Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Christians & Routine Circumcision, Part 2: Zipporah and Flint Knives

Part 1 of this post asked the question, "If circumcision is so bad, why did God use it as a covenant with Abraham?"

The simple answer is that the circumcision that was practiced in Abraham's day is not the circumcision practiced today, and thus not the circumcision God instituted. A "modern" Jewish circumcision involves at least two parts - Milah, Pariah, with possibly a third -Messisa. Milah involves removing the skin that extends beyond the tip of the penis. Pariah is where the foreskin is separated from the glans underneath and cut off. Messisa (also called Mezziza or Mizizah) is the third step, where the blood is sucked off the raw penis. Originally this was done by mouth, but because of the spread of disease, a tube became standard. (Messisa has fallen out of favor with all but the most orthodox Jews.)

There is plenty of historical evidence to support the idea that originally circumcision involved only Milah. Pariah was added over 2,000 years after the original covenant was made for basically political reasons. But let's also look at evidence from scripture.

When a baby is born, the foreskin does not retract, because it is adhered to the glans underneath. Click here for good illustrations of intact male anatomy (warning do not scroll down past the first two drawings if you don't want to see actual photos of adult penises). Pariah requires ripping the foreskin away from the sensitive glans underneath. In the past, the mohel would do this with a clean, trimmed fingernail. Today's mohels and doctors use various surgical instruments. The trauma to the penis is great and the chance of infection is high, so a person preforming a circumcision needs to take a great deal of care.

But look at Exodus 4:25 (New King James version): "Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at Moses’ feet, and said, “Surely you are a husband of blood to me!""  We see Zipporah, who certainly wouldn't have been trained in Pariah, cutting off her son's foreskin with a sharp stone! The NAS and NIV translate this as flint or flint knife, instead of stone.

What is a flint knife? Well, flint is a type of stone that breaks easily into pieces with jagged and razor- sharp edges. It would not have been a safe tool for the delicate separation of the foreskin from the glans. The only thing it could do safely was make a clean straight cut across the skin that hung over the tip of the penis and was not fused to it. We see the use of a flint knife again in Joshua 5:2 when God instructed the Israelites to circumcise all the boys and men that had not been circumcised while they wandered in the desert. An adult male's foreskin is no longer adhered to the glans underneath, probably making it a little safer to perform a circumcision like what is done today, but I have to ask why would they? It's a traumatic procedure and, for an adult, it has a 6-8 week recovery time!  By removing only the tip of the foreskin a baby's penis, including the remaining foreskin, would be allowed to grow and develop, maintaining its normal function. An adult who was circumcised in this way would also retain the normal function of the foreskin.  And as I alluded to in Part 1, retaining the function of a body part God designed is probably pretty important to Him.

I'm supposed to talk about risks. But I'm going to treat you like adults and assume that you would find out the risks before allowing your newborn to undergo a surgical procedure. Sometimes doctors gloss over these risks, so do your own research and ask lots of questions.

Now I'm going to tell you something personal about my husband (with his permission). He feels like something was stolen from him. He wishes it had been left up to him to decide, and there are a lot of men who feel that way. As a Christian, imagine your son coming to you and asking why, if he was fearfully and wonderfully made, did you surgically alter his functional anatomy right after he was born? What will you say?

So, we've covered that there are no religious reasons for Christians to circumcise and that modern circumcision is not the same procedure instituted by God, which would have fulfilled the covenant requirement while leaving the function of the foreskin intact. What modern circumcision does is remove a healthy, functional part of the male anatomy for reasons which deny the goodness of God's design. Think about it.   ... and please do your research!






Sunday, February 24, 2013

Christians & Routine Circumcision - Think About It, Part 1: Why Would You Do That?

This is a hard post to write. The decision to circumcise or not is still considered deeply personal in our society. And because there are great Christians who love the Lord who have made the decision to circumcise, making it a spiritual issue might seem like overstepping. But, there is a saying, “when you know better, you do better.”  I’m hoping through this post to change Christian minds about routine circumcision. It's very important that you read this "Think About It" disclaimer post before you read on. And please leave your respectfully-worded thoughts in the comments.

Thinking about: Christians and Routine Circumcision.

As a childbirth educator and doula, I have a hard time addressing this issue head on. People are sensitive about this decision, especially if they have already had previous male children circumcised. I expect the general population to cite cleanliness, preventative health, and appearance as reasons for circumcision. What I don’t understand is why Christians continue to practice an ancient religious custom that is neither religiously necessary or affirming of  the goodness of God’s creation.

To be clear, in this post I am not talking about circumcision done for a valid medical problem. I'm talking about circumcision done on a boy within days of his birth for the simple reason that he was born with a foreskin. 

Here's the assertion I'd like you to think about: Modern routine circumcision removes a healthy, functioning part of the human body, and thereby rejects the fundamental goodness of God's design, with the added detriment of putting babies at risk.

No religious reason.
A lot of people cite religion as the reason they circumcise. Let's be clear from the start - Christians have no religious reason to circumcise. 

In Acts chapter 15, we see a dispute over a requirement that Gentile converts must be circumcised. After discussion among the apostles and other leaders of the church, the affirmation was that God had given the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles without circumcision and therefore they could not require it. Picking up in vs. 23:
"They wrote this letter by them:
The apostles, the elders, and the brethren,
To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:
Greetings.

Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” —to whom we gave no such commandment— it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well
."
Later, Paul confirms in his letter to the Romans that circumcision of the flesh is not important, only circumcision of the spirit. 
"For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God." ~Romans 2:25-29
 These two passages make it clear that God no longer requires religious circumcision. 

Hygiene. There is an argument that God gave us circumcision as a way to ensure the health of our boys. But God instituted the covenant of circumcision with Abraham, 20 generations after Adam. That's 2,000 years God allowed humanity to go without circumcision, and we have already seen above that the coming of Christ did away with the law of circumcision in the flesh. We have no scriptural or historical evidence that uncircumcised men before Abraham or after Christ suffered from hygiene problems. And, by saying that the design of the penis is inherently a health hazard is to deny that it was designed by a good and holy God. The care of an uncircumcised penis is very simple and can be taught to any boy in just a couple of seconds.

Prevent infections. Ok, this seems silly to me. Everyone gets infections in various parts of their bodies. We fight them, we take antibiotics if necessary, and we move on with life. The dangers of infection are not great enough to warrant removing a healthy, functioning part of a baby boy's body. 

Reduce the risk of STDs including HIV/AIDS. Scientist disagree as to whether circumcision actually provides these benefits to the average male. But let's say for the sake of argument that it does reduce the risk of contracting/spreading some STDs and HIV. Christians need to ask themselves a few questions here. By the time a boy is sexually active, he will be old enough to make his own decision about circumcision - shouldn't he have the option? Is the future "benefit" of reducing the negative consequences of sexual sin reason to remove a healthy, functioning part of a newborn's body? The lifetime risk of acquiring HIV for the average male is about 2%, while woman have almost a 1 in 5 chance of getting breast cancer.  Cutting out the breast tissue of a baby girl would eliminate her risk of breast cancer - would you do that to your daughters?


Appearance. I almost don't want to dignify this by talking about it. One might expect this excuse from an average person in our society, which is obsessed with appearance. But a Christian has no excuse for performing cosmetic surgery on a newborn. Not looking like daddy can be easily explained (if kids even ask - my son is 11 and has no clue). But again, you're talking cosmetic surgery to force a child to conform to a physical standard.  


Notice above I keep using the phrase "healthy, functional part of a baby boy's body."  Many people think the foreskin is "extra," serving no purpose. Which is why they are swayed by the above non-religious reasons - the foreskin isn't necessary, so why not remove it? But nothing could be further from the truth. The foreskin has both protective and sexual function. How Stuff Works has a very concise description of the purpose of the foreskin:
The foreskin (also known as the prepuce) is a portion of skin on the penis that covers and protects the tip of the penis, also known as the glans. It can be a tough world for a glans -- there's abrasion from undergarments, cold winter weather and dry air. It's good to have a protection policy in place, and the foreskin provides that protection for the glans. 
When males are born, the skin on the penis extends over the glans, protecting it on day one from the wear and tear it will undergo in that lifetime. The foreskin can account for one-third to nearly one-half of total penile skin. 
While its outer appearance is the same as any other skin on the penis, the foreskin is home to many nerve bundles and blood cells, and its inner surface is similar to the inside of your mouth, helping the glans stay naturally lubricated. Between the outer layer and the moist inner layer is a ridged band with additional nerve endings. A piece of tissue called the frenulum connects the foreskin to the glans. It looks (and functions somewhat) like the connective tissue beneath your tongue. When the penis is flaccid, the frenulum tightens to narrow the opening of the foreskin.
Those nerves packed into the foreskin provide additional stimulation during sexual activities. Its lubricating function also assists in sexual intercourse. Additionally, the frenulum (which is removed in some circumcisions) provides stimulation. Since the glans is kept moist and soft by the foreskin, it too is more sensitive to touch.
I encourage you to do more research into the function of the foreskin. When you truly understand it, you will see just how highly functional and amazing this part of the male anatomy is.  Baby boys are born with foreskins as a functional part of their body. Christians believe that God designed the human body. In contrast to affirming the inherent goodness of this design, modern routine circumcision says that God made a mistake. Psalm 139:13-16 tells us:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”
Who are we to permanently alter a healthy body that God knit together, that is fearfully and wonderfully made? Who are we to put our babies at risk to change God's design?

Ok, this is about the time when people ask me something like: "If circumcision is so bad, why did God use it as a covenant with Abraham?" That's part 2 of this post, where I will also discuss the risks of circumcision. Stay tuned!