’all . Oh and my favorite priest has ink !

  106. acardnal says:

    Why not just carry a photo in your wallet?

  107. AnnAsher says:

    @stevendunn “poor breeding”? ” upper class” ? Really? I’m sure glad that’s not the language of the Church.

  108. @AnnAsher

    “Blah blah permanency”? Really? How can I or anyone else take you seriously when you breeze through reasonable objections with a “blah blah”?

    The heart of the problem, in my opinion, has to do with the very fact you brushed over. The fact that tattoos permanently change your body and color over the skin is the very reason it could be disrespectful to your body, and to the Lord Jesus whose body it is.

  109. AnnAsher says:

    Acardnal, since you’ve always been a nice guy I’m going to assume that’s a sincere question. The answer is, two of my children died before I could see their faces. The reason for my tattoo is the reason many site as deterrent – permanence. I am permanently honored that God chose me to mother these of His children. I’m permanently grateful for all that Our Lord has led my kids and I through. See the thing is, we all tend to look at people and assume we’re in position to know them and judge them. But we’re not. We need to remember everyone has a gaping hole inside. My tattoo is a testament to how God fills it.
    Pax Domini sit semper tecum.

  110. BillyHW says:

    Normal people remember things and honour God without getting a tattoo.

  111. Jael says:


    Your tattoo is small and hidden. We’re talking mostly about big visible tattoos here.

    You say, “People who say ugly things about tattoos as if their view is the immutable truth are usually hopelessly insecure people who can’t even explain why they hold said opinion.”

    Can you explain why you hold that opinion? Why are most people who don’t like tattoos “hopelessly insecure”?

  112. Imrahil says:

    Dear @AnAmericanMother,

    a well-learned man (Erik v. Kuehnelt-Leddihn) once said that the power the community has over its members is ununderstandable to a Continental European; and it seems he was right. Just so much: in Continental Europe we would say that you had been bullied out of your neighborhood; and that this was a personal defeat of yours. (Even here, of course, those more thoughtful would see that it is often wisest to accept a defeat, and that it is no blame to have been defeated. But still.)
    I wonder where’s the freedom left. (Not if you in a particular thing choose freely to do so as a facultative means of courtesy and charity, for sure.) And I still wonder about the practical feasibility. There’s always an offense to the community to what you do, or at any rate could be. Or “just what is is that makes this neighbor who recently moved into the area to always take a walk in the afternoon, and then sit on a bench for – you won’t believe this – two hours? Isn’t that strange? No one else does that!”

    Thank you very much for your kind answer, though.

  113. AnAmericanMother says:

    Dear imrahil,
    I think it may be a function of America being such a mobile society, but making a decision about where to settle based on the neighborhood is hardly being “run out of town”. The latter carries a particular weight in the South because it does happen, but it’s ordinarily for serious reasons (child abuse, town bully) and usually in the smaller towns (that’s the downside of living in a small town, which my parents do. Everybody knows your business.) In a major urban area, you have more choices.
    Atlanta has a number of neighborhoods with a particular character, and most people decide whether they can tolerate that or not. E.g. Little Five is the punks, goths and “alternative” community (tattoo parlor on every corner!), Virginia Highlands is twee artsy-craftsy and academic types, Dunwoody is upwardly mobile middle class, West Paces is old money (mostly), Kennesaw is redneck and proud of it . . . . To some extent of course that’s shorthand and not true in every case, but folks tend to gather where they feel comfortable. We looked at a house on the edge of Little Five but decided against it.
    And I never thought of where we lived when first married as “my neighborhood”. I wasn’t born there, it was near the university I was attending at the time. We rented because we had no intention of settling there, it was clear from the git-go that we had very little in common with our neighbors — but nobody was mean or ugly to us, they just didn’t get where we were coming from. Now, the guys that had wild parties with half-clad women passing out in the shrubbery and the homosexual couple that had screaming, physical fights that spilled out into the street, those folks met with some expressed disapproval.
    We’re a little out of the ordinary in our present neighborhood (which is an older, rather stodgy inner suburb) but nobody gives us grief about woodworking or casting bullets in the driveway, or the dog training equipment on the front lawn. Nor does anybody complain about our next door neighbor’s Bible study class that meets every Friday morning and creates a bit of a roadblock with 20+ cars parked up and down our rather narrow street. It’s ‘live and let live’ around here, unless you do something that is dangerous and/or really noisy.
    And, oddly enough, we’re about ten minutes from the house I grew up in. Which is two blocks from our parish church.

  114. Supertradmum says:

    I am on the same page as AnAmericanMom. In our family and Midwest Culture, besides seeing tattooing as desecrating the body which does not belong to us, such a thing was considered low class. No offense, folks, but traditionally sailors got tattoos and it was considered counter-cultural, a sign of the exotic, and low class.

    A Catholic girl or woman never considered tattooing, as it ruined her beauty and did not enhance the God-given purity of her self. Many wiccans get tattoos for reasons unknown to me.

    I still think it is a class indicator and agree with AAM that it would not bode well for a job interview.

    We are temple of the Holy Spirit and our bodies do not belong to us. We carry Christ and we do not need either to desecrate or adorn ourselves. God is our Adornment.

  115. BillyHW says:

    “Many wiccans get tattoos for reasons unknown to me.”

    Demonic influence.

  116. Kathleen10 says:

    I don’t even like wearing the same earrings two days in a row. I can’t commit to permanent “body art”. If my priest had it, I’d be as thoroughly confused as anyone could be. What statement, exactly, are you intending to make? Whatever it is, I don’t want to hear it, I’m sure. Just sayin…

    Personally, except for military insignia, tattoos are mostly tacky. I think tattoos on women is just tacky AND weird. I’ve never seen a tattoo on a woman that I didn’t think was trashy. When I see a bride in a white gown with a tattoo absolutely anywhere, to me it looks bizarre, contradictory. Even wearing just a nice dress, there’s that hideous tattoo, screaming “vulgarity”. No thanks.
    Older women with tattoos? Grandma with a tattoo? I’m a Nonna, and I would die of embarrassment having a tattoo seen by my grandchild. Bad example, sends the wrong message, such as “give in to cultural practices” or “the body is to be decorated”.

    My natural aversion feels like spiritual discernment, the same way I feel about a bumper sticker that identifies the driver as a “wiccan goddess”. Just a bit of an “ugh”.
    There is scripture that warns against it, so all in all, it just doesn’t seem like a good idea.

    Importantly, to me anyway, it just seems to say “LOOK AT ME, I’m so glorious I must decorate myself so I can be even MORE glorious. Don’t you agree?”.

  117. Kathleen10 says:

    People who have gotten a small tattoo to remember a loved one who is deceased, it is a loving gesture, and not in the same category to me, as putting a lion or a dragon across one’s chest. It is a loving and lovely gesture, and if it helps heal your heart a bit, wonderful.

  118. BillyHW says:

    No, actually not wonderful, but filthy, immature and narcissistic.

  119. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    I don’t understand how people here can say out of one side of their mouths “it is ok for a soldier to get a tattoo, as that is a traditional thing” and out of the other “it is a sin against the commandment against killing”.

    Tattooing is either inherently immoral, or it is not. And if it is not, than it is simply a matter of aesthetic choice (the action at least, the individual tattoo can still be morally evaluated for content).

    And for all those who say it tattooing is for the scum of the earth and those who will never receive jobs: Get out in the world. You have clearly not encountered our generation (20-30), where it is probably more common than not to have or want at least one tattoo. Realities are changing. Yes excessive tattooing is still off putting, but there is a difference here between allowing tattooing as being a moral business, and being moral disgusted at Tom Leppard (aka, the worlds most tattooed man).

    On top of which, going back to the reality of this generation being a tattooed generation, you are making the church rather small if you are going to walk up to every young adult in the pew, point to their upper arm, and call them of Satan. Have fun in the aging, graying church you will create.

  120. JuliB says:

    I wanted a tattoo sooo bad when I was 15, but I knew that I’d probably regret it when I was 30. Well, at some point I was over 30 and still wanted a rose on my hip, so at 33 or so I got it. At 46, I do not regret it.

    I’ve considered getting fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum (“Let it be done to me according to thy word” ) in a discreet and private place.

    While I think that many are imprudent when they get tattoos, I hold no judgment against them. But I’m surprised at the vehemence of some of the commentators here!

  121. lelnet says:

    I’m against ’em. Which comes purely from matters of prudential judgment. I’ve known more than a few folks with tattoos, and (with only one exception I am aware of) they’ve invariably been the sort of people who couldn’t commit to something to _hang on their wall for a year_, let alone selectively alter their skin tone for a lifetime.

    If you’re thinking of getting one, maybe you’re another exception. I don’t know…I can’t see into your soul.

    I still think it’s generally not a good idea. I still think that it’s an unpleasant practice. I’d still prefer that it not be done. I still do not typically choose to associate closely with those who have done it. But, unlike many people (and I’m not just talking about the folks arguing here over this), I’m quite capable of discerning the difference between my aesthetic preferences and the moral laws of the universe.

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