Ask Richard: Atheist Parents Disagree About Circumcision

Note: When letter writers sign with their first names instead of a pseudonym or nickname, I randomly change their name for added anonymity.

Dear Richard,

Both myself and my wife are atheist (but I’m a little more extremist). We were both raised in traditional Jewish homes. That is, we were brought up on the culture and tradition, but not brainwashed into believing in an abstract god.

When our first son was born, we disagreed on whether or not he should be circumcised. My wife was for circumcision, claiming that an uncircumcised child growing up among circumcised kids would get teased, and have a hard time. I was against the practice as much as the tradition — the ceremony is usually a big event, where circumcision, or “briss” is performed in front of many guests, family and friends. In the end, we had our son circumcised, but without the ceremony (to my mother-in-law’s lament).

Now my wife is pregnant again, and the same argument has resurfaced. The difference this time is that we live in America, where the children’s peers will not be 100% or evenly predominately comprised of circumcised children, so the teasing argument is at least partially out of play.

I am completely against the practice of circumcision (contrary to what proponents claims that it is healthier, there is no clear evidence either way), but my wife is for it, mostly because of tradition.

What do you think?

Tom

Dear Tom,

Maybe you’ll have a girl. ;)

I agree that circumcision is silly. On the other hand, I think getting into a serious conflict about it is almost just as silly too. The debates about it can be shrill, but I haven’t seen convincing evidence to support any of the more extreme claims of either side, how it’s either very good or very bad for boys physically, psychologically, sexually or socially.

It’s silly, but it has already been done to one son. If you have another son and you decide to not circumcise him, you may face an interesting challenge.

Eventually, at bath time your two little boys are going to notice that they are different. One of them, most likely the older, circumcised one, is going to ask you why. You should be prepared with an answer that is honest and also makes sense. Since circumcision is silly to begin with, and (at least in my opinion) the controversy is almost just as silly, it may be difficult to have a response that is both honest and also makes sense to the boys.

You’ll have to explain what the foreskin is, why and how it was removed from the older boy, what the traditions are in your family and your former country, why that tradition is not as strongly followed in America, and why you decided to not have it removed from your younger son.

Then you may have to deal with questions from either or both boys in the “why him and not me” category. These may include: why one boy was honored with a tradition and the other was not, or the flip side, why one boy had this tradition forced on him while the other was spared; why there was all that (at least to a child’s mind) unequal or inconsistent treatment; why you and your wife disagree on that tradition (because that might eventually come out; the boys will sense it); why one parent got their way with one boy and the other parent got their way with the other, and does that mean something about who’s favored by which parent; and so on.

Now, if you think I’m brewing a tempest in a teacup, that these questions won’t come up or they won’t be a big deal, then great. Maybe they won’t. I just think that you should be ready, just in case. It could be that a light answer like, “Oh, you were born where that’s done to all the boys, and your little brother was born here, where it’s not such a strong tradition,” may be enough for them. Try to present it as light and unimportant as the subject actually is, but if either of the boys seem to be more concerned, don’t dismiss their concerns and leave their questions to be answered only by their imaginations. Watch for nonverbal cues, in case the subject is embarrassing to them and they clam up. Also, watch for your own embarrassment and keep it in check. Kids learn which topics are supposed to be embarrassing by observing all the nonverbal and verbal signals from their parents. If the parents seem to be comfortable and matter-of-fact, the kids will respond that way too.

The main thing is that either way, it’s important to not let it become a wedge between you and your wife. I don’t want to be insensitive or overly casual about it, but I think the whole thing is not important enough for marital strife. If the two of you decide to not circumcise a second son, agree ahead of time on your answers to all those questions and any others that you can anticipate. If the two of you decide to have it done, have it done by a doctor just like the first time, instead of in a bris. Otherwise, you’ll get all that “why him and not me” stuff from your older son. Your mother-in-law will just have to lament once again. She’ll probably accept it more easily the second time.

Tom, the most important thing is to keep building a strong bond with your wife, one that will withstand the pressures of disapproving family members and the general stresses of marriage. Both of you should be completely open with your thoughts and feelings, and completely accepting that you’re going to sometimes have different viewpoints.

Many atheists from Jewish backgrounds continue to observe some of their family’s traditions and landmark ceremonies for cultural or familial reasons. How important they consider those things to be can vary widely between individuals, as you have seen with you and your wife.

It would be wise for the two of you to come to agreements ahead of time about other Jewish traditions that will certainly come up, such as Bar or Bat Mitzvahs and anything else that your relatives may urge you to do. If such things start conflicts between your relatives and the two of you, well, that is one of the sadly common consequences of your being atheists, and that can be a pain in the neck. But it is very important to prevent those family pressures from working their way into little differences between you and your wife, and causing a schism between the two of you.

Don’t put off discussing these things, thinking that you have several years to not worry about it. Your relatives may start badgering both of you right away, and you should present a united front. It’s tough enough to be atheists without having family intrusions causing divisions between you and your spouse.

I wish you and your wife a healthy pregnancy and birthing, and I wish all of your family an abundance of happiness and love.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. All questions will eventually be answered, but not all can be published. There is a large number of requests; please be patient.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Trace

    Big Ouch! Could you let him decide as an adult? It only seems fair to me.

  • Mark Lyndon

    “claiming that an uncircumcised child growing up among circumcised kids would get teased, and have a hard time.”

    If that was a valid argument, then the countries which circumcise girls should carry on doing so. We should make all the redheads dye or bleach their hair too, and anyone with a minority skin color just shouldn’t have children in case they get teased.

    Everyone should be able to decide for themselves if they want parts of their genitals cut off. His body – his decision. Just because you denied one son that choice doesn’t mean you should do it with a second son.

  • Claudia

    Sorry, put me down as an “extremist”. Though why it’s extremist to be 100% aghast at the idea of cutting of a piece off a newborn baby is beyond me.

    Think of it this way; imagine you were in a country where it is typical to cut off the earlobes of young boys. Sure it’s totally unnecessary and very painful, but it’s a tradition and your spouse thinks you ought to just do it so your son doesn’t get teased by the other boys. Sound convincing?

    There’s a whole slew of ethical concerns too.
    - You’re submitting your child to a totally unnecessary procedure without his consent. The foreskin will be there later for him to choose to take off if he wishes.

    - The majority of circumcisions take place without anesthesia. Just because its a baby who often cries for lesser things doesn’t mean having a piece of your penis torn off isn’t horrifically painful and cruel.

    - Though a lesser issue, its worthwhile to bring your children up sending the message that you won’t do silly things just to gain the approval of others.

    - The vast majority of circumcisions take place with no further risks to the child, but a small minority can result in damage to the genitals. Sure its a very small number, but considering that this is a totally unnecessary procedure done without consent due purely to social pressures, a tiny risk is still an unacceptable one given the motivations.

    You are the father and It’s certainly up to you, but I strongly disagree with Richard that you should only make the case against it and then let in to your wife in order to avoid any kind of conflict. It’s not worth a divorce, but it isn’t what color you want the drapes either.

  • Deiloh

    My eldest is circumcised and my youngest is not. The difference has been noted but neither son seems to care. Should questions arise, I plan on being honest about the decisions I made and why. I suspect that each will accept their form in the same way each accepts they differ in eye color. If the eldest is bothered by his lot, he has his father to commiserate with and if the youngest wishes, I’ll pay for the surgery.

  • Andrew Morgan

    I’m in my mid-20s and I’m glad I’m circumcised, though I came from an atheist family with Catholic roots. I have no idea how I got to where I am.

  • Jesse

    I am amazed that Richard thinks this is a “silly” controversy. Being circumcised is like having religion brand its mark on you.

    You can’t undo it, and you’re left with the knowledge that doctors cared more about their pay and your parents cared more about their stupid beliefs and cruel traditions than your personal freedom. The decision not to inflict pain and permanent disfigurement on a helpless baby should be a no brainer for any ethicist worth his salt.

  • Panther Modern

    As a circumcised male that came from a distinctly conservative/religious background…

    I can’t see any justification to male circumcision whatsoever. How can anyone possibly justify cutting off part of the genitalia of one of your offspring?

  • Colin

    Just to put in my two cents… if there is a Humanistic Jewish congregation anywhere in your area, they may be able to help. I can guarantee that they’ve dealt with these kinds of problems before. They’re focused on maintaining Jewish traditions, but doing so from a secular standpoint. The traditions are instilled with a meaning that can be made relevant to your particular situation.

  • PrimeNumbers

    I don’t think it’s silly at all. It’s actually deadly serious, not least as some children have died from the unnecessary operation as all operations have the risk of complications.

    It doesn’t matter that it’s “traditional”, it’s a painful and unnecessary procedure, and the only moral choice is to say no.

  • Zach

    Put me in the “circumcision isn’t the end of the world, but it definitely isn’t silly” camp. My parents left me uncircumcised, and when I was younger it did create a little bit of an inferiority complex. When you’re a kid, almost anything will. But I couldn’t be happier these days to have all of my penis still around, subject only to the decisions I make for it. To be blunt, foreskin is a lot of fun. Period. You’re not cutting something off he’s never going to use. So I say parents, who never have to interact with the kid’s penis significantly anyway, have an ethical duty to back off and leave the genitals in unmodified peace.

  • Another Atheist

    It is morally inexcusable to mutilate a child. Period. This is not a silly controversy. I had this argument with my spouse when our son was born. He felt strongly about it and went as far as to schedule the circumcision, but I put my foot down and said absolutely not. The argument has now faded from memory. I would argue that the most important thing to worry about is NOT your relationship with your spouse. The most important thing to worry about is to NOT irreversibly mutilate your innocent baby.

  • http://rolandhulme.blogspot.com Roland Hulme

    “I haven’t seen convincing evidence to support any of the more extreme claims of either side.”

    Then you obviously lack the discernment to call yourself a true atheist.

    Mutilating a child’s penis without good reason is simply unacceptable, and if the evidence supporting circumcision isn’t enough to convince you to support it, you MUST logically be against circumcision.

    Hippocratic code: “First, do no harm.”

  • Hrothgir Ó Dómhnaill

    Unless all males are born with a birth defect then it’s just mutilation

  • littlejohn

    Wasn’t there a recent study showing circumcised men are much less likely to get or transmit HIV? Not a major issue in the US if both kids are straight, but of course you don’t know yet.
    I was circumcised immediately after birth (and without my parents’ consent) at the hospital. If I’m missing anything in terms of pleasure, I guess I’ll never know.
    I remember as a kid in the 60s that uncircumcised boys, at least in my gym class, were very much the exception. They seemed self-conscious about it.
    Ever see a circumcised guy in a porn flick? I haven’t. I wonder how women feel about it. Ladies?

  • Richard

    Why is this a hard problem?

    Don’t cut bits out of your children without a reason.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Congratulations, Tom!

    Like others here, I think that it’s unethical to unnecessarily remove part of a child’s body before he’s old enough to consent. I do, however, wish that people could have more understanding about why this can be a difficult and painful decision, even for atheist Jews.

    Are you Reform? If so, you might try talking to your rabbi about alternatives. In my (limited) experience, even liberal Reform rabbis will probably try to make you feel guilty about not circumcising, so you do have to be prepared for that, but they may also offer an alternative, like a naming ceremony. I do see from your letter that you’re just as opposed to the ceremony as the actual circumcision, but would a circumcision-free ceremony be OK, and maybe give at least some comfort to your wife and relatives?

  • http://www.raywhiting.com/MyLife Raytheist

    I agree with the majority responders. I was born when circumcision was standard practice, and once I was old enough to see the difference (locker rooms at school) I was bothered by the fact I didn’t get to decide whether to keep my parts or not. Neither of my sons were circumcised, and neither seems to have grown up traumatized for having kept all the parts they were born with.

    Surgery without medical necessity is mutilation and wrong. Why not remove a child’s fingers at the last joint so as to avoid long fingernails (same as declawing a cat)? This would be just as wrong as mutilating the genitals.

  • http://www.DangerousTalk.net DangerousTalk

    I grew up Jewish and my wife grew up in part Catholic. Shortly before our son was born we discussed this subject. After doing a lot of research on the interests, we determined that there was absolutely no health benefit to the practice. My wife had seen a friend’s son circumcised and the look of extreme pain on the babies face convince my wife that it wasn’t a good idea. I agreed. When we did NOT get our son circumcised, every medical person in the hospital told us that we made the right choice. My parents were a little bothered by it, but both my wife and I are happy that our son has not made a covenant with God. If he really wants to get it done when he is older, he can and then he can even get anesthesia. My wife’s father got circumcised when he was 7 or 8 when he moved to America. It can be done when kids are older. So I am against baby genital mutilation and my 10 month old son is doing fine with his evil foreskin.
    -Staks

  • Ron in Houston

    There are actual medical reasons for doing circumcision. When my first son was born I weighed the pros and cons and went ahead and had him circumcised.

    If anyone’s interested here’s a Medicine.net discussion on the procedure.

  • Adam

    @littleJohn

    I’ve heard the same thing. Specifically, Dr. Drew Pinsky on Loveline brings up a list of studies whenever the topic comes up that demonstrate lower risk for a whole host of ‘issues’ in circumcised adults.

    I tend to respect his opinions, despite the typically ‘pop’ nature of his public face – kind of unusual for me, really – and he is citing evidence at the time. I just wish I could recall some of the studies he’s talked about.

    To address the post, Since you’re both atheists, I doubt the issue being taken up is a religious one. It’s about the child’s long term welfare. So, I would recommend talking to a doctor you trust about it. Listen to the experts – they’re the experts. And if there are as many medical benefits to it as I’ve heard, the argument for really enters ‘no duh’ territory.

    Oh, and like the post says – if you do it, definitely have it done by a doctor in a hospital setting.

  • Circumcised Anti-Theist

    I was circumcised as a baby. I’m not Jewish, have never been Jewish, and don’t even know anyone of the Hebrew faith, so I don’t fully understand why the procedure has the notions of ‘tradition’ and ‘ceremony’ attached. I suppose I can understand someone not wanting their child to be circumcised due to a religious stigma, but if that’s your only argument against it, you may need to reevaluate your stance. As I said, I’ve never been a member of Judaic society, so when I think of circumcision, I think of the medical pros and cons, rather than, “Oh, we shouldn’t do it just because of its religious background.” All I know is, I’m glad my parents decided to have me circumcised as a child.

  • beckster

    I would argue that the most important thing to worry about is NOT your relationship with your spouse. The most important thing to worry about is to NOT irreversibly mutilate your innocent baby.

    I would argue that children that grow up with parents who have a poor relationship suffer far greater than boys who have grown up circumcised. Just sayin’. (although I do agree that circumsion is unnecessary)

  • Potco

    My parents did not circumcise me, because there is always the possibility for tragic injury. Not to far from me, 2 boys were forever mutilated when there was an accident, and since it is not necessary, why bother?

  • Zadius

    Under no circumstances would I allow my son to be mutilated.

  • Richard Wade
    “I haven’t seen convincing evidence to support any of the more extreme claims of either side.”

    Then you obviously lack the discernment to call yourself a true atheist.

    Mutilating a child’s penis without good reason is simply unacceptable, and if the evidence supporting circumcision isn’t enough to convince you to support it, you MUST logically be against circumcision.

    I sprayed coffee onto my monitor when I read this. I guess I’m not really Scottish either.

    This is a case in point. I’m saying that it is the hyperbole in the controversy that is what makes it silly. People attack each other over this, stating or implying all sorts of oooh, hurtful or scary things about their character, or (ahem) heaven forbid, even their impeccable credentials as “true” atheists.

    As a “true” skeptic, I want to see evidence in proportion to claims.

    The subject of children stirs our protective instincts, which in general is good, but I think the interests of children would be better served by this debate if people offered rational arguments with evidence in proportion to their claims, and leave out over-the-top metaphors or ad hominem sniping.

    Yes, of course I’m “logically against” circumcision, and I would not have it done if I had had a son instead of a daughter. It was done to me, and I have no idea why, since my parents were not Jewish and not even religious. It seems that in the 1950′s it was being done to most babies, at least in California, regardless of religion. Was it right? I don’t think so, but I just don’t get the spike in my blood pressure about it the way others do. Sorry.

    Despite the slow pace of human enlightenment, I look forward to the glorious day, perhaps beyond my lifespan, of a circumcision-free world!

    I’m going to voice an opinion on this column, and people are going to disagree. If I play it safe and say, “Gee, I dunno, whadda you think?” then it’s not much of an advice column, and more importantly it won’t stimulate much conversation among the readers who hopefully will have other viewpoints and offer their own thoughtful alternative suggestions. I depend on people seeing things differently from me, so that the richest collection of ideas will be offered to people facing these challenges. For those well-considered and well-substantiated opinions differing from mine, I am very grateful.

    Agreement is not important. Only understanding is.

  • http://thebitchreport.blogspot.com/ Milena

    I’ve never really understood the frequency of male circumcision in the United States. Most of them seem to be performed not because of Jewish tradition, but because it’s the “normal” thing to do. I remember an episode of Sex and the City where a guy one of the main characters goes out with reveals his shameful secret: he’s uncircumcised. And the female characters are disgusted by the idea of sleeping with an uncircumcised man. Circumcisions aren’t as frequent in Canada. In fact, I’ve never actually seen a circumcised penis in real life. I don’t know if there are actual health benefits to circumcision, but considering the Canadian male population is doing fairly well health-wise, I’d say they are negligible enough to not circumcise boys routinely.

  • Skunque

    Oh great, a circumcision row, even better than one on breastfeeding. I’d be interested in finding out what factors play into people adopting a given position. I’m a female in my early-mid thirties and as far as I can recall (anecdotal alert!) I’ve never talked to a guy who wished he wasn’t circumcised. When the subject has come up, my circumcised contemporaries seemed glad they were the way they were, and probably would’ve been resentful to have to have been “given the choice” later in life, as they would also have to endure/remember the pain in adulthood, as opposed to as an infant, when presumably you wouldn’t remember.

    On my own end, I figure it’s not my business to decide, both as I’m not going to have children and I’m not male (in this case I to defer to male wisdom on the matter since they have the equipment and I don’t). But I’ll admit to preferring circumcised partners, which is good because my LTR is with someone circumcised, and is happy to be that way!

  • Mark Lyndon

    It’s worth remembering that no-one in the west except for Jewish people and Muslims would even be having this discussion if it weren’t for the fact that 19th century doctors thought that :

    a) masturbation caused various physical and mental problems (including epilepsy, convulsions, paralysis, tuberculosis etc), and
    b) circumcision stopped masturbation.

    Both of those sound ridiculous today I know, but how that’s how they thought back then, and that’s how non-religious circumcision got started. If you don’t believe me, then google this: “A Short History of Circumcision in North America In the Physicians’ Own Words”. Heck, they even passed laws against “self-pollution” as it was called.

    Over a hundred years later, circumcised men keep looking for new ways to defend the practice.

    Fortunately, the practice seems to be dying out. Drops in male circumcision:
    USA: from 90% to 57%
    Canada: from 47% to 32%
    UK: from 35% to about 5% (less than 2% among non-Muslims)
    Australia: 90% to 12.6% (“routine” circumcision has recently been *banned* in public hospitals in all states except one, so the rate will now be a lot lower)
    New Zealand: 95% to below 3% (mostly Samoans and Tongans)
    South America and Europe: never above 5%

  • PrimeNumbers

    Of course, if there were these supposed “medical benefits” (other than a vain attempt to limit masturbation) we’d see it in health statistics for the UK compared to the USA. But we don’t. There a reason doctors say “There is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn”.

  • Mark Lyndon

    That Medicine.net discussion has some seriously wrong misinformation:

    “3 years, the foreskin can be retracted in 80%-90% of uncircumcised boys.”
    “Full retraction of the foreskin may not be possible until the boy is 3 years old or older.”

    The true figure at that age is well under 50%, and many boys won’t be able to retract until puberty. It’s important, because some doctors will then diagnose phimosis (wrong), and then recommend circumcision to fix it (wrong again).

    You might also want to check out the following:

    Canadian Paediatric Society
    http://www.cps.ca/english/statements/fn/fn96-01.htm
    “Recommendation: Circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed.”

    http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/pregnancy&babies/circumcision.htm
    “Circumcision is a ‘non-therapeutic’ procedure, which means it is not medically necessary.”
    “After reviewing the scientific evidence for and against circumcision, the CPS does not recommend routine circumcision for newborn boys. Many paediatricians no longer perform circumcisions.”

    Royal Australasian College of Physicians
    http://www.racp.edu.au/download.cfm?DownloadFile=A453CFA1-2A57-5487-DF36DF59A1BAF527
    “After extensive review of the literature the Royal Australasian College of Physicians reaffirms that there is no medical indication for routine neonatal circumcision.”
    (those last nine words are in bold on their website, and almost all the men responsible for this statement will be circumcised themselves, as the male circumcision rate in Australia in 1950 was about 90%. “Routine” circumcision is now *banned* in public hospitals in Australia in all states except one.)

    British Medical Association
    http://www.bma.org.uk/ap.nsf/Content/malecircumcision2006?OpenDocument&Highlight=2,circumcision#Circumcisionformedicalpurposes
    “to circumcise for therapeutic reasons where medical research has shown other techniques to be at least as effective and less invasive would be unethical and inappropriate.”

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    I would suggest to wait until he’s older, perhpas 8 or 9, and if he’s feeling like not being circumcized is a problem for him then, offer him the option.

    Aside from the cultural issues, almost all medical considerations suggest it’s unnecessary, so it would seem to be primarily a “fitting in” thing, in which case why rush into it?

    (On the other hand, if he were to be circumsized, it’s hardly a disaster.)

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Not a disaster unless the procedure goes wrong, which it does and can result in disfigurement or death.

  • qwertyuiop

    I heard that there a health benefits to removing the fingers. No dirty fingernails getting infected, no pain from long or ingrown nails. Also, you won’t have to cut them.

    Removing the teeth would prevent cavities, chipped teeth and tooth decay. And you won’t have to brush them either.

    If you remove the arms and legs you don’t have to worry about breaking them or cutting your feet on a piece of glass for example.

    Decapitation would be an effective cure for headaches. You also won’t have to wash or cut your hair.

    I’m sure there are many problems that can be avoided by removing any part of the body.

    I wish people would stop using the “health benefits / it’s cleaner” argument. It’s just as ridiculous as my above statements.

  • ihedenius

    A couple of hundred million years of evolution (mammals) made a mistake ?
    I heard multiple rumors that pro-circumcision ‘studies’ are religiously tainted.

  • Jonny Angel

    No human being has the right to mutilate another human being without his or her consent. The child cannot consent. This one is ethically simple. It is outrageous that this is even a question.

  • Jonny Angel

    P.S. After this Ask Richard answer, I certainly won’t be seeking your advice.

  • The Other Tom

    I was always told as a child that I was circumcised for medical reasons. When I became an adult, eventually the truth slipped out: when my (uncircumcised) father was trying not to have a big fight with his just-given-birth wife, my (nurse) mother bluntly ordered the doctor to circumcise me because she didn’t want to have to clean a foreskin while I was a baby.

    I’ve always been somewhat angry that my parents so blithely had part of my genitals cut off.

    And of course there’s also the horrible risk of something going wrong in the process.

    Before making your decision, I recommend you both watch the Penn & Teller’s Bullshit episode on the subject.

  • http://www.myspace.com/jasyn333 Jasyn

    Circumcised penises, from what I’ve seen in porn, look weird. Maybe it’s because I’m circumcised. I love the way my god member looks and could not imagine it any other way. Plus, I’ve heard (don’t hold me to it) that a circumcised penis is more pleasurable to a woman verses the non-circumcised.

  • Norm

    My son will be five months old in a couple of days. I was circumcised, but as I read and researched the history behind the practice it became clear that any medical benefits supporters of circumcision claim for it can be had simply through the practice of good personal hygiene (just wash it) and conscientious sexual behavior (don’t sleep with anyone unless you know their history). To me this makes the practice more trouble than it is worth, and I convinced my wife (who was on the fence) that it is not something we needed to do to our boy. I don’t care that he’ll look different from me, or from some of the kids he might eventually go to school with. I do care that he remains intact, and will have the choice to have it done, if he wants to, at some later date.

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Jonny Angel, you said:

    P.S. After this Ask Richard answer, I certainly won’t be seeking your advice.

    This is another example of the powerful emotion that bubbles up on this topic, drowning out rationality, and obstructing a clear understanding of what others have said. Be careful not to throw out the baby along with the foreskin. Please see my earlier comment about half way up in this post.

    Think carefully about how reactionary what you’re saying would be. You disagree with my assessment of the importance of this controversy, and so therefore any and all of my opinions on any and all other subjects are not to be trusted? Anyone who sees this topic differently from you, even in just the level of its significance, cannot possibly have anything else of value to say?

    If you write off all my advice just because you have this one disagreement with me I’ll be okay, but I don’t think you should make that a habit with everyone.

    How much agreement must you have with someone to consider their input? The more “hot button” issues that you decide disqualify people from advising you on entirely different subjects, the fewer sources of suggestions you’ll have available when you need some. If you take that to the extreme, and you will only accept advice from someone who exactly matches you on every opinion, then there’s only one place to go, the mirror.

    I’ve been given bad advice by someone with whom I agree on most things, and I’ve been given good advice by someone with whom I disagree on most things. Fortunately, I didn’t let our agreement or disagreement on the really emotional issues cause a blanket bias in me about either of them.

    My general advice about advice is: seek out advice from people who see things differently. You might hear something useful that would not have occurred to you.

    I’ve said this a couple of hundred times on this blog, and I’ll keep on saying it, even if nobody ever gets even one of its several meanings:

    Agreement is not important. Only understanding is.

  • Vene

    All I have to add to this discussion is this: http://www.cirp.org/library/disease/HIV/vanhowe4/

    It’s a metastudy reviewing the data concerning circumcision and HIV rates. It concludes that circumcision actually increases the risk of contracting HIV. Enjoy.

  • gwen

    There is no reason to routinely mutilate, I mean,’circumcise’ a newborn male. On the other hand, I have cared for infants who have had nasty side effects, usually infection, from the circumcision, but there was one that nearly bled to death, and only survived because mom changed the diaper at the right time.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Richard, I think it’s the very first sentence in your response to the question that gets it wrong “I agree that circumcision is silly.”. I really cannot see how an unnecessary and as you know, highly controversial medial procedure can be in any way described as “silly”. You later say it’s the hyperbole that makes it silly, but that is not what you said originally. And “silly” is not mentioned in the original question, even though you agree it’s silly.

    This is a serious subject requiring serious thought.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    If being circumscribed had either a natural (or theological) benefit then evolution (or God’s creation) would have made it so that males were born without foreskins. The custom of circumscription is purely man-made. It is kind-of like second-guessing nature (or God). So I can see deciding against circumscription both on natural and religious grounds.

    (P.S. I am circumscribed, but didn’t choose to be so).

  • jemand

    AAAIIIIIII!!! No thanks. I helped change one little boy’s diaper who’s parents had circumcised him when I was a teen and EVEN if I didn’t accept any of the ethical and moral arguments against chopping bits off unconsenting babies, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it as a mother either. This giant wound in the middle of a diaper and people think this is a GOOD idea? Routine?

    EEEEEK.

  • Richard Wade

    PrimeNumbers,
    I think you are confusing and conflating my statements about the subject and the controversy about the subject, and that is very much what happens when this topic is discussed. There’s the practice, and there’s people’s reaction to the practice, and many seem to blur the two. I think that is caused by the emotions that get stirred up.

    I said that circumcision is silly, as in ridiculous, superstitious, backward, pointless, unnecessary, just plain dumb. I think Tom agrees with that.

    Then I said, and the different point was clear, that getting into a serious conflict about it was silly too, meaning that the way the controversy rolls along is silly too, as in emotionally driven, and marked by extreme claims without convincing evidence.

    Then, as I expected, some commenters here provided good examples of what I was talking about, with hyperbole, over-the-top analogies and ad hominem.

    Then in my first comment I responded to some of that, saying that for the best interests of children to be served, people should offer rational and evidence-based statements instead of all the horror, hype, and how-dare-you statements. I never said that the hyperbole makes circumcision itself silly, I said that hyperbole is one of the things that makes the controversy about circumcision silly. It’s important to keep these things distinct.

    Then some commenters offered links to articles supporting their views. That is exactly what I was calling for originally, and I’m glad they are doing that.

    I would like circumcision to become just another odd and icky footnote in history. I think the way to help that happen is for people to stop gnashing their teeth, tearing their hair and rending their garments, and instead present clear, sober and reasonable arguments based on verifiable evidence.

    So far, a few readers here are responding that way. That was my purpose in publishing what I knew would become this brouhaha, and why I keep responding here, asking people to calm down and think clearly.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Richard, I see your point now that it’s silly in terms of “ridiculous, superstitious, backward, pointless, unnecessary, just plain dumb”. That I can agree with.

    Now, can we look at “that getting into a serious conflict about it was silly too,” which I don’t get at all…. Is that a conflict in the family deciding on this issue, or a conflict on the forum talking about the issue?

  • Heidi

    Ugh. Genital mutilation is completely repellent to me. The day after my son was born, the doctor asked if I wanted him circumcised. I said no. The look of relief on his face was immediate. “Oh, good,” he said. “I HATE doing that.” (My son, btw, is 17 now, and he was utterly horrified when he found out what circumcision was.)

    His father was also not circumcised, and I really don’t get why anyone would see having a non-mutilated penis as a problem.

  • prospera

    I don’t know what all the fuss is about on this thread. I thought Richard’s view on circumcision was very balanced and pragmatic. It seems that many people are so caught up in their own opinions on the topic that they are completely missing the main point in his excellent advice, which is:

    The main thing is that either way, it’s important to not let it become a wedge between you and your wife.

    He went on to say:

    Tom, the most important thing is to keep building a strong bond with your wife, one that will withstand the pressures of disapproving family members and the general stresses of marriage. Both of you should be completely open with your thoughts and feelings, and completely accepting that you’re going to sometimes have different viewpoints.

    Perhaps we should stop nitpicking and look for the valuable advice when reading an advice column. Sheesh!

  • Ron in Houston

    It seems that many people are so caught up in their own opinions on the topic that they are completely missing the main point

    Gee, do ya think?

    Wow! I’m really amazed. People seem to have really, really strong opinions on this one.

    Richard, as usual, very sound and practical advice.

  • sailor

    Good post Richard,
    Circumcision sure brings out extreme views.

  • Richard Wade

    PrimeNumbers,
    Thank you for this clarifying question:

    Now, can we look at “that getting into a serious conflict about it was silly too,” which I don’t get at all…. Is that a conflict in the family deciding on this issue, or a conflict on the forum talking about the issue?

    I primarily respond to the letter writers and their specific situations, and any generalizations about my advice may or may not apply well to other people or situations. The presenting problem may not be the essential problem. Whether or not to circumcise is the presenting problem, but how this couple learns to resolve their differences and to resist divisive meddling from relatives I see as the essential problem.

    This atheist couple both come from traditional Jewish families. They have already had a conflict between them over this, and at least one conflict between them and their relatives over this, and perhaps several other conflicts over religious issues. I have watched helplessly while less emotionally charged conflicts than this one tear couples apart.

    The way I see it, the risk to a second son for medical complications is low, unless they have it done by a rainforest shaman with feathers in his hair, using a flint blade. However, in my view the risk that the children will suffer the consequences of a split marriage is much greater.

    So my advice to them was to discuss it rationally, and not let the emotionality of the overall conflict in society about it seep into their negotiations. I would like to see them come to an agreement with cool, calm heads and well considered arguments. I see this issue for this couple to be the precursor of a series of challenges about religion and tradition, and it is an opportunity to practice a level-headed and mutually supportive approach that they will need for the rest of their lives together.

    Out in the rest of the world, I’d also like to see that kind of rationality applied to this issue, but that is a much bigger wild horse to tame.

  • Bacopa

    Oh come on now. There are simply no arguments in favor of circumcision that even get off the ground. Is being born male serious a crisis that one must consider surgical intervention? I would think being born male was rather mundane.

    Forget all the pro/con arguments. Once you start weighing pros and cons you have already passed into error. The fundamental question is whether being born male is so serious a crisis that it merits considering surgical intervention.

    To even consider circumcision is to have fallen into error.

  • Another Atheist

    Richard,
    You are way out of touch here. This is not hyperbole. This is 2009. You come across as an apologist for barbaric religious custom that has no place in modern society. There is no conclusive scientific evidence that there are ANY benefits to circumcision whatsoever. On the other hand, newborns have been permanently injured and died from this procedure. How on earth can anyone conclude that it would be a RATIONAL decision to circumcise?

    In some African countries, it is still customary to slash the cheeks of newborns. This leaves a scarred mark on their face for life. If his wife wanted to do this to his child, would you advise him to discuss it rationally and not let the issue drive a wedge between them?

    What if they had a little girl, and the family wanted her to be married off to an older “uncle” when she was 8. Would that be okay with you too as long as they were able to discuss it rationally and come to an agreement?

    Things that are NEVER okay no matter what your religious or cultural background is: slavery, rape, stoning people to death, marrying off your children, withholding medical care from a sick child, and child circumcision (male or female).

  • Richard Wade

    Another Atheist,
    First you say “This is not hyperbole.”

    Then you offer extreme and rare worst case outcomes without citation or reference to country, time, frequency or circumstance, just parroting the global generalizations of the rest of the choir, then you use an absurd analogy about an obscure African custom of scarification which would be embedded in an entirely different cultural context which none of us share, so there’s no comparison, then you bravely knock down a straw man about underage incestuous marriage, and finally you include circumcision in a list, apparently comparing it on equal status, with slavery, rape, stoning people to death, marrying off your children, and withholding medical care from a sick child.

    Uh huh. Not hyperbole.

    For the umteenth time, my responses are to the letter writers and to their specific situations, which are far more complex than one narrow issue. Please see my comment above at 3:41 PM today about the presenting problem and the essential problem.

    If you were Tom and you took your so-called “non-hyperbole” arguments to your wife, I doubt that you’d remain married long enough to sire any more children, so you wouldn’t have to worry about it.

    Suggesting that people, whether this couple or you, should try to remain rational while discussing circumcision is not implying that I support circumcision. If I don’t have foam on my mouth about it like several people here, that doesn’t mean I approve of it.

    Jumping to conclusions seems to be the most popular way people get exercise around here.

  • Another Atheist

    Circumcision belongs on a list with rape, slavery, etc. not because the effects of the procedure are as far reaching (unless you die, of course http://www.icgi.org/articles/bollinger4.pdf), but because there is no rational reason for performing the act. The ONLY reason to do it is because of religious tradition, which is not a reason at all.

    then you use an absurd analogy about an obscure African custom of scarification which would be embedded in an entirely different cultural context which none of us share

    But don’t you see, that is the whole point. When we look at an example outside of our personal cultural context, the ridiculousness of infant mutilation becomes obvious. We are blinded by our cultural customs, which have a solely religious basis. This causes us to consider as acceptable things that are morally wrong.

    If you have not read god is not Great, I would recommend that, as Hitchens provides an extensive history of circumcision with many references, as you have requested.

    I am not suggesting that your advice to discuss the subject rationally was wrong. It is always good to discuss things rationally. My point, however poorly articulated, is that if after discussing this rationally with his wife, if she still doesn’t see how morally wrong this procedure is, then he needs to put his foot down and protect his child from needless mutilation.

    If you were Tom and you took your so-called “non-hyperbole” arguments to your wife, I doubt that you’d remain married long enough to sire any more children, so you wouldn’t have to worry about it.

    I myself have been in this position as I said before, and I do not regret my actions even though they caused marital strife at the time. That was 10 years ago, and yes I am still married despite what you refer to as my hyperbolic arguments.

    If I don’t have foam on my mouth about it like several people here, that doesn’t mean I approve of it.

    I think that your decision to place rational discussion over and above the outcome here is the problem. What is missing from your advice is a clear statement that circumcision is morally wrong. Period. This is one of the main arguments I hear from religious folks about what is wrong with atheists: we have no morals, we don’t know the different between right and wrong, and that we are moral relativists. To be honest, that is exactly how your advice reads.

  • Staceyjw

    Thanks for this article.

    I’m currently pregnant, and had been wondering about this very topic. After reading this, I asked my husband if we should circumcise (If we have a boy, we don’t know yet). Right away he said “Yes, of course”, so I asked if he knew WHY boys were circumcised, and he thought it was for health reasons. When I explained the historical religious reasons (and the lack of medical necessity) he said:
    “Those religious nuts got a hold of my dick and I didn’t even know it?! NO circumcision then!”

    I think this is a common reaction for atheists- if “god” was the sole reason for mutilation, then it should have nothing to do with us.

  • Martin

    People may forget that there is more to circumcision than the religious or medical reasons. I was circumcised and I feel that the doctor just removed a “oversized raincoat” from me which served no purpose. My other skin has a purpose. I’ve had a lot of surgeries during my life – so circumcision is NO BIG DEAL when it related to being cut. Stop crying all of you ant-circumcision boo-hoo babies. My sister told a man to put his pants back on and get out when she saw he was uncircumcised. How many women would have told ME the same thing had I not been”cut.” While I am not attracked to men or their penises at all, I would have to agree with women that uncut penises just look stupid and ugly. It is like seeing a person wearing a size XXXL pair of pants when they are really a 36″ waist. It just looks cumbersome and stupid!

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Martin, foreskins are not ugly, they’re fun – ask my wife. I’d presume the surgeries you’ve had were for a reason, or were they all cosmetic?

  • Richard Wade

    Another Atheist,

    Thank you for a more rationally understandable set of responses. I think we have reached an impasse here, and we will have to agree to disagree on some things. Please do not take my blockquoting some of your statements as “cherry picking.” It is the most efficient way to respond to specific ideas in your comment, just as you did with my comment. I will try my best to address them including their context. If I err in that way, please forgive me and help me understand your meanings correctly.

    Circumcision belongs on a list with rape, slavery, etc. not because the effects of the procedure are as far reaching (unless you die, of course…), but because there is no rational reason for performing the act. The ONLY reason to do it is because of religious tradition, which is not a reason at all.

    You seem to be equating rationality with morality, seem to be saying that anything that is irrational is automatically by that fact alone, immoral. I don’t agree. If it’s irrational it may be unwise, but it may also be entirely harmless. There are zillions of things that people do which are irrational, but nobody would label as immoral. Now, you might argue that circumcision is not entirely harmless, but this blanket statement, equating rationality with morality is absurd, and later in your comment you want me to adhere to that idea. I’ll talk more about that at the end.

    I am not suggesting that your advice to discuss the subject rationally was wrong. It is always good to discuss things rationally. My point, however poorly articulated, is that if after discussing this rationally with his wife, if she still doesn’t see how morally wrong this procedure is, then he needs to put his foot down and protect his child from needless mutilation.

    And my point, and perhaps I needed to be more explicit about it, is that discussing it rationally first can often prevent the necessity of putting one’s foot down at all. My impression of THIS couple,

    which is the only couple I’m advising,

    is that the wife seems to be very strong willed, and she might very well put her foot down on top of his if he tries adamancy right from the start. That could be the beginning of the end of their ability to negotiate, and the beginning of the end of their marriage. I’ve seen marriages destroyed by far lesser conflicts, and given all the other outside pressures from their two traditional Jewish families, they are vulnerable. I just don’t see the risks inherent in a circumcision done by a doctor in the U.S. to be as great as the risk of this kid growing up with divorced and bitter parents. The kid won’t miss his foreskin, but he will miss Daddy.

    So you and I are at an impasse here, because I see these two risks as not even close to being equal. In these situations there are the principles and the pragmatics, and we all find our different balances, and we all pay whatever the price is for the balance we strike. You are focusing on the principle of the thing, which has its valid points, and I am focusing on the pragmatics, which I think also has its valid points.

    I’m very glad by the way, that your marriage survived a similar crisis. I suspect that both of you are able to use rationality most of the time, and both of you put your feet down rarely and only as the last resort. With equally intelligent and willful couples, that is very risky every time. I also suspect that the two of you do not have the same set of vulnerabilities that this couple has. If I had read a letter from you about this instead of Tom, my advice might have had a completely different focus.

    I think that your decision to place rational discussion over and above the outcome here is the problem. What is missing from your advice is a clear statement that circumcision is morally wrong. Period. This is one of the main arguments I hear from religious folks about what is wrong with atheists: we have no morals, we don’t know the different between right and wrong, and that we are moral relativists. To be honest, that is exactly how your advice reads.

    Yes! I am a “moral relativist” and I make no apologies about that. We all are moral relativists, even if some of us pretend to have some absolute source of moral certainty. We are all practicing morals relative to the culture in which we are living. If there really were an absolute moral certainty, whether it is a god or whatever you think you are tapping into, then it would be universally obvious. It is not.

    For instance, we, living in a Western democracy are horrified by “honor killings” done mostly to women in the Middle East and many parts of Asia. They see it as precisely the right moral thing to do. The theists in the West will invoke their god to try to support their contention that those honor killings are immoral, but the theists in the Middle East will be invoking their own god to justify it.

    Here’s where the conclusion jumpers reading this are going to say “OH how dare you! Now you’re justifying honor killings!” No, I’m not, so calm down. If there’s something within the limits of the law that I can do to stop honor killings I’ll do what I can, but I’m not going to pretend that I’ve got some absolute authority standing behind me, whether it’s a religious or a secular concept. Of course I would like MY cultural values to become the ones that everyone else follows, but meanwhile everybody else in the world is busy thinking the same thing about their values.

    Atheists like yourself who take the stance that “circumcision is morally wrong, period” don’t even have an imaginary Absolute Authority to fall back on. What is your justification for saying that YOU have the absolute truth in your hands, so you can unilaterally declare whatever you personally find distasteful to be absolutely, unquestionably and universally immoral? Remember, if it’s really absolute, it has to be independent of culture. You’ll get plenty of consensus, as long as you keep the radius of where you’re asking people small. The bigger the area that you survey, the less agreement you’ll get. Eventually you’ll be asking in places where you are the one who is considered to be immoral. When you used your passport, what happened to your absolute truth? Did you leave it at home?

    If we chauvinistically assume that our particular cultural values are THE values, and all others are just plain wrong, then it becomes tempting to want to impose through law and force our own cultural values on others. But as horrific as we find some of the practices elsewhere in the world, a theocracy and an atheocracy would be equally despotic, in my view. If we want our “side” to prevail, we have to persuade and influence, not conquer and compel. That is why I keep emphasizing the importance of remaining rational while talking about issues where we have a lot of emotions. So, whether it’s between nations or between a husband and wife, “putting the foot down” can have big, long-lasting drawbacks.

    In defending your analogy of the African scarification custom you said:

    But don’t you see, that is the whole point. When we look at an example outside of our personal cultural context, the ridiculousness of infant mutilation becomes obvious. We are blinded by our cultural customs, which have a solely religious basis. This causes us to consider as acceptable things that are morally wrong.

    And you, and I and everybody else are blinded by our cultural contexts right now, and that’s the only reason why we find infant scarification ridiculous and disgusting. It’s only “obvious” to those who are in cultures that value smooth-cheeked babies. We would be just as blinded in other ways if we had been raised in different cultural contexts, and babies with scarification would look beautiful to us.

    We’re all shaking the cages of our own cultural contexts, and none of us can claim to have the cage that is right while the others are wrong.

    If I were an African counselor, steeped in the culture that included traditions of scarification, I would be drawing upon all of that background to find the right balance of principles and pragmatics, and I might be saying “Hey, talk it over rationally. Our culture is changing, becoming more modern. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of either choice as our society and its traditions goes through changes we cannot clearly predict.”

    You want me to state absolutely, to declare as if I’m the Infallible Universal Pontiff, that “circumcision is immoral, period.” I can have very strong opinions sometimes, but I really try very hard not to strike unconditional poses like that. In my response to this particular letter, I want the best for all concerned in a complex tangle of fears, desires and incomplete information, all within this particular culture, and to make it harder, it’s a culture that is rapidly changing! Because of these rapid changes, we are embroiled in this conflict over one of many old traditions even within our own culture.

    Here is where your equating rationality as precisely identical with morality comes in again. Here is where you seem to say that just because something is religious it is therefore irrational, and therefore, without question, without further discussion, without considering context, without looking at the details, without considering pragmatics, it is immoral and it must be stopped. That extreme, global, blanket statement is absurd and indefensible. It resembles the absolutist, fundamentalist and yes, irrational people with whom we constantly struggle, even in our own culture. Saying that everything, everything, everything that is not rational (in your view) is bad, is a very irrational thing to say.

    So again, thank you for your much clearer positions, and I’m afraid that we’re just not going to agree on the methods or the routes we take to get to the very same place we’d both like to be, a world where rationality and reason prevail but are not forced, and where common sense really is common, and where all foreskins are safe, even if not sacred.

  • Jonathan Abekasis

    Atheists are right. The child should choose to love God or not on his own. Circumcision was intended to be a secret covenant with God since no one could see it after the boy matures and can choose to accept the covenant or break the covenant. The traditional sign of the covenant is questionable now as to if God actually accepts circumcision anymore since hearts can be circumcised with faith in Jesus. It is better to love God in free will than to love God because of traditions.

  • llewelly

    I heard that there a health benefits to removing the fingers. No dirty fingernails getting infected, no pain from long or ingrown nails. Also, you won’t have to cut them.

    More infectious disease is spread by fingers than any other body part.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Beth

    I’m 62nd here so I doubt many people will read this, but I am a woman who much prefers men who are circumcised, but the state of a man’s foreskin obviously isn’t enough to judge him on. My preferences or the preferences of any other potential sexual partner are simply not enough to justify a needless procedure performed upon a person who cannot consent. It’s all about choice.

  • davis

    as an urologist i find the emotional responses to this issue interesting. I have two new sons who are not circumsized. the reason are rational. sex is better for non-circumsized males. penile cancer is not an issue. prostatitis in non-circumsized males is contoversial at best. the only reason to circumsize a young child is if they are having repeated infections under the foreskin. If by the age of six the foreskin cannot be retracted then a circumsision or dorsal slit is an option. if by age 40 or 50 males are diabetic and have a narrowing of the foreskin called phimosis and this is accompanied by repeat infections then a circumcision is a good option. the rest of the reasons for the procedure are emotional ie religion, the father is circumsized(dubious decision for the original) or the the parents think less is cleaner(probably up tight compulsive disorder parents). questions welcomed if I have missed a concern. davis

  • unique.smile.within

    @Martin, I am a women, and I have nothing against uncircumcised men. I don’t know any woman that has an issue with it. Either the man is or he isn’t. No biggie.

  • unique.smile.within

    Meant woman. Oh well.

  • davis

    correct. but many parents come to me with great confusion regarding this issue. it is tradition,and authority driven. your answer is very rational. I have obtained insight from it that I had not considered before during my consultations. thanx davis

  • Another Atheist

    Richard,
    And I appreciate your detailed response. I agree that we are essentially at an impasse, but I did want to clarify a couple of misunderstandings. I agree that irrational actions are not necessarily immoral. My point, again however poorly articulated, is that if you are going to put someone in harms way, especially an infant who has no choice in the matter, you better have a darn good reason. As I pointed out before, there are no medical benefits to this procedure. In addition infants die from it every year. I simply cannot fathom how it is moral to risk killing your child because of a religious tradition with no actual benefit to be had.

    If there really were an absolute moral certainty, whether it is a god or whatever you think you are tapping into, then it would be universally obvious. It is not.

    Actually I quite disagree with this. There very clearly ARE a set of universal moral principles that are evident across all cultures. Your example of honor killings shows how religion perverts and prevents innate human morality from acting. If you look at any free culture, it is clear that all humans operate under some version of the golden rule, which entails not inferering with other people’s freedom.

    It is not absolutist or chauvanistic to recognize and advocate for this principle. Although I am not a historian, I would be shocked if someone could find an example of a culture that did not adhere to this principle that was not also operating under immoral religious laws.

  • Richard Wade

    Another Atheist,

    I agree with everything you have said in your last comment. Our only impasse has to do with how to attain what we both desire.

    I would only add that the cultures of which we speak, our own included, have those religious laws, morals and attitudes deeply ingrained. We cannot neatly and easily separate them from the rest of the culture to leave only the common golden rule-like principles, yes, often buried and lost under superstition and prejudice. We cannot rip them out. We must patiently dissolve them with reason.

    It is a slow process, but things are changing. If they were not, you and I would not have even been in this discussion. It would all have remained unquestioned by both of us. So I take encouragement from that.

    We cannot compel or imperiously pressure others to value what we would want them to value. We must persuade. If you visualize human innate morality as including not interfering in other people’s freedom, (and I do too) then we must accept that at least at this time in history, Tom and his wife are the ones who have the freedom to make this decision about their families’ traditions. All we can do is to encourage them to think clearly and speak respectfully.

    We should not speak as if we can force, or wish that we could force people to our will, making them abandon what we see as irrational. We must not talk as if we are just like the authoritarians who support what we oppose. If reason is to have its sway, then it must be reasoned into them. We must persuade them to use persuasion, reason with them to use reason, logically show how logic is valuable.

    And when we encourage them to talk it over rationally, we must demonstrate rationality right there, in our methods. If we jump up and down and call them names, we’re not speaking very convincingly about reason and logic.

    You and I want the same thing. Let us call each other friend and not bicker, and set aside calling each other “out of touch” or “hyperbolic.” I am learning from you, and I hope I have something useful for you in return. The world which we both envision is on its way. We may not live long enough to see it completely resemble what we wish, but I see progress, and we are part of the process. Let us work together.

  • davis

    richard: I use reason with patients,even the ones with potentially lethal cancer that need surgery. when they say we will let god and prayer heal them I just give them the course their disease will follow. then tell them I will be there when god and prayers no longer work. It is amazing how deeply ingrained authoritarian religious custom and habits have become. the rural south and midwest are really centers of scientific ignorance and denial of rational reality. but this is changing and I liked your articulation. davishart@hotmail.com

  • Thegoodman

    Sorry for being a bit late to the discussion.

    Since son #1 is circumsized, son #2 should be as well. Continuity from 1 son to the next will relieve a lot of pressure/tension/stress from either son while growing up. The debate of should/shouldn’t was decided for ALL of your boys when you decided it for boy #1.

    The bright side is that a circumsized penis is less likely to contract an STD. Also, depending on the region you live in, many boys are still circumsized (56.1% national average in 2006).

  • Vas

    davis said

    sex is better for non-circumsized males.

    Wow so you really believe that the configuration of you penis is the determining factor in good sex!?! I’m circumcised and I have better sex than many others including a great many who are not circumcised. That was just a ridiculous statement and frankly I find it alarming coming from a doctor even more so from a urologist. If you really believe the shape of your junk is what makes for good sex, I feel sorry for you. Hell I’d even go so far as to say I’ve had plenty of great sex where my penis never came into play, you seem to have a very narrow view of what sex even is. I believe sex is so much more than simply stuffing your member in some wet hole and feverishly humping till you blow a wad. If that was all sex meant to me I’d seriously consider celibacy.

  • Vas

    Richard said

    discussing it rationally first can often prevent the necessity of putting one’s foot down at all. My impression of THIS couple,

    which is the only couple I’m advising,

    I just have to take issue with this. If they are the only couple you are advising then why do you publish this junk? When you publish stuff like this it is reasonably interpreted as advice to the greater reading audience. I don’t much care for that approach myself, I don’t like your column much and most often do not agree with your advice and would not seek it. if this is the only couple you were advising then why not just write them directly? Just to be clear it is only your column I dislike, I read it because I read most stuff on Hemant’s blog, I don’t dislike you and find many of your posts on this site well thought out and reasoned, heck sometimes I even agree with you. I just don’t get your claiming that you only advise the letter writers, if this is in fact the case way publish, what is accomplished by it, is it just an ego thing for you?

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Vas,
    Thank you for your frank questions. I can understand your not liking the column. Advice columns are not everyone’s cup of tea, and no adviser’s style will appeal to everyone. I can find such things on radio or in newspapers annoying too.

    I made the remark that you quoted because in the last couple of posts, some readers had commented that they disagreed with the advice because it would not fit their circumstances. I should have clarified what I meant more carefully. I can see how that would be confusing, causing you to ask what the heck is it for, then. I am sorry about that. It’s not so much that I want them to agree with my suggestions, but to at least understand why I’m going in a particular way.

    Some people did not seem to be reading my responses with the latitude that it might apply to some readers with similar situations, but sometimes differences in the various complex factors in family relations might make the best course of action be slightly or even wholly different. I’m hoping that most people will be able to sort out such distinctions, and also, even if their own situations are very different, they might find a general principle in how I handle the problems to be useful to them in other ways. So my responses are not intended to be cookie cutter, one size fits all solutions, nor are they entirely unique. I’m hoping that people may be able to find some value in a general way even if the fit is not perfect.

    Several readers have commented or emailed me over the last six months, saying that they have found something I’ve said helpful because they were able to make the connection between the letter writer’s predicament and their own, even if some of the details were very different.

    I have also answered many of the writers privately as you suggest, either because they have requested it or because the subject was covered by a similar post recently. I try to publish a wide variety of letters, because I want to help Hemant’s blog be interesting and useful to many readers. Also, I have many letters to answer, and publishing two a week can cause them to get very old before I can answer them.

    I do the column because as a retired family counselor, I miss helping people, and I miss the challenge of the intricacies of family relationships. Also, some of the awful things that I have read on this site that atheists go through break my heart, and I’m tired of just standing by and watching it all happen.

    I’ll frankly admit there’s a little ego pleasure involved. No healthy person is entirely adverse to a bit of praise. But it’s a huge amount of work, and shallow ego strokes just wouldn’t be enough to keep me doing it. My main motives are the ones above, and if my ego begins to crowd those out, I have some good friends and some critical readers like yourself to tell me to clean that up.

    Again, thank you sincerely for your straightforward thoughts and questions, and thank you for reading so much of Hemant’s blog, even the stuff you don’t like. I believe in what he is doing and it’s an honor to be able to contribute. There will be another post tomorrow that you can enjoy disliking. ;)

  • Vas

    Richard,
    Thanks for the civil and reasoned reply, it is what I have come to expect from you, also thanks for knowing the difference between not liking a column and not liking a person I was a bit worried you might get the two mashed up I’m glad you did not take it as a personal attack. For the record I don’t have a problem with doing things for ego gratification, I was just curious, I never thought that would be your only reason for publishing. My only point really was that publishing advice kind of implies that the advice would be useful to more than the person/couple you were advising, sure details would be different but you must feel the advice transcends the letter writers, otherwise you would most likely choose a different letter to publish, one with a greater appeal and wider application. You seem to be saying much the same thing. As to Hemant’s blog I agree with you, (see I told you) and also believe in what he is doing, I read most everything including the comments, all the comments, (okay at least the comments from the first few days after a post). People seem for the most part to enjoy your work here and I recognize your contributions to this site as valuable, just not my cup of tea. So with that in mind I will indeed enjoy disliking your column tomorrow.
    Cheers

  • string

    This discussion looks like it’s over but I’m adding my two cents anyway.

    After all the bitching I’ve seen about over-the-top analogies, I’m offering my own: In utero, we all start out female. If we have that Y chromosome, what would have been our clitoris becomes the head of the penis and what would have been our clitoral hood becomes the foreskin. I challenge anyone who supports routine infant circumcision of males, to explain why they (presumably) do not also support the routine removal of the clitoral hood from infant girls. After all, with fewer folds of skin the vagina is sure to stay cleaner and less prone to infection. Plus I just think it looks nicer. Amirite?

    Secondly, as someone who got circumcised at age 20 I think I have a unique perspective on this.

    To any parent who wants to do the circumcision early so their child does not have to endure a painful procedure as an adult, let me say that my circumcision was 99.95% painless. I was given a local anesthetic and was given a large bottle of oxycodone to help with pain during recovery. I only ever had to take one of the pills for pain and that was about an hour after the procedure when the anesthetic was wearing off. The procedure itself and the recovery were otherwise painless. I’m not even talking mild discomfort or a slight soreness. I’m talking literally no pain whatsoever. I realize not everyone will have this same experience, but having a circumcision later in life is not hellish the way some would make it out to be.

    One of the pieces of this argument that I find is rarely discussed in any detail, is the impact of circumcision on sensitivity and sexual satisfaction. Pro-circ people will tell you that there is no sensitivity change after a circumcision, while anti-circ people will tell you that the penis becomes a dried-out, dead appendage after circumcision. Predictably, neither of these statements turned out to be true for me. I would compare my post-cut sensitivity to going colorblind. A beautiful garden will still look beautiful to a person who can’t distinguish between red and green. Similarly, sex still feels great, but there are certain sensations a circumcised man just can’t experience and trying to describe them is like trying to describe what red looks like to that person in the garden. I would never make my child colorblind because of an antiquated tradition, and arguments of “it won’t hurt much” and “he’ll never be able to tell the difference” are certainly not valid in this context, so why are they perceived as valid in regard to circumcision?

    If I may, I’d also like to point out that differences in post-cut sensation can vary wildly depending on the style of the cut. Didn’t know there are different styles? I didn’t either until I had to pick one out. Basically, the more of the mucosal layer is left, the more post-cut sensation you will have, because you are preserving more nerve endings. Google it if you want more info.

    In closing, mutilation of babies is wrong, even if thousands of years of tradition say otherwise.

  • Joel

    Saying you should do it to the second because you did it to the first is pretty nasty logic.

    You may as well just say that you should do it to the kid so that neither parents need to face the reality that they made a mistake with the first child.

    It becomes plainly obvious that if you tell the first son the truth he’s going to be upset.. so to “avoid” this nasty little realization, you’d just close your eyes and plug your ears and hope no one ever questions your choice.

    I think the best advice is to say: You DO better when you KNOW better.

    You need to protect the healthy, sensitive, functional, erogenous, VALUABLE genital tissue that belongs ONLY to your son. Stripping him of that would be a VIOLATION of his rights as a human being.

  • Bacopa

    Circumcison is rape. There is no evidence that being born male is so severe a medical crisis that it reqires surgical intervention. I’s all about making babies into bitches.

    I am not my doctor’s bitch. I have defiled the graveof the dick-raper who raped me.

    Circumcision is rape. Rapists derseve no mercy.

  • http://www.circumstitions.com Hugh7

    I haven’t seen convincing evidence to support any of the more extreme claims of either side, how it’s either very good or very bad for boys physically, psychologically, sexually or socially.

    If you’re looking for statistical studies, you probably won’t see them, but the effects will fall on bell-shaped curves, and every effect will have its outliers, the physical ill-effects up to and including impairment of sexual function, loss of the penis and death.

    What you’re leaving out is that circumcision is surgery, that it’s interfering in the function of something that has shown no problems, and that the alternative is just leaving the baby’s penis alone, which can have no direct ill-effects at all. (Circumcisionists will try to frighten you by blaming every ailment in the region on his intactness, but they can almost always be dealt with as they occur.)

    So what bothers me about your moderate tone is that you seem to be saying “If it’s going to create problems between you, just give in and get it done.” In Intactivist circles, we talk of “the adamant father[/mother] syndrome” – the fanatical insistence of one parent – most usually a circumcised man – that it be done, which will carry on the injustice into the next generation.

    Notice that it’s the guys who don’t know what they’re missing who say circumcision is no big deal. Guys who’ve got it want to to keep it.


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