Wednesday, August 9, 2006

The Needle and the Damage Done

Of the comments on yesterday's post "Their Bodies, Their Selves" (currently numbering 86), several take issue with my conclusion: "I believe the devil is always happy when people deface their bodies, because they are defacing the image of God." I'd like to address a few of them, and related issues, here:

  • One commenter notes that "Satan in the Divine Comedy is miserable." While Dante isn't canonical, I agree that the devil is never truly joyous. Rather, he gloats. So, "happy" is indeed too strong a word.

  • Committing any action that causes the devil to gloat is not, in and of itself, reason to damn one to hell. That's why I thank God for His forgiveness; I need it every day. The fact that I express my personal beliefs on tattoos and other practices does not, cannot, mean that I condemn those who take part in such practices as more sinful than myself. I do not know anyone's else's heart.

    I think what's most sensitive about this issue is the fact that tattoos are visible, whereas other sins are not. It's true that I might see a tattoo on a woman and think that, at some point in her life, she did one bad thing to her body. She, on the other hand, could look at me and be unaware of thousands upon thousands of bad things that I've done to my mind, body, and spirit. Even so, that does not take away my right to share my perspective on a practice that I believe is morally harmful.

    What most concerns me about tattooing is that it is the kind of sin against one's own body that is addictive, so that it can cause one to further separate oneself from the capital-B Body over time. (A commenter who was favorable about tattoos noted their addictive quality, which I've witnessed in those who have received such marks.)

    The existence of God's forgiveness can't help one who is so separated from God that he or she does not wish to be forgiven. That, in my view, is the greatest danger to oneself posed by habitual sin, which includes the mutilation of the body — and yes, I would say, addiction to plastic surgery or the acquisition of multiple piercings. The actions do not necessarily cause significant moral damage in and of themselves (I say this as one who has pierced ears and does not particularly wish to let the holes fill in), but they may lead to the continued desire to deface oneself.

  • And why is self-mutilation, which includes tattoos and piercings, sinful? Because man was made in God's image — which is why God commanded us not to kill (Genesis 9:6). That this teaching is to be taken literally has been stated by Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish theologians over the centuries. Here are two examples, first from the Vatican's International Theological Commission wrote in "Communion and Stewardship:
    Human Persons Created in the Image of God,"
    which was approved for publication by the commission's president, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger:
    29. The central dogmas of the Christian faith imply that the body is an intrinsic part of the human person and thus participates in his being created in the image of God. The Christian doctrine of creation utterly excludes a metaphysical or cosmic dualism since it teaches that everything in the universe, spiritual and material, was created by God and thus stems from the perfect Good. Within the framework of the doctrine of the incarnation, the body also appears as an intrinsic part of the person. The Gospel of John affirms that "the Word became flesh (sarx)," in order to stress, against Docetism, that Jesus had a real physical body and not a phantom-body. Furthermore, Jesus redeems us through every act he performs in his body. His Body which is given up for us and His Blood which is poured out for us mean the gift of his Person for our salvation. Christ's work of redemption is carried on in the Church, his mystical body, and is made visible and tangible through the sacraments. The effects of the sacraments, though in themselves primarily spiritual, are accomplished by means of perceptible material signs, which can only be received in and through the body. This shows that not only man's mind but also his body is redeemed. The body becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. Finally, that the body belongs essentially to the human person is inherent to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body at the end of time, which implies that man exists in eternity as a complete physical and spiritual person.
    And John Calvin, from "The Sixth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Kill":
    40. Scripture notes a twofold equity on which this commandment is founded. Man is both the image of God and our flesh. Wherefore, if we would not violate the image of God, we must hold the person of man sacred—if we would not divest ourselves of humanity we must cherish our own flesh. The practical inference to be drawn from the redemption and gift of Christ will be elsewhere considered. The Lord has been pleased to direct our attention to these two natural considerations as inducements to watch over our neighbour's preservation—viz. to revere the divine image impressed upon him, and embrace our own flesh. To be clear of the crime of murder, it is not enough to refrain from shedding man's blood. If in act you perpetrate, if in endeavour you plot, if in wish and design you conceive what is adverse to another's safety, you have the guilt of murder. On the other hand, if you do not according to your means and opportunity study to defend his safety, by that inhumanity you violate the law. But if the safety of the body is so carefully provided for, we may hence infer how much care and exertion is due to the safety of the soul, which is of immeasurably higher value in the sight of God.