Friday, June 29, 2012

Holy Uncircumcised Penises, Batman!

Germany has become the first country (to my knowledge) to outlaw religious circumcision. While many countries have made cosmetic circumcision of children illegal, a court in Germany now says that religion is no longer a valid excuse:

Circumcising young boys on religious grounds amounts to grievous bodily harm, a German court ruled Tuesday in a landmark decision that the Jewish community said trampled on parents' religious rights.

The regional court in Cologne, western Germany, ruled that the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents", a judgement that is expected to set a legal precedent.

"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 fact that roughly one in every three males born into the world is circumcised in a practice which has been carried out continuously since the dawn of recorded history didn't seem to bother the German judiciary. After all, we are entering a brave new world, one that can put behind it the ways of life in the backwoods parts of the world where circumcision is still prevalent: Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Israel, Canada, the United States, and Australia. Thankfully, we have Germany to lead the way, standing on the cutting edge of oppressing Jews for nearly a century now. (I'm sorry. It was just too easy.)

This, it would appear, is what societies get when law and ethics become reducible to questions of conflicting theoretical rights. Being neither a Muslim nor a Jew and living in a country which permits circumcision with broad latitude, I don't really have a dog in this fight, except for my ideological consternation when I see courts ruling in favor of self-determination for infants. Because a baby has a right to a foreskin, a right which supersedes a mandate from G-d or Allah. That works if you're a secular court in Germany because you can touch a foreskin and you can't touch God, but that logic won't fly with the billions of unenlightened people in the world who think that the commands of their respective deities hold real weight.

The idea of self-determination for infants is, pragmatically, nonsensical. We recognize that infants require guidance and support in every area of life but at the same time pretend that parents ought to be raising them in a political, ideological, and religious void. Says the court: "The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision. This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs." Ignore for a moment the fact that the absence of a foreskin does not actually prevent little Fritz von Spielberg from growing up to be good secular humanist like every other European millennial and imagine what this self-deluded ideology of neutral child-rearing and apotheosis of choice looks like in practice. In the words of Stephen Prothero, "This is foolhardy, not unlike saying that you will not read anything to your daughter because you don’t want to enslave her to any one language."

It is the right, or more precisely the duty, of every parent to raise each child in the way the parent believes is best for its health and safety temporal and eternal. Democrats can raise little Democrats. Republicans can raise little Republicans. Sooner fans can raise little Sooner fans, and the children of Longhorn fans will continue to thumb their noses at them every fall at the state fair. More importantly, Christians can raise little Christians and would be rather perturbed to find a court somewhere ruling that baptism prior to eighteen "contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs."

And Jews and Muslims ought to be able to raise their children up in the way they should go. That includes performing the defining and foundational right, at least in Judaism, on their children. Unfortunately, the Germans don't seem to agree, and who better than the German courts to decide for Jews and Muslims what unacceptably compromises their religious beliefs.


  1. Medical ethics dictates that proxy (parental) consent for surgery is only valid if waiting for the patient's own rational informed consent would lead to harm. Forced genital cutting of healthy normal boys and girls fails this test decidedly. Somehow when it's a male and an infant and it's the genitals ethics is often overlooked, but that doesn't make it right.

    Foreskin feels REALLY good. Circumcision changes intimacy dramatically. The only person with the moral standing to consent to that alteration is the owner of the genitals.

    Hundreds of thousands of men are enduring a tedious multi-year process of non-surgical foreskin restoration to undo just some of the sexual damage of circumcision.

    BTW, "one in three" is an absurdly high estimate for the prevalance of circumcision. It's more like one in 6. Globally 95% of Christian families DO NOT circumcise infants. Two-thirds of the cut males on earth are Muslims, but the "one-in-three" number assumes all of those Muslims are cut. Not so. The Qur'an says not one word about genital cutting for either gender.

    1. I appreciate your reply. Just a couple of things:

      First, medical ethics is not intrinsically and incontestably good. It certainly isn't monolithic or, for that matter, universally authoritative. I'll admit your point that circumcision without consent violates medical ethics, but that argument is moot. The problem here is that medical ethics conflicts with religious ethics. If you want to make a case for the primacy of the former, you're going to need to demonstrate convincingly that the government has a legitimate interest in normalizing medical ethics through law in a way that deliberately nullifies religious ethics. Good luck.

      Second, before you invest too much weight in the "foreskin feels really good" argument, it is important to realize that science is incapable of drawing qualitative conclusions. It may be able to demonstrate that the foreskin is very sensate, but not that the sensation is somehow good or that heightened sensation is somehow better than lesser sensation. That philosophical truth boils down practically into "I don't have a foreskin. I have great intimacy with my wife. Ergo, you're going to have trouble convincing me that my absence of a foreskin is negatively effecting my life."

      Finally, I'm happy to entertain or even admit your one in six number, as it really isn't central to my point and one in six is still a ridiculously high number. Nevertheless, I recommend that you source your statistics. It's just good form. After all, I didn't just pull one in three out of my head. That's the World Health Organization's number as cited in the article I linked to.

      Again, I appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts and offer your own.