“Of course we are circumcising our son…the Bible says so!”
If you’ve read the Bible much, especially the Acts of the Apostles or Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians, you know that this statement makes no sense. But if you are anything like me and didn’t pay attention in Sunday school as a child, or never really read much of the Scriptures growing up, or didn’t pay attention when your parents or pastors were reading Scriptures to you, then you might identify with that statement. I’ll never forget the day that I learned just how ignorant I was about circumcision and Scripture.
My wife and I were meeting with a Priest to talk about receiving the sacrament of Baptism for our soon-to-be-first-born baby. We had no idea if it was a boy or girl, and were preparing for either one. When my wife first asked me what I thought of circumcision, I expressed the same sentiment as in that first sentence. After all, the Bible could not be any clearer. God said:
“This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Gen 17:10-14, cf. Judith 14:10)
My wife, a convert to Catholicism who had actually studied and learned the faith, quickly corrected me. She pointed out that in the New Testament we see that Christ gave us Baptism as the new covenant and that physical circumcision was no longer necessary (Col 2:11-12; Jn 3:5, 22; Mt 28:19-20; Gal 3:27; Acts chapter 10; Romans chapters 2-4; 1Cor 7:18-19; Gal 5:2-11, 6:12-15; Titus 1:10, etc…). But I still wanted to hear it from someone else, just to be certain. So, during our meeting with the Priest to discuss Baptism, I asked about circumcision.
If he wanted to jump out of his chair and choke the ignorance out of me, he didn’t show it. He calmly and sincerely explained exactly what my wife had already told me and spoke about the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and God’s New Covenant with us, referencing some of the passages I noted above along with others such as 1Cor 12:13; Acts 2:38-39, 22:16, and 1Pet 3:20-21. The Scripture could not be any clearer that we are not required to circumcise, and if we do circumcise for the purpose of obeying the Old Covenant Law in order to have that covenant with God, we thereby subject ourselves to the entirety of that old law…and woe unto us if we should fail to keep any part of it.
This brought up yet another topic: should we? This next question wasn’t quite as easy for us to answer as the first part. We both now knew and agreed that it wasn’t necessary, but we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on whether we should circumcise or not. My position was that I wanted my son to look like his dad (if we did indeed have a boy). Her argument was that it was an unnecessary medical procedure that would be excruciatingly painful for a newborn baby. I had always heard that babies don’t feel the pain…after all, I don’t remember my own circumcision. I had also heard that if you don't cut the foreskin, it could lead to infection. Her point was that God didn’t make the penis with natural mistakes that we have to intervene and correct, and that when left alone, it’s rare for problems to result because of leaving a penis intact, the way God made it.
I’ll admit that I’m not the most stubborn person on most issues. If I’m presented with a reasonably sound argument that doesn’t conflict with any natural logic or Truth, I have no problems changing my mind. But I really wanted some answers to my questions. I wanted to know what the facts were. My wife was all too happy to oblige. Here are some of the talking points I wanted clarification on, followed by my wife's answers to me and the information we discovered together:
-I want my son to look like me.
Really? Are you going to stand there and compare penises with him? If his eyes aren't the same color as yours, are you going to gouge them out and replace them to match yours? This is a non-issue. Baby penises look VERY different from adult penises, intact or not.
Intact America responds to this common mentality by pointing out that “[c]hildren differ from their parents in many ways, including eye and hair color, body type, and (of course) size and sexual development. If a child asks why his penis looks different from that of his circumcised father (or brother), parents can say, "Daddy (or brother) had a part of his penis removed when he was a baby; now we know it’s not necessary and we decided not to let anyone do that to you."”
-Won’t my son get made fun of for looking different?
75% of the world's men are intact, and in the United States, about 60% of boys being born today are left intact. So the question should be, won't my son get made fun of for looking different if we cut him? (http://www.intactamerica.org/resources/decision).
But I doubt even that question would be necessary to answer. We visited with parents who had both circumcised and uncircumcised boys who, even now into their teens, don't think anything of it. None of the boys have expressed any issues from public school friends one way or the other. I recall at least a couple friends in high-school who were not circumcised, and I don't ever recall anyone making fun, questioning, or ever bringing it up. It's simply a non-issue.
-What about infections/diseases associated with intact foreskin?
What about them? Key phrases to remember with the care of an intact baby are, “only clean what is seen” and “when intact, don't retract.” A child's foreskin should NEVER be retracted. Not by the parent, not by a physician, not by ANYONE. The only person who should ever do this is the child himself, when the foreskin naturally retracts, which often does not happen until puberty. Part of the foreskin's function is to keep germs out. When little boys are retracted, germs are introduced into an area where they should not be, and infections can result. LEAVE IT ALONE. (http://www.drmomma.org/2009/06/how-to-care-for-intact-penis-protect.html)
Rarely, an intact boy may benefit from circumcision later in life for a medical reason. However, this is not a reason to circumcise every boy at birth. There are some articles that claim that STD's are more common now in uncircumcised men. I believe that data is skewed by the fact that more men are now uncircumcised, and simultaneously the rate of extra-marital sex has increased. Foreskin doesn't lead to STD's. Extra-marital sex leads to STD's. The best way to prevent STD's is to not have extra-marital sex, and to teach our children not to do that either.
-He won’t feel it anyway, so what’s the big deal?
According to Intact America, echoing the concerns of the Physicians for Genital Integrity, “Circumcision is painful. Babies are sensitive to pain, just like older children and adults. The analgesics used for circumcision only decrease pain; they do not eliminate it. Further, the open wound left by the removal of the foreskin will continue to cause the baby pain and discomfort for the 7-10 days it takes to heal.” (http://intactamerica.org/learnmore)
Additionally, the infant's surgically altered penis will be constantly exposed to urine and feces during the body's attempts to heal it and form scar tissue, which is a risk for infection.
-There are health benefits to circumcision.
“There is NO link between circumcision and better health. In fact, cutting a baby boy's genitals creates immediate health risks. The foreskin is actually an important and functional body part, protecting the head of the penis from injury and providing moisture and lubrication. Circumcision also diminishes sexual pleasure later in life . . . No professional medical association in the United States or anywhere else in the world recommends routine circumcision as medically necessary. “
One thing that stuck out to me like a sore thumb was the fact that, throughout the world, Muslims, Jews, and Americans make up the overwhelming majority of all circumcised males. Muslims and Jews do it for religious reasons. Americans...well, we use the same excuses and mentality as what I had before we had our first child (who ended up being a girl). We are using the same reasons that, when presented with the facts, made this American step back and say, “you know what...I'm not convinced that I should cut off part of my son's penis. But when he grows up, if he feels like he wants to be circumcised for any of the reasons I previously had, he can make that decision for himself.”
For a Q&A follow-up to this post,that addresses even more arguments,
To learn more, please visit:
Catechism of the Catholic Church 2297
Catholics Against Circumcision
Physicians for Genital Integrity