Today we have a guest post by Lori Winter, of Laurel of Leaves. Circumcision is yet another topic I’m passionate about, but one I haven’t yet posted on. Lori’s passionate too and offered to write on the topic, so I took her up on it! We chose not to circumcise our boys after extensive research. Lori’s addressing the topic from a religious standpoint today. There’s some really excellent information in here. Thanks Lori!
If you are the parent of a baby boy, the issue of circumcision has most certainly come up. Maybe you didn’t give it a second thought, simply accepting it as a natural course of action for babies born in these days of modern civilization. Maybe you believed the doctors when they said it was a necessary medical procedure for males, required for the prevention of infection or the growth of abnormal body parts. Or maybe you are still researching the issue, deciding if circumcision is indeed necessary.
But if you live anywhere else in the world other than America, you’re probably reading this thinking, WHAT?!
That’s because only 2% of the world’s population is circumcised (9/10ths of those being in America). That’s right, a whopping 2%. And I don’t see American men being particularly healthier in general than the rest of the world’s population, do you? I recently spent nine months traveling in New Zealand and an informal poll among people we met revealed that circumcision isn’t even considered at the birth of baby boys anymore. Further research revealed that people all over the world find it odd that infant male circumcision is a routine medical process in America.
Even many big, “official” organizations like the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society, etc. don’t find any overwhelming medical benefit to routine circumcision. Dr. Richard Gates says, “It’s probably safe to say that the science is relatively thin on any true medical benefit.”
Other organizations do their best to convince people that modern circumcision will reduce the male’s risk of penile cancer or HIV (and while it might slightly reduce these risks, it’s only by a very small margin), but when these issues can be easily prevented through other methods like nutrition, reduced exposure to toxins, using proper protection during sex, etc., why do we as a culture still remove a male baby’s entire foreskin? Did God accidentally create us with extra body parts that need to be removed?
Of course the answer to that question is no, but I’m sure many of you are crinkling up your forehead as you read, wondering why then did God command it of His people in the Old Testament, and why was Jesus Himself circumcised?
Why Is Circumcision in the Bible?
First, it helps to understand why circumcision took place among the Israelites at God’s command. The practice itself took place in many other cultures for various reasons before Abraham was asked to do it. But in Genesis 17 we see that it was as a “sign of the covenant” between God and His people.
It wasn’t for medical reasons that God’s people started the practice of circumcision. It was a sign of God’s covenant with the Jews. It was a foreshadowing of the blood that Jesus would ultimately shed on the cross. It was a reminder to the people that blood was necessary for the forgiveness of sins (like animal sacrifices), but it’s not the blood of bulls and goats that wipes away offenses anyway. It would be the blood of a perfect Messiah, born into the world as a little baby, that would ultimately bring redemption and healing to the people.
And now that His sacrifice is finished, we live on the other side of the cross. New Covenant writers talk about the need for faith, not circumcision, to enter into the promises of God. It’s not about the body anymore!
Same Word, Completely Different Process
This is probably the most important part of this whole article. Not only is circumcision not needed as a Christian, for spiritual or medical reasons, but modern circumcision is completely different from the process that took place in Biblical times.
Even if circumcision in the Old Testament was meant to be a symbol of the sin of the world, it would seem cruel of God to ask His people to chop off a very sensitive and functional part of their body, right? That was my first thought as I began to research circumcision. And yes, while the process the Israelites went through was still painful (I mean, come on, it was a foreshadowing of the incredibly painful death and bloodshed of the Messiah), it was nothing like what happens in hospitals (or even Jewish ceremonies) today.
Here’s what happened when Abraham was circumcised (all the way up to about A.D. 140):
The loose edge of the foreskin was pulled down and just the tip was removed. Most of the foreskin was still left intact. This means that the penis did not lose its sensitivity, the protective benefits of the foreskin, or the natural lubrication for sexual intercourse that comes from having a mucoid lining of the inner prepuce.
Because so little of the foreskin was removed during circumcision, some men were able to pull the foreskin down and make it seem as if they were uncircumcised. This caused the Pharisees to throw a bit of a hissy fit and create new rules and new procedures to make sure that Jews were circumcised and stayed that way.
Since about A.D. 140, circumcision has looked like this:
The foreskin was forcibly retracted and the mohel (the circumciser) would tear the foreskin with his fingernails. All the flesh from the base of the glans up to the tip was removed. The result?
- Penis loses its sensitivity
- Flesh becomes thickened and scarred
- Natural lubrication qualities are gone
- Ridged bands of highly specialized nerve endings are gone
(Thanks to FishEaters for the images and great information)
Fast forward to Victorian America in the mid-1800s and you find doctors like Edward H. Dixon who claimed he ‘cured’ masturbation by circumcising infants. The process was much the same as Pharisaic circumcision, but with the use of a Plastibell or clamp shoved between the foreskin and the glans, tearing the tissue in its way.
As I said above, most doctors and major medical associations now agree that there is no medical need for circumcision. Why, then, is it one of the most common routine medical procedures in the world?
I chalk it up to ‘cultural momentum’ and tradition. It reminds me of the story of one wife and mother who always cut the end off their Sunday roast. Her daughter asked her one day, “Mom, why do you cut the end off the roast?” The mother said, “Well, that’s what my mother always did.” So she called up her mother to ask about the roast. Her mother had a similar response. “That’s what my mother always did!” Another phone call to her mother finally gave them an answer. The great-grandmother told them, “We were a poor family and the roast wouldn’t fit in the one pan we had, so I always cut off the end.”
If you’d like to read more about circumcision as a medical procedure, check out my recent post: Modern Circumcision is Not Necessary, Natural, or Biblical.
What are your thoughts? After reading this, do you think modern circumcision is a Christian thing to do?
Lori Winter is the voice behind Laurel of Leaves. She writes about getting back to her roots: real food, barefoot running, herbal remedies, and more. She cooks, bakes, puts food on her face, and don’t be surprised if she stirs up a little controversy!
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