December 5, 2020

Jesus, Tongue Piercing and The Culture War

tongue.jpg[I also dealt with this subject in a previous IM essay.]

Col. 2:20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Col 2:17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

I don’t listen to much Christian talk radio. I overdosed on talk radio in the 90’s. I listen to MLB radio at night and to a few broadcasts during the day: White Horse Inn, Issues, etc. Desiring God, James Boice, Bible Answer Man. But Saturday I found myself listening to a rebroadcast of the Michael Medved Show, a staple on the Salem radio network line-up of Christian/politically conservative radio programs that millions of conservative Christians listen to each day.

I’ve always liked Michael Medved, back to when I first saw him on “At the Movies,” with Jeffrey Lyons. He is advertised as a “pop culture specialist,” and he is an articulate and engagine representative of a Christian-friendly Orthodox Judaism.

On this particular program, Medved was seeking to stir up his audience with outrage over the currently popular trend of tongue-piercing. (No other kinds of piercing came in for his review, which I found quite odd.) His interest was created by articles in journals of dentistry describing the various terrible results that can come from tongue piercing: broken teeth, bizarre growths, infections and so on. Medved regaled the audience with lurid quotes of the nastiness and pain of tongue piercing, assured us there was much worse to be read that he was avoiding, and capped it all with his best version of being stunned at a source telling him that 10.6% of all university students have their tongue pierced. (I find that statistic to be quite suspect, and would advise anyone to be cautious about believing it.)

When Medved opened up the phones, however, he was greeted with a long line of callers with tongue piercings who all, like good libertarian conservatives, wanted Brother Medved to know that it was their body, and they could do with it whatever they wanted to. Further, they asked him to furnish them with some higher priniciple that could somehow prove that their tongue piercing was wrong.

Medved was taken aback by this, and responded to various callers with the following logical gems.

-It is up to society to create healthy definitions of normal.
-Medved attempts to only engage in activities that have a clearly designed purpose.
-Choosing to experience pain is clearly wrong and dangerous.
-Common sense would teach anyone that tongue piercing is wrong.
-Tongue piercing is like using heroin. (??)
-Extreme sports should be avoided as well as tongue piercing, because they are needlessly dangerous.

And so on. For an advertised pop culture critic, Medved came off more like an Amish homeschooler mom who simply couldn’t comprehend what kind of person would ever want to do anything more daring than wear a bonnet with a floral design.

I found myself wondering about Medved’s Judaism and how it might be affecting his response. I know that Judaism has much to say about the treatment of the body, and that it isn’t unusual for rabbis to opine on the orthodoxy of body piercings and tattoos. I never heard Medved’s faith come into the picture, which ultimately made me ask how a Christian culture critic might respond to the same questions.

At the center of the Christian wordview is the glory of God. I frequently tell students that the key to working through any moral issue is “Can I do this for the glory of God?” This isn’t just urging upon them a mental game- “I’ll view porn with an appreciation for God’s creativity”- but a clear knowledge that this is something in which I can rejoice and be thankful that God is seen, and his character and person are exalted without sin. 1 Timothy 4:4-5 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

God is most glorified when we are satisfied with all that he is for us in Christ. Jesus reveals God, and he reveals the truth about all of us. The image of God in which we were created is perfectly filled and fulfilled in Jesus.Christians are bringing every thought- and every subject- into captivity to the Lord Jesus Christ.

In considering a sub-culture such as piercing and tattoos, a Christian would not look at the phenomenon primarily in terms of rules and regulations of a spiritual nature. (Col 2:20-23) Health concerns, and other “common sense” concerns about the body, are certainly appropriate in a Christian consideration, but they are not primary. This is important, as we ask, “Would Jesus be outraged at tongue piercing?” The answer to such a question will give much evidence of how we are appropriating Jesus as a symbol of our own concerns, much along the lines of “What would Jesus eat?” or “What would Jesus drive?”

The selective outrage of some culture warrior types is evidence that they are playing their own interests as God’s agenda. Note how Jesus does not express outrage at the lifestyle of the woman at the well in John 4, but seeks to move her to a knowledge of her true “thirst” and faith in Jesus Christ. We glorify God in the body, but a Christian response to a human person is not primarily on the level of “What are you doing with your body?” but “What is your relationship to God?”

In his phone conversations, Medved heard a number of justifications for tongue piercing. Callers defended the practice as individualism, a generational ritual and a desire for rebellion against the mundane. At least one caller, however, grabbed my attention with the word “authentic.” She and her husband were seeking to be authentic.

One can probably anticipate that the search for the authentic among current fashion of self-mutilations is a quixotic quest, but I believe the caller was telling the truth. I believe the person who buys an Eddie Bauer style SUV on a quest for “individual expression and authenticity” is telling the truth. I believe the person who buys the same t-shirt, the same house, the same nuclear weapon as another person in a quest to “just be real” is telling the truth.

The quest is not wrong, but the end of the quest is not going to be found in a fashion, a trend, a possession, or anything else on the grocery list of modern culture. I believe the quest is real, and that Jesus is talking to seekers and questers for authenticity when he says “Come unto me, all you who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I believe the Bible is talking to seekers after the real when Paul says “What you worship in ignorance, I will proclaim to you (in Jesus.)” I believe the seeker for authenticity is the one who can hear the Christian message that this world is full of shadows, yet Christ is the substance, the satisfier, the giver of significance.

It is impossible for me to imagine Jesus doing a radio program talking about the outrage of tongue piercing, even though it is not hard for me to picture a Christian building a case, based on scripture, that all body piercing is wrong, except for his wife’s earrings and his grandaughter’s little nose stud. It’s all just a phase.

What I can imagine is Jesus asking the tongue and body piercer to talk about the meaning of the ritual, and the meaning it gives to his or her life. As a result of that conversation, I can imagine other conversations that go to the heart of the things that we do. I do not imagine an autopsy of the nature of various sins, but I can imagine a discussion of the ontology of Sin itself, and our quest as a race, and as individuals, to find meaning in the tribal, the material, the daring, the existential, the extreme and the provocative.

Responding to a confession of a hunger for the authentic, Jesus would have much to say. And in his approach to the person who pierces his/her tongue, we could learn much.

Jesus would offer to them the friendship, acceptance and approval of God in the Gospel. He would announce that they are invited home, they are invited to the table of fellowship and they are adopted into God’s family. The tongue piercing makes no difference at all. The bad decisions, the lack of good information about hygiene, the juvenile motivations…none of it matters at all in the banquet at the center of the universe. God COMMANDS us to find the tongue-pierced, with all their real and faux feelings of exclusion, individuality and authenticity, and to give them the very best seats in the house.

Culture warriors are increasingly complaining about a catalog of issues among young adults that they find annoying, immature and shallow. Is this kind of interaction with culture really helpful to the cause of the Gospel? When we are making fun of “emergent goatees” or any other subcultural trait are we also signaling that people with goatees, tattoos, piercings, ripped jeans or a taste for video games are somehow “the problem” in church and culture? Does our ridicule communicate Jesus’ own attitude?

We are about to be overwhelmed with a collection of subcultures taking root in the American middle class. They won’t be in San Francisco; they will be everywhere. Our approach and welcome must connect with Jesus, and not the paternalistic, hypocritical selective outrage of the culture warrior class.

Let Jesus be our teacher on what ought to outrage us, but more importantly, on how we ought to treat those who advertise themselves through various rituals as being the “excluded individuals” religious people dislike the most.

Michael Medved may be a pop culture commentator, but when it comes to engaging that culture, I’ll take the carpenter of Nazareth.


  1. UGADAWG47 says

    It seems Jesus told the fishermen, the tax collectors, the Pharisees, the rich young ruler the same thing. FOLLOW ME. I think that is what He would tell the young “tounge piercer” as well. It would a breath of fresh air to hear the Christian “cultural warriors” do the same. I don’t mean the “feel-good Jesus” of much of pop Christianity, but the one presented in the Gospels. The one who both demanded denial of self yet was also a friend of sinners and tax collectors.

  2. It would seem from this blog that neither you or Mr Medved see a specific purpose to tongue piercings; that it is nothing more than adornment and that is where the debate lies. I know of an actual use for it. Sexual pleasure. Forgive me for being frank, but that is a motivating factor for a large number of people who have it. If a Christian objects to a husband and wife seeking ways to please each other with oral sex, then I would recommend a study of Song of Solomon.

    For the record, I am a single guy and do not have a piercing or any first hand experience with them.

  3. That was discussed, and none of the callers claimed that as a fact. In fact, several said it was a myth. At the least, we can say that sexual pleasure is a highly individualized matter. My work with teenagers leads me to believe it is more a matter of supposed sexual sophistication than actual pleasure.

    Be assured, this thread is not going to accept testimonials on this subject 🙂

  4. I have piercings, but none of them are close to my mouth. My daughter has piercings, and wanted her lip done, but I drew the line at the mouth. (between the two of us we have a fair number when you add in the ears)

    (what makes a tongue piercing different than a nose piercing?)

  5. Your view, Michael, IMHO represents a low view of the Church as Christ’s Bride, a low view of a resurrected Christ-centered humanity, and a wrong view of the role of God’s law in our society and culture.

    I would really love to see you interact with Schlissel’s paper on this topic:

    He’s about as close as you can get to being a Reformed/Christian version of a rabbi that you’re going to find out there.

    Medved’s view is untenable, but I’m not sure yours is any better. Tongue-piercing is meaningless? A proper Christian theology of the body would say otherwise.

    I do agree however that “Jesus would offer to them the friendship, acceptance and approval of God in the Gospel”. But that welcome by Jesus doesn’t justify or excuse their sinful behavior. There is still a need for men and women to repent of their sins in embracing Christ and further to obey all that He commanded us. I just can’t believe that our Lord would be so neutral when we understand that He died to resurrect us not only spiritually but also bodily.


  6. I think I’ve written my thoughts, low view of soup to nuts included. I don’t really want to check out a theonomic view of the law. I’ve already made my peace with that.

    It doesn’t seem like a hard subject to me. I can’t picture Jesus sitting around the campfire saying, “OK guys, be sure and make it clear that my disciples shouldn’t have any body piercings.”

    I just believe that some things are a matter of the Gospel and individual conscience. I’ve done the tattooing piercing verses from the OT in detail, and I’m still unconvinced that anything that is simply aesthetics is an issue.

    So call me low culture. I don’t want my kids doing it, but if they do, I can’t say, Jesus is “agin'” it.

  7. Fair enough…you are Baptist after all. 🙂

  8. I do agree however that “Jesus would offer to them the friendship, acceptance and approval of God in the Gospel”. But that welcome by Jesus doesn’t justify or excuse their sinful behavior. There is still a need for men and women to repent of their sins in embracing Christ and further to obey all that He commanded us. I just can’t believe that our Lord would be so neutral when we understand that He died to resurrect us not only spiritually but also bodily.

    If you don’t mind my butting in, the problem with your argument is that you seem to simply assume the presupposition that piercing is sinful/wrong. The reason this is a problem is because you’re missing the thrust of iMonk’s post (as I understood it), which is to question precisely the presupposition you’re assuming. I certainly didn’t read iMonk saying that Jesus would just benignly condone sin; rather, I read that Jesus might have been able to differientiate between Scriptural laws and those which have been added by our cultural traditions. In other words, perhaps the only sin committed by those who pierce their bodies is a sin against Western cultural norms.

    So, rather than simply saying, “A proper Christian theology of the body would say otherwise,” it would be more helpful to share why, you believe, a “proper Christian theology of the body” would “say otherwise.”

  9. I realize iMonk is questioning what I already view as a settled matter or sin. That shouldn’t keep me from commenting on it, though. In regards to whether it is a sin or not, I would encourage you to read the paper by Steve Schlissel that I link to above. His paper would give some of the reasons why I feel the way I do.

    But we live move and have our being in an evangelical world that is increasingly and wrongly concerned about “heart” issues over and against the material or bodily concerns. A true incarnational view would see both the physical and the spiritual as extremely important. Passing off “piercing” as meaningless or merely a distasteful thing to our Western culture is participating in a view of our faith that is not fully incarnational (to say nothing of the Old Testament dictates against such practices). So, a proper theology of the body for Christians ought to include a healthy respect for the way that God made us and not the idea that we on the other hand can do anything we want over the gift God has given us in regards to our bodies.

    We leave out, as well, the importance of the way the covenant community of the Church would historically feel about these things. While you can reduce it to “Western cultural norms” we must work to realize a more noble idea that the Western culture we have is a direct result of Christian communities covenanted together in the name of Christ over the centuries and therefore something other than a merely arbitrary and amoral standard as you propose.

  10. Kevin…

    This Schlissel piece is full of the assumption that piercing is wrong for males because it is sexual.

    Isn’t that a bit of a screaming presupposition?

  11. Well, Michael, everyone has presuppositions on this and other issues (including you). The question is whether it is reasonable or not. I think another issue you need to consider is that this presupposition is taken from the Scripture’s view or presentation on the matter.

    But, even some of your readers/commenters above have no problem seeing that piercing is indeed an act with sexual overtones. Schlissel’s point however is more about the meaning of piercing in the Bible as being an instrument for one to dominate another. I’m puzzled out of all that Schlissel has to say about this subject, this issue and theonomy are all you choose to note about it.

    But a proper Christian theology of the body is not limited to what theonomy might indicate or the idea that sexual domination is involved in piercing. I would love to see your interaction with these words of Schlissel:

    “Included in the set-apartness required of us in both the Old and New administrations of the covenant is the sanctification of our bodies unto God. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world ( Rom. 12:1-2 a).

    Only a Gnostic, a Platonist or a nut would interpret the command to present our bodies to God as having nothing to do with our bodies. The human body is most definitely a concern of God’s and he has given us various laws designed to maintain its integrity and dignity, to keep it suitable for one in service to the living and true God. If anything, the New Testament heightens our concern with the body, for there it is oft-designated a temple of God. And we must not desecrate God’s temple. The wicked say, Our lips [and our bodies] are our own ( Ps. 12:4 ). The Christian answers with the great confession: I am not my own, but belong body and soul to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

    But confessions without content remain mere words: pretty, maybe, but empty. When we confess that our bodies belong to God, do we actually believe that he may regulate what we do with them? At one time this was definitely what the Christian community believed. Lately, however, it seems to be standing with its hands in its pockets as it watches a new wave of defiance of this confession.”

  12. You didn’t hear me say I didn’t have presups, but I gotta tell you that buying Schlissel’s entire scheme of piercing=domination=sex etc is taking a long long walk down the theonomic way of reading the Old Testament. I have a better way. Get to Hebrews, then go back and read Lev and Dt and ask if the Gospel of Jesus reinstalls laws against piercing, tattoos, etc.

    The “theology of the Body” you are talking about is great. I believe Romans 12, too. But I don’t believe Schlissel’s theonomic reading of the OT law. Starting down this road of reworking OT laws into NT forms rather than letting the Gospel speak a final word of Grace, not law is a real concern for me. I am surrounded by legalists in these mountain Holiness churches with more rules than you can put into a suitcase.

    Isn’t Colossians clear? These rules- Jewish rules- have no value in promoting Gospel spirituality?

  13. If you’re talking about this commenter – I have a huge problem with piercing = sodomy.

  14. Michael,

    I’d love to talk about the role of the law more in detail. Suffice it to say that Paul had no problem using the law in the New Testament to support all kinds of things. I don’t see how he could do that taking your approach to the law.

    One clear example is Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 25:4 to make clear that ministers have the right to be paid for their work:

    “For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? 10 Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. 11 If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you?”

    1 Corinthians 9:9-11

    Here we have Paul defending the idea that the law was not merely about the arcane details of an ancient agricultural society but that it was written “for our sake”. Not only can we infer moral teaching from the simplest (and seemingly arbitrary) laws but we also see that they were *designed* to work that way.

    You can excuse certain laws on the false distinction between law and grace that you’ve set up, but I doubt seriously you’ll forego getting paid as a minister or somehow thinking that there is no biblical justification for doing so.

    Our Lord also in the Sermon on the Mount makes it quite clear that not only is the law to be followed but that he had an even stricter understanding of the law than the legalism of the Jews of His time. He came to fulfill the law, not put an end to it (Matt. 5:17). The law is written on our hearts (Heb. 8:10) and as such cannot be put away as some outdated relic used only by an obscure group of people thousands of years ago.

    Besides, I’m going to dispute the idea that the Law is somehow antithetical to the gospel, devoid of grace, and its use being “legalist” past the OT era. In truth, the biblical picture of the law was a picture of grace that Paul referred to as the schoolmaster which led us to Christ (Gal. 3:24-25). The harshness of the language in the New Testament against the ceremonial dictates of the Mosaic Law being applied to Gentiles is warranted and to the extent that Hebrews and Colossians both rails against them in favor of the salvation we have in the sacrifice of Christ–of course we should abandon those distinctives meant for a certain time and place.

    But there is nowhere in the New Testament where you can find the abandonment of the moral dictates of the Law–if anything the New Testament refocuses the beam even stronger against those who would break such commandments on the basis of “free grace”. Have we forgotten that to love Christ means keeping His commandments (John 15)?

    And this is where Schlissel’s comments about Romans 12 are quite appropriate. If our bodies truly are a living sacrifice and the temple of the Holy Spirit, then we must consider that the Bible has more to say about this issue of piercing than we might care to admit at first glance.

    Legalism, of course, is an abuse of the law and we must always keep in mind the grace we have in Christ through salvation in Him and I will cheer with you until the cows come home against it. But the errant practice of loopy Holiness folks shouldn’t discourage you from holding a higher view of the role of God’s Law in regards to these issues.

    The Bible clearly puts the subject of piercing and body modification in terms which make it clear that there *are* moral issues involved in doing those things (as Schlissel’s article shows).

    The Heidelberg Catechism’s first lines in answer to the question “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” needs to be thought about more in regards to this issue and I don’t believe it’s being necessarily overly theonomic or legalistic to think of body issues with the following statement in mind:

    “That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.”

  15. >The harshness of the language in the New Testament against the ceremonial dictates of the Mosaic Law being applied to Gentiles is warranted and to the extent that Hebrews and Colossians both rails against them in favor of the salvation we have in the sacrifice of Christ–of course we should abandon those distinctives meant for a certain time and place…But there is nowhere in the New Testament where you can find the abandonment of the moral dictates of the Law–if anything the New Testament refocuses the beam even stronger against those who would break such commandments on the basis of “free grace”. Have we forgotten that to love Christ means keeping His commandments (John 15)?

    Kevin….this is the approach to the law I listened to for years from Al Martin and the Reformed Baptists. I am intimately familiar with it and I do not accept it any longer. I respect you enormously, and I commend you to follow the NT as you understand it, but the re-establishment of the law in the way you describe here has no place in my understanding of the Gospel. To take Paul’s commendation of the law as good, moral, reflecting God’s character and say that actually Paul is re-establishing a stricter version of the OT law is simply not my view of Paul’s teaching.

    I suppose you have figured out that New Covenant Theology is much more my approach, and not the form of law-Gospel-law that makes piercing a matter of “Christian law.”

    We differ, charitably I hope.

  16. Heh…now that will make some people laugh…my view being made equivalent to that of certain Reformed Baptists.

    Actually, this view reflects the thinking of Greg Bahnsen/Van Til/etc. and is a valid historic Reformed understanding of the role of the law. But some Reformed Baptists are all over appropriating Reformed traditions that are not theirs so I can see how you would say that. 🙂

    I’m happy to discuss it further whether your mind is changed or not on the subject. I find NCT inadequate for a number of reasons that I won’t go into here but I appreciate the discussion to this point. I had only hoped that it might be pressed a little further with actual interaction regarding what I’ve written to this point. Maybe someone else will take up the reins?

    However, yes, of course we differ *charitably*. I’m glad to have the privilege to know you as a brother and friend in Christ–even if it is only through the Internet. God bless.

  17. Al Martin and Trinity Baptist in Montvale NJ are “old school” Reformed Baptists in America. Your view is the view I’ve heard him thunder many many times. I believe he is highly influenced by John Murray.

  18. kahollowayjr says

    The point of the piercing is that you looked at it with shock and disdain and people will eventually assemble together in blogs and books to isolate THOSE PEOPLE. Odd piercing placements are meant to be radical attemts to display individuality and a delineation from mainstream culture.

    It would be consistant for Jesus to address the heart of the matter instead of the accoutrements one may display. Generally speaking, the Church needs to improve our attention in teaching our youth what it means to identify ourselves in Christ.

  19. Jenn7701 says

    I’m a Christian and have always wanted a tongue piercing (vs. a tatoo b/c at least I can take it out) and I am seriously considering it as I am going to be 29 and going thru a divorce I feel I need it, maybe to represent my dying to the flesh (as Jesus’s was pierced) so am I? of course that is no comparison but if I can honor God thru example or analogy would that be alright? Great Blog at least your very Open minded on all sides of the argument, IF I do this it will be July 1st 2006 (My B-day) I always wanted to, but I don’t want to dishonor God and like earrings it’s just what I want, not needed no purpose, Thanks for sharing.

  20. This is another instance where our culture is so bland and everyone is a follower. Some people have tatooes and piercing because it was traditionally associated with paganism. Some people have them because it is an individualistic statement. And some people have them because they are lackies and original thinking makes them feel uncomfortable. Can a Christian have a tatoo in the first instance? No, no pagan Christians. Can a Christian have a tatoo in the second instance? Probably, but I would hope they’d feel individualism and Christianity at some point diverge and maybe there are better ways to express yourself. Can a Christian have one in the third sense? Yes, because there are plenty of bland boring Christians. Do any of these three instances make it “alright”? I think under those three instances they are all bad ideas….but can I say for sure sinful? In some amount and measure yes, but for different reasons…

    I think the problem with the article linked above is that he assumes all people fit into some specific group. Some get piercings for sexual reasons, others just because they are posers, some because perhaps its valid self-expression in their “subculture”. I think the fact that Christians try to express themselves through these means show a shallow biblical worldview. It is like the business man who bought the several thousand dollar gold bracelet that said “wwjd”. Perhaps given that money to the poor? It is wearing irony.

  21. Would these same comments apply to wearing jewelry or suits?

  22. Some jobs require suits. Others don’t.

    If the jewelry was given as a token of affection I think it’s fine. If it is a self-adorned piece of vain self-promotion to show how much dough you are rolling in, nope.
    If it is a gold cross you bought beause Jesus means a lot to you, I think you could place those affections to a more charitable use….that person needs some more guidance in how Christians should handle money. Each person is different and we have to let verses like 1 Ti 6:17-19 and 1 John 3:17-18 hit us all differently depending on our faith.

    You can’t draw many distinct lines, but I think you can set a definate direction.

  23. heteroclite says

    At the risk of being a “Johnny-Come-Lately,” I nonetheless am puzzled, iMonk: why in neither of your essays on this topic is there any reference to what would seem to me a highly pertinent N.T. Scripture, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)

  24. How does this qualify as a defilement?

  25. Heteroclite says

    MODERATOR NOTE: I am allowing this comment so the commenter gets to make his point. I will not approve any further comments by this commenter. Judge for yourself what you’re reading. I suspect this is c.t., but on the outside shot it’s not, here it is.

    And don’t get your mother any earrings for Christmas. Of course, Christmas is pagan as well.

    iMonk asks: “How does this qualify as a defilement?”

    I guess you’d have to ask an Auschwitz survivor.

    But in case you can’t get a hold of one, let’s put it this way: let’s say I come up to you and start puncturing your skin with a needle, or gashing it with some broken glass or a razor. Would that qualify as an act of affection on my part? Or would it perhaps more accurately be described as a violation, a defilement of your person?

    Now, if that illustration still isn’t compelling, then we could add some more info for consideration:

    (1)”For [BM devotees], the more radical piercings are self-consciously religious experiences. This association with paganism is known, understood and cherished. The piercings, etc., are regarded as rituals. Rituals take place in urban settings: libraries, public parks, warehouses, abandoned city sites. Rituals take many forms: piercing, tattooing, branding and scarification in private and public ceremonies, S/M [sado-masochistic] psychodramas in private dungeons, technoshamanic trance dances at underground Rave parties, psychedelic shamanism, in living rooms–any activity capable of producing the direct experience of spiritual truth and healing in the participant. Consider the mindset of someone who regards mutilation as healing!”

    (2) “[I]n the East, with their widely recognized symbols of religious faith and devotion, tattoos often clearly were intended to serve a purpose beyond simple expressions of decoration and identification. Many early tattoos clearly had a cosmic connection and wove early man into the fabric of the larger universe.

    Early cultures often inscribed themselves with animal images and totems, probably in an effort to evoke the power of the animal spirits, possibly for success in the hunt, but also for protection. Even today, in one of the remotest parts of the planet, the Kayan tribesman in Borneo receives a pair of hand-tapped tattoos on both shoulders to guarantee his safe passage, as a departed soul, across the River of the Dead. These are tattoos with roots back to a time when the when the meaning was much more than skin deep and beyond simple decoration.

    Historically, and from a cultural-anthropological stand-point, some of the earliest tattoos had a spiritual connection. Animal images were popular with tribesmen because of the desire of the tattoo recipient to become identified with the animal spirit. The ritual involved in getting a tattoo, the very act of submitting to pain, is one way to bring the spirit alive and prompt the discovery of the God within. The spiritual leader of the tribe, the Shaman or the Medicine Man, in particular, needed ornaments to indicate his special relationship with the spirits or gods — and his control or power over them. Tattoos were part of his arsenal, along with other amulets in the form of shells, horns, antlers, claws and teeth of animals.

    The tribe’s dominant symbols were powerful icons representing their belief systems. It has been suggested by philosopher James Hillman that our most potent symbols do not just emanate from the soul, but are actually what the soul is made of. “In the beginning was the word?” Perhaps not. We are beginning to hear the argument that, even before ‘the word’, was the symbol and the myth. But let us save our metaphysical musings for something more tangible but no less astonishing — the tattoo as talisman or savior.

    A recurring theme in religious or spiritual tattoos concerns the afterlife. The great mystery of life and existence has fuelled myth, magic and special rites in almost every culture around the world. Amazingly, from the MAORI in New Zealand, to the SIOUX in North Dakota, to the IBAN tribes up the Skrang River in Borneo, the tattoo is nothing less than a passport to the world beyond. You simply could not leave home without it, not if you wanted admittance or any sort of status ‘on the other shore’. The right tattoo could ensure favor with deities, without which the dying person would not be recognized in the land of the spirits. In head-hunter country in Borneo, the tattoo also served as a torch to light the way across the river that ran through the Land of the Dead. Departed souls had to venture up this treacherous river to reach the long-houses of their most heroic ancestors. So arduous was this journey that only the most heavily tattooed tribesman could complete the journey.

    Likewise, the final destination for the spirit of the SIOUX warrior was known as ‘Many Lodges’, and his tattoos played a crucial role in the journey. Success was only possible if he had been appropriately marked on the forehead, wrist and possibly on the tip of the chin. Legend has it that an old woman checked the tattoos of all the passing spirits. The un-tattooed would be dropped over a cliff, a most ignoble return to the land of the living, where he would wander aimlessly for eternity.

    For many indigenous people around the world, a return to traditional tribal tattooing practices has been a powerful way to re-ignite a cultural renaissance and to reclaim a spiritual link to their past. This fact has no doubt played an important role in the widespread popularity of tribal tattooing today.”

    (3) “Ronald Scutt, in his exhaustive book, ART, SEX & SYMBOL, covers a lot about the history and culture of tattoos. He documents that most of the time tattoos are associated with spiritual, religious and mystical purposes; linking it to mystical significance, sun-worship, serpent worship, and the sun-god Baal.”


    (Notice that the injunction in LEVITICUS against body mutilation is firmly embedded in a context of prohibitions against other pagan practices. So, it is a PAGAN practice. Does the New Covenant mean we can now indulge in various forms of paganism?)

  26. Heteroclite says

    imonk: What is “c.t.”—claptrap? 🙂 And I’m not clear as to why I’m being banned; please advise.

    Christmas (which I joyfully celebrate—complete with Advent) is a matter of conscience: a believer doesn’t need to celebrate it, but neither is it a sin if one does. Ditto for Easter.

  27. c.t. is a troll of this blog who posts under various names.

    You can post, but I won’t post anything else on this thread. For starters, posting long copied citations is not what the comments are for.

  28. Heteroclite says

    Fair enough, iMonk. I am new here, and do not know this troll character (tho I probably LOOK like one 🙂 ). Sorry if my writing resembled him. I’m glad I can at least still read your site; I agree with you 90% of the time, and have learned tremendously from your postings.