The Unkind Cut

A Portland teenager, Blue Kalmbach, was convicted of carving a swastika into the forehead of his former best friend.

The victims’s mother was quoted as saying, “The biggest question I have is: How can anyone do this to another human being?

Later, she told reporters her son has yet to forgive Kalmbach, who once was his best friend. “(He’s) still very angry, as I am,” she said.

I mention this because it offers a good introduction to some issues I’ve struggled with for many years. I guess it all started about 5000 years ago, when God gave this commandment to Abraham:

This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you.

[See Holy Bible – KJV, Genesis, chapter 17 verses 10-11]

I must affirm that I love God, and want to keep his commandments, but I resent this one commandment, on several levels. Why would the creator of man in His own image, the one who designed men with foreskins, command a prophet to cut them off? I’ve read all the holy scriptures (and some not-so-holy) and in them failed to find any satisfactory reasoning for circumcision.

Jewish physician Maimonides, who lived in the 12th century AD, wrote commentary on the Torah in an effort to show that every law had a practical purpose. Many religious leaders in the centuries since then, both Jewish and non-Jewish, used his reasoning for promoting the practice of routine circumcision:

The fact that circumcision weakens the faculty of sexual excitement and sometimes perhaps diminishes the pleasure is indubitable. For if at birth this member has been made to bleed and has had its covering taken away from it, it must indubitably be weakened. The Sages, may their memory be blessed, have explicitly stated: It is hard for a woman with whom an uncircumcised man has had sexual intercourse to separate from him. In my opinion this is the strongest of the reasons for circumcision.
~THE GUIDE TO THE PERPLEXED, by Moses Maimonides; translated by Shlomo Pines. (University of Chicago, 1963) Part III, Chapter 49, Page 609.

[also see Jews Against Circumcision]

Let me remind the reader, that God has never condemned sexual excitement or sexual pleasure between a husband and wife married to each other. It is merely men – with convoluted ideas about human sexuality – who obsess with depriving not only themselves of sexual pleasure, but as many other men and women as possible. Misery loves company. And circumcision has been their most effective tool to this end.

Most Jews today insist on keeping the law of circumcision, even if they ignore the dozens of other laws in the Torah. Some Orthodox Jews in New York have been in the news lately because of their circumcision ritual, in which blood is withdrawn from the baby’s foreskin by the mohel’s mouth. This has led to several cases of infants becoming infected with herpes.

With my limited understanding of God’s intentions, I can only suppose  that He was a God of blood sacrifice. Any man who submitted an animal to a priest for sacrifice was expected to have already made a more personal sacrifice; a part of his manhood.

One of the greatest things about being a Christian, is that God gave his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as the greatest, and last sacrifice for mankind. Jesus declared to his followers in the Americas:

18 I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

19 And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.

20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

[see Book Of Mormon, 3 Nephi, chapter 9 verses 18-20]

The first Christians were Jews, and many of them did not fully understand the implications of Christ’s sacrifice. Some clung to their old traditions, including circumcision, insisting that gentile converts must also be circumcised.

One major Christian conference following Christ’s death was about the law of circumcision. The outcome of this conference was that the apostles sent this message of instruction to the various churches:

23And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:

24Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:

25It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,

26Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

27We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.

28For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;

29That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

[see Holy Bible – KJV, Acts, chapter 15 verses 23-29]

In summary, the apostles, acting under the Holy Spirit, saw no need to require circumcision for any follower of Christ. Even so, there are Christians today who have the funny idea that since Christ was circumcised, everyone should be circumcised.

I would ask in a very cheeky sense here, since Christ drank wine, should not everyone drink wine? Since Christ ate fish, should not everyone eat fish? Since Christ fasted 40 days, should not everyone fast 40 days? Since Christ was beaten with a scourge, should not everyone be beaten with a scourge? Since Christ was crucified, should not everyone be crucified?

The apostle Paul discoursed on this topic rather eloquently. For example:

For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” [see Holy Bible – KJV, Galatians, chapter 5 verse 6]

Other people have promoted circumcision for non-religious reasons. We have heard claims that Circumcision can prevent HIV [see Time / December 24, 2007 / Circumcision Can Prevent HIV]. There were some circumcision studies in Africa which seem to support this idea. There were other studies in North America which seem to contradict the circumcision studies in Africa.

I have some experience with research, so when I hear someone claim that their research proves this or that, my skepticism engages. Even the best research studies have some built-in bias. These African circumcision doctors failed to consider, or perhaps ignored important behavioral factors in their control groups and their conclusions. I don’t know that anybody there intentionally lied about their research, but some people do lie. And some people are human, and are not competent in reading and interpreting technical results. Some researchers report only the results that support their agenda, and hide the results that do not.

I personally support Marilyn Milos’ take on this.

“Circumcision cannot prevent the spread of HIV; circumcised men contract HIV, transmit HIV, and die from AIDS. Transmission of HIV infection is caused by risky behaviors, such as multiple sex partners, failure to use condoms, and contaminated instruments or needles. Anyone who engages in high-risk behavior, whether circumcised or intact, is in danger of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases”

[see Mothering / July ° August 2008 / The Truth About Circumcision and HIV, by Gussie Fauntleroy].

John Harvey Kellogg was a respected surgeon and nutritionist who blamed several maladies on sexual activity, and especially masturbation. Here is one of his remedies.

A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, especially when there is any degree of phimosis. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anaesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases.

[Plain Facts For Old And Young: Embracing The Natural History And Hygiene Of Organic Life, by J. H. KELLOGG, M. D., / I. F. SEGNER, BURLINGTON, IOWA. 1887. TREATMENT FOR SELF-ABUSE AND ITS EFFECTS, page 295].

Medical professionals today disagree with this theory, that masturbation can be prevented by administering circumcision pain, whether the patient is a young boy or young man or a frisky goat. Some studies suggest that circumcised men on average, masturbate more than uncircumcised men. Changing a person’s genitalia will probably change their behavior, but not necessarily for the better.

Routine infant circumcision continues in North America, and proponents keep inventing all sorts of ridiculous reasons to support it. It has nothing to do with good health, and everything to do with appearance, and tradition, and money.

Some people argue it prevents infections, like urinary tract infections. Dr. Dean Edell, who hosted a radio program for three decades, reported that it would take about 500 routine infant circumcisions to prevent one case of a UTI. Is all that really necessary?

A friend of mine knew personally of a baby who had a problem with his foreskin, and was subsequently circumcised. She told me, “I think every boy should be circumcised.” I explained that I did not believe that being born with a foreskin was a medical problem requiring surgery, but I did concede that some babies might have a genuine medical condition that might require surgery.

This same friend had her gall bladder removed. I considered asking her if she thought everyone should have their gall bladder removed as a preventative measure. Then I realized that her opinion was emotionally motivated. You can’t argue with somebody’s emotions, even if they make absolutely no sense.

I was born in 1962, at the LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, and there an anonymous surgeon amputated my foreskin, using a Gomko clamp. I grew up for the most part, not knowing that I had lost anything important. This began to change one day when I was standing at an outside latrine, next to my father. He was also circumcised, and he felt like I needed to know something about it. He said, “They cut the skin off the end of it. Makes it look nicer.” This wasn’t much information to go on, and I still wasn’t quite sure what it meant.

After many years of consideration, and making visual comparisons with uncircumcised men, I’ve decided that my bald rosebud (glans) doesn’t look nicer than others’ who escaped the cut. Even if we had a penis parade, and I won first prize for the nicest-looking circumcision, it wouldn’t change my mind.

My main complaint about this tradition, is that it’s child abuse at its very core. It sets aside the personal agency of the victim. In my religion, the greatest gift that God has given man, next to life itself, is the power to direct that life. Personal choice. It’s time to break the cycle of abuse, and ask ourselves…

How can anyone do this to another human being?

My wife and I watched several episodes of The Killing on Netflix [there are some adulterous scenes in this series, that made us decide it was not worth continuing]. In one memorable episode, the police apprehended a Somali man who was hiding a young girl. Upon further investigation, they learn that he was actually protecting the girl from her parents, who wanted to force upon her a ritual circumcision. The police sympathized with the girl, to the point that they let her escape along with the man who at first appeared to be her kidnapper. They even lied to their police captain about it.

Sensible people in my culture would not insist their daughter endure circumcision, for the sake of appearance; however, one bad tradition has made many of these people toss their sensibility into the garbage, along with their sons’ foreskins.

If a young man wants to have a body piercing, stick ornaments through his earlobes, have a tattoo, wear a bone through his nose, or get circumcised, that’s his personal choice. I may disagree with his judgment on these matters, and if it were my son I could refuse to pay for such things, but far be it from me to force my personal tastes upon anyone. And far be it from me to insist that someone change their body simply for the sake of appearance.

For those who are interested in making sense of this issue, and can set aside emotional bias, this NOCIRC website provides objective information about infant circumcision.

National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers

For those who cannot focus on technical facts and real research, Leo Freyer has written a good analogy which I have included below.

 It’s His Piano

by Leo Freyer

Let me express my opinion in the form of an analogy. It applies to both boys and girls even though I use the male tense.

Each child is born with a special gift. A magical piano. It is not the size or shape you imagine. A very personal instrument, it is highly specialized and took a very long time to design. When played, it gives great pleasure to the owner. Besides being of a unique design, its beautiful music can only be heard by the owner… no matter who else plays it.

When starting out in life, the infant doesn’t even know he has a piano. But as he grows, he gradually becomes aware of its existence, slowly learning of its functions. He will have to experiment with it as he gets older to figure out how it works and what it can do. It will be a wonderful experience for him and he will strongly identify with his piano.

As with all such gifts, it comes with a protective cover designed to keep the keyboard in its pristine condition until the owner becomes old enough to be interested in music. He will eventually learn of the beautiful sensations his magic piano will make for him… and his partner when he learns to play duets. The cover is attached when the piano is new and the owner will gradually work it open when the time is right for him. It may take a few months or it may take several years.

Unfortunately, some adults are of the opinion that his piano wasn’t made right when he was born and it is somehow faulty. Some aren’t really sure what it is and can only generalize, saying they think it might be “better for him later” if they changed it while he is too young to remember. Before he has any say in the matter. Some don’t like its looks. Saying it “looks cuter” when it is broken. Some say it’s easier to keep clean. Some think the protective cover makes it smell musty, and that it should be “aired out”. Other adults had their own pianos broken and they want junior’s to be the same, so “they will look alike”. To some, it is a sign of faith or belonging to a group, even though the baby will make up his own mind about such things when he is old enough. Some even make a lot of money from it as a sideline (being professional piano damagers as an adjunct to their regular vocation), but will usually give some other reason to hide the fact that making a quick buck is their main objective.

There are lots of reasons given, but they all have the same end result. The little guy’s piano is altered by someone else and it will never be the same for him. Even though the adults’ justifications are extremely weak when compared to the permanent damage done, they still just have to get their hands on it and break it anyway. Even when the little guy is lucky enough to escape having his piano damaged soon after birth, he still has to run a gauntlet while growing up. During his adventures in childhood he will encounter many people that are “piano ignorant” (meaning they just don’t know the proper way to care for it – which is to only clean off the outside and then leave it alone). These “piano ignorant” people feel they have some sort of an “obligation” to fiddle with his piano. They try to force open the protective cover, feeling some need to get in there to inspect it or clean it out. They do what ever they can to make it look like an adult’s damaged piano, not realizing that little magic pianos go through a natural evolution and maturing process. They want it to operate like an adult’s piano way before it is time for it to naturally do so. The usual way a piano is damaged is to tear off the cover protecting the keyboard and to remove most of the keys, leaving him just enough to play an octave or so. It is a traumatic and painful process that leaves indelible marks which affect his behavior, some of which aren’t recognized until he is much older. However, when he does get older he will still be able to play music. But he will have to struggle along in his one octave, never being able to experience the full expressive range of music his piano was supposed to provide for him. He may have to play at it harder to get much music from it and it will probably wear out faster without its protective cover.

Since his piano was damaged before he was aware of its intended purpose and capabilities he will have to grow up satisfied with what little music he can make, thinking that is all there is… or was supposed to be. It is no longer in perfect shape the way it was when he was born with it. He will be stuck with his damaged piano, because that’s all he has left. He can only experience what he has left. He may never realize what he was intended to have.

If he does eventually realize that someone else decided to break his piano for him before he could experience its magic, he may become sad or angry. He may become resentful that someone deprived him of his opportunity to enjoy the very personal experiences his piano could have provided him for all of his life.

So when someone wants to damage a little boy’s piano, and you can make the difference in whether it will be or won’t be damaged, here’s my advice.

It’s HIS piano. Leave it alone!

Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.
~Horace Mann (1796-1859, American educator)


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