The phenomenon of tattooing and body piercing may be more than a fad and may actually be closer to religious ritual, though one that appeals to a wide range of believers and seekers.
Common Boundary (September/October), a magazine of spirituality and psychology, reports that “growing numbers of individuals are seeking spiritual experiences through embellishing their bodies.” Author Rufus Camphausen views the trend of body decoration, “along with changing sexual mores, the reemergence of goddess religions, rising interest in herbal healing, and the popularity of trance-inducing dance and music, as evidence of a return to our tribal beginnings.” At the recent convention of the Association of Professional Piercers in Las Vegas, a well-attended workshop taught that piercing serves as an initiation rite and is a transforming experience.
The leader of the workshop, Maureen Mercury, holds that the mainstreaming of body adornment is not a return to the tribal as much as a revival of paganism, which uses the body to connect with the divine. But tattooing is not just for pagans, as there is even a phenomenon of evangelical Christian young people practicing such body adornment. Many evangelical youth do not oppose the practice of marking one’s bodies with tattoos, even if they choose not to do it themselves, according to a study of students at one evangelical school presented at the November conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Montreal.
Researchers Lori Jensen, Richard Flory, and Donald E. Miller found that along with such tolerance, tattooing is viewed (and even encouraged) as an accepted form of religious expression among members of such “new paradigm” evangelical congregations as Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard Fellowship. Often such Christians mix secular and religious symbols, such as a dagger and portrait of Christ with a Bible verse. The new acceptance of tattoos among many young evangelicals may be a sign of growing “worldliness” and adaptation to the culture, or it could be a “symbol of identity and individuality, an extreme expression of an extreme faith . . . religious tattooing among young evangelical Christians embodies — literally — their beliefs in a new and radical way,” write Jensen, Flory and Miller.
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