Tag Archives: paganism

Should a Christian Get a Tattoo?

Tattoos are remarkably popular right now. In the past in the West, they were viewed as desirable only within limited social groups like soldiers, sailors, gang members, and bikers. Acceptance was generally confined to males of lower economic classes, For professionals or women they would be unthinkable.

There are a number of cultural and religious reasons that tattoos were viewed negatively by past generations in the West, reasons that I’ll summarize a bit further on. But regardless of our earlier Western distaste towards tattoos, they are no longer sought out only by enlisted military men, gang members, and bikers, but are popular among younger people regardless of social class, gender, or religious background.

Most young people who get tattoos do so innocently, with no intention of expressing rebellion against core values of their parents or religious community. They usually know little or nothing about traditional society’s reluctance to approve tattoos. Current fashion makes tattoos appear attractive and desirable, so young people get them. With this in mind, I want to make clear that by explaining why tattoos were disapproved by traditional western culture I am not condemning people who have chosen to be tattooed. I am not labeling them rebels, or suggesting that Christians with tattoos are spiritually deficient. In fact, I have close family members who have tattoos.

While Christians should scrupulously avoid hostility or self-righteousness towards people with tattoos (imagine how absurd it would be for Christians to reject a new convert because he or she has tattoos!), we should honestly consider whether the tattooing fad is something that Christians—even Christians who already have tattoos—should encourage.

If you haven’t been tattooed and are considering whether you want to be, here are some things you should consider. Tattooing has a long association with the worst kinds of paganism. Even pagan Graeco-Roman civilization associated tattooing with barbaric, violent peoples like the Picts, Scythians, and Huns. Missionaries encountering new peoples also associated tattooing with repulsive practices like cannibalism. Even today, young people with tattoos are statistically more likely to engage in violence or other socially deviant behavior. 1

Because of their pagan origins, both body piercing and tattooing are forbidden by Old Testament Law:

“You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:28).”

Because of these commandments, religious Jews to this day shun tattooing as an abominable practice. 2

Historically, the tattooing of slaves and prisoners has added further stigma to the practice. It was outlawed after Christianity became the majority religion in Europe.

This cultural and historical context raises the question of whether the living skin of a human being miraculously made in the God’s image is really an appropriate “canvas” for the relatively crude art of needles and ink. Ink colors fade, muscle tone deteriorates. After 40 years, what was once a colorful tattoo on the back of a youthful leg may look like varicose veins—or worse. Even more importantly, As we age and mature, our perspective changes. Maturity brings changes in priorities, world-views, behavior, grooming habits, life-style and many other things. If you are tattooed in a prominent place—even with a Christian symbol—you “brand” myself for life with a decision made at one particular stage. Regardless of who you become, the impression that others will have of you will continue to be shaped by your tattoo—and tattoos are difficult and expensive to remove.

All of these factors should make a Christian consider whether getting tattooed is showing proper respect for the body as the dwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)?

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1Corinthians 6:19-20).

Although there are strong biblical, psychological, and historical grounds against tattoos, Scripture doesn’t absolutely forbid Christians to get tattooed. Getting tattoed is a matter of Christian liberty. But getting a tattoo is also very likely an impulsive decision, that may have some bad long term consequences.

  1. The findings of this study may impact the general perception of adolescents. The results show that the presence of tattoos and body piercings in adolescents is associated with greater risk-taking behaviors of these adolescents in the areas of gateway drug use, hard drug use, sexual activity, suicide, and disordered eating behaviors. In particular, young adolescents with tattoos and body piercings are at greater risk for suicide and cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use. Violence is found to a greater degree in males with tattoos and females with body piercings. Finally, abuse of hard drugs such as cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, and Ecstasy increases as the number of body piercings increases. The presence of tattoos and body piercings in adolescents does not necessarily indicate risk-taking behavior in particular individuals, however, the presence of such should alert parents, teachers, and health care providers of the possibility of greater health risk in adolescents with tattoos and/or body piercings, and appropriate care should be implemented.
    Clear differences were found between adolescents with and without tattoos and/or body piercings. Additional investigation is warranted. Examining a larger population of adolescents with tattoos and body piercings may show significant differences in the areas that were found to be suggestive of differences in this study. (Tattoos and Body Piercings as Indicators of Adolescent Risk-Taking Behaviors Sean T. Carroll, MD, Robert H. Riffenburgh, PHD, Timothy A. Roberts, MD and Elizabeth B. Myhre, CPNP, MSN, PEDIATRICS Vol. 109 No. 6 June 2002, pp. 1021-1027) Back To Article
  2. In our day, the prohibition against all forms of tattooing regardless of their intent, should be maintained. In addition to the fact that Judaism has a long history of distaste for tattoos, tattooing becomes even more distasteful in a contemporary secular society that is constantly challenging the Jewish concept that we are created b’tzelem Elokim (in the image of God) and that our bodies are to be viewed as a precious gift on loan from God, to be entrusted into our care and [are] not our personal property to do with as we choose. Voluntary tattooing even if not done for idolatrous purposes expresses a negation of this fundamental Jewish perspective.
    As tattoos become more popular in contemporary society, there is a need to reinforce the prohibition against tattooing in our communities and counterbalance it with education regarding the traditional concept that we are created b’tzelem Elokim. But, however distasteful we may find the practice there is no basis for restricting burial to Jews who violate this prohibition or even limiting their participation in synagogue ritual. The fact that someone may have violated the laws of kashrut at some point in his or her life or violated the laws of Shabbat would not merit such sanctions; the prohibition against tattooing is certainly no worse. It is only because of the permanent nature of the tattoo that the transgression is still visible. (quotation from Rabbi Alan Lucas in MyJewishLearning.com) Back To Article
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Can Christians Be Hurt by Witchcraft or Black Magic?

God is the Creator and Master of the natural world. Satan is only the master of illusion. He deals in hallucination and deceit. Any limited powers over nature he may possess are entirely circumscribed by God, but he can control susceptible minds. People in Satan’s power are obsessed and hypnotized by evil. The source of black magic’s power is fear. Academic writers have documented the life and death power of pagan magic over people who believe in it.

Dr. Herbert Basedow (1925), in his book, The Australian Aboriginal, has presented a vivid picture of the first horrifying effect of bone pointing on the ignorant, superstitious and credulous natives, and the later more calm acceptance of their mortal fate: The man who discovers that he is being boned by any enemy is, indeed, a pitiable sight. He stands aghast, with his eyes staring at the treacherous pointer, and with his hands lifted as though to ward off the lethal medium, which he imagines is pouring into his body. His cheeks blanch and his eyes become glassy and the expression of his face becomes horribly distorted. . . . He attempts to shriek but usually the sound chokes in his throat, and all that one might see is froth at his mouth. His body begins to tremble and the muscles twist involuntarily. He sways backwards and falls to the ground, and after a short time appears to be in a swoon; but soon after he writhes as if in mortal agony, and, covering his face with his hands, begins to moan.

After a while he becomes very composed and crawls to his wurley. From this time onwards he sickens and frets, refusing to eat and keeping aloof from the daily affairs of the tribe. Unless help is forthcoming in the shape of a countercharm administered by the hands of the Nangarri, or medicine-man, his death is only a matter of a comparatively short time (Walter B. Cannon, “Voodoo Death,” American Anthropologist, vol. 33, 1942).

Another anthropologist described the circumstances in which superstitious fear can take hold:

In “Voodoo Death” (Cannon 1972 [1942]) a person violates a taboo, such as walking on sacred ground, [or] eating a forbidden fruit, and, shortly after discovering that a taboo has been violated, the person is dead. The closely related phenomenon of “hex” death (Seligman 1975, p. 1977) occurs when a person learns that they have been cursed by someone with the appropriate technical knowledge and supernatural authority. As in the case of voodoo death, hex death kills within hours or days. While such deaths exhibit a fairly standard set of physical symptoms, they cannot be attributed to external agents such as poisons or bacteria nor to externally induced physical trauma. The death is psychosomatic.

A person who violates a taboo has broken the deepest rules of their culture and thereby is thrust outside the protective web of memes and traits which give meaning and structure to the world. The person who is cursed believes that someone else has severed the link between their soul and the cultural forms and practices in which that soul lives its life. Such people are in a situation where, in effect, they see no hope of ever again satisfying their higher reference levels. They are cut off from their culture. That kills them as surely as being cut off from food or water (William Benzon, Culture as an Evolutionary Arena).

In spite of the power pagan sorcerers and witch doctors hold over people who accept their authority, Christian missionaries confront “powerful” witch doctors with immunity to curses and black magic. I personally recall a confrontation between a Christian missionary in Haiti and several witch doctors at a famous voodoo shrine, the missionary laughing at their threats while ripping their inverted cross fetishes out of the ground and throwing them into a nearby lagoon. On another occasion, a voodoo houngan actually placed a curse on a son of this missionary, only to die himself in the time frame he had set for the death of the boy. Another witch doctor cursed the womb of a woman newly converted to Christianity. When she became pregnant, she fled to the mission compound and lived there for several months out of fear for her baby. Concerned for her feelings, but realizing that she was giving in to her fear, the missionaries helped her understand that the witch doctor’s curse had no power over a believer indwelt with the Holy Spirit’s power. She moved back home, and in a few months delivered a healthy baby boy.1The Bible describes the awesome power of the Creator (Genesis 1; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 8:3-4; Proverbs 8:29; Proverbs 16:4; Isaiah 44:24-28), a power that instantly brought the material world into existence and is equally capable of instantly destroying it. The feeble magic of demons and sorcerers can no more thwart such boundless power than a grain of sand can stop a tsunami or a drop of rain the eruption of a volcano.

Obedient people empowered by God’s blessing and immersed in His favor are impervious to Satan’s power. A loyal child of the Creator stands in the power of the Creator (Genesis 15:1; Proverbs 18:10; Ephesians 6:16).

Since vulnerability to black magic is rooted in fear and lack of trust, Christians can count on God’s protection when they submit to His authority. But if they actively suppress or ignore God’s moral law for selfish purposes, they enter the realm of the demonic and become vulnerable to its power. If they live a gangster’s lifestyle, they become vulnerable to its dangers.  If they live by Satan’s code, they become subject to its rules. Sin and rebellion feed and magnify fear. Trust in God is manifested by a willingness to resist sin.

Christians should also keep guard over their imaginations, thinking of the admonitions of Paul and James:

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8)

“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

If we don’t put our trust in God, we may become more and more obsessed with Satan. In the Middle Ages, imaginations obsessed with Satan’s power led to the witch craze, causing hundreds of thousands of innocent people to be tortured and killed. The witch craze was the consequence of people becoming so obsessed with satanic power that they viewed the normal tragedies of a fallen world as the result of black magic. (See the ATQ article, Did Church Authorities Seek to Eradicate Paganism in Europe by Killing Millions of “Witches”?)

Once a person has accepted the authority of Jesus Christ, he has the Holy Spirit dwelling within (John 14:16-17). All of us are susceptible to the temptations and trials of the “world, flesh, and devil.” However, the Creator God loves us, sent His Son to die for us, and will protect us if we are willing to trust Him enough to do right. The focus of spiritual warfare in a Christian’s life needs to be his own sinful nature and desires. We don’t need any rituals or charms to protect us. Just a simple prayer for protection, and willingness to acknowledge and forsake any conscious sin is enough.2

  1. This baby boy went on to be raised by his Christian parents, attended mission schools and college, and now is an accountant. This family’s courage to resist Satan’s lies made it possible for their family to be lifted out of the most extreme poverty and spiritual darkness to new horizons of spiritual and material hope. Back To Article
  2. Using the metaphor of a well-equipped Roman soldier, Paul told us how we could be prepared for spiritual warfare. We are to put on the armor of God  (Ephesians 6:11-18), which includes:
    • The belt of truth. Since Satan depends on deceit to maintain his power, our first line of defense is always truth. We must never distort or misrepresent the truth, regardless of any advantage we might gain by doing so.
    • The breastplate of righteousness. Any sin in our life leaves us open to Satan’s attack. Even though we are given the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21), we must still continually put on the protection of holy living.
    • The shoes of the gospel of peace. With our feet firmly planted on the truth that we are at peace with God and that He is on our side, we can stand firmly against Satan’s attacks.
    • The shield of faith. In order to quench the “fiery darts” of Satan’s temptations, we must trust and believe what God has said about every area of our life.
    • The helmet of salvation. This is the confidence that there is coming in the future a great victory celebration. It is also referred to as the “hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). This helmet protects us against Satan’s missiles of discouragement and doubt.
    • The sword of the Spirit. Since the Word of God is the basis of our faith, we need to learn how to wield it with authority. Scripture is our best offensive weapon against the devil (Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 4:12).

    After he described the various elements of the armor, Paul said that we are to be in constant prayer. Prayer expresses our dependence on God. We can fight against Satan only “in the [strength of] the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). In the power of Christ and with the armor of the Spirit, we will be victors. Back To Article

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