Tuesday, March 13, 2012

To Circumcise or Not to Circumcise—that is the question

I got a surprise the other day when I tuned into to Radio Talk-back to hear people discussing circumcision. My ears pricked up (pardon the pun), as any serious student of the Bible knows that circumcision is a critical theme in Scripture. The discussion revolved around a recent Sydney study which has found “overwhelming evidence” that circumcision has a number of medical benefits. Supposedly it reduces the risk of infections, cancer and other painful conditions. For example, the risk of urinary tract infection and kidney inflammation is supposedly 10x greater for the uncircumcised. Apparently, the risk of prostate cancer, penile cancer, HIV and STD’s like syphilis is three to eight times greater. Of course the latter problems can be in the main, resolved by maintaining a Judeo-Christian sexual ethic and keeping away from drugs.

Apparently in NZ 10% of boys are circumcised. Unless there are medical reasons, circumcision is self-funded at about $300-1000. The proponents of the study argue that it should mandatory to circumcise new-born boys, and the government should pay. Sounds like Abraham and Moses are back.
There have been responses. Some concede there are benefits but baulk at government funding on the basis of other priorities and limited benefit. In 2010 the Royal Australasian College of Physicians decided that the evidence was insufficient to warrant it for all boys. Apparently this represents the medical consensus.

If there are medical benefits, and such studies need to be replicated, then this is very interesting. Circumcision was the defining mark of being a descendent of Abraham, an Israelite (Gen 17). Each baby boy was circumcised on the eighth day. Moses’ life was saved by his being circumcised. Jesus himself went through the procedure. For a Gentile to convert to Judaism to this day—and remember religion in the ancient world was defined by the patriarch—one has to be circumcised. Circumcision became the centre of a storm of controversy in the early church. The question was; do new Gentile converts need to be circumcised? Jewish conservative Christians argued vociferously, yes! Paul led the charge against this and won the day—read Acts 15. The reason, there should be no barrier to a Gentile coming to Christ, for salvation is by faith. Circumcision then is not mandatory. He likely did not know a lot about the medical benefits.
Considering the medical question, this gives a deeper edge to the command of God to circumcise. One can imagine that in the ancient world living in hot Middle Eastern environs and where washing was not as easy as in our world of showers and baths, that the medical benefits of circumcision were even greater. Circumcision was likely very important to male health. The law then was for the good of the people, as were most of the laws when one studies them.

This raises the question of whether Paul got it right. He got it right in a salvation sense without a doubt. It is likely that enforcing circumcision would have slowed the growth of Christianity immensely, making it forever a sect of Judaism—indeed, it is likely Christianity would never have gone global as it has. Further, salvation is by grace through faith alone, there is no need to do anything to be saved, other than turn to God in faith—let alone chop off the foreskin.
That said, now that Christianity is global, and circumcision is so beneficial, and in an age when male health and prostate cancer etc. are big news, should we Christians endorse the right not on soteriological (salvation) grounds? Should we be now encouraging the circumcision of boys for medical reasons? What an intriguing question.

17 comments:

RicardoD1961 said...

Well, let's see now, God gave the command to circumcise, and the last I heard he un-commanded it for Christians, and has not un-done the un-command. So what's the problem? St Paul's words are in the bible just as much as the words of the anonymous author of Gen 17. Both supposedly producing words they were inspired by God to produce. St Paul's are the more recent so more valid, as the most recent message from God about the subject. And some serious biblical scholarship is now casting doubt on Gen 17, as something inserted by an officious interloper who wasn't satisfied with Gen 15 about THE covenant (the one for the land, don't you see).

Oh, you say St Paul didn't know about modern medicine at that time? But God did know about it and how valid it would be, and God knows all future medical developments too. So God must have known that the pseudo-medical developments that supposedly favor circumcision were going to come about, but chose to ignore them because he knew they were going to be absolutely bogus. Otherwise God would not have told St Paul to tell us to quit mutilating the genitals of baby boys. Got to go for now . . . feels like God is sending me a message about how to look at the medical side of this discussion.

Hugh7 said...

Actually, fewer than 5% of New Zealand babies (virtually all Polynesian or of Muslim or Jewish parents) are circumcised. The days of cutting a boy's penis "to look like his father" are long gone (in fact his father probably looks like him already). And you know, there have been no outbreaks of any of the things circumcision was supposed to be good for.

Under the conditions it was done in ancient times, with stone tools and no asepsis, circumcision probably killed far more babies than it ever protected from anything. Rabbis used to earnestly discuss how many brothers might be allowed to die from circumcision before one could be spared. Paul (and the Greeks he was trying to convert) probably knew about that. Even today they die, though few so grotequely as the ones in New York, from herpes caught from the mohel's mouth. (Sucking the blood, metzitzah b'peh, was an integral part of the ritual for millenia.)

The discussion you heard was based on the rantings of a fanatical professor of molecular biology (not a doctor) who has never seen a reason to circumcise he didn't like, including "to prevent bathroom splantter" and "to prevent zipper injury". You have been caught by his misuse of statistics. "10x greater" than what? It turns out more than 100 circumcisions would be wasted to prevent one urintary tract infection, 245 to prevent one prostate cancer - if the studies are correct, which many are certainly not.

Cyn said...

Why this even remains a 'question' is beyond me.

BTW - the more you actually dig into those studies that supposedly 'prove' all these great health benefits to cutting off a piece of someone without their consent, the more problems you find associated with them. The media has also not done an adequate job in investigating the problems with such studies and they have failed to present the current information in a manner that reflects the reality of the situation.

UTIs - females are more prone to these infections than men; STDs - the best way to prevent STDs is with safe sex practices. In fact, STDs are often higher in countries where most of the men are circumcised as opposed to other countries that don't routinely cut their babies. Prostate cancer - another grasp-at-straws attempt to justify a practice that simply cannot be morally justified. Penile cancer - ridiculously rare and not really a statistical difference between cut vs. intact men.

We don't preemptively cut off any other healthy body part out of concern for future problems (i.e., breasts: in both sexes - and males are more prone to breast cancer than penile cancer; vulva: vulvar cancer is more prevalent than penile cancer; and pretty much any other body part you can think of).

Somehow it's deemed acceptable to remove part of a male child's genitalia - yet supporters of the procedure fail to comprehend how medically unethical the procedure is, and also refuse to acknowledge the violation of human rights that occurs each time a child is non-therapeutically cut.

It's as if some people truly believe they own their child's body and can do with it what they wish. It used to be that baby girls could be cut in this country, but now girls are provided protection (as of the late 1990s) from ANY form of forced genital cutting (including the relatively minor 'ritual nick' which is mild in comparison to infant circ), yet the same protection is being denied to boys. This is a clear violation of the 4th Amendment.

Maybe one day society will come to its senses about this issue, and future generations will look back on what we allowed to happen to our babies and they will cringe in horror and revulsion. Who could blame them?

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