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


Circumcision and the Barbarous Bris

22 10 2007

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a bris.  According to http://www.circumcision.net/,

It is written in the Torah: “This is My covenant that you shall observe between Me and you and your children after you, to circumcise your every male. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall become the sign of a covenant between Me and you”

I’ll forgo the ‘why is god so interested in your penis’ jokes.  The bris gave me a good opportunity to consider something that I honestly hadn’t spent much time considering.  To cut, or not to cut?  I was born in a generation where it was standard to circumcise due partly to bad science and partly to cultural pressures.  Today however, the medical benefits of circumcision are seen as non existent – and many even find that there are medical benefits to leaving the penis intact.

The Platform of the Fetus and Newborn Committee of the Canadian Paediatric Society (the PFNCCPS) calls into question the belief that intact males are more likely to develop penis cancer, and notes that the financial and emotional costs of complications arising from circumcision make it advisable to not circumcise.

Ultimately I think that performing non-necessary surgery on new-borns demonstrates not our devoutness but rather our barbarousness.  Cosmetic surgery should be the decision of the boy and should not therefore be made until he is old enough to make the decision for himself.

This issue is not one of life and death (in most cases).  Therefore I attended the bris and was respectful.  The boy will grow up and be fine.  But watching a grown man in white robes suck the foreskin off of an eight day old baby didn’t do much to make me change my mind about religion in general. 

 That being said if circumcision were to stop we would be deprived the websites of such organizations such as the National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males (NO HARM). 

I would also point the reader to these websites:

The Lost List – part of the “intactivism” movement

Natural Family Online– which has two useful charts on the pros and cons of circumcision.

The Circumcision Reference Library – which has fun “Genital Integrity” graphs

Jewish Circumcision Resource Center– for a Jewish perspective, duh.


I’ll have to correct myself – there is some evidence that removal of the foreskin cuts the risk of infection of HIV.  I should know, I blogged about it <a href=”https://fearofignorance.wordpress.com/2006/12/13/foreskin-anyone/” rel=”nofollow”>here</a>.


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