The Thinking 

Tattoos and the Worship of Ugliness

July 18, 2017


A tattooed Tahitian

AMY writes:

I am a longtime blog reader and appreciate your unique website dearly. Your entries are always thoughtful and challenging, compelling me to ponder a multitude of important topics.

I was recently pursuing your archives on beauty after a rather shocking experience. I saw a facial tattoo in person for the very first time, and on a woman no less. Tattoos have always repulsed me but with their prevalence in our culture, they no longer shock me. This facial tattoo left me speechless and frankly I was thankful my young child was not present to witness this disturbing sight. It seems almost demonic to alter one’s face in such a way and I cannot begin to imagine what convince a person such a body modification is a good idea.

I’ve noticed body modifications of all kinds being more grotesque in recent years and am terribly disturbed to consider why these trends are happening. It seems to suggest a wicked bent in our culture, one wholly out of touch with all that is beautiful, good, and right. I loathe the idea that we must all accept such ugliness and pretend as if it’s a mere aesthetic choice and not indicative of something being very wrong.

What are your thoughts on the ever more disturbing tattoos and so-called “body modifications” that becoming frighteningly mainstream these days?

Laura writes:

Thank you for your appreciation.

Tattoos and body piercings are among the most obvious manifestations, along with extreme immodesty, of a return to tribalism and barbarity. We are surrounded by technological wizardry and Stone Age culture.

Tattoos have been around for thousands of years, but the more advanced cultures condemned them. The Romans and Greeks reserved tattooing primarily for criminals, slaves, and prisoners. The Hebrews followed an Old Testament prohibition against the practice.“You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh…or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:28).

Emperor Constantine, in the fourth century, and later Pope Hadrian I, in keeping with Christian reverence for the body, condemned the practice of tattooing and it fell out of use in Western society. After Hadrian’s condemnation in the eighth century, tattoos were not seen much until the nineteenth century, and then it mostly as a sign of group identification, especially for military men.

The technology has improved and tattoos have never been so easy to get. But that doesn’t fully explain why people get them. Nor does the fact that celebrities with their occult agendas push tattoos fully explain them. Externals reflect internals.

A young woman who sliced some bread I bought yesterday was wearing a nose ring. She seemed a nice, polite girl, but I wondered, was she afraid to seem ordinary? Why? Does she take some weird pleasure in shocking and repelling? How does that fit with her niceness? I have noticed that many people with tattoos or various body piercings/mutilations have a soft, almost wimpy quality. They have this shocking, aggressive, in-your-face body art and yet they are the sort of people who wouldn’t harm a flea. What’s going on?

People with tattoos and weird piercings often seem to want to advertise toughness. Women especially have been sold on the idea that they should be exciting and tough, that they should signal that they want sex and independence more than love (in fact men are motivated by subtle appeals for love and protection). Underneath tattoos, more often there is not wildness or non-conformism or toughness, but emptiness, conformism and uncertainty. Tattoos are a disguise. People who wouldn’t dare utter an opinion that is not sanctioned by their crowd are acting out independence in a superficial way. It makes sense. What else can you be in a world where objective truth has been almost totally destroyed, where economic insecurity prevails, but uncertain and empty or in love with thrills?

Hadrian condemned tattoos because the human body is a temple of the Holy Ghost. Fr. Peter Joseph wrote in “The Morality of Tattoos and Body Piercings:”

The human body is meant to be treated with care, not maltreated or disfigured. Its dignity and beauty must be kept and cultivated, in order that it be an expression of the deeper beauty of the soul.

He writes:

When one considers how, in concentration camps, prisoners were treated like animals and branded on their arm with a number, it is amazing to think that people today adopt similar markings as if they were fashionable or smart. This is truly the sign of a return to barbarity, the behavior of people who do not have any sense of the dignity of the human person.

Some people, including the writer Mack Major, say that tattoos are invitations to demonic influences. The prevalence of mental disorders among people who are tattooed supports his contention.

The human face is filled with interest — a window onto the soul. The face changes all the time, but the tattoo draws attention to the body. The tattoo is an inert, depersonalizing image, as dull as corporate logos and spray-painted graffiti on abandoned warehouses and urban bridges. I remember seeing graffiti on a building for the first time. There was a sense of being in a place where anything could happen. The graffiti expresses disdain for everyone who would have to look at these dreary images. It was such an anti-social thing. Tattoos are vandalism of a more serious kind. They sometimes represent a positive worship of ugliness, what Thomas Bertonneau calls “aschemiolatry:”

“[T]he vogue of tattoos and piercing has grossly uglified the public square.  It belongs to the wicked aschemiolatry of our time and should be resisted.”

He defines “aschemiolatry” as a worship of ugliness.

Tattoos are both conformist and anti-social. (Porn, with its worship for sex and the body, must be a factor in tattooing.) Here’s more from Dr. Bertonneau’s essay, “Tattoos and Being:”

The entire structure of modern society encourages people not to mature …, but to remain childish and impulsive and without a sense of inner being.  People who live without a sense of inner being can only take their cues from others, who are present on the scene.  Their idea of being is the childish one of attracting attention and, as teenagers say, being popular.  Such people, wanting to differentiate themselves from others, so as to become conspicuous and, as they see it, acquire being, will necessarily turn to externals.

A tattoo is an external gesture aimed at the acquisition of a sense of being based on differentiating oneself from other people, so as to call attention to the ego.  What is obvious to the educated third party and yet is imperceptible to the externally fixated ego is that the gesture is not differentiating at all.  On the contrary, it is a conformist gesture par excellence, which, far from designating any actual individuality, merely attests a kind of submergence in the tribe.  In a mediated society like ours, these processes are, quite naturally, thoroughly mediated.  If rap musicians get lots of attention, and if they appear to enjoy the being that the limited subject feels himself to lack, then the limited subject will imitate the rap musician; and where he is not even talented enough to rap, he will adopt his models external features, such as the tattoo and the invariable backwards baseball hat.

From a cultivated perspective, the epidemic of tattooing and scarification (rings and studs and pins) witnesses several facts about our society.  It is a thoroughly de-spiritualized and de-cultured society, whose educational system has been worse than bankrupt for decades.  It is filled with people whose mental life is that of a child or of a tribal person of a Late-Stone Age dispensation (except that the latter was a stage on the way to better things and the re-emergence of its patterns in a modern context is a catastrophe).  He might be as ignorant as a mule, but he remains human.  This means that he retains all of the destructive impulses that the millennial building-up of culture aimed at suppressing and channeling.  He is covetous, constantly humiliated by his conviction that other people posses the being that he feels himself to lack and that he wishes to acquire.  Living in a thoroughly mediated environment, he is saturated in every waking minute by manipulative messages that exploit his desperate sense of personal emptiness and non-being.

In short, have compassion and concern for the tattooed, but resist tattoos. Retain that intuitive aversion and preserve your own sanity from the satanic cult that surrounds you. Everything God loves, they hate and everything they hate, God loves.

— End of Initial Entry —

Laura writes:

An extended quote from the study on tattoos and personality disorders that I mentioned above is worth adding. Granted, this study was done in 1969. Tattoos were much, much less common and more typical of criminals. But the fact that tattoos have become more common does not mean that the underlying motivations are all that different:

If a person’s internal perception of society is such that he feels he must embellish his body with signs, symbols, or figures to reflect his internalized self-perceptions, these markings should be taken as indicators of some type of personality disorder. Regardless of whether they are attempts to disguise homosexuality, inferiority feelings, defiance of authority, or any of the numerous forms of personality disorders, the mark was put there for a very definite reason by the person having such a mark. Whether or not the type of mark which is present can be attributed to a specific personality disorder or criminal activity is immaterial; rather it is the appearance of the mark which is more important. It is not possible to say that a specific type of design is definitely related to a specific type of disorder since there is not enough evidence to back this assertion. Nevertheless, the preponderance of information does seem to bear out the assumption that persons with tattoos have, or did have, some type of personality disorder which was reflected in the embellishment of their bodies with a tattoo or a series of tattoos.

It makes sense that many more people today would have basic personality disorders than in 1969. Many more have come from troubled homes and have had their basic sense of purpose in life undermined. Male and female are the blueprint for society. The family is the basis for personality stability. For the “uneducated,” there is less economic security. And most importantly, people are left to figure out life with their own feelings.

Jane S. writes:

Employers could put a stop to the mainstreaming of excessive tattooing and other forms of disfiguration by refusing to hire anyone who has tattoos that can’t be covered up by clothing. This used to be standard hiring policy. Not anymore.

There’s a guy where I work who has matted dreadlocks clear down to his waist. The company could have said, “Want a job here? Cut your hair.” Clearly they did not.

Employers are the chief enforcers of societal decline today. Digital technology has given them the means to monitor their workforce in ways that would make Big Brother die of envy. At the same time, they do not enforce even minimum standards of grooming.

Do you suppose all those people with grotesque tattoos, piercings and hair that looks like a giant rat’s nest have jobs? Of course they do.

Laura writes:


I was shocked one day to go into Whole Foods and see an employee with full-arm tattoos and those big holes in his ears. It was nauseating. I lost the desire to buy food.

The Army allows tattoos too.

Jane S. writes:

This dovetails rather well with your post from July 13, The Plague of Big Retail. A corporate behemoth like Whole Foods can shove its sociopolitical agenda down your throat, in more ways than one.

George Weinbaum writes:

I agree with Fr. Peter Joseph.

In 1959 a husband, his wife and daughter moved across the street about 100 feet from my apartment building. I remember the husband and wife had seven figure numbers tattooed on each’s respective wrist. Ever since I saw that I have been repulsed by tattoos.

Joseph writes, “prisoners were treated like animals”. Precisely my point in 1959! Why would anyone of sound mind wear a mark which said in effect, “I am the property of Triple C Ranch”? In 1959 I watched Westerns on television and associated tattoos with farm animals.

Since 1959 I have viewed the wearing of tattoos as an attempt on the part of the wearer to turn himself into a farm animal, specifically a cow.

Fr. Joseph writes, “This is … the behavior of people who do not have any sense of the dignity of the human person”. Amen.

Jane S. writes:

I have yet to meet a person with a tattoo who didn’t say, 20 years later, that it was the biggest mistake they ever made.

Laura writes:

It’s an impulsive act most people regret. Tattoos look even worse on the elderly.

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