Thursday, April 12, 2018

Christian imagery is among the most popular to be found in tattoos

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Exodus 20:4

Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:28

Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:
Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
For the customs of the people are vain:
Jeremiah 10:1-3a

Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. Ezekiel 22:26

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.
I Corinthians 6:19-20

Submitted for your disapproval, yet another example of professing Christians imitating and following the world instead of separating and setting a better example. As reported by Nicki Gorny of the Toledo Blade, March 31, 2018 (bold in original):

Superheroes. The Munsters. Michael Jackson in “Thriller.”

There’s a reason that Toledoan Amanda King chose these images for the tattoos that cover significant parts of her body.

“These are things that I love,” she said.

So perhaps it’s natural that she opted to represent her faith, as well, in her body art. Peeking out from her sleeve, on her forearm, is an illustration of the face of Jesus. It’s a way for Ms. King, a Christian, to indicate that she also identifies by a love for God.

Religious iconography is perennially popular in the chairs and tables of local tattoo shops like Ink and Iron Tattoo Parlour on Adams Street in Uptown Toledo, where Ms. King works as a receptionist and where artists describe a wide range of religious imagery among the most consistent requests they field.

Often clients want simple symbols that are easily tucked away: Think crosses, crescent moons and Stars of David. Others ask for attention-grabbing depictions of biblical passages or elaborate portraits of figures like Buddha, Jesus or the Virgin Mary.

Michael Klein is the owner of Ink and Iron. He’s a Christian who himself sports prominent religious ink, including a gothic-lettered reminder to “PRAY BOLD” across his knuckles.

“There’s not a lot that I haven’t done, as far as religions go,” he said, ticking off examples of tattoos he’s done tied to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Wicca.

At Infinite Art Tattoo Studio on Secor Road, religious fare is similarly common. Artist Michael Fairman estimated that any tattoo artist at the shop handles at least one such tattoo in a given week.

Simply drawn “stick” crosses are particularly trendy of late; Mr. Fairman’s lost count of how many he’s inked on customers.

Likewise at Studio 13 Tattoo on Monroe Street, where, in addition to quick-appointment crosses, the latest examples of religious ink include an illustration of the Garden of Eden that artist Bradley Atherton has been filling out on the bicep of Matt McCormick over multiple sessions.

Jake Farris, who co-owns Studio 13 with his brother, Jes, said said he’s seen a consistent demand for religious imagery since he and his brother entered the field in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1999. He himself has a tattooed sleeve featuring, in part, an illustration of the Annunciation.

Indeed, according to the business research website Ibisworld.com, Americans spent $2 billion on tattoos in 2017, a large segment of that work representing their faith.

“Tattooing isn’t going anywhere,” he said. “Religion isn’t going anywhere. It only makes sense that they have this happy marriage and have found each other.”

A history that runs deep

The subtle symbols, scrawled scriptural references and artistic illustrations that customers request today continue a rich history of religious tattooing that Chicago-based historian Anna Felicity Friedman said some would argue is as old as the history of religion itself.

In Christianity, certainly, the documented roots of bodily adornment run deep: Ms. Friedman said the earliest adherents of the faith are believed to have identified themselves and each other with tattoos.

“As early as 528 CE, Procopius of Gaza wrote of Christians tattooed on their arms and shoulders with crosses, Christ’s name, the acronym INRI, and other Christian symbols, including fishes and lambs,” she wrote in The World Atlas of Tattoo. “These marks, in addition to expressing devotion to their faith, may also have helped confirm the identification of one Christian to another.”

This tradition of tattooing in Christianity has remained largely consistent throughout history, Ms. Friedman said in an interview with The Blade; it continued, in part, with pilgrims who would memorialize trips to the Holy Land with tattoos – a practice that continues to thrive in Jerusalem at Razzouk Tattoo, a family-run shop that boasts of being established in 1300 A.D.

And, even into the mid- the late 18th century, Ms. Friedman said, crosses are among the most frequently identified tattoos on various historical registries.

While some detractors argue that tattoos go against the faith, typically interpreting Leviticus 19:28 to support this view, Ms. Friedman said that, historically, marking oneself as a Christian has long been an accepted practice.

There is not a comparably consistent precedent for tattooing in Islam and Judaism, Ms. Friedman said, and, in practice, local artists said they receive requests affiliated with these faiths far less frequently than they do for Christianity or even Buddhism.

That’s not to say that Islam or Judaism forbids tattooing, according to academics Yonatan Miller and Fatima Al-Hayani. It’s particularly a misconception within Judaism, Mr. Miller said, pointing to the long-standing and inaccurate belief that a tattooed individual cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Endless interpretations

Several local artists said they frequently see clients lean into their faith especially when picking out a first-time tattoo. Mr. Farris of Studio 13 can relate: He recalled that he turned to Christianity for inspiration in his earliest tattoos, in part, because he found the imagery to be more palatable to family and friends than some alternatives.

“I think a lot of it, for me, was that it was easier to convince the people around me that it was OK for me to be a heavily tattooed person,” he said.

Religious imagery can also make a lot of sense in light of the permanence of tattoos, he said.

“Most people would never want to get something tattooed on them that they’re not going to be happy with a year from now or 10 years from now or 20 years from now,” Mr. Farris said. “I think most people feel like their faith isn’t going anywhere, so it’s easy to capture with a tattoo.”

It’s a pattern Michael Klein also sees at Ink and Iron.

“It’s that linear thought process,” he said. “I’ve grown up with religion my whole life, and it’s comfortable and familiar and it’s not something that’s going to change drastically.”

It might, of course. But that’s OK, too: Mr. Farris and Scott Biddle, a tattoo artist at Ink and Iron, each said their relationship with religion has changed since they began to plan tattoo sleeves with imagery that, at the time they selected it, reflected the central role that faith played in their lives. Rather than regret the work, they said they see it as a reminder of a different point in their lives.

“It’s a part of me. It's a part of who I was,” Mr. Farris said. “That’s one of the best things about tattooing. Every tattoo takes you back to a time and a place.”

Religious ink today serves a variety of purposes: It can be a subtle faith reminder to oneself, a public affirmation of beliefs to others, or, in some cases, a sort-of protective talisman, as with the tattoos of St. Michael the Archangel that Mr. Fairman said he frequently tattoos on police officers, firefighters and other first-responders.

Some tattoos are religious at face value but that don’t carry any real spiritual significance: An individual might be drawn to the cultural connotations of a three-leaf shamrock or a Celtic cross, for example, or perhaps the aesthetic appeal of a gnarly barbed-wire-entwined crucifix.

While people have used tattoos “to show a million different things over time,” Mr. Farris said he sees devotion as one the primary motivators to go for a tattoo. That devotion could be directed toward anything: a spouse, a sports team, a television show.

Or, of course, to God.

“I don’t think religious iconography will ever stop being probably one of the most frequently designed tattoos,” Mr. Biddle said.
Marking of the body has always been associated with paganism, often as a requirement to appease the harsh demands of pagan gods, in contrast to the Biblical God of grace. As for the "Christian" tattooers who appeal to the past to justify their current practices, the 6th and 14th centuries were not periods characterized by widespread adherence to Biblical Christianity. It's easy and tempting to romanticize and deify the past and to forget that the past was once the present, inhabited by people who were as fallible as we are.

The idea of "Christian" tattoos is a recent invention. Would there be such a thing if there weren't already a practice of tattooing in the surrounding secular culture? Of course not. As someone who grew up in western and northern Canada, I'm not exaggerating when I say that right up to the end of the 1980s, I didn't know one person, Christian or non-Christian, who had a tattoo, and that includes Negro football players from urban areas in the United States (as an aside, people also signed their names so that you could read them, unlike the squiggles that pass for signatures today). Which is to say, even the non-Christian society that I grew up in had higher standards than the professing Christian church does now.

I'm tired of people claiming that their activity, for which their is no Biblical warrant or example, is a "ministry," when what they're doing is a "Christian" version of what they were already doing before they professed to be Christians.

How you dress and what you do or don't do to your body projects an image. Don't go around claiming to be a Christian while the image you project of yourself is pagan. If you complain that I'm unable or unwilling to see past the image, my reply is that it's pretty hard to see an inner "Christianity" when the outer image of paganism is being so flagrantly projected.

See my post "Christian" brawling Mixed Martial Arts is now a "ministry" (February 5, 2010).

No comments:

Post a Comment