Sunday, December 2, 2012

Religion and circumcision

There is no religious justification for circumcision.  Ever.  Nope.  Sorry.  Did that piss you off?  I don't care.

It's fascinating to me when people try to use religion as grounds to defend circumcision.  I had a conversation with someone about this just the other day.  She told me why she thinks circumcision is wrong; however, she made sure to qualify that it should be allowed for religious reasons.  I didn't argue the point with her because it was a coworker and I was afraid of being labeled as culturally insensitive or worse, anti-Semitic.  Isn't that bullshit?!  So because I didn't point out how illogical her reasoning was at the time like I should have I'm writing this blog post instead.

Religion is an important part of many people's lives.  Though I'm an atheist I recognize the healing power that faith can have for many people.  I think religion is a great thing as long as it doesn't hurt other people.  For example I don't practice Mormonism but I don't object to it either.  However I DO object to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Mormonism that was set up by Warren Jeffs and his followers and utilized as an excuse for the elders to have sex with underage girls at their compound.  Thankfully, the American legal system also objected to it.  They busted the FLDS compound and Jeffs is sitting in prison serving a life term for having sex with little girls. 

I doubt there are many people out there that would say that Warren Jeffs having sex with an underage minor should be protected religious practice.  Likewise here in the United States we would not support stoning to death as an appropriate punishment for adultery; however, there are numerous countries including Saudi Arabia that have stoning included as a form of punishment in the law.  And there are even more countries where stoning is not technically legal but is frequently practiced, such as Afghanistan.  Stoning is tied closely to religious belief in most of these countries.  Stoning as a form of punishment runs deep in a number of religious texts including the Jewish Torah, the Islamic Hadith, and the Bible.  But should stoning be protected as a religious practice?  Of course not! 

So if having sex with little girls isn't protected religious practice and stoning adulterous women isn't a protected religious practice than why should circumcision be protected?

"Circumcision is an important part of being Jewish."
Jeffs probably said the same thing about having sex with little girls.

"Circumcision has been practiced for thousands of years."
so has stoning and polygamy

"The state shouldn't be able to tell us how to raise our children"
sure, as long as you aren't doing something that hurts the kids.

And I suppose this is where I, yet again, have to fault the American medical community.  One of the reasons circumcision IS protected here in the US is that, unfortunately, the American medical community has been telling Americans for years that circumcision is not harmful.  And if you believe circumcision is not harmful than you probably believe that Jews ought to have a right to practice it if it's important to their religion.  I don't have a problem with Jews requiring children to wear a yarmulka because it doesn't hurt them.  My issue with circumcision is that it violates the child's body and affects his sexual experiences for the rest of his life.  Thankfully, a growing number of Jewish people actually agree with me on this point and are foregoing the traditional bris for their newborn boys.

So I guess the takeaway is this: if you believe circumcision is truly harmful you can't be half-assed and say it's ok for religious people to do it.  It's either harmful and illegal or it's not harmful and protected.

It is my belief that some day circumcision will be illegal in the United States and millions of people will continue to practice Judaism just fine.  And people of ALL religious faiths and non-faiths will look back and say, "Why the hell did people think THAT was a good idea?"


  1. I'm a Jew, a very involved and active Jew that is in love with my temple, my religion, my clergy, my practices.
    I have two children, and I am raising them Jewish. In the eyes of Judaism, they are Jews. In MY eyes, they are children without a religion other than the one I have bestowed upon them. They are free to change that as adults. I cannot and will not force them to remains Jews. They have not chosen Judaism, I have. I will not choose a religion for them. As such, I will not brand them with my religious choices. Their bodies belong to them and if they choose, as adults, to practice Judaism and THEY feel that a circumcision is important and something they should have, I will 100% support that. A sacrifice is willingly given, not forcibly taken. If they wish to brand themselves with their religious choices, I respect that. THAT is religious freedom. Deciding when they were 8 days old that they would always practice Judaism, that they would believe circumcision to be an important part of Judaism, and that they would want to be circumcised in accordance with Judaic practices, is not freedom.

    1. Thank you so much for this comment and for protecting your sons' right to choose.
      "A sacrifice is willingly given, not forcibly taken."
      This brought tears to my eyes because it is so beautifully simple and true, and because it reminds me of the power thoughtful parents wield even in the face of social or religious pressure.

  2. There is another point in this religious debate that burns me up. The United States does not allow a religious exemption for the ban on circumcising girls.

    Some feminist advocates get all heated if you try to make a correlation between male and female circumcision, because in some cases female circumcision is much more "traumatic" (age of the child, violent nature of the act, more tissue removed, infibulation,etc.) However, that argument does not hold water. There are a broad range of female circumcision practices that greatly vary in the level of severity. The law does not allow for ANY of them. The law does not even allow for a "ritual nick" of girls' genitals, not even under a medical setting with pain medications, etc. A "ritual nick" is far less invasive and harmful than the entire removal of the foreskin. Somehow the law allows the entire removal of the foreskin from boys!

    The AAP recently tried to re-write policy to recommend allowing a "ritual nick" in a medical setting for girls (supposedly to prevent parents from taking them out of country where they'd face something far worse.) But there was so much public outcry that the AAP retracted this statement. All forms of messing with girls' genitals are still illegal. Which is great, but where is this all encompassing protection for boys. Where is the equal protection of both genders by law in this circumstance?!

    I read somewhere that if United States law was interpreted and enforced properly, circumcision of minor boys is already illegal. Circumcision of girls is illegal. Another law states that there can be no discrimination based on gender. Thus, the law protecting girls from circumcision automatically should extend to boys. Good luck with that though...

    1. The hypocrisy of the AAP as well as the US judicial system on this matter is truly repulsive. It just goes to show that these laws are not written to protect children but rather to reflect existing cultural mores. In other words it's a lot easier for people in the US, feminist or otherwise, to say they want to "protect" girls from circumcision when it's only people in distant countries that are practicing it. It takes a lot more bravery and integrity to do work to protect boys from circumcision when one's father, mother, neighbors, friends, etc have all participated in and condoned this brutal procedure.