By now you’ve heard that the American Academy of Pediatrics has published their recent findings on circumcision. Until now, the medical benefits of circumcision were questioned and science did not have an “opinion” on the matter. Now, the AAP has found that there are some benefits to circumcision.
Of course, this is being touted as a major victory for Jews and Muslims who circumcise their children and a spear in the eye of the Intactivists here in American and abroad on Europe. I have seen articles on Commentary and Cross-Currents to that effect.
I think there are three slightly sobering points that are important to make in light of this discovery and the cheers from circumcision advocates drunk with joy over this report.
First, we don’t circumcise because of the medical benefits of circumcision. I daresay that even if circumcision were deemed medically harmful we would still circumcise. More importantly, there is no tenet of our belief that requires circumcision be medically beneficial. We believe it is spiritually beneficial. No science can prove or disprove that.
Second, the study simply does not state that they are many benefits to circumcision or that the benefits affect many people. In fact, the benefit described is that circumcised men are less likely to contract AIDS in third world countries. Orthodox Judaism already has a great way of preventing AIDS, it’s called fidelity. That is aside from the fact that we are living in modern countries and not third world countries. This “benefit” hardly benefits the religious community. I mean, are we seriously going to start teaching our kids that Bris Milah is a great way of preventing AIDS? Further, the medical data is subject to change. We can’t rely on science to save circumcision.
UPDATE: When is this medical benefit realized? When one becomes sexually active and the partner has HIV. Is this really something we are concerned with? Further, the objection of the Intactivist is not that circumcision should be banned. It is that children should not be circumcised when they are babies. If one wishes to have the procedure done to minimally guard against AIDS then have the procedure done before becoming sexually active. There is no compelling reason to do it when the child is a baby. The medical benefit does not bolster the argument that we should circumcise at birth. Not at all.
Finally, the argument against circumcision that is being made by Intactivists is unaffected by this study. The reason they oppose circumcision is not because it is inherently harmful, rather it is because the choice is not being made by the person affected by the decision. Would we condone a parent tattooing their child? Obviously not. This is despite the fact that tattoos are not harmful to the child. Intactivists oppose circumcision for the same reason. A child should have the right to decide if they want to be circumcised. It is not the parents’ decision to make. The point is that it makes no difference whether there is a medical benefit, as specious or as generous as the benefit might be, the objection to circumcision is that the parent is making a decision for the child that the child should make on their own.
Creating strawman Intactivists and knocking them down may be great fun and make us feel good about ourselves. But in the end, we need to understand the challenge of the Intactivists and make good, solid arguments in defense of circumcision.
I have argued that the aforementioned objection does not apply to orthodox Jews or Muslims in a previous post. I maintain that this is the best argument against Intactivists and relying on new scientific data is not our best argument. Read that post here: Circumcision Follow Up (or why circumcision is not barbaric for Orthodox Jews). Read it again. It’s still as relevant as it was then.