Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Land of Absurdity

While I was walking near Market St. in San Francisco last month after the special liturgy at the shrine, I passed a hotel which was hosting a wedding or wedding reception - the wedding party was on the steps having photos taken and such. I don't think there was a single woman in the bridal party who was without a tattoo. Did the bride herself have one? What sort of man is willing to marry a tattooed woman? (That is to say, couldn't he do any better?)

Men who tolerate the ridiculous instead of having what it takes to stand up to and resist such trends, not rewarding women for poor behavior...

Just today at 5G (yeah, I really need to quit that place) I saw a female patron with a rather large tattoo on her back, near her shoulder.

Tattoos are correlated with being low-class or having an underdeveloped character, women who make poor choices and have no foresight or consideration about their future. Or they are rather vain and project what makes the bad boys attractive unto themselves, hoping to attract those bad boys. Is the traditional stricture against tattoos needed for the young, impressionable, and/or stupid women [and men]?

One American Catholic apologistt has said tattoos are morally permissible, but I have to disagree with his argumentation. The body is not a canvas, and our body is not our property, as if we could do whatever we want with them. We do not have absolute ownership or sovereignty over our bodies. That apologist says it is no different from the application from make-up, but make-up is not permanent, even if it is vain, and make-up serves to mimic certain physical attributes which are enhance physical/sexual attraction. Is the same true about tattoos? I do not think so. War paint or tribal markings made with paint (clown make-up?) would be more comparable. (I do think such being temporary can make for a significant moral difference - such are not intended to be permanent changes to the appearance of the body, but temporary, and whether it is done as an aesthetic enhancement or for another purpose. Cosmetic make-up alters the appearance to enhance beauty/attractiveness, clown make-up to alter the appearance for the sake of creating a different persona for entertainment, war paint for a religious purpose, or to identify one's self as a member of a tribe, or to create a fierce appearance to frighten the enemy.)

An opinion offered by a Catholic deacon.

Tattoos can be decorative, they can also be a means of making a statement or marking one's identity, among other uses (commemoration, and so on). Tattoos can signify what is important to us, and a means of idolatry, indicating what is most important for us, if not our own vanity. What, then, of "religious" tattoos, an image of the rosary or Our Lady of Guadalupe or of the crucifix? We are "marked" with an "indelible" spiritual mark through baptism - God knows who belongs to Him. He doesn't need a reminder. But is it licit for us to use such a reminder for ourselves? It may seem a bit presumptuous to do so. (It certainly would not be a sufficient motive for abstaining from sin, apart from grace.)

Are tattoos a form of deliberate disfigurement, even if they are aesthetically pleasing to some? What if tattoos "objectively" harm or destroy the beauty of the human body (which is willed by God)? Is there an objective standard of physical beauty, apart from what is tied to sexual attraction? It would seem that the ancient Greeks and Romans did not approve of the practice as a way of improving physical beauty but to mark criminals and such. It was even banned by Constantine and Pope Hadrian I? (It would seem that tattos for men do not make them more physically attractive, but it's the association with certain character traits or assertiveness or rebelliousness that makes the tattooed man attractive to some women.) Perhaps we who should follow culturally in the footsteps of the Greeks and Romans (rather than the barbarian tribes) should pay heed to their standards of beauty? Is there anything wrong with the Greek ideal?

Is it the case that tattoos should be prohibited because they diminish from the perfection that we should strive to preserve in the human form, according to which standard vanity would be not the desire to preserve the standard, but to do so in a way that is counter to reason? We may find that it does not take much effort to do so? Fighting against the effects of aging may be prohibited because they are futile and/or costly - but it is not wrong to do what we can to stay fit and in "shape" and follow a healthy diet and lifestyle. (Beauty as a sign and consequence of health.)

The moral object that pertains to tattooing may differ in accordance with the aim - it's not just the physical act of permanently dyeing the skin, but the purpose that it fulfills - whether it be for adornment or beauty, or solely for identification or for commemoration (or for some other purpose). (It may be very unlikely that someone would do it solely for the latter reasons, without some aim at beauty with them. It does not seem realistic with respect to human psychology - to do such a thing even though one considers it ugly, even if the meaning of the act, and not the image itself, is what makes it beautiful.) The argument against tattooing on the basis of beauty would apply to the first reason (there being a "contradiction" of sorts) while the argument on the basis of using the body not being suitable matter would be more applicable for addressing the other two purposes. (Tattooing being against the "dignity" of the human body, so to speak.)

At the very least, on the grounds of prudence, a prohibition against tattoos should be given to women seeking quality men. (Men suffer less from having tattoos when it comes to attracting women - it may even enhance their attractiveness among women, though it may be detrimental to their employment prospects in certain professions or work environments.)

That we as a "society" no longer understand why we should not get a tattoo does not mean that such a prohibition is not of the natural law - we may be culturally conditioned to be unable to grasp it.

What about the Copts who have a small cross tattooed on their wrist as a sign of identity and as protection against kidnapping and forced conversion by Muslims?

Actual branding for the purpose of identifying one's self as a Christian was employed in a previous age:

One should note the contrast between the martyrdom of the early Church (and the conversion of the Roman Empire) and the suffering of Christians in Muslim territory, under a power that is truly hostile to Christianity. Why has the suffering of Christians in occupied lands been insufficient to lead to conversion of Muslims?

Maybe it is still a sin, but a minor or venial one? (Which might be the case any way for "innocuous" tattoos.)

["civilized" versus "barbarians"]

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