Men and Earrings

In my humble opinion, it’s fine for a man to wear an earring or get a tattoo. Though the Old Testament has some words for men that relate to their dress and body decoration, these principles are nowhere found in the New. The principle in the New is that we are free in the Spirit to decide for ourselves what is good, provided it accords with standards of modesty, decency, and so on.

There is a strong cultural reaction against tattoos and earrings, especially amongst fortysomethings. The emphasis this generation places on such expressions of personal decoration is that of rebellion. In the eyes of these folks, one is bound to a certain cultural code of propriety that is determined by highbrow society. Failure to meet this code signals rebellion. In the eyes of my generation, however, such decorations are expressions of individuality, and are neither right nor wrong. They simply are. If one chooses to have a tattoo, and so express oneself, fine. If one chooses not to, fine. Neither individual is rebelling. Both are simply expressing themselves.

This may sound scarily like postmodern thought, and perhaps it is. But I would argue that the area of aesthetics has received some helpful input from postmodernism, and that the church would do well to recognize that. Not that everything postmodernism signifies has been helpful–not by a long shot. But the open-mindedness of postmodernism, while deadly to religion, is actually helpful and welcome with bodily expression. I do not advocate that people should disregard cultural standards, though. Far be it from me to say that. I would merely say that there is room for personal expression within conformity to social standards. One should not buck the system altogether, for to do so is rebellious, but one may certainly live by one’s taste and not the personal nuances of others. To my generation, then, I would say this: broadly conform but personally tailor. That’s my starting point. I see in it not rebellion but expression, and that makes all the difference.

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5 responses to “Men and Earrings

  1. Geoff

    How’s it going Owen? I got to play ball w/ you a couple of time last year at Southern. I’m up at CHBC this fall. Thanks for the article you wrote on this past 9Marks Newsletter and thought I’d check out your blog. Quick thought about tattoos: if anyone is ever considering going overseas on a mission trip, don’t get one. There are so many places (particularly non-Western places, like China) in which it’ll be an obstacle and hinder your witness to many people there.

  2. Dad

    So, is the latest blog speaking of our culture or of Christians? Our culture certainly ‘enjoys’ expressions of individualism. However, do Christians have this freedom?

    I am forever bound to honor the name of God. This will put limits upon how I might want to express myself.

    Secondly, as long as my parents are alive I have an obligation before God to honor them. This also puts a limit upon my ‘freedom of indivdualism’.

    One needs to examine the issue of the ‘desire’ for this self expression: is it from the ‘old man’ (not dad, but our sinful nature) or from the ‘new man’ that is the seed of God planted in us.

    And geoff’s comments also offer a boundary line for a believer to consider. What is the price of being ‘cool’ or being perceive by the culture of individual expression as being one of them? But today and in the 20, 40 years from now.

    The servant of the Lord is NEVER free to express oneself. He is always a servant.

    I am not making a statement that tattoos or other bodily ornamentation is absolutely wrong. But that for a believer there is never a time when we are ‘free’ to express ourselves.

    Al

  3. Jed

    Your first paragraph troubles me: the old testament has some pretty strong words against body art but the new testament says nothing so we are free in the Spirit to decide for ourselves what is good. Certainly you wouldn’t take the dispensationalist/’new covenant theology’ line that OT commands do not apply to us unless they are restated in the NT? Obviously ceremonial law has been fulfilled in Christ and the civil law was for Israel as a theocratic state but the moral law still applies and those universal principles on which the civil law was based. Under which of these three uses of the law does the body art/piercing prohibitions come under?

  4. Jed

    “But I would argue that the area of aesthetics has received some helpful input from postmodernism, and that the church would do well to recognize that.”

    Come to think of it, this statement troubles me as well. Postmodernism (perhaps) has made some useful contributions to Epistemology (by putting rationalism in its place) but I’m less optimistic about aesthetics. Self-expression as the overriding theme or telos of aesthetics–a modern theme as much as postmodern–certainly would have been frowned upon by the Church, philosophers, and aesthetes alike for most of Western history. I think their reasons for this should be investigated at some length before we celebrate tossing such opinions aside as “a good thing” or “progress.” John Rist, BTW, recently gave a great paper on the history of Christian philosophy of aesthetics in which he argues that the modern idea of self-expression is a lamentable philosophy that impoverishes the quality of art in addition to being bad philosophy and theology. I hope he publishes it soon.

  5. Dad

    Jed,

    I second your thoughts, especially regarding the arts. Here I think Christians are at a disadvantage. To pursue the kind of expression that the world approve, I don’t think we can really go in that directions, or at not without a great deal of care.

    So our art might not get a second glance if it is in line with restraint imposed by godliness??

    Al

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