The New York Times just carried a story regarding a German court that ruled circumcision is painful to a child and causes bodily harm. Further, by not allowing an infant to be circumcised – a person’s religious freedom is not impaired because a personal choice can be made later (presumably by a more mature person) to get circumcised.
Of course, Muslim and Jewish groups are up in arms about this (quick disclaimer – I’m Jewish) because they see it as an infringement on religious freedom. Somehow, the act of circumcision being legitimized by two-millenniums of practice is considered fundamental to freedom. Funny that sodomy doesn’t get the same respect, it’s probably been around longer.
Anyway… We can certainly debate circumcision from the standpoint of health and hygiene but I’m not interested in that and in-fact find it boring. Instead, I think we should look at the German ruling from the standpoint of marketing – that’s where it gets interesting.
An author by the name of Barrie Wilson wrote a book called How Jesus Became Christian. In it he makes a compelling case that many of the ‘god fearers’ in the biblical era were looking for something other than what was available from the Greek and Roman myths. The God Fearers believed there was something more to the universe than selfish gods involved in multiple sex farces - and had some interest in the beliefs of the Jews.
They liked the idea of the single deity and a covenant with a more compassionate god but few converted to Judaism. The dietary laws, the keeping of the Sabbath, and particularly the act of circumcision were a hard pill to swallow for any male past the age of five. Most men can surely attest to this: By the age of five most us have played with our penis enough to know that strangers with knives should stay away from it.
Alas, along comes Paul, who tells them about a new religion: It’s easy to join, not too much to do and best of all – nobody is taking a knife to your penis. Well, you know the rest – the Jesus cult has done pretty well.
My point to Muslims and Jews – maybe with all we know about human health, hygiene, and germs – it could be time to back off on all the slicing and dicing and think about the meaning of your faith. Maybe now would be the time to bring the old ideas about faith, hope, and love into the modern age.
If your faith really means something your followers shouldn’t have to choose ancient dogma over modernity. Forget the foreskin. Even if you’re dealing with a porn star – it’s still a small slice of a giant universe.
PS I'm not giving Christians a pass but their issue is not circumcision.
Wilson, B., How Jesus Became Christian, St Martins Press, New York, 2009, p112-113