Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Character: Is it something you HAVE or something you ARE?

Body modification is a subject that comes up from time to time in christian circles. Used to be that only crusty sailors, bikers and a thug sub-culture would get tattoos or radical piercings. Now the mainstream rushes to get their 'ink-therapy' or 'skin-art'. Even many church people, following, the pattern of this world, struggle with the ethics of it for a short season and then rush off to get there body modified.

Body modification is one of those topics that avoids a head-on, plain teaching from the scriptures. I believe a strong argument can be formed from two verses in 1 Corinthians. In verse 7:4 Paul reminds us,
For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

This verse makes it plain that our bodies are not our own but we must take into account how we present our bodies to our spouse, present or future.

Even more compelling and direct is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20,
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

It is my opinion that this verse may be applied to forming a rejection of the temptation to modify our bodies. Our bodies are not our own - we may not do as we please with them. I believe that deciding that we MAY do what we want with our bodies is a slap at our heavenly Father and his sovereignty over us. It's a vulgar declaration that we are little gods, child-kings who establish our own rules.

I'm not writing these things to try and make you feel uncomfortable about your tattoo or the steel through your tongue. In fact, I didn't really start this article to look at the morality of body modification. I want to turn our attention from the right or wrong of it to the WHY? Why do people do it and why has it gotten so popular?

Character is a fascinating word, for in defining the word we can arrive at two definitions nearly opposite in meaning. On the one hand 'character' can be defined as 'moral and ethical quality', 'good repute', 'qualities of honesty, courage and integrity', 'strength and originality'. Some have said that 'character' is who you are when you are alone in the dark. When there is no one to pretend or act for, who are you?

On the other hand, 'character' can be defined as 'a part played by an actor' or 'an odd, eccentric or amusing person'. A 'character actor' is 'an actor who specializes in playing unusual people rather than leading roles.' (Compact Oxford English Dictionary) So one definition is the essence of true being and the other is the practice of fakery.

Character, as in the qualities of virtue, used to be taught in schools. It was exalted in books and stories. It was expounded from the pulpits and encouraged in communities. Then there seemed to be an assault on the means of spreading these messages. The Bible was thrown from the schools, the Ten Commandments were no longer welcome in the public square. Virtues have been replaced by the anti-virtues screamed in popular fiction, television, music and movies. There is no longer a premium put on such attributes as respect, honor, manliness or femininity. Where character was once the foundation of the individual who contributed decency to the community there is now a vacuum. We once could go to our beds at night with the satisfaction that we had purpose and dignity.

Now we have stripped our young people of the virtues that form a foundation. The result is an entire generation who are looking to have character but finding no source they are forced to CREATE character. So we watch our young people become actors, eccentric, odd - specializing in playing unusual people. They trick out their cars, they wear long bright chains and jewelry, they color their hair, they tattoo their skin, they pierce the most unconventional places in their flesh, they invent new words, they use the most vulgar expressions and they don't care who hears them. Why? Because they lack character? Yes, of course but in the lack for character they are creating a character. They will have character. If we don't create a culture where they can learn true, inner character, then they will create a character of their own. To them, an obnoxious, self-absorbed, self-destructive, iconoclastic character is better than no character at all. If our culture continues to fail in planting seeds of character then society will certainly continue to reap what it has sown.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Bob. This was most beneficial to me. I thought I was ready to get a tattoo but I've now changed my mind. ~jbergsing (PB)

Bob Vigneault said...

Thank you so much for visiting my blog John and thank you for your encouraging words. You are a man after God's own heart; may He richly bless you.

gluttonybattle said...

Bob, as far as preserving the body for the spouse, I would never consider getting a tattoo without Matt's approval. He doesn't mind and in fact he is encouraging me to get the tattoo.

As far as the reasons for me getting a tattoo, they are:

(1) For the possible benefit of other Christians. I hope that the presence of a tattoo-bearing Christian in their midst who has a tattoo will force them to deal with someone that looks different than them. Now, I don't expect that my having a tattoo will ever bring about a change in their heart from xenophobia to acceptance. That is up to God. I simply wish to bring diversity to the unity of the Body of Christ and bring an opportunity for those who are only used to respectable white people to be around and love someone different than them.

(2) For the benefit of unbelievers. When they see the tattoo, they will ask what those funny looking letters mean, and I can tell them it's what Jesus said and inject the gospel so they can hopefully be saved.

As you have probably noticed, I have given this some thought. In fact, this decision has been years in the making. You also noticed that one of my reasons was not simply for selfish art to show off on my body. It's also not to just fit in or look cool.

As far as the 1 Cor 6 passage, I have mediated on that one in the past and I'm convinced that the way you are using it is not how it's supposed to be applied.

And the argument about character, I feel like it's your own personal conjecture and though you may be right you'll have to do more to convince me that it's a true diagnosis of why young people are getting tattoos.

This whole thing has further solidified my hatred for online communication, especially facebook, that has been brewing over the past several months. I have been learning that it is not helpful at all to post something that every one of your friends will see, because it is rare that there is something to be said that is appropriate for everyone you know to hear. So from now on I am having my husband change my facebook password and I will keep it open for people who contact me about important appointments.

I appreciate your concern even though I don't expect us to see eye to eye on this issue, since your generation thinks tattoos are ugly and mine thinks they enhance beauty- it's all a matter of opinion, since we're all going to blink and be in the new heavens and new earth very soon here.

Josh H. said...

Good thoughts, Dear Brother! I remember reading this years ago, but never commented. Here are a few sermons my pastor preached in this regard which I found to be helpful: