Q. Is getting a tattoo immoral?
A. In evaluating the good or evil of an act, it is necessary to consider the three parts of the moral act: the object, the motive and the circumstances. The object is the nature of the act itself. The motive is the reason for doing the action, and the circumstances are the surrounding conditions that affect the action, such as when, where, and how the action takes place.
The Old Testament condemned the use of tattoos due to the circumstances of those times. Tattoos, during Old Testament times were connected to the worship of pagan gods. The law forbade the Israelites to draw tattoos on the body, lest they be led into idol-worship.
St. Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own” (1 Cor 6:19). The body is a gift from God that is meant to glorify God. This passage is a good lens in which to look at the subject of tattoos.
The body must always be viewed as something beautiful and created by God. The very fact that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus, took flesh and became a man, being like us in all things but sin reminds us of the inherent goodness of the body and the entire material world. Thus, to get a tattoo out of hatred for the body would be an evil motive.
Tattoos are not intrinsically or objectively evil, that is, the very reality of having a tattoo is not wrong. Tattoos are essentially artwork that are on the body. The Catholic Church teaches that self-mutilation is evil, and that we are to be modest, but there is no strict prohibition against tattoos. Respect should be shown to cultures where tattoos may be an important part of the social structure.
However, tattooing should be done in moderation and the motive and circumstances must be taken into consideration.
Offensive tattoos that represent, for example, blasphemous, crude and lustful images would be wrong since they promote evil. Getting a tattoo for an evil motive such as angering one’s parents or inciting lust would also be wrong due to a bad motive. Minors need to be obedient to their parents’ wishes in regard to tattoos, as long as they are under their care.
Tattoos are physical markings on the body that often represent something that is important to the person. For instance, someone might have the name of a child or deceased loved one on their body. We remember that as baptized Christians we have received an indelible mark on our souls, and are claimed for Christ. That is the greatest marking that we truly have.
Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.