Monday, September 04, 2006

Tattoos, Earrings, and Kilts, Oh My!

I want to return briefly to the matter of the biblical stance on tattoos and earrings and the like. The Old Testament speaks of the importance of men not looking like women, which I fully support. However, to take from this precept that there is one monolithic ideal of manhood is to make what is called in theological terms a "stretch." The Old Testament does not prescribe such an ideal. Rather, it gives us a principle by which to live by. It gives us a grounding and then, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, we gain Spirit-guided freedom by which to live out this principle. We don't dress and look like the Old Testament writers, and we don't dress and look like New Testament writers. Furthermore, we nowhere find a once-for-all dress code in the Bible. To suggest otherwise is to commit legalism.

That does not mean, however, that in our respective cultures we may not find it wise to adhere to certain dress codes and patterns of clothing. That is surely a good idea. I'm not advocating some sort of total freedom where we wear whatever we want to. Rather, I am suggesting that the best principle we can come up with is that of cultural adaptation: we generally (an important qualifier) clothe ourselves according to the customs of our culture. So in America, that means we men don't wear dresses. We wear pants. In Scotland, however, we might well wear a kilt on certain days. Neither code of dress is right. Neither code of dress is wrong. Both are culturally determined. It is wise to wear each country's code in said country, and it is wise not to wear one country's code in the other. Cultural adaptation.

With the above argument, I think it's pretty clear that there is no monolithic ideal of dress. Far be it from me to go to Scotland and tell the hardy men there, many of whom could crush me with a glance, that they are "feminized." And far be it from them to tell me that I'm feminized because I wear pants. And far be it from me to tell an Indian that his manner of dress, with what looks alot like a dress to me, is wrong. I have no--utterly no--biblical basis by which to make that statement. There is freedom in dress, then. There is not one certain style of dress that is most masculine. We learn from our cultures what the norms are, and we adapt ourselves to those norms, though we are also free to freelance a bit. Do you want to shave your head? Fine. Do you want to pierce your ear? Fine. Do you want to wear baggy pants? Fine. There is plenty of room here. Too often in the Christian life and community, we busy ourselves with legislating gray areas and constructing advice that hits as hard as law. Far better for us to emphasize conformity where it is actually required and to allow diversity where it is possible. We then preserve both unity and diversity. That's a pretty good way to go about things, I think. I mean, it works pretty well for the Trinity.

3 Comments:

Blogger Dad said...

To clarify, I am in full agreement that, as Paul writes, when we go to another culture, even here in our country, it is expediant to adopt the culture. To not to do so is to fall short by putting an obstacle in the way of the Gospel.

However, to say 'fine' to what we want to wear, put in our body etc. I find this to be the point I would raise the question on, and tried to in the previous post on this issue. Without trying at all to defend my culture, for all cultures are infected with sin, and expresses that do arise from sin, or sinful expressions. I get the sense that your statements are crossing the line between ministering to people and expressing oneself with freedom. Again I would agree, freedom in the Lord, or I think you mention Holy Spirit. Agreed! But not freedom for self to dress, wear, put on or in, etc. any thing I want. And freedom in the Lord means that I will express love and honor for all around me. I will not offend, just for the sake of expressing myself, because I am first of all a servant of the Lord. A wife/husband is to please the other, and the Lord. A child the parents, etc.

On the other hand I agree, as Christ also seemed to do at times, that adherance to sinful positions/costumes needs to be address, even publically. Yes, our legalism too.

Anyway, I won't say any more on this topic.

Al

4:07 AM  
Blogger Jed said...

Owen,
If I remember my OT Law correctly, there is a specific law against wearing tattoos, not a general principle of men looking like women. I would really be interested in knowing whether you think that law still applies to us and if not, why not. Perhaps you could send me an email sometime so as to not subject your other readers to overkill.

Second you do raise a very important question and one of the trickiest aspects of Biblical interpretation: Paul does give us a biblical principle that men are not to dress like women. Indeed, he argues that it is unnatural for a women to cut her hair or for men to grow their hair long and he bases both of these assertions on "nature". Now I don't want to read too much into this, but Paul was probably acquainted with the connotations that nature (physis) and custom (nomos) had in the Hellenstic world (he debated after all with Stoics, Epicureans). So it would seem to me that when Paul says that dress should be based on physis he is making an elliptical statement implying that it is not to be based on nomos, i.e. custom (at least not completely). This statement would seem to indicate that the dress of some cultures would be more correct than others, or at least Paul thinks so.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was reading Deuteronomy last night and there is, indeed, a specific law against men dressing like women. But there is also a law against tattoos, so my question still stands.

4:05 AM  

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