Five thousand years ago, Egyptians used tattoos as a means of marking their bodies to show dedication to a god, or to encourage protection. Despite its religious origin and focus on allegiance to a higher being, society and religions today have differing views on if body art is considered a sin.
That varying degree is found immediately within Christianity, which takes up the world’s highest percentage of the population at 33 percent.
Different forms of Christianity have offered differing views on tattoos are believed to be a sin or not. Jehovah’s Witnesses point to Leviticus, a chapter in the Bible that says a person “must not make tattoo markings”on themselves.
Evelyn Smith, a longtime Jehovah’s Witness, cited the Bible’s counsel in that chapter as a key reason to avoid them, as well as the perception that it gives within the everyday work setting.
“Whenever I’ve seen young people with them I’ve often wondered how will they feel when they are much older, and their bodies aren’t as firm and tone,” Smith said. “Another concern is the impression that others will have of you especially in a professional setting. it doesn’t appear to add character to an individual.”
Smith also discussed an experience she had with a Polynesian tribe in New Zealand called the Maori. Because their country was invaded by Europeans, the Maori were forced to use tattoos and dances as a necessity toward keeping their culture alive
“They came in and did their native dance in their native dress. It was quite impressive. They were very friendly and open about their history,” Smith said. “They were able to hold on to their customs and so were able to keep their identity and sense of self worth.”
Interpretations of the Leviticus verse in the Bible vary from religion to religion. In the Torah, a book for spiritual guidance in Judaism, it is more clear-cut in their condoning of tattoos. In that same Leviticus chapter, the Torah clearly states that one “shall not make gashes in their flesh.”
In other religions such as Hinduism and Neopagan, tattoos are acceptable. In spite of its mix in viewpoints, religions such as Christianity remain one of the religions without a definitive answer throughout.
Other forms of Christianity among that 33 percent do not have a negative viewpoint on tattoos. Dana Rue, a Webster University student and Christian, has two tattoos that symbolize her grandmother. Rue said that religion was not an impact in her decision to get a tattoo.
Rue said she has a butterfly with a breast cancer ribbon in memory of my grandmother who died of breast cancer and a dream catcher tattoo. She said her tattoos were not based on religion.
“I am definitely a religious person but that had nothing to do with the tattoos I have,” Rue said.
Today, there are roughly 4,200 different religions, and a different view for each religion. In Judaism, for example, tattoos are used for self-wounding. With the belief that their God owns their bodies, this is viewed as a sin.
In a 2017 study done by Advance Dermatology that surveyed 600 people with tattoo regret, 29 percent of people said that their tattoos had significant meaning. On that list, tribal tattoos ranked the number one most common, and crosses ranked as the sixth.
The differing viewpoint of tattoos is also found within atheists, those who do not believe in any form of God. Mike Thomas, who describes himself as non-religious, said that while he would not want tattoos, he saw it as no problem for others to have one.
Thomas spent time as both a Christian and as a neutral viewer on religion. Through that change, he said doubts about Christian viewpoints led him to change his mindset.
“When I was growing up, I used to go to church every Sunday with my grandparents,” Thomas said. “ Back then, I considered myself a Christian but still had many questions and doubts. As an adult my immediate family and I have moved away from religion.”