Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Taking the hat off the little man

There are two extremes in the circumcision debate - the ardent religious person who believes that a circumcision is a symbol of submission to G-d, and it's also a metaphor for Man's purpose to make the world a better place; and the equally ardent human rights proponent, who sees circumcision as an unnecessary, barbaric sexual mutilation of innocent children.

I had initially thought to begin by saying that there are two schools of thought on the matter, but there are a thousand shades of gray between the black and white ends of the penile spectrum: there's the devout Jew who understands the danger of elective surgery, even a surgery as minor as this; there's the man who is himself circumcised, who doesn't understand (and is often incurious to know) what would be entailed in raising a child with an intact foreskin; there is the person who doesn't find the penis looming large in his thoughts, and who just doesn't care one way or another.

Well, there are some additional factors to consider on the subject. First, you should remember that any surgery has risks (and some risks are worse than others).

(On that subject, our pediatricians were recently told by the Patient Advocate that they needed to be more "understanding" of people's beliefs: she'd received a complaint from one set of parents, who felt that the pediatrician was trying to talk them out of circumcising their son. As none of the doctors had done so, the general consensus was that the parents were reacting badly to the doctor explaining the possible risks involved with the procedure - something that the doctors are required by law to explain.)

But as it turns out, studies are now saying that circumcision protects against the human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes, genital warts, and, according to the latest studies out of Africa, it may even make you around 50% less likely to become infected with AIDS.

(On the opposing side to that argument, of course, is the fact that you can also effectively protect your newborn from trench foot by chopping off his toes. A cost-benefit analysis gets a little tricky on this subject.)

Personally, I like this take on the subject, courtesy of one M. LeBlanc, writing on a blog calling itself Bitch PhD:
I immediately expect an outcry from every righteous, god-fearing person in the country, and all their Republican leaders, that we halt circumcision of male infants immediately. We simply can not encourage young boys, teenagers and men, to be promiscuous sluts by reducing the likelihood that they will get infected as a result of having that sex.

I expect a ban on circumcision from Congress, and a special restriction on anesthesia by the FDA that it can not be used in a circumcision. I expect mandatory counseling for all parents-to-be on the dangers of circumcising young boys lest they grow up to think that they can have sex without consequences. I expect a mandatory 24-hour waiting period before any circumcision. I expect South Dakota and Texas to immediately introduce legislation against late-term circumcision. Even if you wisely didn't have your infant son circumcised, you can not have him get the surgery at a later date lest he become a slutty whore.

The chastity and purity of our young boys is already threatened enough, what with the FDA considering approving the HPV vaccine for boys, too. Who will think of the rowdy Davids and Johns and Jeremies and their precious sanctity as vessels of God's special plan for sexuality?
But anyway, aside from any possible health benefits, what reason remains for circumcision? To be honest, all I can come up with are Tradition and Religion.

Now, tradition is easy to do away with. There's an old (and possibly overused) definition of tradition as "the art of making the same mistake over and over." But if someone really finds the argument "well, it was good enough for my father, and his father before him..." to be compelling, you probably can't argue with them. The inbreeding has spread too deep.

The "religion" argument is a little harder to get around, though. Many (but not all) of our Hebrew friends find circumcision to be an important part of their culture: it was a mark that set Jews apart from the other cultures around them, and, after all, it was commanded by God.

No, really. It's right there in the Bible. Genesis 17:10-14 (NIV - in fact, all the rest of the Bible quotes will be from the New International Version [NIV]).
Then God said to Abraham, "As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."
That seems pretty straightforward. Why, then, are the Christians not required to chop the head off the one-eyed serpent?

To be honest, that's where you get into some strange theological ground. First, obviously, the term "the people of Abraham" refers to the Jewish people. And apparently, the Christians don't want to be descended from the people blessed by God. They want to come from the bastards, reprobates and sinners from those other kingdoms.

But in fact, Jesus specifically told people that He wasn't there to change the Hebrew laws. In Matthew 5:17-18, He came right out and said "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled."

Of course, later in Matthew (15:11), he contradicted himself, by saying that you don't have to follow the kosher dietary laws. So apparently, there are neither jots nor tittles in food. Who knew?

But that's just the food rules. Jesus liked a good pork chop, but he never said that you should ignore the rest of the rules that God laid down for mankind. It wasn't until later, after he'd been nailed to a tree, that his followers decided to play fast and loose with the penis.

In Acts 15, Paul argues against Gentiles being required to get snipped. And Paul, if you remember, never met Jesus — he claimed to have talked to the ghost of Jesus, but never met him while Jesus was alive (Acts 9). So he came into it late, and like most born-agains, he became all Christainier-than-thou.

Technically, what actually happened was this:
Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. (Acts 15:1-2)
Then they start talking, and Peter argued "why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?" (15:10), and James read them some Scripture (Scripture that, oddly enough, never made it into the Old Testament) and said that "we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God." (15:19)

But ironically, Peter didn't talk about the penis. What he then listed off, as the rules that non-Jewish Christians should follow, doesn't mention the hatless willy at all.
"Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath." (15:20-21)
And the elders dutifully wrote this all down and mailed it off, again not talking about chopping the chicken: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell." (15:28-29)

The rest of them didn't seem to care about the cock. The only person who spent a a lot of time ruminating on the man-root was Paul:
"Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you." (Galatians 2:3-5)
Later in that same book, Paul wrote:
if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law... For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:2-3, 6)
And, you know, the more you read the New Testament, the more that you get the feeling that Paul was a self-important dick (so to speak). He was all about telling people what to do — the Elders hadn't even mentioned the cock, but here Paul is, going on and on about it. He was fixated on the penis: 1 Corinthians, several times in Romans, Phillipians, over and over. He just couldn't get other men's hard, throbbing rods out of his mind.

It was Paul, not Jesus, who decided on the phallic rules; apparently, the penis was very important to him. His basic rule was, if you had already been circumcised, stay that way; if not, don't take a knife and start carving the wood.

Of course, if you're following Jesus, and Jesus was a Jew and a descendant of Abraham, shouldn't you then try to follow the same rules as He did? After all, Jesus was circumcised (in Luke 2:21-39, if you're interested). And you want to be like Jesus, right?

In fact, Jesus never really mentions circumcision at all - except one time, in John 7:21-24. But that was more in context with telling people that they should be more flexible. (Basically, He explained how you have to circumcise a baby even if it's on the Sabbath, when you aren't supposed to do work. So some things are OK on the Sabbath - like healing the sick. In fact, He was arguing that the people shouldn't kill Him. It's rough, being the Christ...)

Overall, you have to decide whether you're a Christian or a Paulian, I guess. And if you're a Christian, then maybe God really does want to protect you from STD's, and that's why circumcision helps with that.

So, what have we learned today? Well, really, one of two things. Either God wants you to have sex, but He also wants you to whittle away at your willy.

Or, possibly, we've learned that eventually, every religion just turns into people making up rules to do what they want to do - like Paul, who wanted to have a choice in flavors of cock.

Basically (I know, this is a revolutionary idea), you should make up your own mind. But remember, ripping off the foreskin may provide a little protection from some STD's. But a condom provides a lot of protection against most of them.

Your choice.


Anonymous said...

I defer the religious arguments for circumcision to others more scholarly than I. But I do think we now have conclusive medical evidence of the advantages of the snip -- not just for the male but also for his partners and society as a whole. Consequently, rather than an act of Congress to ban circumcision, it's really time for a law to REQUIRE all males to be circumcised. Don't you think?


uzza said...

This is a great wrap up. Thanks.

Nameless Cynic said...

Hey, no problem! I'm "wrapping up" an argument about unwrapping the little man...

...OK, that's going nowhere...


Is everybody thankful that I talked about Jesus "liking a nice pork chop" but nothing about "chopping the pork"? See, I didn't go there! 'Cause I'm classy like that... Yeah, that's it...