Hitchens on Circumcision

2 11 2007

It just so happens that I came across a passage in Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great today that talks about circumcision, and it is worth quoting at length.  While he speaks more broadly of the history of circumcision, this passage seemed to be appropriate given our earlier discussion of the topic.

In more recent times, some pseudosecular arguments have been adduced for male circumcision.  It has been argued that the process is more hygienic for the male and thus more healthy for females in helping them avoid, for example, cervical cancer.  Medicine has exploded these claims or else revealed them as problems which can just as easily be solved by a “loosening” of the foreskin.  Full excision, originally ordered by god as the blood price for the promised future massacre of the Canaanites, is now exposed for what it is — a mutilation of a powerless infant with the aim of ruining its future sex life.  The connection between religious barbarism and sexual repression could not be plainer than when it is “marked in the flesh.”  Who can count the number of lives that have been made miserable in this way, especially since Christian doctors began to adopt ancient Jewish folklore in their hospitals?  And who can bear to read the medical textbooks and histories which calmly record the number of boy babies who died from infection after their eighth day, or who suffered gross and unbearable dysfunction and disfigurement?  The record of syphilitic and other infection, from rotting rabbinical teeth or other rabbinical indiscretions, or of clumsy slitting of the urethra and sometimes a vein, is simply dreadful.  And it is permitted in New York in 2006!  If religion and its arrogance were not involved, no healthy society would permit this primitive amputation, or allow any surgery to be practiced on the genitalia without the full and informed consent of the person concerned.

Hitchens also talks about, and quotes, Maimonides on circumcision, who saw it as a means of lessening sexual pleasure, and therefore regulating morality.  Maimonides also has a good argument for why it is performed on babies (basically because they can’t protest). 

In any case, an interesting read. 

This post is a follow up of a previous post:  Circumcision and the Barborous Bris




4 responses

2 11 2007
Circumcision and the Barbarous Bris « Fear of Ignorance

[…] There’s a follow-up post to this one, which you can read here. […]

18 12 2007

Facinating. I’m going to have to read this book.


17 07 2010
Karen Nurse

I am looking for someone to do an expose’ on a custom. I am a nurse in newborn nursery. The pain that sweet tiny baby boys go through during a circumcision horrifies me. It is surgery without anesthesia. It is 10 minutes of pure hell. The pain is so horrendous that many babies go into shock immediately. They just stare and make gurgly noises. They are the lucky ones. The others remain perfectly aware of the pain that goes on and on. Their piercing screams haunt me.

In history, the earliest surgery was done without anesthesia. Just tie them down and do it quick. Some people were willing to have surgery once. But I’ve read that people refused to endure surgery a second time – even if it meant death. They knew how severe the pain was, and decided they would rather die than endure that pain a second time.

How can intelligent, educated people not realize that a scalpel causes a horrendous, sharp, excruciating pain that no human being should ever have to endure. Tell me how a custom can be so strong that it overpowers intelligence and common sense.

For example, the Chinese custom of “binding” young girls’ feet. The toes were forced down under the foot [ breaking bones, I believe ] and tightly bound forever. So the feet couldn’t grow. Forever small. Big feet were considered UGLY. No one would marry a girl with big feet. Can you imagine the pain? Americans are not under the influence of Chinese customs and from a distance, we are apalled! But in China, even after a law was passed against foot-binding, some parents would still do it – knowing that they were going to prison. That is how strong a custom can be. It can cloud judgement.

The pain of circumcision wouldn’t be quite as bad if the foreskin was fully developed at birth. But it is still adhered to the glans [ head of the penis ] and does not separate naturally for several years. Mother Nature may be slow, but it produces an exquisitely sensitive sexual organ.

The first step of a circumcision is to rip the adhered foreskin off the glans using a metal probe. But the two skins are still fused as one. And patches of skin are ripped off the glans in the process. I see the glans of these tiny penises with skin missing and the tissue exposed every day. The pain is supposed to be comparable to having a metal probe forced under your fingernail and ripping it back and forth until the fingernail comes off. Imagine the pain! It is now recommended that a pain block be used. But it is not a law. So only a few babies get it.

So why do we do it? Because it is what we are used to. A custom. Explain that to a baby that is enduring a pain that no human being should ever have to endure!

There are many other reasons not to circumcise. It is removing the best skin of the penis. The foreskin contains approx. 20,000 specialized nerves that enhance sexual pleasure. The skin remaining is crude and has only a fraction of the sensation. The foreskin is NOT extra skin. It is there so that the penis can get longer during an erection. It is designed to unfold and stretch out, allowing the penis to grow. In the process, the foreskin is pulled off the glans. The glans is then uncovered and now the intact penis looks the same as a circumcised penis. They end up looking the same during an erection. But the intact penis is larger and has more sensation.

Over the years, doctors have invented excuses for circumcision and the public latches onto them. These excuses are false and misleading. There is no reason good enough to inflict such sharp, excruciating pain on someone you love. To forever decrease his sexual pleasure. To amputate the best, most sensitive part of his penis. To violate his human rights.

As I watch parents hug and kiss their new babies. Then insist that their babies endure a pain that is comparable to a fingernail being ripped off with a metal probe. And then a scalpel cuts – with no anesthesia. I want to scream, “Do you love your baby, or hate him?”

There are many organizations that would help you with an expose’. They are easy to find on the internet. Please help! Babies are weak. This custom is strong.

5 01 2014
Robert Solomon

I agree that there is no good reason for routine infant male circumcision. But would you feel differently if it were done under anaesthesia. I used to do this procedure, and I have done hundreds, probably close to a thousand. Let us not go into the reasons why, other than the medical literature at the time indicated it was a good idea, and one cannot research absolutely everything. Nevertheless, I always did them with local anesthetics, and most babies slept through the procedure. That is not an exaggeration.

I no longer do this procedure, I counsel parents against it, but they merely seek out another doctor. But I have had no adverse outcomes (anecdotal, to be sure, but also I operate carefully). I changed my mind about doing it after reading new medical literature.

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