I’d like to start this post out with a disclaimer. I am all for freedom of religion. I believe everyone has the right to worship whom or whatever they choose. Frankly, the dedication required to go to religious services regularly, to pray at the right times, and to eat the right foods (among a whole host of other “rules”) impresses me. So, please believe that this is not an “anti-religion” discussion; rather, it merely follows in the vein of my other discussions – thoughts and problems that come into my head and I don’t quite have solutions for.
I have written about circumcision before, but when doing so I made a point of leaving religion out of it. I felt that religion was a separate category and it was not my place to tell people how to practice their religion. As I started thinking about it, however, I began to be just as uncomfortable with the idea of religious circumcision as I am with circumcision in general (for my in depth discussion on this see my other post, and there is far too much to go into again).
I believe in personal autonomy. One of the major reasons I dislike circumcision is that a choice is being made for a baby. A choice which causes permanent bodily alterations, something that can never be reversed and that the child has no say in. With religious circumcision we are not only doing this but we are also permanently marking the body and associating it a particular religion. A parent has every right to raise the child any way they choose (although, laws do dictate that there are boundaries to this), and if you want to raise your child a particular religion then it is not my place to have problem with that. However, what if the child grow into a man who does not want to be–in the case of circumcision–Jewish any more? While he can change his practices, and leave behind the traditions, he will forever have a permanent bodily alteration associated with his past religion.
Here’s an alternative example. Imagine that Catholicism required that all babies be tattooed permanently with a symbol of the cross. Let’s just say that this was part of the Catholic tradition (as circumcision is for Judaism). Would you be happy as a person raised Catholic, who leaves the church as an adult, to forever have this permanent tattoo dedicating you to the Catholic church? How does this differ from circumcision in Judaism?
Does taking away circumcision of babies take away a persons’ religious freedom? I don’t think so. Parents have the right to raise their children in whatever faith they choose, that will not change. Once the child grow up, and has the ability to choose then he can get circumcised. Again, I think that people have the right to alter their own bodies in whatever way they choose and for whatever reasons compel them to do so.
When thinking about this problem I started to examine the other “major” world religions, and it made me wonder. Are there any other accepted (Western) religions that encourage and accept the permanent mutilation of a non-consenting child? I couldn’t think of any. In Judaism it seems like it’s a rule, and it appears that it is also suggested in Islam. Do you think that if a religion started up today with that sort of tradition that we would be okay with it? I feel like it is something that we accept because it is culturally acceptable. But take a step back. If I told you that my religion required the removal of half of the little toe of a baby would you think that was okay? There would be no life-altering affects of this. Just visual ones, and of course the pain and potential of infection at the time of the procedure.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not about to start an anti-circumcision crusade. But I was just thinking about the rights of babies and personal choice, and I realized that I don’t think religion shouldn’t be exempted from the circumcision discussion. In fact, it should be looked at more closely.
Edited to include some interesting blogs on the subject: