To tattoo or not to tattoo. That is the question and one that Catholics vehemently disagree on.
Some Catholics say, “Absolutely not! It’s immoral.” Others say that there’s nothing wrong with it and you should go ahead and get one without a second thought.
The right answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Whether you get one isn’t a huge issue and it’s not a question that carries the same moral weight as lying, stealing or adultery. Tattoos are not good or evil in themselves but can become good or evil depending on what the tattoo represents and why you’re getting it.
So if you’re reading this and have a tattoo of, say, the Sacred Heart, don’t worry. We’re not saying you did anything morally wrong.
Still, there are several reasons why Catholics should think twice before getting a tattoo. Consider these reasons as points to ponder, not commandments forbidding you from something you want to do.
1. You may be defining yourself in ways you’ll later regret.
It’s natural for us to want to define ourselves — to encapsulate or summarize our lives in a few words or pictures. This is because our lives often feel like a mess that’s impossible to make sense of.
Highlighting what’s important to you by having it forever stamped on your body seems to give your life clarity and purpose.
But here’s the thing: What’s important to us in life often changes as we go through childhood, the teenage years, college, family life, and old age. So while you may love a certain band now, it’s possible you’ll lose your taste for them later on and then your tattoo loses meaning.
Because most tattoos are permanent, don’t rush to stamp on yourself things you may lose interest in later. Give yourself and your tastes permission and space to evolve.
2. Tattoos don’t always say what you intend to say.
Maybe your tattoo communicates something really deep and meaningful to you. You see the tattoo and are reminded of everything in your heart connected with it.
But that doesn’t mean the message is clear to other people. For example, there are lots of people with tattoos of the One Ring from Lord of the Rings. Most fans probably got this tattoo because they genuinely love Middle Earth and the One Ring is a powerful symbol of these beautiful stories.
Yet, the One Ring is a symbol of evil in Tolkien’s worldbuilding, so you may have some people wondering why you chose that to express your love of Middle Earth rather than, say, Bilbo’s sword, Sting, or an elven brooch.
Think hard about the message you may be sending with your tattoo.
3. There are better ways to communicate what’s important to us.
It’s incredibly moving when someone gets a tattoo to commemorate someone dear to them, especially if that person is deceased.
But are tattoos really the best way to do that?
Let’s take the example of deceased parents. Your biological parents are already “tattooed” on and in you in a far more profound, human way than can be accomplished by ink. You may have your mother’s kind eyes or your father’s infectious smile. You may have inherited a love of fishing from your dad or of writing from your mom.
The same goes with religious tattoos. The image of God is already stamped on us through our reason and heart. Baptism marks you with a seal. These are far more powerful witnesses to the faith than tattoos, which fade over time, begging the question of whether tattoos are really necessary or merely cheap substitutes for faith.
Again, all of this is not to say that tattoos are wrong. These are just some sketches of thoughts and the beginnings of debates. But whether you get a tattoo or not, you’re already marked by your baptism. This sacred mark is your seal of glory as you fight the forces of evil. But it’s also your mark of shame if you abandon the Lord’s army.
Ultimately, it’s what you do with this interior mark that will determine your eternal destiny.