The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Body Modification: The Return to Paganism

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Ever since our first mother, Eve, facilely discovered multiple reasons to do what God had expressly commanded her through Adam not to do, we’ve proven to be, in our fallen estate, a darkness-loving lot that excels in creatively justifying any sin-embracing choice we desire to make. This ability wreaks havoc in ethics. No sooner do we learn the right thing than we begin paralogizing in the pursuit of what we think of as “freedom.”

But freedom from God’s Law as a rule of faith and life is no freedom at all. Some think the opposite of Law is Grace. Rather, the opposite of Law is chaos, meaninglessness and death. Thinking which leads to a justification for disobedience is, by definition, wrong thinking.

With the modern church having largely capitulated to some or another form of antinomianism, it should not surprise us that it seems ever to be engaged in lowering the flag before each new assault on the ethics of the Antithesis. Whether we are asked to adjust God’s standards for marriage and divorce, or Lord’s Day worship, or the tithe, or homosexuality, or love of the brethren, we find an ever-vigilant phalanx of theologians whose favorite color is grey and whose favorite work is dismantling the Antithesis, directing us, like the serpent did Eve, to ignore what God says and to seek life in death.

In every dispensation God has made it clear that His people are a people of life, a people distinct from “the world,” a people with a different idea of wisdom,” a people with a different way of living. God’s word to Israel and the church is (of course) one: “Do not think as they think; do not do as they do” (Deut. 18:9; Eph. 4:17–20).

Keeping God’s Law in Christ is a community affair. To comply with the demands of the Antithesis, it is necessary not only to have those commands, but to have a people committed to abiding by them. Though we are made up of individuals, the covenant community is an entity in its own right, an organism which confesses covenant truth and lives the covenant life. We are to be a people set apart both by what we believe and how we behave.

Included in the set-apartness required of us in both the Old and New administrations of the covenant is the sanctification of our bodies unto God. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:1–2a).

Only a Gnostic, a Platonist or a nut would interpret the command to present our bodies to God as having nothing to do with our bodies. The human body is most definitely a concern of God’s and He has given us various laws designed to maintain its integrity and dignity, to keep it suitable for one in service to the living and true God. If anything, the New Testament heightens our concern with the body, for there it is oft-designated a temple of God. And we must not desecrate God’s temple. The wicked say, “Our lips [and our bodies] are our own” (Psalm 12:4). The Christian answers with the great confession: “I am not my own, but belong body and soul to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

But confessions without content remain mere words: pretty, maybe, but empty. When we confess that our bodies belong to God, do we actually believe that He may regulate what we do with them? At one time this was definitely what the Christian community believed. Lately, however, it seems to be standing with its hands in its pockets as it watches a new wave of defiance of this confession.

A phenomenon among us that is gaining notoriety and adherents, and sadly making inroads into Christian circles, is the deliberate and systematic desecration of the human body. It is making progress among us for three reasons: the Christian community has (1) neglected the Law of God, (2) largely lost its sense of being a community of grace and law; and (3) bought into the notion that fashion is, for all intents and purposes, a matter in which God is disinterested.

The diverse methods of self-desecration have been lumped together under the fitting initials BM, though here it stands for body modification. BM includes piercing, tattooing, scarring, branding, cutting and mutilation. BM is becoming more than a trend: it is an identifiable subculture, impacting millions through a huge presence on the Internet. There are even international conventions. BM shops are proliferating at an astonishing rate (the one across the street from Messiah Covenant Community Congregation’s offices does a very brisk business).

Body piercing, like marijuana to heroin, is often but the first step into a world of multiple self-inflicted indignities. And like marijuana, proponents think it is the easiest to justify. After all, who hasn’t seen the male athletes and movie stars with their earrings? And haven’t you seen the picture of Shakespeare wearing one in his left ear?

And thus the reasoning begins with an assumption that what is right for women must also be right for men, and what is right in popular culture must be right for the Christian. But our standard is the Word of God. And that Word gives us warrant to regard piercing as possibly appropriate for some, but not necessarily for others. (The other forms of BM are fit for none but pagans, as we’ll see.)

Put plainly, piercing is normally an act appropriate only for women and, in some cases, male slaves. Delicacy is difficult here—and I want to avoid a charge of misogyny—but the fact is that woman, by her from-the-creation role in the marriage act, is a “piercee.” Within marriage, of course, no stigma at all attaches to this, but outside of marriage, Scripture often refers to it as a “humbling” (Deut. 21:14; 22:24; 22:29). In this regard, too, childbirth is woman’s triumphant vindication. Consider this when exegeting 1 Timothy 2:15.

Obviously, piercing for a woman need not involve sodomy or “lowering.” She was made a woman, for man, a fact to which her body itself testifies.

Man, however, was not made a woman nor was he made to abide piercing. It is still a universal that he is not expected to. The recent attack on a Brooklyn prisoner provides a tragic case in point. The Associated Press reported: “One of the police officers charged with torturing a man by sodomizing him with a stick bragged about the attack, saying he had to ‘break a man’ who took a swing at him. Officer Justin Volpe also told fellow officers ‘I had to bring a man down tonight.’”

Piercing may or may not bring a woman down, depending on many factors. But piercing always brings a man down. That piercing bespeaks a relational subordination is implicitly recognized even in our American culture, yet often below the surface. To the astute it appears dramatically when considering the vocabulary of popular “curses” (as in humiliating phrases, not maledictions). The most common two-word curse in English, the one we want our children never to use, is simply a wish for someone to be humiliated through being pierced. To be pierced, for a man, is necessarily to be lowered.

For in the view of Scripture, piercing is a token of being under the dominion of another. (Even the unique piercing of Christ was a testimony of His total submission to the Father: Isaiah 53:5, 10; Phil. 2:8; see also Psalm 40:6–8.) Since woman was created to be under the loving headship of her husband, piercing can be seen as consistent with that calling. Hebrew men, however, were called to be directly under the authority of God (see 1 Cor. 11:3).

Consequently, limitations of Hebrew servitude were codified in the Law. But if a Hebrew servant, at the time of his manumission, desired to be permanently under the dominion of his master, this was to be indicated in a rite in which his ear was bored with an awl (Ex. 21:6; Dt. 15:17). The fact that a pierced ear served as a sign of permanent subordination suggests that it was not practiced by males in general, else it would hardly serve as a distinguishing mark.

Some have called attention to the fact that Isra­elite males took off their golden earrings and con­tributed them to Aaron for the making of the golden calf. This seems to be the case (Ex. 32:1­4). But out of what estate had they just escaped? That’s right: slavery. So this proves nothing other than that slaves had earrings.  Similarly, those who cite the Ishmaelite practice of wearing gold earrings (Judges 8:24) must not miss the point: the Ish­maelites had this custom, not the Israelites. Newly­ delivered Hebrew slaves and Ishmaelites don’t constitute a powerful precedent for free males to en­gage in piercing themselves!

It is interesting that as men in our culture began to pierce their ears, women began piercing multiple holes in their ears. But it didn’t stop there. Piercing parlors now routinely pierce ears, lips, eyebrows, tongues, noses, nipples, and male and female genitals. For those who cringe, not only at the ghastliness of the piercings, but at the thought of the pain involved, you need to understand that the pain is central to the experience. This is freely admitted, even boasted of, in this new “subculture.”

One woman describes the piercing of her clitoris as “a rite of sexual reclamation.” The piercer explained, after a pre-piercing examination, that hers was going to be a particularly painful experience. She insisted that he proceed, and described the procedure: “My body tensed. I heard Jim say, ‘Ready?’ [It was as if] one hundred thousand volts of electricity jolted me out of my body. My scream never passed my throat … I couldn’t see. After Jim inserted the ring in my clitoris and handed me a hand mirror, I stood up and paced the small room. I never had an experience of such intensity. My body tingled. I felt powerful, charged, triumphant … I was alive! For the first time in my life I felt whole, complete and perfect.” She then tells that years later, she returned to school “to broaden [her] understanding of pain, ecstasy and body modification.”

Anyone who believes that this current obsession with body modification is simply a fashion statement is not merely naive, but ignorant of the literature of BM devotees. For them, the more radical piercings are self-consciously religious experiences. Its association with paganism is known, understood and cherished. The piercings, etc., are regarded as rituals. “Rituals take place in urban settings: libraries, public parks, warehouses, abandoned city sites. Rituals take many forms: piercing, tattooing, branding and scarification in private and public ceremonies, S/M [sado-masochistic] psychodramas in private dungeons, technoshamanic trance dances at underground Rave parties, psychedelic shamanism, in living rooms- any activity capable of producing the direct experience of spiritual truth and healing in the participant.” Consider the mindset of someone who regards mutilation as healing! (To be continued . . . )

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