First posted on Sunday, November 13, 2005
This essay is a rewrite of the Great Circumcision Debate essay. While I like the original, it really was too light and full of fluff. I had more I wanted to say, and this topic really needed to be treated in a more serious tone. This time, I touch on a great deal more doctrine, while briefly discussing the medical and social implications of this practice.-Matt 02/12/2006
The reason for this topic
Reading over a past post on Splendid Sun, I'm reminded of the controversy surrounding my own son's birth. At the time, we did not know what we would have, boy or girl. The ultrasound gave us no clue whatsoever, because our child actively hid himself. So, we had to speculate. Part of that speculation was over the delicate decision to lop off a bit of our child, if it was a boy. This generated a fair amount of conversation.
"If it's a girl, we can name her Allison. But if it's a boy, I don't like the names you've chosen."
"I don't want the names you want either."
"Well, if it's a boy, I think we should circumcise him, because you are."
"I don't want my son to be cut up. My son won't have any spare parts."
Remember that. No spare parts.
What is circumcision and why is it done?
It is the surgical removal of part or all of the fold of skin covering the tip of the penis. But that does not explain the emotional impact this procedure can have. From Biblical times on, circumcision was performed on an adult male (see Genesis 17:23-27) at the time they covenanted with the Lord. The Lord also commanded that children aged 8 days were to also have this done (see Genesis 17:12) . This was to be a token of the covenant made between him and the Lord (see Genesis 17:11-14). This covenant is so personal, it is in his flesh.
That thought catches me. In his flesh. Interesting. It is now known that a circumcised man does not have the same sexual feeling as an uncircumcised man. To men who were circumcised as adults, it has been likened to sight without color. If a man doesn’t know what he is missing, he cannot appreciate what he lost. To those who know what they are missing, it is never the same.
In a priesthood lesson I recently heard on covenants, the teacher was talking about casting away sin. The imagery was eerily similar to the image of cutting off the foreskin. When Abraham cut off his foreskin as a token of his covenant with the Lord, he was covenanting to obey the commandments and (among other things) not have sexual relations outside of marriage. He was literally sacrificing his sexual feeling for this covenant with the Lord. Some would call this too steep a price, but Abraham was nothing of not obedient. He made the covenant, lost a portion of his pleasure, but bound himself closely to his god. This was the same covenant he passed on to his children, the Abrahamic covenant. Isn’t it interesting that he is promised that through his sacrifice and seed, the world would be blessed (see 3 Nephi 20:27)?
Our son and his extra piece of skin
My wife and I attended a parenting/birthing class, which was a good preparation for us. The teacher had an approach I appreciated. She didn't tell us one way of doing things was good or bad. She just informed us and let us make up our own minds. One night, we watched a video of a newborn boy getting clipped, and I tell you what. My decision was confirmed, and Kari's mind was changed. No to any circumcision, full or partial. I think it cruel and unnecessary.
A while later, our son is actually born. We keep our resolve. When the nurse asked us if we planned to have a circumcision, we looked at each other, turned back to the nurse, and in unison said “no.” His little member is safe. Sure, we have to keep it clean and have to avoid any infections, but you have to be careful if he is clipped, too. No big deal.
The reaction of others
Except we found that everyone had an opinion about my son's penis. People were excited to hear I was a father, to hear I had a boy. And nine out of ten times, they felt it was their business to ask if he was circumcised. "No," I would tell them.
"Are you crazy? He could get infected (get cancer, lose his sex drive, whatever) if you don't."
What I want to know is, why do people think this is any of their business? Do I ask if a woman has had a hysterectomy? Do I ask a man if he has prostate problems? For that matter, do you ask if anyone still has their tonsils or appendix? This is a rather personal decision, yet everyone felt they had the right to know, and tell me why I was wrong.
I got pretty good at avoiding debates. It really isn’t worth it. I won’t change their minds, they won’t change mind. But the fact of the matter is, with all the research I put into it, I saw no good reason to clip the little guy. The health reasons cited were all maybe's. Sure, he might get infected. So keep it clean. Duh! Or he might get cancer. Well *cue the sarcasm* cut it all off, then! I mean, maybe I'll get appendicitis, so let's go ahead and do an appendectomy on me. Or let's push this to the extreme. Maybe, I'll get lung cancer, so let's just remove my left lung now, as a preemptive strike. I could get gangrene! Let’s cut off both feet, to prevent it from happening! But what if we removed the wrong appendage? That’s OK, there is a growing proficiency in our medical community in prosthetics. *end the sarcasm*
Uh, yeah. People! You keep it clean and things will be OK. If there is a medical reason to remove it later, do it later. It will be OK.
Other issues debunked
Social reasons . . . what a horrible reason to mutilate one's genitalia. I don't plan on raising my son in
Making him match his father? Why do I want him to match me? That's a dumb reason if I've ever heard one. If he asks, I will have a discussion with him about it.
I’ve heard it said that newborns don't have developed pain sensors. What kind of idiotic statement is that? At the very least, they don't like being strapped down. It puts them in a panic. But let’s look at this in a different light: this little boy just came out of a nice, warm, safe womb. He’s ready to face the world! He’s got a loving mother and father right there to watch over him (idealistic, I know). But wait! What’s this? Why are we subjecting him to legalized torture? I will grant that just maybe, their sensors are different from an older baby. Fine. I feel that he still doesn't deserve that kind of treatment. What’s worse, they used to do this without any anesthetic. How cruel is that?
Reasons to not do it
As already stated, it is mean. They don't like having it done. It diminishes sexual feeling. A lot. It is unnecessary. God doesn't even expect us to do it. People, let us stop hurting our little boys!
Thankfully, I don't get the questions about my son's penis any more. People I didn't know made it their business. But what gave these perfect strangers the right to ask (and force their opinions upon me) in the first place? This is a rather personal matter. If my son later decides he wants his penis mutilated, he can do it himself (and I don’t want to hear about it).
I do not resent having had this done to me. My parents did not know any different, and it was the social practice of most of Christian America at the time. It was also what Mormons did. It was not a question of if they should it or not. People just did it back then. I cannot be angry about that. Of course, a part of me wonders what might have been. What am I really missing out on? I’ll never know in this life. Do I just have vision without color?
This also makes me think about the covenants I have made. None of those covenants require cutting a part of me and casting it away. But the Lord does ask of me to cast away my selfish, base, natural desires and come follow him. He wants us to be circumcised in our hearts (see Deut 10:15-16). Note that the idea of cutting male flesh and seed are linked in the scriptures
As I’ve studied this topic, I have developed a doctrinal theory. A man who gains mastery over his flesh, denies himself of the lusts of the heart and overcomes the natural man is blessed for his sacrifice, whether a physical loss of feeling or other sacrifice. How is he blessed? In his seed, and in fatherhood. What was Abraham’s blessing and covenant? That through him, his seed and the whole world should be blessed. We know Abraham did not have many children, yet he was promised his seed would be as numberless as the stars in the sky. Latter-day Saints believe this referred to his future exalted state upon achieving godhood. This is the fullest expression of fatherhood, and even manhood. Put in that perspective, the loss of a little flesh and feeling could seem pretty trivial. But even in this life, the man who controls himself and becomes circumcised in his heart will be a better father than the man who is lost to his lusts.
While the brutal symbol of circumcision and casting away physical desire is a powerful teaching tool and reminder of covenants made, I am so glad to live in a dispensation where the need has been done away through the atonement of Christ. A physical token does not create the covenant, anyway. Covenants should rest inside a person’s heart and mind, or else it is not worth entering.
Judaism 101 has a nice little introduction to the practice of circumcision of boys, including the religious implications for the practice. Has a pretty neutral tone, but very informative.
Circumcision Choices - This site talks about only performing partial circumcision, reducing the damage done while still allowing those who have moral or religious obligations to do their duty as they see fit. It also discusses some of the myths surrounding circumcision and offers explanations. This site is all about choice.
Why Circumcised Men Seem Satisfied - This site explain what is lost when a man has this procedure on his manhood and why most do not know what they are missing. Definite bias, but makes a few good points.
Jewish Circumcision Resource Center - This site is written by Jews in an attempt to do away with the practice of circumcision. Has a definite agenda, but is up front about their goals.