Big topic, people. I know. And a very controversial one at that. I know this blog post won’t be a comprehensive, exhaustive dissertation on the topic, but what I have learned about the subject is too important to keep to myself.
So here we go. It’s time to clear up a whole host of misconceptions when it comes to infant circumcision.
Circumcision is Not Medically Necessary
Did you know America is the only Western nation to implement mass infant circumcision? What does that tell you about the necessity of the procedure? Only 2% of males in the world today are circumcised (9/10th of those being in America.) In 1949 Douglas Gairdner recognized the lack of medical justification for circumcision, which led to the elimination of infant circumcision in the UK. In talking with Kiwis here in New Zealand, one man in his 30s can’t think of anyone in his generation that is circumcised and another woman in her 20s wondered that it was even still widely practiced anymore. As it turns out, the rest of the world functions quite well with their genitalia in tact.
“All of the Western world raises its children uncircumcised and it seems logical that, with the extent of health knowledge in those countries, such a practice must be safe.” -former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, M.D.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) wrapped up an exhaustive 2 year study in 1999 and concluded that “routine circumcision of male infants was not essential to their current well-being and could not be justified on medical grounds.” (Check out this pdf for that reference and many other facts concerning the medical basis for keeping boys intact.)
So why do we do it? The International Coalition for Genital Integrity (ICGI) names ‘cultural momentum’ as the culprit. But once you learn where the practice began in the first place (below) you’ll wonder how anything this silly could be continued. (But then again, I wonder the same about lots of other things that most people consider ‘normal’ . . . )
Plus, you’ve got to follow the money trail. Let’s not forget that circumcision is a source of income for the medical community.
Where Did Modern Circumcision Come From?
So why do we amputate boy’s foreskin these days? Who decided this was a good idea? Oh, so glad you asked. Several doctors and psychiatrists in Victorian times got together and came up with the idea hoping to discourage self-stimulation. Yep, that’s right. Edward H. Dixon declared in 1845 that he had cured masturbation with circumcision. As you might have guessed, their little experiment didn’t work, but after a while, the practice just became “tradition.” More and more doctors throughout the 1800s tried to say circumcision cured everything from nocturnal emissions (wet dreams) to crooked eyes.
Then in 1893 Mark J. Lehman demanded the immediate implementation of mass circumcision for all American boys. In 1953 R.L. Miller & D.C. Snyder reveal their plan to circumcise all baby boys immediately after birth to prevent masturbation and provide “immunity to nearly all physical and mental illness.” Talk about a pointless tradition! And, as the website I mentioned earlier so cleverly recognizes, “there are few things so safely guarded as tradition.”
“Circumcision is a solution in search of a problem.” -Edward Wallerstein
Check out this great slideshow to see the rise and fall of infant circumcision in the US, UK, and the world, along with some really crazy stats.
What About Keeping it Clean & the Risk of Infection?
Yep, it’s true. Intact boys and men have to make sure the foreskin and entire genitalia is kept clean to avoid a risk of infection. But if you’re a woman reading this, how many folds and flaps do you have in your vagina? Do you have any trouble keeping it clean?
What’s really cool is that when a baby boy is born, the foreskin is sealed shut to protect the vulnerable glans from the urine & feces that will fill his diaper. Then right about the time babies are generally toilet trained, the foreskin begins to loosen and naturally retract. Talk about the crazy cool wisdom of God!
The same sort of skin found on the foreskin is also found in the mouth, nose, and inner genitalia of females. These are all dark and well-lubricated areas. When you change that environment for the male genitalia, you open up that male to problems like:
- irritated skin
- bumps & blisters
- sexual problems like chronic erection failure &
- chronic premature ejaculation
That’s not to mention the risk of these potential side effects from the actual act of circumcision itself (see this pdf for references):
- Urinary retention (swelling from trauma of surgery & pain when trying to urinate)
- Permanent bowing of the penis
- Skin tags (a cosmetic problem if there is an uneven removal of skin)
- Meatitis (inflammation of the urethral opening)
- Meatal stenosis (scar tissue causes urinary obstruction – occurs in 1/3 of circumcised males & not at all with intact males)
- Meatal ulceration (caused by meatitis or abrasions from dry or soiled diapers – does not occur with intact boys but occurs with up to 50% of circumcised ones)
- Heart failure or myocardial injury
- Sexual dysfunction
Circumcision in the Bible
So why did God command circumcision of His people? It obviously wasn’t for medical reasons (as we figured out above). Is this something we just accept as a “because I’m God and I said so” kind of thing? I actually don’t believe God works like that. He’s far too kind and wise and creative to throw down random commandments from his throne in heaven. (Note: Debating theology is beyond the scope of this blog, so what I’m discussing in this section might make some people angry–if the post hasn’t done that already, that is–so please take what I say with a grain of salt, if you would be so kind.)
Let’s think about the food laws of the Old Testament for a minute. For years I wondered what was up with “don’t eat animals without cleft hooves that don’t chew the cud or fish without scales.” Why all the regulations? I just didn’t get it. So it was like a spiritual revelation to me to read The Maker’s Diet by Jordan Rubin and realize that God had His people’s health in mind when He set up those food laws! He didn’t create pigs and shellfish for food; they fulfill other roles in creation like cleaning up the waste of the farm and the sea.
I realize now there is still wisdom to be found in the Old Testament even though Jesus’s death and resurrection fulfilled the Old Covenant Law with all its rules and regulations and I can live in freedom. So you can imagine my confusion after learning that circumcision isn’t medically necessary and certainly doesn’t seem natural. Why would God create us with certain parts of our bodies that just need to be cut off? And why only boys and not girls?
Modern Circumcision is Nothing Like What Happened in Biblical Times
Learning this was like having blind eyes opened. Turns out modern circumcision is nothing like what happened in Biblical times. The two Hebrew words used to describe Old Testament circumcision are namal & muwl. Namal means “clipped,” like you might clip your fingernails. The word muwl means “to curtail, to blunt, to cut shorter.” There are totally different words used in Hebrew for “cut off” or “removed.”
The whole idea of circumcision as it was ordained by God at that time in history was that a little blood would be drawn as a symbol. It was a symbol of the sin of the world, which would eventually be repaid by the Messiah. God-ordained circumcision was in the same category as animal sacrifices (another symbolic tradition with blood that found its fulfillment in Jesus).
Also think about how you as a parent would feel (or felt) when you saw your son being circumcised. Imagine the pain as a parent knowing your child is having to endure. Then imagine the pain of the Father as He watches His only Son endure the pain of suffocating to death on a cross in order to take the sin of the world into hell and pay for it Himself. (But don’t forget that God never asked His people to mutilate any part of the male genitalia. Clipping a tiny bit of the foreskin to draw blood is nothing like amputating the entire thing.)
The writers of the New Testament are very clear that circumcision (along with animal sacrifices) are no longer necessary. It’s not about the body anymore. Jesus bought our freedom and if we live in Him we are no longer under the burden of the Law anymore. (Can I get an Amen?!)
If you’d like to read more about what the Bible says about circumcision under the New Covenant, check out this website that has lots of great information.
No Judgement Here, People
I do want to make it clear that if you did or do decide to circumcise your baby, I hold no judgement whatsoever. Had I not learned everything that I just shared with you, I would have done the same thing. It’s a personal decision for the parents, though I do hope that it becomes less and less of a tradition so more people can be educated on the facts.
Now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on modern circumcision now that you have the facts?
This post is linked to Monday Mania