It's time for a pop quiz. What do a person's tattoos and their religion have in common? They both are an important part of the person's life, and they both reside inside them. Awkward jokes and tenuous comparisons aside, religion and tattoos intersect more frequently than you may realize. In fact, older non-Western cultures often incorporated tattooing as an integral part of their religious practices, and have for centuries.
More recently, however, tattooing and religion have found themselves intersecting in new and less anticipated ways. One such way that has been gaining traction recently is the expression of religious beliefs through the practice of tattooing religious iconography, symbols and in some cases, even scripture onto the devout. This is a trend that has, surprisingly, grown in popularity in the American "Bible Belt," the region of the country known for its high concentration of strict Christian practitioners. This rise in tattoo prevalence has caught the attention of the tattoo community, and many are curious to see if the practice continues, or if religious tattoo recipients tend to be more prone to experiencing tattoo regret.
A matter of faith
In recent years, many religious adherents are bucking the body art-aversion shared by their older generational compatriots. In fact, many younger religious Americans have been exploring tattoos as a means of more deeply and personally expressing their faith. The appeal of faith-inspired tattoos stems from the near-permanence of the medium. Regardless of what the tattoo recipient endures in daily life, the tattoo will remain, and that can serve for some as a morale booster or a constant reminder of their faith from which they derive motivation in times of strife.
Interestingly, those who go under the needle as a means to express their religion seem to be by and large free from much of the tattoo regret that plagues many capricious youths.
"Sometimes you see the future of a tattoo someone gets when they're 17," Athens-area tattoo artist Ron Hendon told the Athens Banner-Herald. "You know it won't mean the same thing when they're 80. I've covered a lot of tattoos with other things, but I can't remember a time I've covered a faith tattoo."
And it's not just young practitioners who are jumping into the tattoo chair – according to the Christian Post, tattooists from some areas of the country have inked priests and pastors looking for a more modern and youthful way to express their faith.
Practicing Christian, practicing tattooist
Not all church-goers are content to merely be on the receiving end of the tattoo needle – some of them are taking the practice of their faith to new levels by administering tattoos themselves. Patheos reported that one Catholic school teacher is a practicing tattoo artist on weekends, and has spent the past five years in co-ownership of a shop with her husband, where she inks her clientele – many of whom are being tattooed for religious reasons.
This is not to say that the religious community as a whole has come to embrace the practice of tattooing with open arms. For many, especially in the older demographics, receiving tattoos – let alone giving them – is a practice that is largely frowned upon. Even those whose motivations are aligned properly may find the dissonance between their body art and the popular opinion of their faith community to be a source of tattoo regret.
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