Sunday, June 17, 2007

Besides, how will you move it if you go balder?

Pastor Scott has a little something against tattoos:
And the No. 1 reason* for not getting a tattoo:

1. The Bible says you shouldn’t — Leviticus 19:28

“You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.” ...
Now I'll be the first one to admit I don't have a tattoo, wouldn't get a tattoo, and my wife and kids (so far as I know) don't have any tattoos. I truly don't have a horse in this race. But I think that in trying to apply the Bible to this specific cultural discussion, Pastor Scott makes the mistake of ignoring the context of this command. Moses was speaking to a specific group for a specific reason, and whether his words apply to an individual today depends upon whether that person falls into that group. It is not simply a universal prohibition.

The ban on tattoos is included in a section of law dealing with moral, ceremonial, and civil codes, so it is difficult to tell from the surrounding context into which the ban falls, preceeded as it is by "You shall not trim the edges of your beard" (a ceremonial command) and followed as it is by "You shall not place your daughter in prostitution" (a moral one). That means that his digression concerning the tri-fold purposes of Moses (which I've not included here) does not help us**.

But the command against making cuts on the body immediately preceeding gives us a hint. The Jamiesson Faussett Brown commentary points out that "The practice of making deep gashes on the face and arms and legs, in time of bereavement, was universal among the heathen, and it was deemed a becoming mark of respect for the dead...." This is followed by a commentary on tattoos itself that notes, in part, "It it probable that a strong propensity to adopt such marks in honor of some idol gave occasion to the prohibition in this verse; and they were wisely forbidden, for they were signs of apostasy..."

I think JFB is precisely correct here. The prohibition on tattooing is a religious/cultural one, designed, as were many OT laws, for drawing a distinction between the culture of Israel and that of the surrounding pagans. So at best this is an admonition against having recognized pagan symbols/advertisements imprinted upon one's body. It's probably a good idea for a Christian not to have "Cthulhu 2008" tattooed on his forehead, but I think that's as far as one can push the religious prohibition. If one is going to say that tattoos are, because of their pagan origins, always pagan symbols, that person had better not be wearing a wedding ring, which itself sports a similar pagan origin.

However, Pastor Scott is not finished. In fact, I think he is headed to considerably shakier ground:
If tattooing is “truly” wrong and not just a matter of personal opinion (if any absolutes still exist), then this action must go contrary to the Judeo-Christian set of moral standards set down in the Ten Commandments.

The commandment, “You shall not kill!” has been defined as to refrain from hurting or harming anyone including self.
Whether tattooing is "truly" wrong has not been established by a longshot. So when considering his unfathomably*** expansive definition of the Sixth Commandment, the question must immediately arise whether the tattoo is a "harm." Pastor Scott has his cart before his horse here, as rather than showing it is a violation of the commandment because it is harmful, he has declared it harmful by presuming that because it's wrong it "must go contrary" to the closest available commandment, this one against harm. In reality, a tattoo is no more physically harmful, when done properly, than coloring one's hair or cutting one's nails. Therefore the Sixth Commandment simply does not apply.

The last scriptural quotation is the weakest of all, even as it is probably the most commonly used****:
The Bible also states, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
The context of 1Cor6 is made clear by the thought that precedes the "or" in verse 19. Let's back it up a few and see if we can get Paul's complete thought:
Do you not know that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take those members and join them to a prostitute? God forbid! Don't you know that he who is joined to a prostitute is one flesh with her? (For Jesus said, "The two shall become one flesh.") ...

Flee fornication. Every other sin a man commits is outside the body, but he who commits fornication sins against his body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit...
--1Cor 6:15-6,18-9
"Glorify God in your body" is a command whose primary application is in regards to illicit sex. Jesus said that if you sleep with someone, you're joined - the spiritual properties of marriage are established by sexual intercourse, not by vows - and we are not to join Christ to hookers that way.

Now a lot of people want to universalize the verse and say that glorifying God in your body means you don't do anything that might cause the body physical harm, but Paul's application here is spiritual. We can probably - if we stretch it enough - apply it to pole dancing or wearing speedos in public; we cannot apply it to tattoos without presuming that tattoos are necessarily an offense to God.

That being the case, it seems to me the "biblical" admonitions against tattoos are mostly circular: they must presume that a tattoo is a moral offense in order to show from the Bible that it is a moral offense. There may be a lot of good reasons for not getting a tattoo, but I doubt "the Bible tells me so" is one of them.

* He has twelve reasons, some of which are valid, some of which are silly.

** Which is why I've not included it here.

*** For example, the Sixth Commandment was never applied this way in scripture to self-defense, which oftens harms an aggressor. Judicial corporal punishments do not fall under it either. The man is really stretching, IMO.

****Because it the most generic. It can be used to ban all manner of things, from coffee to tobacco to fat asses to anything the complainer doesn't like, but the fact remains that Paul applies it primarily to a spiritual harm one does with the body, not a physical harm one one does to it.

Copyright 2007 El Borak, inc. Makers of Faux Pearls, Turin Shrouds, Quality Manhole Covers, String Cheese, Counterfeit Canadian Dollars, Japes, Puns, and Irrelevant Comparisons, and confusing Florida ballots.

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