To bris or not to bris, part 2

What shall I talk about today? Oh, yeah! How about penii and sharp tools?

I had a conversation yesterday with one of my friends (Hey, E!) about circumcision. As a subject very infrequently mentioned in my circles, it was a pleasure to have another’s viewpoint on the matter. I was surprised, however, at E’s strong feelings about circumcision, especially coming from someone who has considered conversion to orthodox Judaism, which is ALL FOR the bris- it’s actually a mandate in those circles.

The basic argument (which has apparently only become an argument in the US recently) is that the procedure of removing or cutting of some or all of the foreskin of a male baby is medically unnecessary. Though some studies have shown that there are medical benefits to the procedure (for those of us who live in Sub-Saharan Africa), they seem to be under scrutiny and fairly inconclusive. The other side of the argument would be religious, social, or as a matter of aesthetics.

So as a circumcised penis isn’t any more attractive to me than an uncircumcised one (let’s be honest, are any of them that awe-inspiring??), the only reasons to go ahead with a circumcision I can think of would be social or religious. So what are the social reasons- that people might look down on him because of the presence of foreskin? There was actually a guy I went to college with who had the fame of being “Un”. Whenever anyone mentioned him in anything more than passing, the comment would always surface- “well, you know he’s not circumcised, right?” As if it had anything to do with the kind of person he was or his contribution to the world in general. From Wikipedia I learn that only 30% of the males on this planet are circumcised, and that in places like England, where the practice isn’t covered by insurance, the incidence is less than one percent.

So… how about religious? As a practicing, protestant Christian I’m not bound by Jewish law- Romans, in fact, deals with this very issue, in the context of works versus faith. Paul says, “Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised…a man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code…for we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law…” (from Romans Ch. 2 and 3). Obviously he’s dealing with a very specific culture here- the growing, Jewish-founded church was telling people they had to be circumcised to be Christian, and he’s arguing that it’s not by observing the law that one is a Christian, but by faith in Christ.

Interestingly, one of my friend’s arguments was the religious one- but from a different angle: why would God give us these parts if we’re supposed to cut them off? True, but you may as well ask why we cut our hair or shave our legs. It goes back to the social and aesthetic reasons, which I’m not sure are completely justified, as I mentioned.

So I can’t say I’ve come to any conclusion about it, though I kind of feel like I should. I’m not one to follow the whole “it’s culturally accepted” argument, and it seems like a barbaric process (see the entry on Wikipedia), even with the presence of pain medication for the infant. Any ideas from those of you who have, unlike me, given this any serious thought??

Nothing like a discussion on penises to start your day…

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9 Responses to To bris or not to bris, part 2

  1. Brian says:

    You can cut your son’s hair, but it will grow back. His foreskin won’t, and he’ll just be mad at you if he decides later he wanted it.

    In USA, no one but Jews (and were there any Muslims here yet?) were circumcised before about 1890. John Harvey Kellog, who brought us Cornflakes, also brought us “medical” circumcision.

    Anyway, the pendulum is swinging the other way. Circumcision is down from it’s highs in the 1960’s around 90% to about 55% today. Some blame immigrants, but I don’t believe that 45% of newborn boys have fresh off the boat parents.

    Our son is 2, not circumcised, no penis problems. The doctors just said “that’s fine” when we said no to circumcision. It’s the friends and family who haven’t realized there’s no medical need and no Christian requirement that make a big deal out of it.

  2. womantowomancbe says:

    I have two sons, both uncircumcised. My husband is circ’d and wanted to circ our sons but the reasons were primarily 1) the one boy in his school who was intact was teased unmercifully by all the other guys (not a problem since we’re planning on homeschooling and otherwise avoiding locker rooms); 2) like father, like son (not a good argument imo); and 3) God commanded Abraham to do it (but, the NT says that Christians are not under the law any more). I’ve written a longer post on this, which also has some links you may be interested in, on my blog. I’ll try to insert the link here (but this is my first time doing it, so I’ll probably screw it up), so just in case, you can go to my blog and look under the category “circumcision” for it.


  3. evenshine says:

    Thanks, Brian and Kathy. I think you both brought up the same point which continues to nag me- societal expectations…the teasing and the feeling that he will be “different”. We were unmerciful to the guy at my university who was uncut. I can’t imagine how high schoolers would be. Thanks for the links and the comments.

  4. Kathy says:

    You should check the current rates of circumcision. Back when you were born, the circ rate was probably about 90% or so. (Both my mom & my MIL said that they were not even asked if they wanted their sons circ’d — the hospital just did it one time when they were in the nursery.

    Currently, many (perhaps even most) insurance companies as well as state Medicaid does not cover circumcision, because it is considered an optional and/or cosmetic procedure. The circ rates have dropped substantially (as they did in England when the state health program stopped covering it). Currently, the U.S. is the only country that routinely circ’s for non-religious reasons; and world-wide the circ rate is somewhere around 30%. In the U.S., I think the national rate is about 50/50, with some areas higher and others lower. So, whatever your decision, your son will be the same as some and different from some. He is unlikely to be teased either way (unless you send him to an all-Jewish boys’ camp or something).

  5. evenshine says:

    “Back when I was born”- thanks! 🙂 It’s true, though, that in the past most parents weren’t even asked. My mother has said that it wasn’t even a decision 20 years ago, when she had my two brothers.

    I have to disagree, though, that he is “unlikely to be teased either way”. You yourself mentioned in your first post that it’s “friends and family” that make the biggest deal out of it. My friend L has a brother (now 12) who is constantly teased about his non-circ status. It may be a little idealistic to suppose that the teasing will stop in the next 10 years, even though the stats support a sea change (which may or may not be due largely to immigration).

    I’m leaning towards non-circ at this point, but my better half is now in the circ camp. Of course, it may be a girl- God would have a nice chuckle at my expense in that case!

    Thanks for your comments. I’ve enjoyed exploring your womantowoman site!

  6. Kathy says:

    Thanks for your kind words about my site! 🙂

    About being “unlikely to be teased either way”–I was thinking of the typical “locker room” teasing like my husband described. If one kid is the only one different, he’s going to be teased; if it’s 50/50, then it’s pretty even, so it’d be sorta like teasing somebody who had blue eyes or brown hair — there are too many people who fit that description to start teasing others! 🙂 In my family (both my siblings and my husband’s), the boys are about 50/50. None of them have ever seemed to notice the difference.

    That’s so sad that this boy is being teased. Perhaps if he saw a video of what happens when a baby is circumcised he would be glad it didn’t happen to him!

    My sister went with her son to be circumcised and ran out of the room crying because of how he screamed. Did you watch the video I linked to on my website? (The link goes to a page explaining the video, and then you have to click from there to actually watch it.) Maybe you can have him watch it to see what actually happens during a circumcision, to persuade him into the no-circ camp. If you haven’t watched it yet, I’ll warn you — it’s horrific. It was all I could do to force myself to watch the whole thing; and I wanted to reach through the screen and grab up that poor, helpless baby away from the doctor who was cutting him.

  7. Carrie says:

    My son is uncut and we have several little boys in our social circle who are uncut. We are all white, upper middle class. I plan on telling my son to ask the boys why they are looking at his penis if it becomes a problem. Hopefully it won’t. I have read enough about the procedure to know I would never do that to my son unless it was medically necessary.

  8. evenshine says:

    Thanks for the comment, Carrie. Do you think the fact that you “are all white, upper middle class” would have some bearing on the likelihood of your son being teased? I wonder if varying social circles might have different rates of circ/non-circ.

  9. Foster says:

    I grew up uncut in a heavily cut area (probably 90% or more), and I have to say that I was really uncomfortable in school locker rooms. Nobody teased me directly; I just felt awkward being the only one who was so different.

    So I do feel like, personally, I wish I’d been circumcised as a baby, but it does seem generally wrong to remove a healthy part of the body just because that’s what most people do. Then again, there is some medical justification to it, too — especially with the new African AIDS stuff.

    If you do decide to go through with it, don’t do it before local anesthesia can be used (I think first six months, but you’d have to check with a doctor). If you’ve ever seen a video of a neonatal circumcision, it’s just horrible. With anesthesia it’s almost painless, and there’s still no way your child would remember the procedure being done 6-12 mo after birth.

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