Is Religious Circumcision of Male Infants Morally Defensible?

Last month a court in Cologne, Germany ruled against allowing the circumcision of children too young to give consent. CBS News summarized the facts:

a German court ruled that circumcision infringes on a child’s right to be protected from bodily harm.

The regional court in Cologne said that circumcision went against the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents.” They added that religious freedom would not be curtailed because the child would be able to choose later whether he wanted to have a circumcision. However, if the parents decided for the boy, it changed the body of the child “irreparably and permanently” and went against that child’s rights to choose his religious beliefs.

“The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised,” the court added.

The ruling has now set a precedent that anyone in the future who performs a circumcision on a child not old enough to consent could potentially be breaking the law.

The YouTube description of the video above introduces the dialogue participants and background materials:

Ari Kohen is Schlesinger Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Program at the University of Nebraska. Brian D. Earp is a Research Associate at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford. In this clip, they debate the ethics of religiously motivated circumcision.

Here is Ari’s academic page: http://polisci.unl.edu/dr-ari-kohen
Here is Brian’s academic page: http://oxford.academia.edu/BrianEarp/About

Here are their duelling blog posts.

Brian’s at Practical Ethics:
http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2012/06/religion-is-no-excuse-for-mutila…

Ari’s at Running Chicken:
http://kohenari.net/post/26421082181/germany-circumcision

Andrew Sullivan also weighed in in favor of the court’s ruling.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    I just skimmed over Ari’s defense of mutilation — or rather, his lame attempt to pretend that no one had any concerns more important than (his) religious belief. What rock did this slug crawl out from under?

    It’s not nearly as persuasive to say that a central tenet of the parents’ religious belief is markedly less important than the child’s future interest in masturbation that feels really, really good.

    Blaming the victims and potential victims for caring about their own pleasure? Wow, I can’t believe how classy this guy isn’t.

    And that’s why I’m sure that the anti-circumcision advocates are also out there vigorously seeking injunctions against all of those stores in the shopping malls that will pierce the ears of infants. Right?

    First, are infants’ ears really being pierced? I’ve never heard of that happening — AFAIK it’s always tweens and older, and while tweens are still minors, they are able to give or refuse consent to having their ears pierced.

    Second, and most important, does this asshole really think circumcision is as trivial as ear-piercing?

    There is a debate to be had about what to do when parents’ religious beliefs impact their children. But that debate won’t happen if critics of circumcision persist in belittling the importance of religious belief…

    The whole debate is about the importance (or rather, the relative UNimportance) of (some) religious beliefs. And now this pompous jackass is saying we can’t have that debate unless we agree NOT to have it? Who the hell does he think he’s fooling?

    I can’t believe this guy can publish this crap and think it’s acceptable. What sort of company does he hang with?

    • Jennifer

      My ears were pierced when I was six months old, and I know this because I came across a photo captioned “6 months.” When I saw that I thought, “gee, I have no problem with it now, but did my parents really think it was okay to pierce holes in my ears at that age without me having any say in it??” Even with something as physically trivial as earpiercing, I don’t think parents should be altering their kids’ bodies without permission. Indeed, my ears could have become infected and I could have suffered an extreme reaction. What gave them the right to put me at that risk? Much less, to slice off a piece of my genitals.

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      Wow, that’s really stupid. It’s hard enough to put clothes and shoes on a baby — why would a parent want to go the extra trouble of putting earrings on one as well?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Bee, I’ve already told you to stop with the charges of stupidity. Also, calling people slugs, assholes, and jackasses is unnecessary too. This is a blog for philosophical discussion, not insults.

    • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

      I thought bees died after they stung someone just once…

  • brenda

    Motivated reasoning based on culture and race. There is still a lot of antisemitism in Germany. During the war Germans were deeply shocked to discover their American POWs were circumcised and could not comprehend why a non Jew would be ok with it. The attitude Americans had was totally incomprehensible to them.

    Circumcision does not cause harm, is hygienic and increases sexual pleasure. In America we do not have a cultural bias against circumcision due to our unique history. All nations have different sets of biases and practices that are purely arbitrary and yet they view those who violate their cultural taboos as not just doing something odd, but as doing something immoral.

    It is not abusive or harmful to raise one’s child in your religious heritage. Even Richard Dawkins has repudiated his former position on this issue.

    • http://ramblingsofawaywardmind.wordpress.com/ cheryl

      Mutilation is not okay, regardless of religious belief.

      Circumcision does not increase sexual pleasure. In fact, it has been shown to decrease sexual pleasure.

      It is harmful and abusive to raise your child in your religious heritage if your religious heritage includes chopping bits of them off.

      What about female circumcision? Are you okay with that too? It’s the same thing: mutilation of a child in respect of barbaric practices from ages past. Calling it faith doesn’t make it right.

    • Gregory in Seattle

      The exact same procedure in girls — the surgical removal of the clitoral hood — is almost universally denounced as barbaric. But boys are different?

      And how does a woman get to comment on what men find sexually pleasurable?

    • John Horstman

      As someone who was circumcised as an infant without may consent, I will tell you to take you child-cutting apologism and shove it. By way of analogy: you don’t really use your earlobes for anything, right? Let’s just chop ‘em off, whether you like it or not, because I think there’s a good reason: it will prove a point.

      It’s a matter of bodily integrity/autonomy. If someone capable of consent WANTS to have bits cut off of or added to hir own body, power to hir. Other people don’t get to make that call.

    • A ‘Nym Too

      Circumcision does not cause harm, is hygienic and increases sexual pleasure.

      [citation needed]

      It causes several infant deaths in the US every year, and accidental penile amputations. Know what else is hygienic? Washing.

      Also, having worked for a primarily American sexual health advice service, I can tell you women absolutely do not get off on half an hour of jackhammer pounding with something that feels like a broomstick.

      In America we do not have a cultural bias against circumcision due to our unique history.

      Oh my starry stars. You do realise that the American circumcision culture came about to prevent masturbation, don’t you?

      Kellogg. (yes, the cornflake guy) introduced it. By removing the most sensitive area of the penis, the glans and shaft are unnaturally exposed, and become desensitised and callused.

      This, he reasoned, would prevent boys and men from wanking. You’re presumably aware that owners of normal unmutilated penises don’t require lotion/lube/Vaseline to knock one out?

      So then, America is only “unique” in that it was an experiment. Send a load of puritans off on a boat, and see just how genocidal and sexually repressed, not to mention how domineeringly theocratic, the end result is.

    • http://www.darwinharmless.com Darwin Harmless

      Circumcision does not cause harm, is hygienic and increases sexual pleasure.

      Brenda, I assume from your name that you are a woman. I am a man who was circumcised as an infant. I deeply resent it. I deeply resent any woman telling me that it had no affect on my sexual pleasure or, even worse, that it increases sexual pleasure. You who presumably have no penis cannot say this. The skin of the glans of the penis is supposed to be a mucous membrane similar to the skin inside your cheek. After circumcision it becomes thicker and keratinized, and, yes, desensitized. How can you possibly say this increases sexual pleasure? Your claim that it is hygienic is also incorrect. A dirty penis is a dirty penis, whether wrapped in a foreskin or not. You might not consider mutilation of a penis to be causing harm, but as an owner of a mutilated penis I can tell you that I disagree.

      As a woman you should be embarrassed to be making such a statement. How would you react to a man defending FGM with the same arguments? Believe me, it happens.

    • Not my usual nym

      Anecdata, I admit, but to answer A ‘nym too:

      Many women don’t get off on PIV sex at all, or only if it’s combined with other forms of stimulus, regardless of whether their partners are circumcised.

      Having both a circumcised and an intact male partner, it seems likely that the surgery makes a difference to them. It doesn’t make any noticeable difference to me. I can enjoy PIV sex with both of them, but I’m not going to get off without oral or other clitoral stimulation, with either partner.

    • left0ver1under

      Who is Brenda?

      Her ignorance is astounding. Circumcision does not compare to ear piercing. It does, however compare to something I experienced as a kid, coercive (read: violent) attempts to make me a right hander. Just imagine if somewhere there were nutbags whose “method” of stopping left handedness was amputation. That would be comparable to circumcision.

      And contrary to any lies being forwarded, the decision in Germany is not “anti-semitism”; jewish males can choose to do it voluntarily when they become adults. The ruling is against the mutilation and torture of children unable to give consent. Infant boys are never anaesthetized when it is done.

    • Timberwoof

      “Circumcision does not cause harm”

      Yes, the hell it does.

      I personally know two men whose circumcisions were botched. Luckily for them, not so badly as to require amputation and subsequent sex-reassignment surgery (which happens and by definition does not end well), but badly enough to leave them with painful erections. They have developed intense associations between pain and sexual pleasure; they are serious masochists.

      Whether someone enjoys BDSM is their own business, but to be conditioned into it by infant genital mutilation strikes me, so to speak, as a non-consensual scene.

    • Nathair

      It is not abusive or harmful to raise one’s child in your religious heritage. Even Richard Dawkins has repudiated his former position on this issue.

      Link or citation please?

    • brenda

      cheryl said: “Mutilation is not okay, regardless of religious belief.”

      Circumcision is not mutilation.

      “What about female circumcision? Are you okay with that too? It’s the same thing”

      No they are not the same thing. Amputation of the penis would be the analogous procedure to a clitoridectomy. Both of which are horrendous because they degrade the appearance and function of a human organ. Removal of the clitoral hood is almost always accompanied by a clitoridectomy and removal of the inner or even outer labia as well. The male analogue of that would be a penectomy followed by the removal of the testicles and/or scrotum.

      Male circumcision does not degrade the appearance or function and has been practiced without major adverse effects and many benefits for thousands of years. Female mutilation does degrade appearance, function and psychological well being. Women who have been subject to genital mutilation suffer as a direct result. Men who have been circumcised do not.

      Gregory in Seattle said: “And how does a woman get to comment on what men find sexually pleasurable?”

      Don’t you talk to your lover?

      —————————-
      A ‘Nym Too said: “Oh my starry stars. You do realise that the American circumcision culture came about to prevent masturbation, don’t you?”

      False. There was no single reason. Attitudes about sex in general and a desire for bodily cleanliness in general also played a part. Though I do congratulate you on your facile ability to construct strawmen at the drop of a hat.

      “You’re presumably aware that owners of normal unmutilated penises don’t require lotion/lube/Vaseline to knock one out?”

      I am not and do not have to advocate male circumcision. The question at the top is can it be defended morally. I think it can be because it does not cause great harm and is a culturally sanctioned practice. Female genital mutilation cannot be because it does cause great harm. Ritual scarification, tatoos, ritual removal or filing down of teeth and other practices are also morally defensible because they are a part of one’s culture and do not greatly harm the individual.

      I am not a cultural imperialist like everyone else here. I take all cultures as they are and accept them as they are. I am not a preening Modern hypocrite bemoaning the coarse habits of the uncultured primitives around me. I actually believe in multiculturalism and I take it seriously in it’s implications. That means that I do not have the right to criticize other cultures just because I do not approve of them.

      Where I draw the line is at actual harm and there is no evidence presented here that male circumcision causes real lasting harm.

      ———————–
      Darwin Harmless: “Brenda, I assume from your name that you are a woman. I am a man who was circumcised as an infant. I deeply resent it.”

      When people respond to me I evaluate their sentences for validity, coherence and accuracy. Your response appears to argue that because you resent practice X that therefore such a practice is morally indefensible. That kind of argument is invalid because it goes from the particular to the general. Just because you resent your parents making you go to bed at 8:00pm it does not follow that the practice making children go to bed at a reasonable time is immoral. Even if your child really hates being told what to do. Even if she throws a fit, flops on the floor and holds her breath until she passes out, it is still not child abuse to make her go to bed.

      Slavery is not immoral because one slave resented the loss of her freedom. Slavery is immoral because it causes great harm to all slaves, slave owners and to the society that practices it.

      It is a logical fallacy to personalize an issue and then draw global conclusions from one’s own subjective feelings about that issue. Why? Because personal subjective feelings do not make claims true or false. My personal, deeply felt subjective desire that something should be so does not make it so.

    • Iain

      “Circumcision … increases sexual pleasure”

      I was circumcised as an adult when it was a medically recommended procedure to which I was able to give informed consent.

      I am therefore able to compare sex immediately before and shortly after circumcision and it did not get better for me. My girlfriend at the time also did not report any noticeable difference other than that the fact that I’ve never been able to last as long since.

    • Timberwoof

      “Even Richard Dawkins has repudiated his former position on this issue.”

      I do not think so. That came from a petition he in 2006 regretted having signed.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xT3d5RFNATA is from 2008

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UifxeFy2qIY&feature=watch_response is from 2009

  • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

    One part of me says, “It’s wrong,” but another part of me says that if abortion is legal, circumcision ought to be. It’s tribal, it’s primitive, it can lead to complications… but by that logic it should be illegal to let your kids get a piercing (or own a trampoline, for that matter).

    It’s a shame circumcision is so damn permanent, as that is ultimately the major dilemma here. I definitely discourage circumcision, but I’m on the fence when it comes to instituting a ban. I can understand why people want to ban it, and I don’t think religious freedoms of the parent outweigh the bodily integrity of the infant. Maybe I just don’t want to be called an “anti-Semite.”

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      You actually compare abortion for adult women to circumcision of babies? You’re too stupid to participate in this debate.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Please don’t call people stupid or other abusive names.

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      Gee, why would you be worried about being called “antisemitic?” Maybe because that’s the only way some people can defend their backward religious rituals?

    • John Horstman

      That’s an entirely spurious comparison. We don” allow people to kill newborns THAT ARE NO LONGER INHABITING ANOTHER PERSON’S BODY; I don’t see any reason to think that allowing a woman (or one of the few people who identify as something other than “woman” who can become pregnant) to decide that she doesn’t want her body used to gestate a fetus has any bearing on whether it’s okay to cut bits off of a newborn infant because, hey, you the parent want to. The fact that non-consensual bodily interventions are unethical/immoral is exactly why abortion should be legal; your example supports the opposite point you intend.

    • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

      Raging Bee: Yeah, that is rather unfair. I much preferred being circumcised to being aborted. My apologies.

    • A ‘Nym Too

      Best stay. away from NY and NJ if you don’t like being called anti-Semitic. That label is currently being slung at anyone outraged at the practice of Metzitzah b’peh.

      That’s what happens when people bow in deference to religion for fear of being called a name, babies die.

      http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/circumcision_controversy/

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      I much preferred being circumcised to being aborted.

      That’s about as silly as saying “I much preferred being circumcised to my parents having never had sex.”

    • left0ver1under

      A ‘Nym Too –

      I know there are at least two dead babies, killed by one rabbi in New York spreading herpes with his mouth during the “ritual”. How many other dead kids are there? Five? Ten? Twenty?

      In motorsports, changes in safety equipment are referred to as “tombstone technology” because changes aren’t made until enough dead bodies pile up. How many dead babies will there have to be in New York before people admit this is a problem?

    • Drivebyposter

      Wow. How do you misunderstand the concept of bodily integrity so much?

      Women have a right to an abortion because IT IS THEIR BODY that is being subjected to a pregnancy.

      Males have the right to no be circumcised because IT IS THEIR FORESKIN being chopped off.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Oops, I hosed the italics there. Damn, I still can’t believe that guy’s apalling lack of concern for the physical health of innocent children. If that depraved indiffrence is mandated by his religion, then his religion needs to be scrapped.

    There are arguments for circumcision relating to physical hygene and disease prevention. And this guy doesn’t even care enough about a person’s physical health to try to use those arguments, even though they support his side. That says a lot about his “values.”

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I fixed it. Also, I recommend you use the tags for blockquotes instead of those for italics when quoting others. They are much easier to read. Just put the word “blockquote” between to start and “/blockquote” between to end.

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      Thanks for the fix. I use italics because it’s a lot easier…something to do with a deeply traumatic past experience with blockquote tags in comments or something.

    • left0ver1under

      There are arguments for circumcision relating to physical hygene and disease prevention.

      Bee, there are no arguments relating to hygiene and disease. The claim on HIV/AIDS was a fiction based on manipulated data, HPV and cancer are speculated and not proven, and hygiene can be solved by washing. There is no argument.

  • roggg

    To answer the question, no, it is not morally defensible. To some, the long tradition of allowing it has clouded their judgement. If I were to announce to the world today that my newly created religion required the chopping off of a pinky toe from infants, I’m pretty sure most who are fence-sitting regarding circumcision would find it much less ambiguous, but what would be the difference?

  • Gregory in Seattle

    Unfortunately, this does NOT set a precedent, not in the same way that judicial precedent exists in the US and the UK.

    As I understand it, the German system is not based on the idea of common law. Civil courts, such as the one that ruled in the circumcision case, can only rule on the case before them and must base their ruling on statutory law. Previous rulings on similar cases can only be considered if the law is sufficiently vague as to allow a range of interpretation, and only if the judge wants to consider them.

    An entirely separate system of constitutional courts sets precedent, and their jurisdiction is very narrowly defined. Until and unless a constitutional court hears a circumcision case, and rules against the practice, nothing has really changed in Germany.

  • Brad

    Neonatal circumcision is a violation of the right to bodily integrity. Even if there were medical benefit, there’s no reason to do it before he’s able to consent or not. It’s also worth pointing out that the adult rate for circumcision is nearly zero, we can infer from this that men don’t want to be circumcised.

    There’s no historical reason for christians to do it, and if it’s that damned important to jews, they can have it done for the bar mitzvah and give boys a chance to say no.

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      If there really is a significant health benefit to circumcision, then the obligation to protect children from unnecessary physical harm would include circumcision as a beneficial procedure. The question in my mind is, do the claims of physical health benefits for circumcision hold water? And are the alleged benefits greater than the harm done? And so far, IMHO, the answer appears to be “no.”

      THe “religious belief” argument is bogus: civilized societies allow, or ban, surgical procedures based on their benefit, or lack threof, for the patient, regardless of religious belief. If a surgery — particularly one that involves REMOVING a body part — is found not to be beneficial, then it’s considered “harm” and banned, period. Doctors can be sued, and stripped of their licences, for unnecessary surgery, even when no permanent harm results.

    • John Horstman

      The only claim of health benefits for which I’ve seen any evidence is a reduced partner-to-male STI transmission rate. A much better reduction can be achieved through the use of condoms, which makes circumcision unnecessary to achieve the outcome. Also, for that benefit to apply, one needs to be engaging in sexual activity, which also necessitates consent (else it’s rape), so we could gain the same benefit while allowing people to choose instead of cutting bits off of infants’ bodies.

    • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

      As far as I know, only AIDS transmission has been studied in conjunction with circumcision, and there was no adjustment for the cultural bias against circumcision in the study samples. In other words… it’s possible that circumcision made men in the sample less desirable as sexual partners (therefore limiting sexual contact), which would account for the decrease in transmission. There’s also evidence that there was no time allowed for healing (as the studies were done on adults who were circumcised for the study). This is likely why the results of the study cannot be replicated in first-world countries or in any legitimate, large-scale sample.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    To ban infant circumcision is essentially to make the practice of Judaism illegal in Germany…

    That complaint only holds water if circumcision is all Judaism is. I really don’t think that’s the image Jews want to project to outsiders…

    PS: I didn’t know Jews had a “Central Committee.” Sounds kinda Soviet to me. I hope this “Central Committee” doesn’t end up acting too much like its Catholic parallel…

    • John Horstman

      I inevitably wind up making this exact point to counter that argument in every debate on this issue in which I’m involved. If one is defining Judaism as necessitating assault, then, yes, under that definition of Judaism, Judaism is intrinsically problematic and needs to be banned. An analogy: if being a Catholic priest required raping children, then Catholic priesthood should be legally banned, because rape is simply not okay.

    • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

      That complaint only holds water if circumcision is all Judaism is.

      Judaism doesn’t have to only be about circumcision. Consider the practicality of this law. Suppose circumcision is banned, what are the implications? Do you think circumcisions just stop? When they don’t stop, who will be punished and how?

    • A ‘Nym Too

      If you mean the child abuse problem in Catholicism, then yeah actually, there’s a huge problem in certain sects of Judaism. The only difference is, that catholics aren’t forbidden by doctrine to go to the secular authorities.

      failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/mikva_abuse/

      The blogger is Shmarya Rosenberg, an ex-orthodox Jew, who was disgusted at what went on in many communities in Israel and the US.

    • Anat

      To Bret,

      If circumcision is banned in any particular locations Jews living there will have at the very least the following choices:

      - Stay in that location, practice their Judaism as they were up to that point except for childhood circumcision (can still have adult, maybe even adolescent circumcision)
      - Travel to a place where circumcision is legal for the last few months of each pregnancy plus a while afterwards
      - Circumcise underground, risking legal action if caught
      - Move to a place where circumcision is legal

      The two first options show how the practice of Judaism can continue in a country where circumcision has been made illegal. Judaism has changed a lot over the generations, maybe it’s time for yet another change. Many Jews circumcise their sons reluctantly, but do it because it is expected in their social circle. Maybe a law like this will give them the excuse they want not to do so.

  • ChristianW

    Last month a court in Cologne, Germany ruled against allowing the circumcision of children too young to give consent. CBS News summarized the facts

    No, they did not. Just as almost nobody apart from the cologne judges did. I am german and even here seemingly noone got that it was no ruling against circumcision but one in favor of the doctor who was charged for malpractice. Because some days after he did the circumcision, the poor boy started to bleed again and had to be brought to a hospital.

    So the the State Attorney argued that it was the doctor’s fault because he did it not properly and in any case circumcision would be bodily harm. The defense of course argued that it is not in any way bodily harm because: God. And the doctor did nothing wrong either, because the parents gave their consent and whatnot.
    Then there were two rulings – the first court said no harm done, therefore no malpractice. The State Attorney appealed and the next court ruled that there was in fact bodily harm inflicted, no matter who gave how much consent, but it was through no fault of the doctor’s. That’s the ruling everybody freaked out about, to an extent that made it almost impossible to see what had really happened:

    A district court ruled that a circumcision might be considered bodily harm, expecially when there are complications, albeit there might be nobody at fault. And God is no excuse.

    One can read the second ruling here:
    http://www.justiz.nrw.de/nrwe/lgs/koeln/lg_koeln/j2012/151_Ns_169_11_Urteil_20120507.html

    But don’t bother, even if you do understand german. I just spend the better part of 2 hours just to get the most important facts right and I’m a native. It essentially just says what I just wrote.
    The current uproar in Germany and elsewhere is not evidence of – depending on your view – progress or anti-religious developments in this country. It just shows the pathetic state of our news media which really must be incapable of checking their facts before trumpeting out whatever they think.
    Maybe you can relate…

  • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

    Should we not correct cleft palates in infants and wait until they’re older to let them decide? Is it only okay to fix a cleft palate because we’re making them “normal?” How do we define “normal” when it clashes with “natural?”

    • A ‘Nym Too

      Are you trying to make yourself look stupid? If so, CONGRATULATIONS!

      Being born with a prepuce is normal, being born with a cleft palate is not.

      Do you think a cleft palate is a purely cosmetic conditions? If it’s not corrected in some children they can’t eat or drink properly, they wouldn’t even reach majority.

      We get it, you think genitally mutilating babies so that they won’t enjoy masturbation later in life is a good thing, but it’s disingenuous (at least) to compare it to this:

      ” he complications of cleft lip and cleft palate can vary greatly depending on the degree and location of the cleft. They can include all or some or all of the following:

      Breathing: When the palate and jaw are malformed, breathing becomes difficult. Treatments include surgery and oral appliances.

      Feeding: Problems with feeding are more common in cleft children. A nutritionist and speech therapist that specializes in swallowing may be helpful. Special feeding devices are also available.

      Ear infections and hearing loss: Any malformation of the upper airway can affect the function of the Eustachian tube and increase the possibility of persistent fluid in the middle ear, which is a primary cause of repeat ear infections. Hearing loss can be a consequence of repeat ear infections and persistent middle ear fluid. Tubes can be inserted in the ear by an otolaryngologist to alleviate fluid build-up and restore hearing.

      Speech and language delays: Normal development of the lips and palate are essential for a child to properly form sounds and speak clearly. Cleft surgery repairs these structures; speech therapy helps with language development.

      Dental problems: Sometimes a cleft involves the gums and jaw, affecting the proper growth of teeth and alignment of the jaw. A pediatric dentist or orthodontist can assist with this problem.”

      http://rotaplast.typepad.com/.a/6a00e5540c3e8c88340134884c2d74970c-800wi

      Yeah, just like cutting off something that’s supposed to be there, isn’t it?

      What are you going to compare it to next? Gastroschisis-repairing surgery maybe?

    • http://becomingjulie.blogspot.co.uk/ BecomingJulie

      I spy a false equivalence fallacy.

      Correcting a cleft palate has actual, non-bogus therapeutic benefits.

      Circumcision does not. (Foreskins are self-cleaning, if you drink enough fluids. How do you think cavemen managed with their todgers in the normal, natural state?)

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      A cleft palate is considered a “defect;” the presence of a healthy foreskin on a penis is not. So your comparison is wrong from the start. Also, aren’t there actual medical benefits to correcting a cleft palate, as well as cosmetic benefits?

      Besides, it is generally considered acceptable to surgically correct birth defects in infants, when appropriate. It’s not just about appearing normal, it’s about the ability to lead a normal life.

    • http://www.circumstitons.com Hugh7

      You who think genital cutting of healthy male babies can be compared with closing a cleft in the lip and the roof of the mouth that affects breathing, eating and drinking, let me guess: do you also think genital cutting of healthy male infants must NOT be compared with genital cutting of healthy female infants?

  • beth

    I’ve been giving this some thought since I first heard about the ruling. I’m not in favor of circumcizing infant boys. My own son is uncircumcized. I don’t agree with any moral arguments for male infant circumcision because I don’t belong to a religion that requires it.

    But I’m not in favor of a ban against it because it is an important religious observance for many parents and the harm seems more comparible to the harm inflicted by piercing the ears of infant girls than the FGM that is often used as a comparison. To ban circumcision of male infants seems an unacceptable restriction of parental rights and religious freedom to me.

    Thus I think there is a moral argument for allowing parents the freedom to have their infant sons circumcized if they so choose. After all, just because an action is not morally defensible doesn’t mean that a ban on the action is therefore morally defensible.

    • A ‘Nym Too

      Actually male circumcision is identical to the most common form of FGM, where just as in the male version, only the prepuce is removed.

      This is to expose the glans clitoris (female analogue of the glans penis) causing irritation of the mucosa, which leads to a thickened and desensitised surface area. This is to make masturbation less pleasurable.

    • http://www.darwinharmless.com Darwin Harmless

      Beth, I’m very glad you left your son intact. By the way, “intact” is the word I prefer to “uncircumcised” because the latter implies that something has been left undone, and perhaps it should be done. The latter makes circumcision normal, instead of the weird abomination that it actually is.

      Please read what I said to Brenda in comment 5. Women are often the ones making this decision for their sons, but you have no right to trivialize the results. It is not comparable to ear piercing.

      I too am against banning circumcision. I think education and social pressure should eventually end the practice. It is indefensible. I would encourage any man who is young enough to know who performed the operation on him to take the guilty party to court and go for a huge settlement. Unfortunately in my case those responsible are long dead.

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      Another lame attempt to compare circumcision to ear-piercing? Really? Are you really that clueless, or are you trying to trivialize legitimate health and safety concerns?

      Seriously, try reading some of the literature about what, specifically, each of those procedures entails.

  • slc1

    As Dr. Fincke is finding out, this is a subject that engenders far more heat then light. It is my experience that when this subject is raised, the comments explode. As a for instance, Dr. Peter Lipson once had a blog over at Scienceblogs. He seldom got more then 20 or 30 comments on a post. When he once posted something on circumcision, he got over 300 comments.

    At one time, the procedure was almost ubiquitous in the US. It is my information that it reached 90% 60 and 70 years ago. Since that time, the procedure among non-Jews and non-Muslims has fallen to about 50%. In fact, there was an article in an Israeli newspaper a week or 2 ago which stated that many Jews in Israel are now forgoing the procedure.

    My own opinion is that there are more important issues to be concerned about. I would remind the readers that Yeshua of Nazareth was circumcised on Jan. 1, assuming that he was born on Dec. 25. I don’t recall him getting all bent out of shape or hauling Joseph and Mary into court, and suing them for subjecting him to an operation without his consent. In fact unlike some cases in the US I have read about. it is my information that he never brought the subject up in any of his sermons. Unlike some of the commenters here, he had what he considered more important fish to fry.

    • K. Larson

      Trolling by way of exhorting others not to troll?

      Well done, sir. Well done.

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      I would remind the readers that Yeshua of Nazareth was circumcised on Jan. 1, assuming that he was born on Dec. 25. I don’t recall him getting all bent out of shape…

      He didn’t seem all that bent out of shape about being crucified either. It’s much easier to be forgiving of such things when you have the magical power to recover from fatal wounds and prevent infection or botched surgery.

      You really think Jesus is a representative sample? Seriously?

      Oh, wait, this is the guy who thinks we should nuke Iran with bigger bombs than we even have available. I can see why he’d think genital mutilation is such a small matter…

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      My own opinion is that there are more important issues to be concerned about.

      So why are you concerned enough to announce your lack of concern?

    • Nepenthe

      Given that Yeshua bar Yosef* was supposedly celibate, I doubt he had many concerns regarding his sexual pleasure.

      *Assuming he existed.

    • slc1

      Re K. Larson

      It’s certainly interesting that Mr. Larson thinks that this issue is more important then, say the situation in Syria, or the economic situation in the US. I suggest that his/her priorities are seriously out of whack.

      Re Raging Bee

      Mr. Bee is certainly living up to his raging reputation, so much that our host had to instruct him to tone it down. And by the way, the issue of what, if anything, to do about Iran is a lot more important then the issue under discussion here.

      Re Nepenthe

      IMHO, he boffed Mary Magdalene a time or two.

    • slc1

      Re Raging Bee

      Gee, having one’s foreskin removed is equivalent to being nailed to a cross. Who would have thunk it?

    • coleopteron

      Gee, having one’s foreskin removed is equivalent to being nailed to a cross. Who would have thunk it?

      To be fair to Mr Bee, bringing up Jesus in the first place didn’t add any value to the conversation. He had to work with what he was given.

      And by the way, the issue of what, if anything, to do about Iran is a lot more important then the issue under discussion here.

      This “there are more important things” stuff strikes me as somewhat disingenuous. Unless you propose that we all agree on what the “most important” thing in the world is and that we should only discuss that from now on.

      Mr Finke’s current topic is religious circumcision, not Iran. If you’d like a discussion about Iran, I’m sure there’s one going on somewhere.

    • http://www.circumstitons.com Hugh7

      “I would remind the readers that Yeshua of Nazareth was circumcised on Jan. 1, assuming that he was born on Dec. 25. I don’t recall him getting all bent out of shape or hauling Joseph and Mary into court, and suing them for subjecting him to an operation without his consent.”

      Of course not. Being omniscient, he knew that in a millennium or two, his foreskin – all 11 of it – would be an object of reverence, housed in golden reliqueries, and a great Inspiration to Faith. THAT’s why he never sued.

      “it is my information that he never brought the subject up in any of his sermons. Unlike some of the commenters here, he had what he considered more important fish to fry.” Not his own, no, but he did (reportedly) mention circumcision once (John 7 21-23), in contrast to his own healing on the Sabbath. It suggests he considered it an injury. If he said it. If he lived.

  • Nathair

    Is it morally defensible to hire someone to mutilate someone else’s genitals, without their consent, based entirely upon your own unsupported personal beliefs or traditions? How is an adjunct assistant philosophy professor seriously asking that question?

    slc1

    I would remind the readers that Yeshua of Nazareth was circumcised on Jan. 1, assuming that he was born on Dec. 25. I don’t recall him getting all bent out of shape or hauling Joseph and Mary into court, and suing them for subjecting him to an operation without his consent

    And, in the same vein, I would like to add that Harry Potter had “I must not tell lies” carved into the back of his hand over and over again but he never pressed charges against Professor Umbridge.

  • http://www.darwinharmless.com Darwin Harmless

    @Brenda I addressed this issue personally because it is personal to me. I did not mean to generalize to the whole issue, or make it the basis of my argument, but simply to state that as a man who was circumcised as an infant I resent it. I have a right to resent it. Perhaps I should have left my personal situation out of my argument, but my personal situation is part of the reason why I care passionately about this issue. An injustice was done to me, and I do not want to see it done to others. Please accept my opinion the same way you would accept the opinion of a woman who had been raped giving testimony about rape culture. Try to imagine the shoe on another foot.

    In any event, my argument did not depend on my personal situation. You made three claims for the benefits of infant male circumcision. You claimed that “circumcision does not cause harm, is hygienic and increases sexual pleasure.” Please provide some evidence for this. From what I’ve personally experienced, and from everything I’ve read, all three claims are false.

    As a woman you are in the same position a man would be in if he trivialized marital rape or sent a letter to Rebecca Watson making fun of her concerns about inappropriate sexual advances. Why should a woman feel entitled to comment on what men feel about the mutilation of their penis? If you can’t see this, then you are seriously lacking in empathy. Where do you get off trivializing my feelings?

    Many people argue that circumcision isn’t “mutilation” If you don’t agree with my use of this word, please name any other part of an infant’s body that could be cut off without consent for no medical reason. Figernails and hair don’t count.

    • brenda

      @ darwing homelss “but simply to state that as a man who was circumcised as an infant I resent it. I have a right to resent it.”

      You have a right to resent anything you like but I don’t see how there is any comparison to rape. Infant children who are circumcised at birth under anesthesia and proper medical supervision do not suffer at the time or later in life and reap the benefit of greater hygiene. I’ll concede that there may or may not be a loss of sensitivity, I guess I don’t really know but most of my partners seemed to believe it benefited them. They also appreciated not having to pay constant attention to keeping themselves clean and free from infections that could develop in non circumcised men.

      What about intersex children? There is a wide, and I mean *wide*, variation in how infants present at birth as to sex differences. Should intersex children be left alone as much as possible and allowed to choose from surgical options when they get older?

      Yes, I think they should, but…. sometimes there really does need to be surgical intervention. Some male infants are born with under developed genitals where the urethra is “open” as if someone took a knife and slit it open. Is it immoral to correct that? After all it’s just the natural sexual variation that you’ll find in any population and the child *could* function ok if he keeps himself clean at all times. So what if it looks bizarre and he’s virtually guaranteed to be mocked and hounded by other boys. We should not violate the integrity of his body right?

      I’m a big fan of thinking that most people are just trying to make it through life as best they can and unless someone truly *intends* to do harm we should give them the benefit of the doubt. Your parents did what they thought was best for you at the time. They did not intend to hurt you the way a rapist intends to hurt others.

      Your mother also probably put you to bed in your crib and let you cry all night until you got used to sleeping alone. There’s a social practice that has had some controversy round it. Same with whether or not your mother put you on formula or continued to breast feed you. Which is the “right” way? There is no right or wrong to any of these. They are just things people do that may or may not have some practical utility. Same with circumcision. There is no intent to cause harm and there is a social benefit of fitting in with everyone else so it just isn’t a big deal.

      Why do you choose to be resentful over something that you had no control over, did no real harm and over which you have absolutely NO ability to change? Do you really want to be like Raging Bee and live in a constant state of rage? People who are like that. People who are constantly finding things to be inflamed and outraged about have some serious issues they need to take a look at. It isn’t really about whatever thing they are incensed over. There is always something else going on that is driving their behavior. Don’t fall into that trap.

      You are not a victim. You have not been mutilated. You have not been raped. You have not been sexually harassed. Frankly, comparing circumcision to rape is an insult to all rape victims everywhere. How DARE you compare something you can’t even remember and cause you no real harm to rape. How DARE you trivialize real victims of sexual violence over your narcissistic need for attention.

      Grow the eff up.

    • http://www.darwinharmless.com Darwin Harmless

      @Brenda Holy shit. You amaze me. I would NEVER compare my circumcison to rape. To imply that I did is to willfuly misread what I said. I compared your incredible insesitivity to my issue, to a common male issue, with the insensitivity shown by many men to women’s issues. Dan doesn’t want me to call you stupid, and I don’t need to because your “grow the eff up” comment to me reveals you to be what you are.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Dan doesn’t want me to call you stupid, and I don’t need to because your “grow the eff up” comment to me reveals you to be what you are.

      David, don’t play with the line like that. Please control your emotions. You too, brenda.

    • http://www.circumstitons.com Hugh7

      Brenda: “How DARE you compare something you can’t even remember and cause you no real harm to rape. ”
      So if a woman is drugged, hence “she can’t even remember” and raped carefully, with a condom, hence “no real harm”, may Darwin compare THAT with his circumcision?

      Except that at the end of it, she still has all her genitals.

    • Forbidden Snowflake

      Brenda, you begin with the assumption that circumcision causes no harm (later your goalposts shift to “no great harm” and “no real harm”), and when someone claims to feel harmed by it (something he is presumably more qualified to judge than you), you dismiss and insult him for “choosing” to feel harmed because according to the assumption you started with, circumcision causes no harm and therefor anyone who claims to have been harmed is just being a crybaby.

      Your argument is circular, and your dismissal of individuals’ feelings and autonomy in the name of respect for cultures and traditions is unsettling.

    • Forbidden Snowflake

      Also, Brenda says:

      Infant children who are circumcised at birth under anesthesia and proper medical supervision do not suffer at the time or later in life and reap the benefit of greater hygiene.

      So you expect Jews to alter their tradition of circumcision sans anesthesia, performed by a mohel with no formal medical training, who sucks the blood out with his mouth after the procedure?
      Why? Are you a cultural imperialist? A preening Modern hypocrite bemoaning the coarse habits of the uncultured primitives around you? An antisemite?

    • brenda

      Darwin Harmless said

      “I would NEVER compare my circumcison to rape. … I compared your incredible insesitivity to my issue, to a common male issue, with the insensitivity shown by many men to women’s issues.”

      In other words, you compared circumcision to rape.

      ———-

      Hugh7 said:
      “So if a woman is drugged, hence “she can’t even remember” and raped carefully, with a condom, hence “no real harm”, may Darwin compare THAT with his circumcision?”

      No, they are different things. One is an act of sexual violence, the other is a widely practiced and socially accepted medical procedure.

      ———-

      Forbidden Snowflake said:
      “Brenda, you begin with the assumption that circumcision causes no harm … and when someone claims to feel harmed by it … you dismiss and insult him for “choosing” to feel harmed because according to the assumption you started with, circumcision causes no harm and therefor anyone who claims to have been harmed is just being a crybaby.

      My argument is not circular because there is an objective difference between the perception of harm and real harm. Perception is not reality. Sometimes people get lost in their own subjective reality and mistake their own personal experience for objective truth.

      “So you expect Jews to alter their tradition of circumcision sans anesthesia, performed by a mohel with no formal medical training, who sucks the blood out with his mouth after the procedure?

      Do they also mix the blood in with flour to make their matzo balls? Sounds close to an antisemitic blood libel to me. I wonder what Daniel’s superiors or co-workers would think if they knew that his blog traffics in such filth?

      What do you think Stuart Rabinowitz would say Daniel? Or your Dept. chair Kathleen Wallace? Maybe they should know.

    • Forbidden Snowflake
      “So you expect Jews to alter their tradition of circumcision sans anesthesia, performed by a mohel with no formal medical training, who sucks the blood out with his mouth after the procedure?“

      Do they also mix the blood in with flour to make their matzo balls? Sounds close to an antisemitic blood libel to me.

      The reason why it sounds like blood libel to you, Brenda, is that you’re laughably ignorant of the practice you are defending. Read what the antisemitic pamphlet known as Wikipedia has to say about it and stop wasting everyone’s time.
      Anyway, that is not relevant to my criticism, to which you failed to reply: you have equivocated. When you defend circumcision as a cultural custom, you refer to it as a tradition, but when you defend circumcision as harmless, you describe not the traditional ritual, but the modern, clinical and sterilized procedure. This is dishonesty on your part.
      Daniel: while it may well be a trope some antisemites exploit for the ick factor, it also happens to be true that metzitzah b’peh is the common practice in many Jewish communities.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Do they also mix the blood in with flour to make their matzo balls? Sounds close to an antisemitic blood libel to me. I wonder what Daniel’s superiors or co-workers would think if they knew that his blog traffics in such filth?

      What do you think Stuart Rabinowitz would say Daniel? Or your Dept. chair Kathleen Wallace? Maybe they should know.

      Don’t threaten me.

      My blog does not “traffic” in anti-semitism. For making an incendiary, unsubstantiated charge like that and for trying to threaten my career with it, you will not be posting here anymore.

      If anyone knows if this is a standard anti-semitic trope that Forbidden Snowflake is actually using, then simply point me to a resource where I can learn about that.

      This blog permits the criticism of ideas and practices that are intellectually or morally questionable, even if they are religious. It is not a racist blog and I have never said nor knowingly permitted anything remotely anti-semitic. I criticize all religions equally on the grounds of their truth and on the grounds of the ethics of their practices. Unlike you I do not demarcate which religious groups’ beliefs or practices are wholesale off limits to critical investigation simply because bigots also criticize them in horrific ways.

      The people on this blog are critical of religion—every religion equally. And they have every right to be. This is a philosophy blog, not a propaganda outlet for religious groups.

    • http://www.darwinharmless.com Darwin Harmless

      Dan, sorry. I lost it there. On reflection I was also incorrect to point out that Brenda is a woman, and therefore not entitled to an opinion about how men should feel about their penises. I have an opinion about FGM. She has a right to an opinion about infant male circumcision, however offensive I might find that opinion.

    • darwinharmless

      Darwin Harmless said

      “I would NEVER compare my circumcison to rape. … I compared your incredible insesitivity to my issue, to a common male issue, with the insensitivity shown by many men to women’s issues.”

      In other words, you compared circumcision to rape.

      No. I compared your attitude towards a male issue with the attitude of male chauvinists to a female issue. It’s the attitudes being compared, not the issue. Trying to make it out as comparing the issues is simply avoiding the point I was making.
      In any event, in my apology to Dan I corrected myself for trying to deny you the right to an opinion based on your gender. I have an opinion about FGM. You are entitled to have an opinion about infant male circumcision, even though you don’t have a penis. I disagree with your opinion, and I am offended by it, just as you might be offended if I expressed an opinion about women’s reproductive rights, but you have a perfect right to your opinion.

    • Forbidden Snowflake

      Also:

      Sounds close to an antisemitic blood libel to me.

      What grounds can you possibly have to condemn antisemitism and/or blood libel, given that they are long-standing traditions in some cultures?

    • Anat

      To brenda:

      Re: intersex children: yes, my understanding is that practice is moving to leaving them unaltered so that they can choose which (if any) gender to present as. (Though the practice may depend on the reason for the intersex situation, if some clinical situations have different prognosis.)

      And yes, traditional Jewish circumcision is performed without anesthesia. I have witnessed quite a few since childhood, including my brother’s and my nephew’s (they are family celebrations, not clinical procedures). The infant is held in the lap of the ‘sandak’ (roughly equivalent of godfather) as the mohel operates. He is given a sip of wine, that’s all the pain relief offered (though some modern mohalim do use a local anesthetic ointment – in Israel a parent would have to ask for that explicitly). As for the sucking of the blood – TMK most mohalim use a tube, but there are still more traditional mohalim who do it directly by mouth, and instances of transmission of infection as a result of this practice.

  • A ‘Nym Too

    @Brenda – I live in a country that does not have routine infant circumcision, and quite frankly, your arguments are absolutely ridiculous, but this is pants-wetingly funny :

    They also appreciated not having to pay constant attention to keeping themselves clean and free from infections that could develop in non circumcised men. .

    CONSTANT? I know men. I have a father, a brother, male friends and relatives, I had male colleagues, and I share a country with millions of men. I think I’d have noticed if they were engaged in frenzied cock-scrubbing around the clock, with the exception of a few Jews and Muslims.

    I think I also would have noticed, when I worked in public health, swathes of blokes howlinp in agony with knob-rot.

    Sadly, neither scenario exists, except in your imagination.

    Here’s a question – do you wash your genitals? Does it take hours? Would you prefer that your labia minorae and prepuce were removed, to facilitate easier cleaning? If not, why not?

    The thing is, circumcision at birth fundamentally alters and damages the penis. It cannot self-lubricate, it’s exposed to the air and fabric, dries out and becomes callused and keratinised, and there’s no ‘glide’ during sex or masturbation.

    Hygiene isn’t a real issue for quite a few years after birth, as the foreskin is stuck to the penis and does not retract. That means no foreign particulate can enter and irritate the shaft. The only real issue is phimosis (tight foreskin) but that can be treated with a mild steroid cream and gentle manipulation. Very few cases require surgery.

    The adhesion to the shaft is very strong. That’s why, in infant circ, the foreskin must be ripped away from the glans and the shaft first, then it’s either clamped with a metal device and cut away, or a plastic bell clamp is attached that slowly kills the blood supply to the foreskin. It takes days. And anaesthesia is rarely used, too dangerous for neonates. They’re strapped to a board and immobilised so they can’t struggle, them the foreskin is ripped away and cut off.

    It’s fucking barbaric. The vast majority of the developed world views it as an outdated, puritan procedure. We all know that water is available, and sexual activity should be fun.

    Finally, your “No permanent damage” claims presumably don’t take dead and maimed babies into account. Why? Is your agenda more important?

    Positively Jurassic, mutilating babies based on scare stories, old wives takes, and puritan morality codes.

    • A ‘Nym Too

      *howling

      *tales

      My autocorrect is odd.

    • http://www.darwinharmless.com Darwin Harmless

      Thank you for this. You speak eloquently and I appreciate it. Brenda insists on trivializing this issue. Thank you for setting her straight.

    • A ‘Nym Too

      No problem DH. I’m not a man, don’t have sex with men, and won’t be birthing any babies, but I believe bodily integrity is an intrinsic, undeniable human right.

      I truly love to see certain US citizens claim all sorts of awful outcomes of leaving babies intact. Rampant rates of infection, complete lack of genital hygiene, sexual complications etc. All this from a body part that is supposed to be there! The hygiene argument is particularly specious. Intact babies, toddlers, and children merely require a quick wipe to absorb drips. A cut newborn has an open bleeding penis wound that is constantly exposed to urine and faeces, unless the parents practice the rare method called “Elimination Communication”, where diapers/nappies aren’t used, and parents rely on the babies behavioural cues to detect if they need to go.

      They hold them over the toilet or a bowl. But it’s a very “crunchy” practice, completely at odds with anything ‘unnatural’. so probably not many circ’ed babies in EC families.

      A huge number of USians have accepted male infant genital cutting as a matter of fact, en masse. As a non-American that’s really scary. Boys in the UK are cut for only three reasons – they’re Jewish, they’re Muslim, or they have a medical issue (usually phimosis) that all other available interventions have failed to treat. As a result, just under 5% of British men are not intact. That’s how we know that not cutting off the prepuce doesn’t lead to terrible problems, as claimed by advocates of infant cutting.

    • Nomad

      “The thing is, circumcision at birth fundamentally alters and damages the penis. It cannot self-lubricate, it’s exposed to the air and fabric, dries out and becomes callused and keratinised, and there’s no ‘glide’ during sex or masturbation.”

      Based on my own experience, this is all completely false.

  • http://accidentalrecipe.blogspot.com Former Senator Larry Craig

    Meh. I was circumcized as an infant and I can’t say it’s made any difference in my life.

    No, literally, I can’t say, because I don’t have a second, uncircumcized penis to compare it to. But I will say my sexual response and level of pleasure is just fine.

    Body modification as a cultural marker, of adults and of nominally unconsenting children, has been going on as long as there were cultures. So long as it doesn’t result in permanent disfunction or disease I can’t get excited about it. Under modern conditions the complication rate for circumcision is vanishingly small and, though the data are controversial, may even provide positive health benefits for some populations.

    So, foot-binding, infibulation, clitoral amputation, castration: not okay. Tattooing, scarification, ear piercing, circumcision: meh.

    Tangentially, some writers including Jennifer Michael Hecht believe that Jewish ritual circumcision was at one time a much less radical procedure than today, amounting to just cutting a notch into the prepuce. She bases this on complaints dating from Hellenistic times that Jewish men were going to the gymnasium and “passing” as Gentile. There’s no way a fully circumcized penis can be mistaken for the intact item.

    • A ‘Nym Too

      .

      So, foot-binding, infibulation, clitoral amputation, castration: not okay. Tattooing, scarification, ear piercing, circumcision: meh

      OK, so male genital cutting is fine, what about the widely practiced form of female genuine cutting that is virtually identical, in that it also removes the prepuce. (foreskin) from the glans?

      It evenhas the same physiological outcomes, such as keratinisation and drying out. There’s also a less invasive version where a notch is cut from the prepuce, or it is symbolically pricked with a needle to draw blood.

      Are they all “meh” to you too, and if not, why?

    • A ‘Nym Too

      Wish I could edit comments, but with regard to the “vanishingly rare” complications, there are up to 200 deaths in the US each year, during or following infant circumcision.

      2fl oz of blood loss is fatal for newborns. Small babies and premature babies can often only tolerate half of that amount of blood loss.

      In contrast, roughly 20 American children die every year from choking. We need to eat, so those deaths are largely unavoidable.

      WRT Jewish custom – the Falash Mura, the Ethiopian Jews, remove the prepuce of boys and girls alike on the eighth day of the baby’s life. Do you (or does anyone else) have any thoughts about that?

    • http://accidentalrecipe.blogspot.com Former Senator Larry Craig

      OK, so male genital cutting is fine, what about the widely practiced form of female genuine cutting that is virtually identical

      That word “virtually” is doing a lot of work in that sentence. And that’s why I put it in the “not okay” category and don’t find that inconsistent.

      I don’t know where you’re getting your statistics. But just grabbing the first link from Google according to Wallerstein in the years 1995 to 2000 in the USA there were at least 6.3 million infant circumcisions, an average of 1.26 million per year. Being maximally generous and assuming that “up to 200″ means “200″, that’s a rate of less than 0.02 percent. I’m comfortable with calling that “vanishingly small”.

      Furthermore, this

      In contrast, roughly 20 American children die every year from choking. We need to eat, so those deaths are largely unavoidable.

      seems to be just plain wrong. According to Consumer Reports, a 2003 review of data from hospitals in 36 states (thus not even complete data for the USA) showed 2.7 million children treated for choking and 2000 – not twenty – deaths. The article does not break out the cause of the choking, so I suppose it’s possible that only one percent of those deaths were from food and that there were absolutely zero deaths in the 14 states not surveyed, but I find that unlikely.

    • A ‘Nym Too

      Larry – WRT the female version that’s virtually the same as male genital cutting and the snark about “the word virtually doing a lot of work there”, actually no, it isn’t.

      In your original comment you said infibulation and clitoridectomy were wrong, so you don’t get to walk it back and claim you meant all FGC, when you used very specific terms that only refer to two varieties of the practice.

      Infibulation is the equivalent of getting rid of the entire penis, leaving only a hole above the scrotum for urination.

      Clitoridectomy would be equivalent to removing the glans and the prepuce.

      Right, now the version you’re getting defensive about:

      Male circumcision involves removal of the prepuce in order to expose the glans and some of the shaft, yes, we’re good with that definition, are we?

      The female procedure that is VIRTUALLY the same, involves removal of the prepuce in order to expose the glans.

      Now tell me again, how are. they different? The only differences are that only a tiny bit of the external mucosa is removed from girls, whereas neonate boys lose up to a third of their penis at the time. Also, the shaft and glans are exposed in boys, but only the glans in the girls. The clitoral shaft, although larger than the penile shaft, is buried under the vulvar structure, so it’s not exposed. So yeah, visually the same, just slightly more invasive for boys.

      There’s also a group of even less invasive versions of FGC, that are nowhere near as brutal as ripping the prepuce off a screaming baby, then applying a clamp that stays on for days.

      The Indonesian girls I’ve had to tend to, and the Indonesian women I saw (in adulthood years after) either had a tiny v-shaped notch cut from the prepuce, or a hole pierced through the prepuce, that closes up with time. It’s usually performed en masse at age seven. Girls here have been taken back there on holiday, and the procedure is done then*.

      Are you against that, and why?

      WRT choking, 3000 people die yearly in the US from choking on food. I was half asleep (it was 8am and I went to bed at 5) and quoted the hotdog statistics. One child dies every five days, in the US, from choking on food. So that’s about 75.

      I can’t link from this phone sorry, but it’s from the CPR promotion site becpr.org, using 2010 figures.

      So again, eating is a necessity, cutting the genitals of children is not. Children eat several times a day, and still they’re safer than that conscious newborn in restraints, having his penis maimed.

      *This is a real problem among certain immigrant and British-born groups. Girls are sent at the beginning of the six-week summer holiday, so that they recover before school starts in September.

    • brenda

      A ‘Nym Too said: “Now tell me again, how are. they different?”

      The difference is that a clitoris is not a penis. They are different sexual organs with different functions. Removing the clitoral hood has a profound effect on a woman’s sexual function whereas on a male it does not. That is the measure. Comparing a clitoral hood to the prepuce is comparing apples to oranges. They may start out the same, we all do, but they don’t end up at the same place.

    • A ‘Nym Too

      Sorry Brenda, but I’m definitely calling ‘Troll! ‘ now, I refuse to believe that anyone capable of typing on the internet is so ignorant of human biology. Nope.

      The glans clitoris and glans penis are derived from the same precursor organ. The clitoral hood is the clitoral prepuce, the penile hood, the foreskin, is the penile prepuce.

      The shaft of the penis (corpus cavernosun) and the legs of the clitoris (the crurae) are identical. Dual tubes of spongy erectile tissue that engorge in response to arousal. They’re even the same size range in sexually mature bodies.

      WRT removal of the clitoral prepuce, it is performed medically, where indicated, in cases of adhesion that cannot be freed any other way, or if the patient has a ‘hidden clitoris’ due to an over-large prepuce.

      It has little effect on sexual arousal. The clitoris is extremely sensitive at first, until some keratinisation occurs. Just like a circumcised penis. When performed in childhood, of course, the person knows no different, again, just like circumcised males! How strange…

      It still doesn’t make mutilating anybody’s genitals the right thing to do.

      Please stop talking about things you’re ignorant of. This is the internet, there are so many guides to human genitalia and sexuality, there’s no excuse for not educating yourself.

      You’re giving me secondhand embarrassment from some of your bizarre proclamations.

  • http://www.darwinharmless.com Darwin Harmless

    To all those circumcised men who say “meh”, that’s just wonderful. You don’t know what you lost and don’t care. So obviously it isn’t important to anybody, and doesn’t matter if the practice continues. I do wish I felt the same way you do.

    Brenda, I have apologized to Dan for playing with his rules, but I do hope you understand that I was offended by the ignorance of your statements, the vapidity of your arguments, and your dismissive and trivializing attitude.
    I see that rather than recognizing all the valid points made by me and others, particularly the eloquent and well informed A ‘Nym Too, and understanding that you might be wrong, you have instead decided to double down and stick to your ignorant and offensive position. Sad. Perhaps when the heat of argument has abated you will actually give your opinions some further thought. Until that happens it doesn’t look like we’ll be friends.

  • Nomad

    I honestly do not see an issue with circumcision.

    Calling it mutilation is going way, way too far, in my opinion.

    Sure, it isn’t always a perfect procedure, and it doesn’t go as planned every time, but no procedure ever does.

    For what it is worth, I was circumcised in 1992, the year I was born, to atheist parents, and it was at the tail end of when it was the more hygienic thing to do.

    My sexual experience has been fine so far, and there have been no problems.

    The debate isn’t suppose to be about circumcision alone, however, the RELIGIOUS aspect of it. Doing it because an imaginary skyman, who built us in its own image, said that we need to, is both hypocritical and wrong.

    • darwinharmless

      I’d be very interested in where you draw the line and allow the use of the word “mutilated”. Would needlessly cutting off an earlobe be mutilation? What about cutting off male nipples? Are you objecting to this word because it is emotionally loaded, or because it is inaccurate. I simply can’t see how you can call the needless removal of a non-consenting person’s body part anything but mutilation.

      “The thing is, circumcision at birth fundamentally alters and damages the penis. It cannot self-lubricate, it’s exposed to the air and fabric, dries out and becomes callused and keratinised, and there’s no ‘glide’ during sex or masturbation.”

      Based on my own experience, this is all completely false.

      If you were circumcised, what experience are you bringing to support this assertion? The glans of the penis is supposed to be thin mucossal skin identical to the skin inside your cheek. Mine looks like a dried out lake bottom. If you don’t see this as unnatural and damaged, what would it take to be recognized as damage? I remember in highschool one of my friends expressing envy at the ease with which an uncircumcised boy would be able to wank. That is because of the gliding effect. Of course I have no way of assessing the value of this effect during intercourse, but apparently neither do you. Until I discovered lubricants, and turned jerking off into an art form, the lack of a forskin certainly was an impediment to masturbation. So, again, why do you think you can state from experience that this information is false?

      There is no doubt in my mind that my penis is far less sensetive than it should be. If I wear a condom, I might as well have a wooden dick for all the sensation that makes it through the latex. So that is MY experience.

      By the way, I too have had as very satisfying sex life and I’ve found work arounds for any attenuation of pleasure that my circumcision might have caused. For me this issue is more about violation. I deeply resent that anybody felt it was okay to cut off part of my body without my consent, no matter what the damage or lack thereof might be. If you do that to an adult you go to jail. Why could it be done to millions of boys and dismissed as trivial? I recognise that it was done with the best of intentions, but in total ignorance of the effects, based on anti-sexual attitudes and an absolute hysteria about the supposed harm done by masturbation. We are no longer ignorant. Isn’t it time to stop dismissing infant male circumcison as trivial and making exuses for it. Isn’t it time to end this barbaric practice?

      Here’s a vintage Hitchslap which relates to this discussion, particularly your objection to the use of the word “mutilated”

    • Nomad

      I’ll start by saying that this topic makes some people get seriously teed off for no reason, while the rest of us do not care, and just want them to rage less.

      DarwinHarmless, as you’re humoring me, I’ll address your points and place my OPINION onto them, as well as some scientific fact.

      “I’d be very interested in where you draw the line and allow the use of the word “mutilated”. Would needlessly cutting off an earlobe be mutilation? What about cutting off male nipples?”

      Holy straw-man, Batman! Mutilation is cutting off an important piece of the body for no reason. Something like this needs to be take into a context. The earlobe has a large blood supply and is useful for cooling the brain. Cutting it off does minimal damage, however it is important in hotter areas. So, while removing it for Eskimos is good, removing it for someone in Arizona is mutilation, as it may put a life in jeopardy.

      Male nipples are vestigial and removing them is similar to removing an appendix.

      “Are you objecting to this word because it is emotionally loaded, or because it is inaccurate. I simply can’t see how you can call the needless removal of a non-consenting person’s body part anything but mutilation.”

      Both. Whenever people use it, it is emotionally strung, and completely inaccurate. As for needless removal, there are a lot of reasons to remove a foreskin. First off, the stem cells gained can reproduce indefinitely. Second, it is easier to maintain a body, and easier to clean. Sure, a half minute is easy, but not as a child. It also looks a lot nicer, for those porn enthusiasts out there. I could go on, but it is not necessary.

      As for non-consenting: I wasn’t able to consent to any of the surgeries that I needed, growing up. Surgeries that saved my life. Was I mutilated to you?

      “If you were circumcised, what experience are you bringing to support this assertion? The glans of the penis is supposed to be thin mucossal skin identical to the skin inside your cheek. Mine looks like a dried out lake bottom.”

      As with you having no experience, mine is limited to the college sexual biology courses that I took. So, not much. If your glans looks like a ‘dried out lake bottom’ the problem is not the circumcision, its more likely you and your environment. The only thing wrong with mine is the Psoriasis that has managed to creep its way around my genitals.

      “If you don’t see this as unnatural and damaged, what would it take to be recognized as damage?”

      Perhaps what I thought circumcision was years ago. Cutting the entire tip, glans and foreskin, off. Even then, that’s a stretch.

      “Until I discovered lubricants, and turned jerking off into an art form, the lack of a forskin certainly was an impediment to masturbation. So, again, why do you think you can state from experience that this information is false?”

      I can masturbate fine without lubricants, and even have done so with cloth that is similar to what a t-shirt feels like.

      It’s all a matter of taking care of yourself.

      And finally, I will reiterate, the point of the original post:

      Should RELIGIOUS reasons, and RELIGIOUS reasons ONLY, be a defense for circumcision?

      Dan Finke, what is your thought on Circumcision?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Dan Fincke, what is your thought on Circumcision?

      I don’t really have a firm enough opinion to argue for it yet when it comes to male infant circumcision yet, so I am just watching and reading for the time being.

    • A ‘Nym Too

      Nomad – I’ve mentioned this already, but children don’t even need the thirty seconds. In babies and children the prepuce is attached to the shaft and glans. It does not retract, and should not be retracted.

      Contrast that with Tim circumcised baby who spends about two years with the penile mucosae exposed to urine and faeces. Ever seen nappy sash or urine burns on a kid’s penis? It isn’t pretty.

      That’s why girls have a more ‘closed’, slit-like vulva until puberty, to protect the mucous membranes from foreign particulate and waste.

    • darwinharmless

      Your argument seems to be that cutting off a part of another person’s body is only “mutilation” if you see that body part as significant or important. So the removal of vestigial nipples would not be mutilation. Cutting off an ear lobe would be mutilation but notching the ears wouldn’t be. This does answer my question about where you draw the line. Not where I would draw it, but thanks for your opinion.

  • coleopteron

    Sure, it isn’t always a perfect procedure, and it doesn’t go as planned every time, but no procedure ever does.

    Those other procedures would typically have worthwhile benefits to make the risks worthwhile, however.

    My objection would be that the risks substantially outweigh the benefits. The risks have been described above, and the sole benefit appears to be that it takes a half-minute less to wash.

  • darwinharmless

    @Brenda For some reason I can’t find your most recent comment. Here it is:

    Darwin Harmless said “I do hope you understand that I was offended by the ignorance of your statements.” When I debate global warming denialists they say the same thing. They say I am ignorant and that I just don’t “get it” but they just can’t provide a logical argument to support their claims. In the end all they have are their feelings and feelings do not make something true. Your subjective feeling that something is wrong doesn’t make it wrong. What makes it the case that any cultural practice should be acceptable or not? Unlike Daniel I do not believe there are universal objective moral truths. I think that what makes something moral is relative to the culture and to the situation people find themselves in. Let’s go all the way to an extreme example. The Innuit used to practice infanticide. Was that practice morally acceptable? I’d say yes, it was at that time in those circumstances relative to those people only. Why? Because it made the difference between survival of the tribe or the death of everyone. I’d say the same for aboriginal tribes in New Guinea who once practiced cannibalism. It enabled both to survive in extreme environments while living right on the edge where even a slight difference in access to food could mean the death of everyone. Such practices are no longer ok because the situation and people have changed. If everyone were to decide that circumcision is wrong then it would be wrong and it is not wrong now because it is the collective consensus that it is not wrong, therefore it isn’t. There simply are no facts about the world that anyone can point to that make any social practice right or wrong. Morality is like money. These bits of paper with ink stains only count as money because everyone has decided to treat them “as if” they are money. Therefore they become money by our collective intentionality that they should be treated as such. The only limiting factor is whether or not it “works” for us. The exact same thing is true for morals. What counts as moral is whatever people decide is moral and whether or not that “works” out for us. The physical world imposes limits on some choices we make but other than that the options are pretty wide open. Therefore, being consistent with that, and it being the case that circumcision is widely practiced and socially accepted then it just is acceptable.

    Okay, you seem to have moved from attacking me to stating a position, so this is worth a response. What you are stating is a belief in cultural relativism. This was a principle invented by anthropologists who were trying to restrain missionaries from imposing their prudish sexual attitudes on innocent native cultures. Unfortunately it has backfired, and is now used to justify all manner of abominations, including FGM, segregation of woman, enforcing the wearing of the burka, refusing women an education, stoning rape victims as adulteresses… it’s a long list.
    If you really believe that there is no basis for morality other than “collective consensus”, then you are saying that all these practices are just fine by you. I disagree.

    In any event, what I am attempting to do influcence collective consensus. You are correct that infant male circumcision has been widely accepted in the past. This acceptance was based on anti-sexual attidudes and hysteria in the medical community about the supposed harm done by masturbation. We no longer have these attitudes, and most enlightened people not longer see masturbation as harmful. There is no reason why infant male circumcison should be accepted in the future, no more than slavery should have continued because it had a long history of acceptance.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      brenda’s most recent comment vanished because I banned her for trying to threaten to get me fired. Because I am new at banning people, I accidentally approved her comment you quote above, but I took it back and that’s why it’s not elsewhere visible on the site.

  • Forbidden Snowflake

    Oh shit, I didn’t notice this:

    For making an incendiary, unsubstantiated charge like that and for trying to threaten my career with it, you will not be posting here anymore.

    before writing my replies to Brenda. Sorry, Daniel.
    Oh well, at least I clarified my position re: her charge of antisemitism.

  • DJMankiwitzc

    I have a distinct memory of my little sister’s ears being pierced when she was but a year old or so. The thinking was “get it done now instead of later”, as though ear piercing is just something that MUST be done (I’d say clip-on earrings could replace them, but those things hurt, so let’s just say there’s no reason to wear earrings anyway). Anyway, I recall them using mere ice to numb the pain and her screaming very loud and crying for some time afterwards. Yes, it was only for a moment, but why cause that sort of pain on someone who can’t in any reasonable way consent for completely unnecessary reasons?

    Circumcision of males is a bigger alteration at an even younger age, and I’m certainly now against that. Circumcision of females is worse from what I’ve read of victim’s reports, as has been noted and must be remembered time and time again, but fortunately that’s not an issue in most modern countries. Well, at least I hope not… Perhaps we could just all agree that superficial tribal body modification should just be done away with for all except adults, and they should themselves seriously think about it beforehand.

  • Aaron

    It is absolutely not acceptable to mutilate an infant’s genitalia. My parent’s gave me an excuse for why they had my circumcised. “Boys aren’t clean; it would just get infected.” Yeah thanks mom, I bet you still get to enjoy the hood on your clitoris when you masturbate. Must be nice. They seemed legitimately surprised when I brought it up, as if they hadn’t even thought about it before then and just assumed it was the correct thing to do because everyone else did it. That is the true tragedy. Hopefully with the advancement of medical technology I will be able to replace what my parents have stolen from me.


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