Q. Three of my friends and I all turn 18 in the same month. We have been planning to celebrate by getting tattoos. My mother says getting a tattoo is a sin. Is that what the church teaches?
A. Are tattoos a sin? Perhaps the answer to this question is not as straightforward as we would like it to be. I think the best thing I can do is to offer some insights from Scripture and Catholic teaching to help you come to a good decision.
In the Old Testament we read from the Book of Leviticus the straightforward command, “ … do not tattoo yourselves” (19:28). The first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians explains that “ … your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit … ” (6:19). And the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended …, mutilations, … performed on innocent persons are against the moral law” (#2297).
So what does this all mean in regards to tattoos? First, I don’t think it means that tattoos are “intrinsically evil.” What I mean is that it would be an error to say that every tattoo in every circumstance is always wrong. Some cultures, for example, have a marking on the forehead to indicate ones marital status. Many Ethiopian Christians have the custom of tattooing a cross on their forehead to express their Christian faith. And we only need to look through the history books to see the many ways in which tattoos have been a part of many other cultures.
Culture, I believe, is one important aspect to look at when discussing the morality of tattoos. One key point is that in many of these cultural examples, tattoos are not only socially accepted, they are also often socially expected. That, of course, is not the case in the many countries. So what about getting a tattoo in your country and in your culture? Allow me to offer three considerations.
First, your body was made by God and is beautiful just as it is. To add an additional permanent marking to your body is not necessary. Some would even call it a mutilation. Doing this will not add to your bodies natural beauty. And since it is not a required part of our culture, there is no good reason to pursue one. Remember, your body truly is a temple of the Holy Spirit. We should, therefore, treat our body as we would God’s church. God has already designed and decorated this “church” in such a way that it really does not need an additional permanent alteration.
Second, if you were to decide to get a tattoo anyway, please avoid the following: Diabolical images, ugly images, shocking images, images pertaining to horoscopes, and simply put, any image contrary to the Christian faith. Any image like this would surely fall into the category of sin.
Third, make sure you are not acting out of peer pressure. Sometimes we can do things simply because our friends are doing it and we want to fit in. This is never a good reason. If our friends are real friends they will not pressure us into decisions like this nor will they look down on us if we choose not to “go with the flow.” Make sure your choice is not made out of pressure from others.
I hope that helps. If you are still confused about getting a tattoo I at least suggest you spend more time thinking and praying about it. I’m sure that if you are fully open to the will of God, He will lead you in the right direction and help you to make the right decision.