Don’t put your faith in tattoos

Stuart Randell poses in front of his Sacred Tattoos parlour in Fremantle, Western Australia

Amid all the gloom of the past few weeks, a small, overlooked story came out on the Catholic News Service website about a potentially ‘Catholic’ tattoo parlour in Australia.

I say ‘potentially’ Catholic because what is far less certain than the facts of this story is whether any Catholic should get a tattoo. First of all, for those who might frown upon tattoos as primitive, pagan, even diabolical distortions of man being made in the image and likeness of God, I shall try to “give the devil his due”, so to speak.

Certainly whenever anyone gets a truly devotional tattoo their intention at the time of getting it may well be sincere, for example they may be trying to keep the presence of God in their day-to-day lives with a picture of a saint, Our Lady or a crucifix.

The Catechism has nothing to say on tattoos as a general rule, and while in some cases tattoos may be overtly sinful (ex-American basketball star Dennis Rodman’s sexually explicit ‘angel’ tattoo, for example – which I do not recommend that you look at), generally it is hard to fully understand the intentions of a person in getting and displaying them. It would also be wrong to judge tattooed people too harshly since many must come to regret getting them.

Only God knows what was going through Dennis Rodman’s mind when he got that tattoo. In any case assuming for argument’s sake that tattoos are not sinful, the reasons are manifold why any thinking, rational person, especially any practising Catholic, should not get a tattoo, even a devotional one; not least of which being the fact that they are permanent.

In so far as devotional tattoos go, I am sure that many of the saints’ writings could easily be applied to devotional tattoos and why not to get them. Here I offer a couple of quotes from a favourite saint of mine, Saint Josemaría Escrivá: “Let your outward conduct reflect the peace and order of your soul”, and, “You should dress in accordance with the demands of your social standing, your family background, your work… as your companions do, but to please God: eager to present a genuine and attractive image of true Christian living. Do everything with naturalness, without being extravagant”.

With even the secular media getting concerned about the plethora of tattoos on display, and what this must mean for the tattooed, it is worth considering here that even a devotional tattoo may still have unintended consequences.

A Catholic who thinks that a tattoo of a crucifix on his arm might be just the thing to rekindle his faith life, or to get him doing apostolate (if the tattoo were to lead to a conversation about his Catholic faith, for example) would be well advised to reconsider, and put his trust not in what ‘he’ can do to do apostolate (Matt. 10: 9-10) but rather in Him in whose name only can any true apostolate be carried out (Luke. 12: 11-12).