When you think of the quintessential religious adherent, chances are there's a very specific picture that comes to mind – and it likely doesn't include a person who is heavily tattooed. This is particularly true in the U.S., where religion is widely associated with family values and conservatism, and tattooing is, in contrast, still often viewed as associated with subcultures and fringe elements of society.
Though you may be surprised to learn that while tenuous, the relationship between tattooing and religion isn't as dichotomous as you'd originally think. While in the West there's still a fair bit of friction between the religiously devout and the illustrated, the tension between the two is starting to slacken – and religions in other parts of the world have actually been embracing the process of body art for years.
Tattooing and religion – more gray area than you'd think
Many more conservative religious adherents in the U.S. take a strictly anti-tattoo stance, but there is evidence within even religious communities that indicates that this may not be the letter of the law. The Christian Post noted an oft-cited Bible verse coming from the Old Testament book of Leviticus, which provides the foundation for many conservative readings of tattoo doctrine. The verse in question forbids people from making "cuts" or "tattoos" on the body as part of a mandate from God. However, like most things ecumenical, more recent scholars have taken a more broadly interpretive view of scripture. The source indicated that, just as the golden rule stated, what's really important from a religious perspective is what's inside, rather than what's on the outside.
There are those theologians who have taken the investigation a step further, even. As part of AL.com's Bama Inked project, the new source highlighted some lesser known opinions that indicate that not only is Christian doctrine not anti-tattoo, but it actually supports it. Making reference to the popular Bible story of Cain and Abel, the source cited a passage in which Cain was "marked" by God after his murderous act – a passage that some have interpreted as a type of deified tattooing.
Tattoos across other cultures and religions
Of course, the relationship between Christianity and tattooing represents only one facet of the interplay between religion and body art. Especially among many Eastern religions, tattooing is not only permitted, it's celebrated. Tattoo style blog Tat2X Blog highlighted many of the world's more popular religions, and showed how many that are based primarily outside the U.S. are more accepting of body art. While the three Semitic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – tend to be more conservative when it comes to inking practitioners, the source noted that Hindu is actually the source of many now-common tattoo designs. One such symbol cited by the source is the "Om" symbol, commonly used to represent meditation and harmony. Similarly, it was reported that it used to be common practice for Hindu women to tattoo the name of their husbands onto their forearms.
Along the same lines, Buddhism has a much more relaxed attitude toward tattooing than do other religions. Largely because of the Buddhist belief that the body is itself impermanent and temporary, tattoos are similarly seen as temporary and, in the larger scheme of things, insignificant.
Of course, just because tattooing is permitted by some religions doesn't mean that people have carte blanche when it comes to their choice of ink. Hinduism, specifically, is wary of tattoo designs that may be seen as disrespectful to any of its major or minor deities. And when it comes to cosmic tattoo regret – religious symbolism is certainly one area you'd want to avoid bad tattoos.
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