Is Religion Our Sacred Cow? by Esther Nelson


Recently, my colleague (I’ll call him Ben) participated in his grandson’s bris—the circumcision ritual within Jewish tradition. The circumcision was performed by a mohel–someone who is trained on removing the foreskin of an eight-day-old, male child.

Neither Ben nor his wife is Jewish. Their son converted to Judaism when he married a Jewish woman whose family celebrates the birth ritual with a host of traditions.  One of those traditions dictates that the immediate family members, upon news of the baby’s imminent birth, gather together in, or around the vicinity of, the new family’s home in order to welcome the child into the world.

So Ben rushed to his son and daughter-in-law’s home a couple of states away shortly after the baby boy’s birth, staying until after the circumcision ceremony where Ben had the official role of conferring on the newborn his Jewish name.

Ben doesn’t believe in circumcising infants—not even under the rubric of a religious ritual. Why do people partake in a ritual begun by desert people three thousand years ago?  Does that really have anything to do with us today? But, he noted, “I was complicit in the performance of something that I am against.”

Why is it that in the name of religion, we perpetuate practices and ways of being in the world that we would not tolerate in other aspects of our lives?

Chelsea Shields, a young Mormon woman, addresses the question of accepting things in our religious lives that we shun in areas of our lives we label secular. She speaks eloquently in this Ted Talk:

Chelsea specifically discusses gender inequality within her faith tradition, noting that for three decades she gave her church a “pass” when it came to gender discrimination. Women are barred from the priesthood, excluded from many leadership positions within the church, and expected to marry and bear children. In spite of her disagreement with church doctrine and policy, Chelsea remains within her faith tradition because she loves her community, for one, and wants to effect change within the tradition, noting that those who tip the scales towards justice within an institution are never the ones in charge.

Chelsea asks a poignant question: “How do we respect someone’s religious beliefs while still holding them accountable for the harm or damage that those beliefs may cause others?”  

This is an interesting question. I believe Chelsea is saying that religious people merit respect, but this carte blanche we (both individually and collectively) give those who use religion as an impenetrable shield and then absolve themselves from responsibility and accountability for any damage, is problematic.

Chelsea admits she doesn’t put up with gender discrimination (such as she experiences within the Mormon Church) in the secular world. Her question concerns people and institutions perpetuating injustice in the name of God and/or tradition—unjust practices we would not tolerate anywhere else but under the rubric of religion. Is religion our sacred cow?

Ben and Chelsea both critique particular religious rituals and practices, albeit from different perspectives.  Ben is an outsider to his children’s faith tradition, yet gave tacit approval to an ancient ritual, participating in a ceremony that caused pain and suffering to an eight-day-old infant.  Chelsea has insider status within Mormonism, striving these days to reform practices in her church that cause harm and damage to countless women. For years, though, she upheld and defended those practices as right and good BECAUSE they came from a religious perspective.

Culture is fluid. What we consider to be good and proper at any given historical juncture is often tossed aside years later and labelled bad and improper.  Many religious people in 19th century America, steeped in their Christian tradition, were anti-abolitionist, firmly believing slavery to be ordained by God and therefore a practice to uphold.

“Genesis 9:18–29 has been popularly understood to mean that Ham was cursed and this understanding has often been used to justify oppression of African people, the descendants of Ham. In this view Ham offended his father, Noah, and because of this his descendants are also cursed, and Ham is presented as the father of African people” (American Bible Society website). 

Abolitionists often had to hide or run for their lives because they dared to go against the grain of established religion and tradition.  To go against the institution of slavery was to go against the will of God. Hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes, and most people today are at least ideologically opposed to the institution of slavery.

Why does it take us so long to bring about justice in our world?  Why do we put up with disrespect and cruelty, often looking the other way—especially if there is a religious argument swirling around the injustice?  There are many examples, but today I’m thinking about the cruel and inhumane agricultural business. We know sentient beings (pigs, cows, sheep, and chickens) suffer horrible lives and deaths while bred and exploited in captivity, yet just like we supported the institution of slavery, we continue to support the barbaric agricultural business.

The first Biblical creation story has been used to justify human domination of the natural world. “God said to them [male and female], ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1: 28).  The word “dominion” often is understood to mean, “I can do whatever I please with creation. It’s mine.”

How do we interact with religious people convinced they are right, yet caught up in the destructive cultural mores and habits of their time?  How do we convey respect? Furthermore, how do any of us ever begin to see and understand differently—more justly? When we do, yet encounter resistance—even hostility—to the enactment of policies and laws that breathe justice, how do we not die a little daily?

 

Esther Nelson is an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va. She has taught courses on Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Christian-Muslim Relations, and Religions of the World, but focuses on her favorite course, Women in Islam. She is the co-author (with Nasr Abu Zaid) of Voice of an Exile: Reflections on Islam and the co-author (with Kristen Swenson) of What is Religious Studies? : A Journey of Inquiry.

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Categories: Ethics, General, Ritual

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47 replies

  1. Reblogged this on Reclaiming Yourself From Domestic Abuse and commented:
    Couldn’t agree more….

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  2. I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said here. I’ve been raising the issue of Domestic Abuse within my faith community, and been involved in raising awareness. I’ve been appalled at the lack of interest in addressing this clear wrong; some of it is institutionalised, and some is the simple unwillingness to face our flawed humanity. Surely, helping us transform our flaws is the purpose of religion? My book WITNESS describes one woman’s experience of Domestic Abuse and the role religious teaching played in keeping her stuck; individual religious people were helpful to her when she left, but the institutions do not call it out enough, or publicise their changes in policy when they make them. Some denominations are beginning to tackle Domestic Violence, but it seems to be a cerebral activity, not getting into the mess of it all.

    As to dying a little each day? I’m still hopeful, but exhausted; reflecting back, the hopeful logic of righting a wrong has been worn out of me, until now I’ve no idea what do do except hold on to hope. I now struggle with organised religion because of the language used, and the turning away from ugly things. Religion has been sold as a way to create blessings and bounty; material things, and when you loose everything it’s viewed as a fault in you. Taking responsibility will result in good things to come, while the abuser continues on their charismatic way to the next victim, the next child, taking responsibility for nothing. Domestic Abuse is an evil of at least the same magnitude as slavery, and established in a few verses of the Torah, the Bible and the Koran. As you say, this may be the best thinking of the time, but by no stretch of our current understanding is it just.

    Growing up in a religious community I was taught that prayers and rituals were to bring us into deeper relationship with God, which is not often so; if we are fortunate, the experience of loosing everything does that, but wouldn’t it be great if the practices we have actually drew us closer to God, thereby protecting us from the effects of the damage others do to us, or, better yet, help us walk away when the damage begins, instead of our religious communities keeping us stuck, and reinforcing the shame?

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    • Thank you, Kitty, for your response–“Domestic Abuse is an evil of at least the same magnitude as slavery….” Domestic abuse is slavery as the one abused feels chained to their circumstances for a variety of reasons, unable to extricate themselves. This is a great example of one of the many ways we give religion a “pass” in our day-to-day living.

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      • Indeed! My fatigue is from trying to challenge the structures keeping Abuse in place; I’m perplexed by the solidity of the problem. This reminds me of something Thomas Merton said about change being a slow process that takes 100 years; we won’t see the benefit in our lifetime but we must keep going. It’s a hard practice, though.

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  3. “Ben is an outsider to his children’s faith tradition, yet gave tacit approval to an ancient ritual, participating in a ceremony that caused pain and suffering to an eight-day-old infant. ”
    Not only did Ben’s tacit approval of an ancient ritual cause pain an suffering to an eight-day-old baby, but it changed that baby’s body forever!!!!

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  4. Ok circumcision is done routinely in hospitals in the US–but not in Europe. But where do we stop? Many argue that female circumcision–far more harmful is also Ok if done in the name of religion or culture. Feminism in religion began with the recognition that harmful things are done in the name of religions. So what should Ben have done? Stayed home? Come to the family but not the bris, while writing his objections to his grandson in a letter to be given to him later? And then too holding a naked baby up so everyone in church can see its private parts and then dunking it UNDER water 3 x, no that is not OK either. Lots of bad things continue to be done. Where do we draw the line? Most feminist Jews are ambivalent about circumcision, but unwilling to break with tradition or to break their sons from tradition. Siggghhhhh

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    • Thanks, Carol. To answer your question, “But where do we stop?” I don’t know. I do know that far too many of us continue to engage in practices that are harmful–many in the name of religion–as you’ve so eloquently noted. Before Ben traveled to the new family’s home, I asked if he was going to carry a sign at the bris: “A bloody son art thou to me.” (Referencing Zipporah, Moses’ non-Israelite wife who circumcised their son because God was out to kill Moses for having an uncircumcised son. In the Bible, the text reads, “A bloody husband are thou to me,” as she throws the foreskin at Moses’ feet.) Ben did not, but did raise a subtle question or two about the perpetuation of circumcision. I sigh a lot these days, too.

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  5. Thanks Esther for your deeply compassionate post here. as regards the suffering of animals, exploited in captivity. In addition to the cruelty, there are other good reasons not to eat meat — for instance, meat is high in saturated fat and cholesterol, high in calories, and it is thought to be very hard on the digestive system.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment, Sarah. So much of what we do without a second thought breaks my heart.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry, Sarah, but there is no “one-size-fits-all” diet for every human being. SOME people thrive on a vegetarian diet; others are made ill by it.

      Humans are omnivores, as evidenced by our CANINE teeth (designed to tear flesh), the production of the digestive enzyme protease (which breaks down meat), and our GI tract with an OMNIvorous design. Mother Nature does not waste energy producing unneeded anatomical structures.

      All that said, many people with type A blood (usually but not necessarily of Asian descent) thrive on a vegetarian diet. The vast majority of people worldwide, however, are of type O blood. Type O is the oldest blood type and is of the original hunter-gatherer peoples. Type Os can become seriously ill if they do not ingest meat.

      The answer is to REFORM animal husbandry practices, not impose a blanket moratrium on meat consumption.

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  6. “How do we respect someone’s religious beliefs while still holding them accountable for the harm or damage that those beliefs may cause others?”

    This is such an important question Esther.

    Recently I had a dream that told me there is “no (religious) way” there are just people’s opinions. In the dream I was somewhat startled when the dream continued “the way is not choosing a way.” Puzzling over this ambivalent dream – body response I realized that this was what I had come to believe. I think my relationship with Nature has opened a door to Universality in a way that religions philosophy scholarship etc could never do. Nature just is, and at 73 I give the Earth and non human sentient species full credit for teaching me how to be a compassionate human being by modeling this behavior.

    Is this a religion? I don’t believe so. There are no rules, no practices, no injunctions… there is only what is…As an animist, I am in love with the wilderness, each stone and sunrise each dove coo and loving look from my dearest canine companions, each owl, deer, and elk. I accord Nature my deepest respect acknowledging that most of the world does not see/feel what I do. In Nature I find countless mirrors for what I see and feel and like the trees that are now heavy with spring buds but present to the threat of frost, I stay as much in the present as I can.

    I believe all religions are limited by the belief systems that people develop within these traditions. I find that I can respect these people who are genuine seekers that attempt to question and work within their respective belief systems although I do not agree, support or accept those practices that harm others or continue to support a patriarchal system that is hell bent on destroying us or the planet – and there are so many within each religious system that sometimes I find myself overwhelmed. I do hold people accountable for the harm they do.

    Distancing myself by returning to my naturalist self keeps me grounded in a present that allows me to find peace in the present moment. Perhaps this “no way” is some way after all.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Sara. You make some excellent points. I like your last paragraph: “Distancing myself by returning to my naturalist self keeps me grounded in a present that allows me to find peace in the present moment. Perhaps this “no way” is some way after all.”

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  7. Great questions, Esther! In India I saw sacred cows (wherein reside 333,000,000 Hindu goddesses and gods). They are beautiful. People on Varanasi call them “our traffic police, for they can slow traffic or bring it to a halt. You do not see the cows much in Muslim neighborhoods where people do not share the belief in sacred cows. Bulls are also sacred to Hindus, as the mount of Shiva and wander as freely as the cows.

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    • Thanks, Elizabeth. I lived in Nepal for a short while in the late ’90s. Cows roamed everywhere. Many were in poor health, yet nobody seemed to intervene in the life cycle of a cow–no matter what. Perhaps much like the systems of religion that we (humans) uphold–often no matter what.

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  8. Esther, I love the title of your essay — Is Religion Our Sacred Cow?

    There is a difference between religion and spirituality. One famous teaching says simply: “The silver crescent shines dimly, but the night is brightened up by the moonflowers.”

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  9. It seems to me like a difficult subject in part because not everyone can agree on what is or is not just. Some very thoughtful people argue that male circumcision is not harmful, has health benefits, etc. and some do not believe that meat consumption is inherently wrong (I count myself among this latter group). You definitely bring up some very intriguing and troubling issues. I think it’s definitely important to consider our own ethics and values, why we hold them, and whether we live them out in all areas or not. Thank you for this thought-provoking post.

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    • Thank you, Jacqueline, for responding. Circumcision has become less and less popular in the US. (My daughter did not have her boys circumcised.) Recent research has shown that there really are no health benefits to the practice as many used to believe. It IS important to teach little boys proper hygiene, though, pulling the foreskin back adequately in order to cleanse themselves. Regarding the eating of meat, I don’t believe it is a necessary component of the industrialized world’s diet. However, what I specifically address in this essay is the agricultural industry where animals are bred in deplorable conditions, live in filth and squalor, loaded up with antibiotics to keep infection at bay, given growth hormones in order to develop muscle tissue (many animals have difficulty walking as a result) and killed violently in the end. Many suffer gross abuse from their “caretakers” along the way. We know this is so because people have infiltrated these facilities and taken video footage. Some of it is available on YouTube. These sentient beings live wretched lives. Do we not have a responsibility to work towards the eradication of suffering?

      Liked by 2 people

      • I myself agree with you that circumcision is both unnecessary from a health perspective and that it is harmful, and I completely agree with you that the current condition of the agricultural industry’s treatment of animals is awful. I certainly believe we have a responsibility to work to eradicate suffering, but in addressing why such things still happen (probably as far as these two examples go this applies more to circumcision than to animal abuse in agriculture) it seems to me that one reason is that others who have given the same issue a great deal of careful thought have come to different conclusions. Of course this should not stop us from working to eradicate suffering the best way we see fit, but it will inevitably lead to conflict with those on the other side of the issue, and I am not entirely sure how best to deal with that conflict.

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      • Oh Esther we do have a responsibility to to address the way animals are tortured throughout their lives, treated in a disgusting way by the humans that consume them, live in terror of their coming death -( and yes all animals know when death is approaching ) – and die excreting hormones that we then consume to our own detriment. There is irony in this horror story. It ‘s not whether we eat animals or not – plants suffer just as animals do – it the ATTITUDE we have towards sentient Nature that matters.

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    • Right, Jacqueline. It is hard to know how to deal with the conflict that inevitably ensues when people disagree with one another and at the same time are held accountable for their behavior. We are constantly evolving. Holding on to tradition just for the sake of tradition (it’s always been done this way) seems, to me, to be counter-productive to the needs of real, living people, right here, right now. I’m glad some of our ancestors insisted on holding slaveholders accountable through conflict and upheaval for the wretched conditions African Americans were forced to exist within.. I’m glad some of our ancestors held patriarchy accountable through conflict and upheaval for their monopoly over women’s lives. I think one of the keys to working through this is to allow all those affected by “religious laws” and/or “tradition” to speak. Thing is, eight-day-old infants are unable to do so. Neither are animals raised for slaughter–at least, in a language that most humans understand. I think this is where empathy comes into play. Can we put ourselves in the place of another and imaginatively feel what they are experiencing? Social change is slow, but important to keep the voices for mercy and compassion alive and heard.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post, Esther. Thanks! Synchronistically, ust yesterday I was reading through the medical information about circumcision, because my nephew and niece-in-law are expecting a boy baby soon, and are on opposite sides of the controversy. My niece is a good friend, and called for support. So I did an internet search and found out several things:

    A) Circumcision was pushed by the military and military doctors after WWI and WWII. Why? because it was believed that it would make soldiers less susceptible to venereal disease (this is not true, except for HIV, not a problem at the time). Military discipline forced men to submit to the procedure, which increased the percentage of men who were circumcised. Many decided that their infant sons should be circumcised, because it was supposedly much less painful at that point in their development, according to the same doctors who had forced those soldiers to have the surgery. As a result, in the US most boys are now circumcised.
    B) According to the best authorities today, there is no medically significant reason to perform this procedure. The benefits and the (long-term) risks of this procedure are minimal.
    C) I realized it’s just the weight of “tradition” that is keeping circumcision alive. And I don’t believe that tradition, religious or otherwise, is a sufficient reason to hurt our little boys.

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    • Thanks, Nancy. I agree with you that it is “tradition” that keeps circumcision alive. I do believe much of that “tradition” comes from what is often called our “Judeo-Christian heritage.” Since Christians acknowledge the Hebrew Bible (or as they refer to it: Old Testament) as Scripture, there is this attempt (various degrees) to align themselves with God who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” So, circumcision it is. Of course, there is that whole thing about circumcision in the early church. Is it a requirement? Some early Christians (essentially they were Jews) said yes, of course. Paul seemed to be of two minds–at least, in his behavior. I like your conclusion: “And I don’t believe that tradition, religious or otherwise, is a sufficient reason to hurt our little boys.” Obviously, not everybody is in agreement. Social change is slow.

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  11. Question posed to adherents of organized religion who practice circumcision:

    If man was made in God’s image so is “perfect,” then why is genital mutilation necessary?

    Liked by 2 people

  12. This is just a thought, but ‘Ben’ probably went along with all this because to do otherwise would probably cause profound conflict and may result in him and his wife possibly creating a family feud that may result in him losing contact with his son and wife and consequently his grandson.

    I don’t respect Ben’s decision myself, but I do understand how difficult it is to be one who makes a stand (being someone who does that myself!) and although I never regret the stands that I make/have made, in weaker moments, I yearn for the easy option and the seemingly better life that making uncontroversial decisions alludes to.

    God bless.

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    • Thanks, Helen. You bring up a good point. When does one take a stand and “let the chips fall where they may,” so to speak? Never an easy decision especially when it comes to issues one considers life-altering and therefore important.

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  13. I just learned that some within the Jewish community are re-examining this issue! Apparently even within Israel circumcisions are decreasing, and workarounds to the traditional religious ceremonies have been created.

    Reading this blog has taught me so much!!! I am grateful for it.

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  14. How interesting that circumcision rituals differ around the world. As Carol Christ pointed out, European Christian men are not circumcised nearly as often as American Christian men.

    While reading around the net, I also learned that the procedure itself differs. In some African tribal cultures, only a small incision is made rather than removing the foreskin. This procedure is performed as a coming-of-age rite when the boy hits puberty, not as an infant.

    So all circumcisions are not equal.

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    • Yes, thanks, for your comment. True enough–there is variety in the way circumcision (both male and female) is performed throughout the world. Nonetheless, in every case, the “surgeries” inflict suffering and pain on the individual undergoing the procedure–sometimes individuals experience lasting harm. These rituals are done in the name of God and/or tradition. I raise the question why.

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  15. Esther, honest debate and genuine heart-felt questioning is good for community building. But so is thoughtful transfer of ritual and tradition from generation to generation because people over time have figured out what is the most “habitable reality” (a phrase borrowed from Prof. Jordan Peterson) in a world filled with difficulty and suffering. But I’m afraid that the emphasis since the 60’s and 70’s in America has been to replace honest debate with scornful skepticism, faith with fear, spirituality with materialism. By the way, I work on a modern dairy farm. The animals are treated very well and like most similar facilities that cater to the population’s demand for affordable food, they do a good job of balancing human and animal needs.

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    • Thank you for your response, handylyon. Yes, I think rituals and tradition can provide identity and stability in society. Sometimes, though, they don’t. And this is the line we walk. My questions regarding circumcision (and other rituals) wonder about the genuine well-being of individuals who make up society. That necessitates discussion and argument in the public sphere about things we’ve “always done” and a willingness to hear all points of view. And when a ritual no longer serves us, I think we need to discard it. Regarding dairy farming in the modern age: To make food (dairy products) affordable and available to a wide population, cows are exploited and therefore suffer. Calves are taken away from their mothers to enter into the food processing assembly line. Cows are kept perpetually pregnant–how else to keep them lactating? These are sentient beings and they suffer under these circumstances. I’m not okay with that.

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      • I appreciate your sensitivity but grateful for the sensibilities of those who regulate the food industry (and believe me there are many regulators and regulations) who can distinguish between the sentient and self-conscious. For whatever human traits we may want to believe we share with animals, we can know with absolute certainty cows won’t riot for their right to nurture their young! On the other hand, world wars have started among humans for far lessor things! The Jews have gotten a few things right in their history, not the least of which is teaching that sacrifice is a sacred idea and gives value to the thing we need even more than food, that is love! It’s why we say a humble prayer of gratefulness for the sacrifice of sentient creatures to meet our basic needs.

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      • I do not share your “certainty” on matters!

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  16. A religion… or a country where the women do not have a say IS NOT a whole religion or country. So sad that today’s religious leaders want to decide what is God’s will. On one side they paint God as a good God, on the other hand, they enforce traditions more than morals… except that the morals they paint apply only to those they chose.

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  17. Interestingly, today I read an article by ‘Dr Max’ – an NHS psychiatrist (Max Pemberton), who points out that female circumcision had its name changed to female genital mutilation and yet male circumcision has not had its name changed to male genital mutilation……

    He states that campaigners changed the terminology used because female circumcision sounded too medical and “didn’t properly capture the horror of what was happening”.

    According to the article I read,, Dr Niall McCrae, a mental health expert at Kings College, London, argued that while FGM has been illegal in the UK for 30 years, no one “dares to do the same with male circumcision for fear of offending religious sensibilities”.

    Dr Max – “Male circumcision involves the removal of healthy tissue, just as FGM does. It’s no less ethical or more justified doing it to a male as it is a female – there is no difference”.

    Dr Max argues that there may be medical conditions – he himself was circumcised, at the age of 4, He argues that the majority of circumcisions (?mutilations) are for cultural reasons or because it’s thought to be more hygienic. The same justifications used for FGM.

    I shall quote the rest of the article:

    “Circumcision is a painful and potentially damaging operation that can have life long consequences. I have seen many men who are having relationship difficulties as a result of sexual problems caused by it. As for hygiene, you don’t need to remove a part of a child’s anatomy, you just teach them to use soap.

    The only proven medical benefit is reduced risk of HIV infection. But surely we should be teaching boys the importance of safe sex rather than lopping off things, just in case. Let’s call male circumcision what it really is: male genital mutilation.”

    I suppose the real difficulty here, is that to go against ‘circumcision’ is to go against the bible – the word of God. From what I gather, it clearly says in the bible that circumcision is the way to go and anyone who challenges male circumcision (I don’t think the bible mentions female circumcision), is in effect challenging the word of God…. not a easy prospect!

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    • I agree with Dr. Max when he says, “Male circumcision involves the removal of healthy tissue, just as FGM does. It’s no less ethical or more justified doing it to a male as it is a female….” When he says, “…there is no difference,” unless he’s referring only to the ethical aspects of the procedure, I disagree. There is a huge difference between the procedures as well as a big difference in the histories of the procedures. Male circumcision is a ritual within Jewish mythology that requires males to be circumcised as demonstration that they are part of God’s covenant. Female circumcision attempts to control girls’ and women’s sexuality.

      This a report from the World Health Organization:

      Female genital mutilation

      Fact sheet
      Updated January 2018

      Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
      The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
      Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.
      More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated1.
      FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15.
      FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

      Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

      The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. In many settings, health care providers perform FGM due to the erroneous belief that the procedure is safer when medicalized1. WHO strongly urges health professionals not to perform such procedures.

      FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.
      Procedures

      Female genital mutilation is classified into 4 major types.

      Type 1: Often referred to as clitoridectomy, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals), and in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
      Type 2: Often referred to as excision, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva ).
      Type 3: Often referred to as infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).
      Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

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      • I think he was referring only to the ethical aspects of the procedure.

        I got the impression that he was absolutely not downgrading FGM, but merely wanting to ‘upgrade’ the importance of male circumcision. To change the terminology used, to make sure that we stop both practices, which is something I personally would agree with.

        I need to look into the biblical arguments for male ‘circumcision’ because unless one knows scripture, one is never going to be able to convince biblical scholars, who believe this to be the word of God, that they/God is wrong. and that the practice should stop.

        As you say, female ‘circumcision, attempts to control girls’ and womens’ sexuality. It is not something, as far as I am aware, a procedure that is written about in the bible, whereas male ‘circumcision’ is. I may be wrong.

        As I think I said, the bible is often misquoted, mistranslated.

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  18. My feeling is that religion is deeply personal to the individual and their actions should be governed by their own conscience and not the dictates of religious leaders who, after all, can only interpret what was written in the Bible or any other religious book according to their own beliefs and inherited prejudices. Really interesting and thought provoking post Esther :O)

    Like

    • Thank you for reading and commenting. I agree with you that all of us (religious leaders as well as other individuals) interpret their sacred texts through the lens of their own experience. Religion is also a communal affair and rituals that “worked” at one time often do not as culture moves forward. I think that it’s at this juncture that we must be flexible, willing to re-think and re-do conventional “truth.”

      Liked by 1 person

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