It is not often that we borrow from the secular literature in an editorial. Yet a fascinating article which appeared in the British medical journal, Lancet, is worthy of mention. It is written by a German secular physician, Aglaja Stirn, and is entitled, “Body Piercing: medical consequences and psychological motivation.”
This editorial is not concerned with the medical consequences, but is concerned with the motivations and spiritual consequences.
Body piercing has become increasingly common and popular in Western countries. Not only has it spread across all ages and genders, but now involves virtually every body part. Body piercing is practiced by virtually every society in the world. It is motivated by either a quest for beauty, a need for tribal “belonging,” or as a rite of passage.
The author of the article points to two great motivations in the history of body piercing: religious idolatry and counter-culture movements. In cultures where animistic religions prevail, the ability to withstand pain through the ordeal of piercing is viewed as a mark of religious distinction. In a detailed chart in the article by Stirn, there is documentation of the links between various practices of body piercing and the gods and idols, the religious traditions and fertility rites with which they were linked.
But body piercing came to Western societies as a visible symbol of a counter culture. Subcultures bought into the style quickly and various alternate life style groups quickly became identified by their symbolic piercings. But what is fringe in one generation can quickly become mainstream in the next. It usually moves from the splinter groups to entertainers and then to your neighbor next door. As a result, we are faced today with an entire culture marked by a piercing mania.
Earrings, rings, jewelry embedded in tongues and other sights have rapidly proliferated. A related industry, the tattoo industry, has become one of the fastest growing businesses in the USA.
Is it enough to point out that body piercing has its roots in animistic and idolatrous cultures, and has invaded the West via counter culture-movements? Is that sufficient to warn believers of the danger of conforming to a world which has turned its bodies into semi-gods to be adorned and worshiped, beautified and primped (Rom 12:1,2)?
It may be enough for some, but it will not suffice for all. Are other principles involved?
The Word of God makes it clear that our bodies belong to the Lord (1 Cor 6:19). No believer can honestly say, “My body is my own. I can do with it what I please.” What we do with our bodies, what goes into them, how we use them, and how we care for them, are all responsibilities to be carried out in light of the great truth that our bodies have been redeemed. That redemption includes a redemption from the practices of the world. It embraces a release from the bondage of self-love and self-worship which marks our Western society and which is partly expressed in the adorning of the body.
Are believers to be marked by slovenly appearance and dress? To be characterized by out-of-date clothes and unbecoming attire? No, the grace of God elevates a person. 1 Timothy 2 gives guidelines as to dress for women but the same principles apply to men. Dress should not: entice lust, excite covetousness, encourage attention, erase gender distinctions, emphasize the outward, or emulate the world.