Has anyone else been following the circumcision controversy in Germany
? My immediate reaction was shock that a European court would make such a ruling. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered what was actually wrong with it.
What actually caused me to reevaluate my thinking was the headline Circumcision Ruling Called Threat to Religion
. To which my reaction was "Good!" I'm much more comfortable with threats to religion than I was even a few years ago. I used to be more live-and-let-live. After all, what do I care what someone else believes? But I'm really fed up with the amount of harm I see being done out of ostensibly religious motives. Sure, secularists do plenty of harm as well. Penn State didn't need any religious justification to ignore the abuse of adolescents. But look at how it is now being held to account and think how differently things would look today if the Catholic Church were forced to undergo the same.
Of course, that headline is only shorthand--what they were actually reporting is that religious authorities were calling the ruling a threat to freedom of
religion--and freedom of expression is something I take very seriously. But how well does this charge actually hold up? Contrary to the hysteria, it's not a "ban" on circumcision; it's a circumscription
of the practice of circumcision by the right to consent. (Or, if you will, a ban on circumcision of minors
.) A person's right to undergo unnecessary surgery for religious reasons is not being infringed; rather, their right to force that upon someone else
So far, the counterarguments I've seen to this have been (1) "It's tradition" and (2) "It's anti-Semitism". As you can imagine, I'm particularly annoyed by the later (and its insulting implication that Germany should forever be held to a higher standard in this respect than any other society in the world because Holocaust), not least of all because the case revolved around a Muslim
family. But the first argument is pretty damn weak as well. What great vice in our history hasn't been defended with "We've always done it?" We've always owned slaves. We've always executed sodomites. We've always silenced women. (See, it says so right here in this ancient book we carry around!)
I understand that the consensus is still incomplete on the harm done by circumcision, but that does seem to be the direction we're moving. I'm not fond of comparisons between male circumcision and female genital mutilation, since I think they tend to trivialise the truly horrific nature of the latter, but it does seem rather apt when we're talking about specifically religious justifications for surgical modifications. If any rabbis have been willing to stand up and defend the right of pious Muslims to have their daughter's clitores cut out, I must've missed it. So what is so different in this case?
The BBC article I link to above closes with an argument that Christian baptism also "pre-construct[s] the religious position of little children". But who in the anti-circumcision camp is arguing that that
is the primary harm being done here? Not to say there isn't a case to be made for that, but the concern of most people--the concern of the court, in this ruling--is with the physical harm being done to a non-consenting and defenceless human being. I'm finding it hard to understand why someone else's
right to free expression should trump that.