Biblical Body Hacking?

Okay, here’s a controversial subject that I actually am not bringing up for the purpose of stirring up controversy. I’m honestly curious to hear different people’s differing ideas on this (the more thought-out and biblically-based the better). I’d like to avoid debate — so as an exercise, how about if we all just present our positions, and then politely ask questions about each other’s ideas?

The subject: body modifications. I.e. tattoos (of all degrees and locations), piercings (and gauges), aesthetic surgery (whether tweaking a feature already present, like a nose job, or changing physiology, like elf ears or tongue bifurcation), functional hacks (like implanting piezoelectric metal slivers in your fingertips so you can feel electromagnetic fields, and so on), scarification (flensing, branding, etc.), and all the rest.

For myself, I categorize the above list (and all other technological enhancements to life in general, actually) under three headings.

First: Cosmetics. These do not change function or form, but merely display artistic license in a creative fashion. I do not distinguish morally between permanent and non-permanent, or integrated and non-integrated cosmetic enhancement (thus: makeup and tattooing are equivalents).

Second: Prosthetics. These are a correction of function back to a natural order. Eyeglasses and laser surgery are both prosthetic enhancements using technology to enhance biological performance in order to overcome a biological limitation. A pacemaker, a wooden limb, a mechanized endoskeleton…. all the same thing basically. Putting someone’s face back together again after an injury would fall under this category.

Third: Augmetics. These are an addition of function past the natural order. In the exact same fashion as prosthetics, augmetics are enhancements using technology to enhance biological performance to overcome a biological limitation. The lever is a simple example. So is a wheel, a car, an airplane, binoculars, a sword, a pencil, a calculator…. pretty much most technology over the millenia has been augmetic in nature. In keeping with the pattern for the previous two categories, I do not see philosophical, logical, or biblical reason to state that external, non-integrated technology is fundamentally or morally different from biologically-integrated technology. If correcting eyesight to normal vision levels via surgery is okay, and it is also okay to use binoculars to see farther than normal, then it should also be okay to use surgery to augment your eyesight to see better than normal. Carrying the extension, it should therefore also be okay to add functionality in similar fashion (e.g. we can’t fly naturally, and so we build planes to add that functionality). Ergo, piezoelectric fingertips should be kosher.

It should be obvious from this that I clearly do not believe Leviticus 19:28 applies to these kinds of modifications. I do believe that it is likely to be a law which is not ceremonial and is not distinctly a part of the old covenant, and therefore is likely to be applicable today. But I do not believe that it is a blanket condemnation against all modifications. It appears to be specifically referring to not making marks on your body “for the dead” (as a part of a pagan funeral ritual presumably). It is clear to me that this is not defining marking one’s body as a pagan practice inherently, because elsewhere in Torah God instructs Israel to pierce the ear of a bondservant as a mark of his servitude. God does not contradict Himself, and so these two laws cannot be in conflict. Ergo, piercing in and of itself is not a violation of Leviticus 19:28. It is the reason and the purpose behind the piercing that is in question.

Like with all technological use, or adornments. We should dress appropriately and as Christians, and not avoid clothing simply because pagans wear clothing in wrong ways. I would posit that the same goes for body modifications.
Signed - Jaymes Lauser, Whythawye

  • Zoe Scrivener

    I don’t see any issue with prosthetics, and I don’t think I see an issue with augmetics. In regards to augmetics, God gave us technology as a gift, and therefore He expects us to use it, advance it, and be good stewards of it.

    However, I do take issue with some forms of cosmetics, specifically tattoos (surprise). And just to be clear up front, yes I wear earrings and makeup. 🙂 So how do I distinguish between makeup, which I believe is okay, and tattoos, which I believe are not? Makeup, when done correctly, is an enhancement of the way God has designed a woman’s face. When well-chosen, the colours of eyeshadow, for example, highlight the colour God has already painted her eyes. Makeup therefore draws attention to and augments the woman’s created beauty. Tattoos, however, do not augment the body. The majority of tattoos are no better than the art of a skilled graffiti-ist. It’s not necessarily the fault of the tattoo-artist….skin was never designed as a canvas. Even Monet’s “Waterlilies” could be tattooed on a person, and it would not have the beauty of the canvas original. It’s just the nature of skin. Furthermore, tattoos draw attention away from the face, where it should be, to the arm, calf, foot, or wherever.

    Paul makes it clear that a believer’s body is the temple of God, as the Holy Spirit indwells us. If someone tagged a church building with graffiti, no matter how artistically beautiful that graffiti was, the members would be extremely upset. We should care for our bodies with the same (or more) care and jealousy with which we care for the outside of our churches. The church building merely accommodates the gatherings of the Body of Christ. Man is indwelt by the very Spirit of God.

    Finally, tattoos have still not freed themselves in our society from being linked to rebellion. Many employers require their employees to cover up their tattoos while at work–even in manual labour jobs. As Christians who are trying to avoid even the appearance of evil, then, it seems wiser to stay away from tattoos because of this connotation.

    Would I get a tattoo? No. Yet neither would I look down on someone who chose to do so. It’s a fifth-level theological issue. 🙂

    Having said this, I love the idea in some fantasy books of marriage tattoos rather than wedding rings. I then have to ask myself if this is a contradiction, but I don’t believe it is. First of all, fantasy worlds do not hold the negative connotations for tattoos which our world does. They are completely normal in those societies. Second, I love the symbolism of marriage tattoos. Tattoos are permanent, unlike wedding rings, which can be taken on and off (unless you never take them off and then gain weight….). They therefore become a beautiful picture of the absolute permanence of marriage. And as a normal thing in their society, they wouldn’t draw attention away from the face, just like wedding rings don’t draw attention after they have lost their novelty.

    • Jaymes Lauser

      Huzzah! You are the first person to leave an actual comment on my new blog!! * bows and applauds non-spammer * 😀

      I love the perspective you take on this. Seriously. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone approach it in quite this way, before.

      And yes, once you get past the question of whether or not Lev. 19:28 is applicable, it becomes a fifth tier issue. That question itself is third tier, though, which is a great example of how different issues can fall into multiple categories depending upon how they are approached and what is believed about them.

      The matter of graffiti being used as an example intrigues me. I personally find graffiti to not be an inferior form of art at all. It can be done well or poorly, tastefully or distastefully, like any other art form. It can also be done respectfully or disrespectfully — vandalism is not inherent or innate to the art form. The issue is violation of property rights, which is where the stigma comes in. And that has no application to our own bodies (yes, our bodies are God’s property, but we are stewards of our bodies, and so we have right of possession to decide how to adorn or train or modify, in keeping with His wishes). The assertion that skin is not made to be a canvas is also interesting to me…. does that apply as well to non-permanent tattoo-like art? You mentioned makeup used to highlight features already there, like eyeshadow, but what about more advanced cosmetics like drawing or attaching flowers to the corners of one’s eyes and suchlike? Which category does that fall into?

      (And yes, if someone tagged a church building without permission, that would be upsetting, but if the members paid an artist to paint a mural, it wouldn’t be. Just sayin’. 😉 Haha.)

      The connotation with rebellion is a good topic to bring up as well. I agree that there is still that linguistic connotation there, but it has also become unspecific. As in, people don’t assume what you are rebelling against (unless you are a hyper-conservative who just immediately assumes you are rebelling against God and worshiping Satan, but they do that if you listen to drums, too). The cultural implication of tattoos nowadays is a rebellion against normativity and a stand for self-expression. Which is highly encouraged, not only in secular society, but also in Christianity (peculiar people and all that). That’s what the Rebelution is all about, after all. People are more likely to look at the content of a tattoo and judge you based on that, rather than on the presence of the tattoo in the first place. If you put a cross on yourself, vs. a pentagram, they will label your faith (just as if you were wearing a t-shirt with a cross on it, or a pentagram). If you have a nerd-tag like a Star Trek logo or a TARDIS, they will praise you for flying your geek-flag. And so on. The main issue with employers having you cover them up is not because they are offensive, but because they are casual (frequently — they don’t have to be). And so if they want more formality they should be covered.

      Ah! Marriage tattoos! Yes! That’s actually something I myself really want to do. Specifically, I want to tattoo my wife’s name on my rib, in reference to both the first and the last Adam (Adam’s rib from which Eve came, and the spear thrust into Jesus’ side in His sacrifice for His Bride). I’d probably also tattoo the ring on or something like that that’s more visible, since only my wife would be seeing the one on the rib, haha. But this is also entirely up to my wife herself, since my body belongs to my spouse, and not me. If she has an abhorrence of tattoos, then I’d probably used henna or some other temporary tattoo thing to regularly maintain it instead (which I could then use as a way to symbolically refresh my devotion to her). This is also why I won’t get any tattoos before I’m married, just in case my wife won’t approve of them. 🙂

      And you mentioned this a couple times… the isolation on the face as the proper place to fixate attention exclusively. I understand this comes up frequently in discussions of modesty, but I have never heard anyone give a rational or defense or biblical justification for it. The face is indeed important and a focus, but is there anything inherently wrong in having attention drawn to one’s hands or feet, for example? I’m curious to hear your take on it. 🙂

      Thanks again for commenting!! Great stuff.