I came across some pretty slipshod and childish arguments from Tanya Gold in The Guardian this morning.
And the article has (predictably) unleashed a torrent of comments as a result – not all of them logical or even coherent. But that’s the internet for you. It was enough to prompt me to write about it here, despite the high risk of being accused of all kinds of dastardly intolerance.
Her central thesis in this article is: banning of male circumcision is anti-semitic by default. She decries those who would put female genital mutilation and male circumcision in the same category and argues that continuation of male circumcision is essential for the continuation of Judaism.
What she neatly side-steps – and many commenters helpfully point out – is that “because my god says so” is not really an acceptable argument in any adult debate. If you want to lop pieces of yourself off as a demonstration of your religious affiliation, then I’m all for your freedom to do it. When you are old enough to understand the long-term consequences of this act.
But if you choose to do the same to an infant, who has no say in the matter and no conception of what it is to believe in a god, then I believe you’ve overstepped the mark.
Children have no say in what family they are born into. They have no say in what religion (if any) they have imposed on them. As they grow, they develop their own outlook on the world and maturity and life experience may combine such that they leave the beliefs of their parents behind.
They may decide to take a different life path in terms of political affiliation, career focus or indeed religious belief. All are up for discussion, debate and conscious decision.
Except, if as a baby, religious believers decided to take a piece of your genitals off to appease an all-knowing and all-loving “god”.
That, as you might imagine, is quite hard to change. And serves as a constant and visible reminder to you of what you are supposed to believe in.
The central fear – it strikes me – of religious people who want to impose religious marks on infants is that, if given the option to experience it as an adult instead, their son or daughter may well refuse and instead, walk away from that religion. So, the logic appears to be, get ’em before they’re old enough to say no.
As secular thinkers have frequently pointed out, there is no such thing as a religious/Christian/Jewish baby. They are the child of religious parents. When they’re older, then they’ll be religious. Or not, as the case may be.
I don’t think it’s helpful to resort to accusations of anti-semitism (and worth noting that “Islamophobia” is a term distinctly lacking from her piece, although male circumcision is routinely practiced as part of that faith) and her constant referrals to the fact that the politician who wrote this report was German is just childish.
It’s also unhelpful to simply say male circumcision and female genital mutilation are one and the same in terms of impact on the child. But I’d argue that it’s a spectrum of impact and they’re both at the negative end of the spectrum.
I’m no expert on children’s health and would never claim to be, but I am simply seeking to point out that using illogical, ancient religious (fear-based) arguments in support of circumcision, while wildly throwing around accusations of intolerance, does nobody any good. To me, this fits into the same category as limiting the rights of women, affording second-class rights to “non-believers” and shielding your children from scientific facts that fly in the face of ancient and inaccurate religious dogma.
It simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
It’s 2013 and I firmly believe that using religious belief to side-step concerns about the wellbeing of children is just plain wrong. I’m a secularist and believe that everyone has the right to practice their belief system in peace. But if tenets of that belief system impact the lives, peace and wellbeing of others, well then…you and I will disagree.
And please don’t expect me to walk on eggshells around those beliefs. I can respect you without respecting your religious beliefs.