The Telegraph blames atheists for the German ban on circumcision

As many of you know, a German court recently ruled that circumcision of infants abrogated the right of infants to be protected from bodily harm, and therefore was illegal until the child became old enough to give informed consent. According to CBS News:

“The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised,” the court added.

The ruling has now set a precedent that anyone in the future who performs a circumcision on a child not old enough to consent could potentially be breaking the law. Experts say that the decision would not be enforceable in other jurisdictions but because of the legal limbo and possibility of charges brought upon them, doctors may decline to do the procedure, according to the New York Times.

The Jews will be outraged, of course, but this is the decision of a regional court, in Cologne, and would have to be upheld by higher courts before it became German law.  I don’t have strong feelings about this issue, but I know some readers do.

But I do have strong feelings about a piece in the Torygraph that blames this ban on—who else?—atheists.  Yes, those atheists who are constantly battling religious “freedom,” including the freedom to mutilate one’s child. In the paper, Brendan O’Neill weighs in in a piece called, “The rebranding of circumcision as ‘child abuse’ echoes the ugly anti-Semitism of medieval Europe.” That title says it all: he plays the anti-Semitic card for all it’s worth:

Many secularist campaigners are cock-a-hoop about the ruling. They believe their description of circumcision as “child abuse”, as a cruel operation that ignores the UN-guaranteed “rights of the child”, is radical and caring. But in truth it echoes centuries’ worth of nasty anti-circumcision posturing by people who hate certain religious faiths. In Medieval Europe, as pointed out in the book The Covenant of Circumcision, Jew-baiters often depicted circumcision as “cruel and grotesque”. The “barbarous and cruel Jews” were slated for callously snipping off their own boys’ foreskins and for secretly desiring to do the same to Christian boys, too. These “merciless” creatures were described by one English writer as “foreskinne-clippers”. The modern atheist’s description of circumcision as “child abuse”, though used to attack both Jewish and Muslim communities, is only an updated, more PC version of the old anti-Semites’ description of it as “cruel and grotesque”.

The labelling of religious practices as “child abuse” is the most cynical tactic in the armoury of today’s so-called New Atheists. They are effectively using children as human shields, as a cover under which they and their beloved state might interfere in both family life and the realm of religious conscience in order to reprimand people for believing the wrong things and carrying our “cruel” practices. If you think they will stop with the banning of a physical practice like circumcision, think again. Richard Dawkins has argued that “bringing [children] up Catholic” is a form of “mental abuse”. Another New Atheist argues that children “have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas”. What is being attacked here is the fundamental right of parents and communities to pass on their beliefs to their offspring.

History tells us that the rebranding of religious practices as child abuse can have terrible consequences. Many anti-Jewish pogroms in the past were justified on the basis that Jews abused children. The FBI’s insane invasion of the headquarters of the Branch Davidian religious cult in Waco, Texas, in 1993 was likewise justified on the basis of halting child abuse. That led to the deaths of 82 people – 28 of them children.

First of all, I doubt that New Atheism had anything to do with the judges’ ruling. Second, is it really a right to cut off part of your child’s penis because it’s a religious dictate? Is religiously-motivated female genital mutilation then a right? How much religiously-motivated cutting is permissible?

And people should think twice about what Dawkins said before rejecting it.  It’s okay to teach your children truths about the world, and imbue them with some semblance of morality (“share your toys”), but atheists don’t think it’s okay to tell your children lies.  (Further, no atheist is saying that such indoctrination should be outlawed, only that it’s wrong).

And it’s even worse to tell kids lies that warp and terrify them, a practice routinely applied to Catholic children. Many readers can attest to the harm that was done them by being filled with religious nonsense, guilt, and thoughts of eternal damnation.  In contrast, few could claim, I think, that they were permanently damaged by being brought up without religion.

h/t: Grania


  1. Posted June 29, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    “Comments are closed.” WELL GOSH WHAT A SURPRISE.

  2. moochava
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    1) Communists don’t believe in God
    2) Atheists don’t believe in God
    3) Therefore, atheists are communists

    1) Anti-Semites oppose circumcision without consent
    2) Atheists oppose circumcision without consent
    3) Therefore, atheists are anti-Semites

    Right-wing talking points are like exam questions in a Philosophy 100 course. “Draw a line connecting the argument on the left to the logical fallacy on the right.”

    • Posted February 23, 2013 at 3:27 am | Permalink

      On the other hand, Anti-Semites do not have any problem blaming Atheism on The Jew.

      On the Dutch section of Stormfront, of all places, it was argued that raising your children with the instruction to turn the other cheek, combined with the threat of eternal damnation is far worse than having part of your penis chopped off.

  3. Martin
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    “Many anti-Jewish pogroms in the past were justified on the basis that Jews abused children.”

    I’ve never heard this before – unless he’s referring to the claims made by Christians that it was Christian children being harmed? But I think the difference there is obvious.

    And anyway what’s his point in saying that? Should people not speak out when they see a child being abused, in case it might offend somebody else’s religious beliefs? That’s the coldest argument for religious accommodation I’ve ever heard.

  4. Posted June 29, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink


    Yeah stopping religious exceptions to laws on cutting infants is essentially the same as killing children.

    Can’t believe he got from

    “The ruling has now set a precedent that anyone in the future who performs a circumcision on a child not old enough to consent could potentially be breaking the law.”


    “History tells us that the rebranding of religious practices as child abuse can have terrible consequences. Many anti-Jewish pogroms in the past were justified on the basis that Jews abused children. The FBI’s insane invasion of the headquarters of the Branch Davidian religious cult in Waco, Texas, in 1993 was likewise justified on the basis of halting child abuse. That led to the deaths of 82 people – 28 of them children.”

    Amazing feat of gymnastics

    • muuh-gnu
      Posted July 1, 2012 at 5:32 am | Permalink

      > Amazing feat of gymnastics

      Guilt by assotiation is a standard rhetorical trick performed by apologists of any kind.

      As soon as you recognize that somebody is defending a position without a real argument, i.e. is an apologist, you usually can know in advance all the different art of fallacies he will try on his target audience.

      Assotiation fallacy: “David Koresh did it.”

      Poisoning the well: “It is cleaner. It looks better.”

      Appeal to majority: “Everybody does it.”

      Appeal to authority: “Doctors perform it, the WHO recommends it.”

      Appeal to ignorance: “I cant imagine how it could be harmful.”

      Anecdotal evidence: “I’m circumcised and my penis is OK, why are you complaining?”

      Minimization: “Its justa little snip, it’s just a tiny piece of skin.”

      Special pleeding: “Babies wont remember the pain.”


  5. Posted June 29, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I can live with being blamed for the horrible crime of stopping people taking knives to the genitals of babies. Somehow, I can bear that cross.

    • suwise3
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink


  6. DrDroid
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    “I don’t have strong feelings about this issue, but I know some readers do.”

    This seems to imply that you don’t think circumcision is harmful or objectionable. Why is that? What’s your position on female genital mutilation as practiced by Muslims? Why are the two different, if they are?

    • Maverick
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      There is something of a medical debate on wether to circumcise babies. There is evidence that it helps prevent some diseases/conditions, and, if someone’s going to get circumcised, the best (medical) time to do it would be as an infant. Besides, lacking a foreskin doesn’t seem to have any significant negative repercussions. On the other hand, there is no patient consent, and in a modern society the medical benefits may not be significant and/or outweigh risks. Its a complex question and I think Jerry is saying he hasn’t picked a side in that debate.

      To my knowledge, Jerry strongly opposes genital mutilation. Genital mutilation (as practiced by anyone) causes great long-term damage to the person and has no medical benefit. There is no medical debate about wether the harms (great) of genital mutilation are outweighed by the benefits (non-existent). Even if the cost/benefit was debatable, the repercussions of genital mutilation are great enough to undoubtably require patient consent.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        Circumcision is “genital mutilation” too, just not as severe as the function is dramatically different.

        As for negatives, there are a few studies that aren’t large enough, but they imply both men and women suffer for various reasons. Our specific sexual mechanic evolved with foreskin, and apparently it shows. (Sensitivity, time to orgasm for both sexes, et cetera, not all immune system changes are beneficial, et cetera.)

        Admittedly, I think there are more hypotheses than tests right now. But they are looking into it.

      • RF
        Posted June 30, 2012 at 12:43 am | Permalink

        Have there been any studies showing there to be significant negative effects to removing someone’s eyelids? I think some things are simply self-evident.

        • Steve Wagner
          Posted June 30, 2012 at 12:47 am | Permalink

          Bringing it all back to the religious basis for infant genital mutilation, one would wonder why God would create people with foreskins and then command they be cut off. Weird dude, no?

    • H.H.
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Feelings are not positions. One can hold the position that male circumcision is harmful without having strong feelings on the issue.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      As I’ve written before, I’m strongly against FGM and I am undecided on male circumcision as there may be some medical benefits to the procedure that are under discussion by experts. That said, perhaps the choice should be left to older boys, although it’s a more serious procedure then, I’m told.

      • Posted June 29, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

        I’ve tried to keep my alter ego off this forum (though WordPress sometimes defaults to it) because WEIT is my relaxation from “his” Intactivism.

        My Dr Jeykell side strongly argues that it’s a human rights abuse, regardless of any medical benefits, which are marginal – slight reductions in rare diseases of late onset that can be better prevented by other means, or treated as they arise – when they are not completely bogus.

        Medically, circumcision is a “cure” looking for a disease – always the most feared disease of the day. Before AIDS it was cancer, and before that STDs, before that all the horrors – TB, epilepsy, etc – caused by “self-abuse”. More generally, it is an intervention looking for an excuse.

        (One study found lower HIV in women who had undergone FGC – how they wriggled to avoid any suggestion of a causal relationship, or any suggestion that FGC should be advocated for that reason!)

        MGC is not too serious a surgery for religious converts and fetishists to undertake, and recent developments have made it bloodless and painless – or so its proponents claim.

      • bacopa
        Posted June 29, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

        You’re making a huge mistake here. You are buying into the whole “weigh the evidence” mentality.

        I would suggest that you investigate the “no conspicuous suffering” argument. Investigate those places where circumcision is rare or absent and see how people do. Things are fine. Former Surgeon General Koop was pretty much persuaded by the the no conspicuous suffering argument.

        And keep in mind that the usual burden of proof for surgical intervention is high. Could something as mundane as being born male really be a cause for surgical intervention?

        Medical-context circumcision of males was never anything than a quasi-religious [purification ritual.

    • Buzz
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      Male circumcision is just one of many practices of body modification. Many of these practices are performed by adults on infants. And many of them are considered vile and unthinkable in our culture. Yet others are considered unremarkable. Circumcision lies somewhere in the middle in terms of cultural acceptance, where it is seen by some as harmless and others as morally repugnant.

      My father’s discussion of some of these issues is here:

  7. Reg Le Sueur
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    The word “rebranding” is used in the original article. This is entirely appropriate as circumcision is nothing mofre than the branding of helpless infants to mark them as the property of Judeo-Christian establishments. I am still feeling hacked-off about it myself.

    • gluonspring
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Hacked off indeed. 😉

  8. Hempenstein
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    What’s the history of circumcision in the US, anyway? When did it become widespread? I’m guessing post-WWII, but that’s just a guess.

    In Western Europe, I think it never did become widespread. Or did it?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Why would it? Everything else alike it seems gross if you aren’t brought up in such a culture.

      To prove your manhood you would as well meet for the weekly village brawl. Which, after christianity arrived hereabouts, was the day before you had to show up in church to be forgiven for everything anyway.

    • Posted June 29, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      It got started in the US in the late 19th century with the likes of J H Kellogg and Paul Remondino promoting it to prevent masturbation. It got a further kick after WW1 with the fear of STDs. Parallel movements occurred in the rest of the English-speaking world, though in England itself it remained an upper-class marker. Australia and New Zealand, being more egalitarian, were not so lucky.

      It peaked in all those countries about 1950, but its decline was fastest in New Zealand where it was residual by the turn of the 21st century, then Australia (currently about 12% but much less in some states). In the US it is still more than 50% overall, but much less in the western states. (That’s rate, not prevalence. Because of the history, far more men than babies are now circumcised.)

      A good history of the British phenomenon is “A Surgical Temptation” by Rob Darby, of the US “Marked in your Flesh” by Leonard Glick.

  9. logicophilosophicus
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I think the attempt to stop circumcision or any other genital mutilation is ultimately right:

    but “ultimately” is not where we are yet. Education and persuasion should come first.

    There is also a complication in that circumcision was once upon a time hygenically useful (probably still is for some). Google circumcision and cervical cancer, for example.

    • Occam
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Google circumcision and cervical cancer, for example.

      Sorry, no, Google is no proper substitute for evidence-based medicine.

      • logicophilosophicus
        Posted June 29, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        Google is not a source, it is a search engine. I find it hard to believe any internet user has not realised that. To google means to use an internet search engine (not necessarily Google itself). Check out these first page results on “cervical cancer circumcision” and “HIV circumcision” – clearly these medical issues are not “woo” and they are relevant to the circumcision discussion, exactly as I stated:

        • Posted June 29, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

          The Castellsagué study is a meta-analysis of seven studies in five countries, none of which found a correlation between circumcision and cervical cancer. By pooling the studies (only one of which – the one in the Philippines – had a significant number of circumcised men) they were able to mine a significant difference in HPV, but still not cervical cancer, except in a high-risk subgroup. Hence the headline “Circumcision cuts cervical cancer rates” typical in this area. My alter ego deconstructs the study here.

          The “compelling” evidence that circumcision reduces the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission amounts to 64 circumcised men who got HIV less than two years after a total of 5,400 men were circumcised, 73 fewer than the control groups, while 373 circumcised men dropped out of the trials, their HIV status unknown. Contacts were not traced, so it can’t even be certain that the HIV was (hetero)sexually transmitted. All three trials were cut short prematurely. The trials were not perforce double-blinded or placebo controlled. A subset of the Ugandan trial started to find that circumcising men INcreases the HIV risk to women, but that too was cut short “for futility” before it could be confirmed. The campaign to circumcise all of Africa is a juggernaut driven by circumcised men (one says his descent from a mohel has “destined” him to promote it, another is a mohel) with all too literally, an axe to grind.

          Neither HIV nor cervical cancer is a good reason to circumcise babies.

          • logicophilosophicus
            Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

            Thank you for that info. I am glad that it resolves the medical “complication”. I now feel quite horrified that the WHO endorsed that research. Have you any theory to account for it? Is it just an honest but stupid mistaken faith in the research? (I’m not suggesting that would bevan excuse.) Or do you think the claim of a health value for sub-Saharan Africans was talked up by some vested interest? I shall read your stuff more carefully, but thanks again.

            • Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

              I risk seeming or even being both a denialist and a conspiracy theorist, but the WHO recommendation followed an invitation-only meeting whose membership has never been revealed in Monteux, Switzerland in April 2007. It seems highly probable that its membership was handpicked by someone such as Daniel Halperin to include only circumcision advocates or “useful idiots” (I have a second-hand report of one such).
              In a suspiciously short time after that meeting, detailed handbooks appeared and the campaign was all on.

              In the literature, remarkably few scientists feature in remarkably many papers. (Look for the names Robert Bailey, Stefan Bailis, Ronald Gray, Daniel Halperin, Godfrey Kigozi, Jeffrey Klausner, Brian Morris, Stephen Moses, Malcolm Potts, Thomas Quinn, Edgar Schoen, Aaron Tobian, Maria Wawer, Helen Weiss, often tucked in at the end of a long list of African names.)

              The “60% reduction” (sometimes “up to” sometimes “more than” sometimes up to “80%”) figure has been waved like a witchdoctor’s juju stick. As someone said, if a vaccine had only 60% effectiveness it would be laughed at. If someone sold condoms, 40% with holes, they would go to gaol.

              As Sam Harris says in “The Moral Landscape”
              “… physicians have a moral obligation to handle medical statistics in ways that minimize unconscious bias. Otherwise, they cannot help but inavertently manipulate both their patients and one another, guaranteeing that some of the most important decisions in life will be unprincipled.”

              60% reduction sounds HUGE. It amounts to a Number Needed to Treat of about 30-60 in the African context, much more in the US context, female-to-male being a very small part of total transmission.

              There is evidence that African men are taking the “60% reduction” as licence to throw away their condoms because they are “immune”. It is also connected with mass forcible circumcision (a kind of rape) in Uganda and Kenya.

              In the context of infant circumcision, this would mean that parents should be told not just that it “reduces the risk” of this or that, but that it would take over 1000 circumcisions to prevent one penile cancer in an old man who had neglected his hygiene, more than a hundred (by the circumcision advocates own figures) to prevent one UTI, and so on.

          • muuh-gnu
            Posted July 1, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

            > The campaign to circumcise all of Africa is a juggernaut driven by circumcised men (one says his descent from a mohel has “destined” him to promote it, another is a mohel) with all too literally, an axe to grind.

            This is interesting info. Could you please give me a reference to these claims, for further use?

            • Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

              Daniel Halperin is an anthropologist. In 1999-2001, before the HIV/AIDS studies came out, he was “Principal
              Investigator; survey, hospital record, and ethnographic study of the practice and
              acceptability of neonatal circumcision services at San Francisco General Hospital.”

              “I asked Halperin whether his being Jewish factors into his work on circumcision.

              “No”, he says, “at least it didn’t during the first couple of years I was doing this research. I didn’t think about the Jewish part at all. … But in recent years the Judaism aspect has crept in now and then. Some doctors – for example, an oncologist in north-eastern Brazil who has to amputate cancerous penises every week – would tell me, not knowing that I was Jewish, ‘Those Jews were so smart; thousands of years ago they figured out this way to precent health problems.’ That was one of the things that began to spin my head around from of thinking of this as a savage ritual from the dark past to thinking of it as maybe a kind of health/cultural innovation ahead of its time. … So I guess it has made me appreciate my own heritage more. And who knows, maybe finding out to my surprise that my own granddad was an occasional mohel was a weird kind of confirmation that I’m maybe in some small way destined to help pass along this health benefit to people in parts of the world where it could really make a difference and perhaps save many lives.”

              – Gordy Slack, “The case for circumcision” East Bay Express (San Francisco), Vol. 22 No. 32, 19 May 2000, p. 15

              (Bertran Auvert published the first of the three RCTs claiming circumcision reduces HIV in 2005.)

              Halperin went on to hold positions like:

              2006-2008 Senior Research Scientist, Center for Population and Develop. Studies, Harvard SPH

              2005-2006 Senior Prevention Technical Advisor, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Southern Africa Regional HIV/AIDS Program, Pretoria

              He was at the forefront of the WHO promotion of circumcision in Africa.

              The mohel is Inon Schenker, who has launched Operation Abraham on Africa, and would like to do that same to America. (The last paragraph of that is an ironic choice of country: very few doctors in New Zealand have done a circumcision for a generation.)

        • Occam
          Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

          Google, a search engine? Really? You don’t say!

          Leaving aside the lexical scope of the verb ‘google’: I’d never term a PubMed search ‘googling’, but to each his own.

          More seriously: whether ‘googling’ or ‘pubmeddling’, the kind of cherry-picking you seem to advocate is very dangerous. Perhaps the point of evidence-based medicine has escaped you. It helps, among other things, prevent the biased selection of papers espousing or underscoring one’s pet argument. In the case of Google, you’d have to be sufficiently familiar with their ranking algorithms in order to gauge the probability of finding a given paper within a given ranking range in response to your query.

          The question of the risks/benefits assessment of generalised preventive circumcision is clearly fraught with so many ideological mines that an evidence-based meta-study as the first step seems the only way forward.

          An ideologically less explosive example from Germany: the German Society for Orthopedic Surgery has just started an evidence-based meta-study into the use and distribution of endoprosthetic articular joints. This after a few surgeons had noticed that the ratio of endoprosthetic articular joint replacement indications varied considerably by region, correlating strongly with the local medical culture and what can only be described as the “prevalent dogma”, and independently of economic and environmental factors. Preliminary, very incomplete data show a difference ratio of up to 2.5; I’ve seen even higher estimates.
          To make up an arbitrary example: for an identical condition, you may be up to 2.5 times more likely to receive an artificial hip joint in Frankfurt than in Hamburg (or perhaps vice-versa). This seems scientifically unwarranted, and an evidence-based meta-study of all intervening factors is required. Otherwise, every chief surgeon would be able to selectively pick a study supporting his or her pet dogma regarding prosthetic surgery.

          • logicophilosophicus
            Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

            Point taken, as I have already replied to Shuggy. But you should have some sympathy for non-experts who tend to trust the WHO or… I was going to say New Scientist, but I shouldn’t admit to being that credulous. And don’t blame googling – unless the user lazily accepts Wikipedia (or, infinitely worse, Wiki Answers) or other easy options.

            Still, again thanks.

            • Occam
              Posted June 30, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

              Of my sympathy, rest assured 🙂

              Re experts: everybody seems to have a favourite Richard Feynman quote, and mine is:

              “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”
              (What is Science, 1966)

              • logicophilosophicus
                Posted June 30, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

                Yes, Feynman is one of my intellectual heroes, a guru you might say. I quoted an even clearer version of this attitude in another thread: “The scientist… tries to prove himself wrong as quickly as possible…” “Doubt is clearly a value in the sciences.” (“The Meaning of It All” lecture 1: The uncertainty of science; 1963.)

                So I was neither “cherrypicking” nor blindly accepting the authority of experts when I cited NS and WHO as sources merely “relevant to the discussion”, as indeed they are – and the course of the discussion has been informative. (I have to say I feel out on a limb to the extent that I have to trust yourself and Shuggy against the combined opinion of the WHO cited researchers and authors. Should I not be doubting you, too? Where does it end?)

                (BTW I meant to give you a source for the generic use of “to google”. It’s been used that way for a decade at least, and when I Google (i.e. using Google itself) “google definition” that’s exactly the first item on the page: “Verb: Use an Internet search engine, particularly…” For years Google tried to suppress the generic definition; then they insisted that it be given with the etymology. See e.g. from 2003 – “Google is now a verb meaning to search.”)

              • Occam
                Posted June 30, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

                ”Should I not be doubting you, too?”
                By all means, do. You’d be in excellent company: mine…:)
                Where does it end?
                It never does: “An Endlessly Rising Canon”.
                But in practical terms, there is a way of not having to rely entirely on third-party opinion: open data, transparent analysis.

  10. J
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Personally I’d be happy to believe ‘New Atheists’ were behind the ruling – “New Atheists save future generations from genital mutilation”. Seems a pretty noble sentiment to me.

    • gbjames
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Can’t say I disagree with you.

  11. Myron
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    “The modern atheist’s description of circumcision as ‘child abuse’, though used to attack both Jewish and Muslim communities, is only an updated, more PC version of the old anti-Semites’ description of it as ‘cruel and grotesque’.”

    1. Anti-Semites are evil or/and stupid, and they think that circumcision is a bad thing.
    2. Non-anti-Semitic atheists think that circumcision is a bad thing.
    3. Therefore, non-anti-Semitic atheists are evil or/and stupid, too.

    “The Bad Company Fallacy: Attacking another’s position solely on the grounds that it is one that has also been held by some obviously evil or stupid person. This is an informal fallacy. The suggestion is that if someone obviously evil or stupid held that view you must be evil or stupid to hold it yourself. That this is an unreliable form of argument quickly becomes clear when you consider particular examples of it.”.

    (Warburton, Nigel. Thinking from A–Z. London: Routledge, 1996. p. 21)

    • Posted June 29, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      I am surprised the writer did not catch a simpler argument of this kind.

      1) Hitler was vegetarian and non-smoker. (fact)
      2) Hitler was a frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Semite.

      3) Therefore, all vegetarians and non-smokers are anti-Semites.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

        FWIW, I think later historians have uncovered that he was a token vegetarian. It fits, he was a master demagogue who didn’t care much for what he said as long as it furthered his goals.

        But it is a valid point anyway.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the Warburton quote, Myron. I was worried that the “Bad Company” fallacy would turn out to be the unjustified belief that if you take former members of Mott the Hopple, King Crimson, and Free, you’ll get something more than grist for Classic Rock radio.

  12. Steve Smith
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Circumcision is genital mutilation. But it’s funny genital mutilation:

  13. Martin
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    It’s well worth ignoring anything Brendan O’Neill has to say; a self styled ‘libertarian’ more accurately described as a rarefied troll.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      Yes, I have to agree. His knee-jerk reaction to any criticism of the Catholic Church, in particular, is off-putting. He’s always willing to carry the Pope’s coat in any argument, and if that means sophistry that’s ok. What’s the opposite of edifying? He’s that.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted June 29, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink


  14. newenglandbob
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Prof. Jerry Coyne, sometimes it is difficult to comment on an article here because you cover the points so well. This comment is basically just for subscribing.

    • Dominic
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      ‘Covering the points’ – is sort of what the court has made the circumcisors do!

  15. Schenck
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Clearly the author has it wrong, the German law is anti-American, since in the US circumcision in de rigeur…..

  16. Dominic
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    This is a Good Judgement. Let those who wish to mutilate themselves do so when they are adults. I suppose they will go on circumcision holidays now, to neighbouring lands.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      A little trip to do the nip.

      There once was a city in France,
      that was known for its decadence.
      Though a nip of the bud,
      mind, as you could,
      took balls to do on balance.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 29, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        Gotta hand it to you, dude; you don’t let little things like rhyme or meter get in the way of writing a limerick.

        (I was going to critique yours by way of a return limerick, but I’m having trouble coming up with two words to rhyme with “Torbjörn.”)

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 29, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

          I don’t do rhyme and meter, too boring; I do do tact in music as I love dancing.

          I don’t think it is required either, it’s the pun that is the fun in limericks.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 29, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        Well … maybe not that much trouble:

        “There once was a man named Torbjörn
        who to the writing of limericks was swörn
        considering circumcision
        he had a great vision
        of skin being peeled from a hörn.”

  17. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    This fellow not only played the anti-Semitic card. I think he dealt it from the bottom of the deck!

  18. Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    That this is not an atheist plot is clear from the fact that male circumcision is promoted by health organisations as a mean to prevent HIV transmission. This includes the WHO and the UN (UNAIDS program)- and in countries with high incidence of AIDS such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia there are now dedicated clinics to that effect.

    I would guess that the author of the Telegraph piece is part of the group that labels such organisations as havens of socialists, communists, etc, ie, awful atheists.

    [The debate is still on, but several studies have shown that HIV transmission is significantly reduced in circumcised males, although the mechanism behind this has not yet been understood.

    • Sigmund
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      “I would guess that the author of the Telegraph piece is part of the group that labels such organisations as havens of socialists, communists, etc, ie, awful atheists.”
      I doubt it. Brendan O’Neill is a former marxist who switched to a type of extreme libertarianism and now seems to hire himself out to right wing Christian groups as an anti new atheist commenter.

      As for the medical benefits of male circumcision, I think the data on HIV transmission has come down on the side that circumcision DOES give some degree of protection from HIV (and HPV) infection – although far less than that offered by condom use and anti-HPV vaccination. It doesn’t however prevent HIV infection to female partners of infected males. I seriously wonder about the ethics of promoting circumcision in the absence of promoting condom and HPC vaccination.
      Circumcision does lower the risk of penile cancer but the cost benefit ratio is not sufficient for any of these proposed benefits to outweigh the number of deaths of children that occur through operational mishaps during the circumcision procedure. If prevention of male cancer deaths was the highest priority then surgical removal of male breast tissue would save more lives (due to reducing the chance of male breast cancer) than circumcision.
      At the moment it is an easy money making procedure for many in the medical profession which explains their reluctance to ban it (or more accurately to restrict it to those who have given basic informed consent for the procedure.)

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 29, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        And by the same token I believe it has been noted that if you don’t count operational consequences smokers should have their lips removed.

        It prevents cancers without serious loss of function.

        [And apparently this is no “facial mutilation”. Or is it?]

    • Sajanas
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      Sigmund said a lot, but I’d also suggest that South Africa in particular has a long and colorful picture of trying to promote folk remedies and other of the wall ideas as answers to the AIDS epidemic, and that their endorsement should be met with a bit of skepticism, at the very least. I’ve long got the impression that they’d rather pretend to fight the epidemic with cheap woo rather than actually fight it with money and the education, condoms, and antiretrovirals that it buys.

    • Posted June 29, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      Wikipedia is more than usually not to be trusted on anything to do with circumcision, because one of the main editors on the subject (with 10,000 edits to his name), one Jake Waskett, is – despite his denials – a staunch advocate, having published papers in support of it jointly with the egregious Professor Brian Morris of the University of Sydney.

      My alter ego deals with the HIV claims here and the African studies in particular here.

      • Notagod
        Posted June 29, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Shuggy! Looks like you’ve gathered together a very good resource.

  19. Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    “They are effectively using children as human shields, as a cover under which they and their beloved state might interfere in both family life and the realm of religious conscience in order to reprimand people for believing the wrong things and carrying our “cruel” practices.”

    I suspect he might feel differently if we were talking about, say, Aztec religious practices. “How dare the state interfere with the ritual sacrifice of this infant and re-brand it ‘child abuse’!”

    “The FBI’s insane invasion of the headquarters of the Branch Davidian religious cult in Waco, Texas, in 1993 was likewise justified on the basis of halting child abuse. That led to the deaths of 82 people – 28 of them children.”

    This is where he wants to plant his flag? David Koresh? The guy who was “spiritually married” to a 13 year old? The guy who sexually assaulted another minor who testified in the Waco hearings? Who was known to sleep with 14 year olds but couldn’t be charged because in Texas at the time 14 was the minimum age for consent to sex and parents approved?

    He really wants to claim that denying circumcision is exactly like wanting to prevent a cult leader from sleeping with 14 year olds?

    Ok, yea, I think we can agree on that point. I’m just not sure that it makes the case he thinks it makes.

  20. Neil
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    I have a strong opinion on this. Circumcision is a painful, barbaric ritual, which would not be tolerated were it not a matter of religious practice.

    • Posted June 29, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      The latter is doubtful, to this day, the majority of male newborns in the U.S. are circumcised. And most for non-religious reasons. (Whether these non-religious reasons are legit, is a different question!).

      See ‘non-religious circumcision’:

      • Neil
        Posted June 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        In Europe, the rate is less than 20%. Do you not think US exceptionalism, again, has something to do with religion?

        • Posted June 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink


          • Neil
            Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

            I would like to see a cross-county scatterplot and correlation between Abrahamic religious belief and male circumcision. I am guessing it will be high.

            yeah, yeah. Correlation does not imply causation.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 29, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

          Sort of.

          Seems it was used elsewhere but may have taken off in US due to peer pressure.

          No doubt peer pressure in US is strengthened by nationalism (“US exceptionalism”), which is always dangerous and seldom beneficial. Kind of like circumcision. :-/

          • Tim Harris
            Posted June 29, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

            As I recall, circumcision was supposed to reduce the nasty practice of masturbation, which, among other things, shortened lives, made hair grow on your palms and sent you blind; American exceptionalism doubtless lay in young American males masturbating, or potentially masturbating, more than the young males of other nations, which is why circumscision came to be regarded, in the States, as an anti-masturbatory panacea.

        • Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

          Much less. Are you relying on Wikipedia?

      • Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        See my comment above about relying on Wikipedia for circumcision-related material.

  21. Posted June 29, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand how they can see this as being “anti-Semitic”. If I recall correctly, circumcision (or some form of it) is also practiced by Muslims, and the judge’s ruling does not say it applies only to Jews.

    • gbjames
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      It is also practiced by many Xtians. My parents were raised as Catholic/Lutheran (1 each), and I can attest to the practice.

      • Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

        It is actually contrary to Christian teaching. See Gal 5:2 especially “… if you become circumcised, Christ will avail you nothing.”

        • gbjames
          Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

          Well, they were and they did. And a gazillion other Xtian parents did, too.

    • Posted June 29, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      In all fairness, something can be anti-a-lot-of-things-at-once. O’Neill could have argued that it’s anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and Islamophobic. It’s none of those things, but he could have made the argument that way. It’s much the same way that one could argue that the War on Drugs is racist. It affects more than minorities, sure, but it disproportionately affects PoC.

      Technically, this limits anyone, regardless of their religion, that wants to circumcise their child, however it’s a religious obligation for Jews, so clearly that means it’s anti-Semitic. Or something. I suspect O’Neill doesn’t really care about whether it impacts Muslims.

  22. Robert
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Choosing to cut oneself is your decision. Choosing to cut someone else is not.

    Hard to be against it when framed that way, so they have to frame it in some other way.

    There’s nothing wrong with circumcision, there’s plenty wrong with doing it to someone else who can’t consent. What’s so frightening about waiting until people can make informed decisions? … Maybe I shouldn’t ask.

  23. Posted June 29, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    As I understand it, the Moslem population of Germany exceeds the Jewish population by more than 33:1 (I’m assuming that it’s roughly the same ratio in the Cologne region). Furthermore, the incident that led to the ban was specifically a Muslim circumcision. I would therefore conclude that in coming to the decision to impose the ban, the Cologne court was not motivated by any feelings of enmity towards Jews or Judaism. I hear that the German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, has already spoken out against the ruling.

    Given all of these facts, I seriously doubt that it will become a national ban. Furthermore, I don’t think it would be at all easy to enforce, particularly for Jewish circumcisions.

  24. Posted June 29, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    To be fair, I have met atheists who think religious upbringing should be legally restricted. So, a minority, but not none.

    • RF
      Posted June 30, 2012 at 1:25 am | Permalink

      Surely any reasonable person would agree that religious upbringing should be legally restricted, for some values of “religious” and “restricted”.

  25. Occam
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    The intellectual dishonesty of Brendan O’Neill’s paper can be exemplified by one sentence:

    These “merciless” creatures were described by one English writer as “foreskinne-clippers”.

    “Merciless” “foreskinne-clippers”, under the rubrum “In Medieval Europe”: the deft suggestion of a defamatory medieval cliché.

    Where does the phrase “foreskinne-clippers” originate? Not from a medieval text. The “one English writer,” Thomas Nashe (1567-1601), an Elizabethan contemporary of Shakespeare and friend of Christopher Marlowe, used it only once, in one of the very first English picaresque novels, “The Unfortunate Traveller”, published in London in 1594. The story: a soldier of fortune survives a campaign in France and suffers moulte tribulations in the company of the Earl of Surrey in Italy, among which a Borgia-esque intrigue involving a Jewish physician by the name of Zacharias, accused of attempting to poison the Pope, whereupon the Jewish community is expelled from Rome. In that context only, synecdochetically, Nash has his uncouth, flippant, and casual hero use the phrase “foreskinne clippers” (no hyphen, by the way):

    This request at the first was seald with a kisse, and the popes edict without delaye proclaimed throughout Rome, namely, that all foreskinne clippers whether male or female belonging to the old Jurie, should depart and auoyde vpon payne of hanging within twentie dayes after the date thereof.

    One ocurrence, a hapax legomenon. Incidentally, the attribute “merciless” does not figure anywhere in the entire novel; O’Neill must have snatched it somewhere else.

    OK, the typical Elizabethan anti-Semitic trope, the least vicious example of which is perhaps found in Shylock. What about the figure of speech, what about the context?

    The notion of “circumcised Race” was made infamous, and aggressively used, notably in a sermon from 1578, by Protestant church historian John Foxe (1517-1587), author of the gargantuan Actes and Monuments. Said sermon, on the occasion of the conversion of a Jew, expressed the hope

    to allure the whole remnant of the circumcised Race, by this his example, to be desirous of the same communion: So that at the length, all nations, as well Jewes as Gentiles, embracing the faith, and Sacramentes of Christ Jesu, acknowledging one Shephearde, united together in one sheepefold, may with one voice, one soule, and one generall agreement, glorifie the only begotten sonne our saviour.

    The typical religious anti-Judaism, rather than anti-<semitism, and again using circumcision as a synecdoche.

    Foxe mounts virulent attacks against the Jewish faith and the rejection of Christ, drawing upon medieval chronicles for illustration, but conspicuously avoiding some staples of the anti-Semitic repertoire: no cases of Jewish blood-drinking, word magic, dangerous poisoning physicians, circumcision fears, no Host desecration. As noted by Sharon Achinstein (John Foxe and the Jews. Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 54, 2001): "In avoiding the magic, Actes and Monuments has brought attacks on Jews up to date."

    So Nashe picks up Foxe's anti-Judaic synecdoche, turns it into a vivid if vulgar metonymy, and places it within a common libellous anti-Semitic subplot. Why?
    We can only speculate, but there are strong hints that this is not coincidental. In 1593, a Spanish court physician to Queen Elizabeth, of Portuguese Marrano origin (i.e. born Jewish, forcibly converted), one Dr. Rodrigo López, was implicated in an alleged Spanish-Popish plot to poison the Queen. The degree of his implication, and his actual guilt, are debatable, and debated. But he made a convenient scapegoat, and was executed in 1594, around the time Nashe's "Unfortunate Traveller" was published. Shakespeare scholars have long pointed to Dr. López as a likely model for Shylock. It appears even more likely that Nashe drew on the scandal around the López case for the figure of his Pope-poisoning Doctor Zacharias. Needless to say, amidst all the anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic animus unleashed by propaganda, there was also a good deal of anti-Semitism aimed at the tragic Doctor López.

    What readers must remember: that bout of anti-Semitism was cheap, convenient, and largely inconsequential, just as Foxe's anti-Judaism was generic and abstract: it had to be, since there were almost no Jews in England at the time. Between the Act of Expulsion in 1290 and the first Marrano colony circa 1655, there is practically no record of Jewish life in England.
    Not for the first time in history, anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism without actual Jews.

    So much for Mr. O’Neill’s foreskinne. Clippers, I hasten to add.
    A nice literary trouvaille, purposefully taken out of all context, meant to suggest a deadly stereotype where it was, in fact, a hapax legomenon, and a pointedly topical one at that. We don’t know that Thomas Nashe ever wittingly set his eyes on a Jewish person. We do know that he belonged to the coterie of the Earl of Essex, which Earl pulled many strings in the López case, building it up to his political advantage.

    As late as the 19th and early 20th century, Jews in Eastern Europe, from imperial Austro-Hungary to czarist Russia, were persecuted for absurd blood libels and the even more insidious charge of “poisoning the wells”. One of my ancestors perished in a pogrom thus motivated. Mr. O’Neill’s paper, in my view, achieves the unenviable feat of intellectual well poisoning.

    • Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      By contrast “uncircumcised” is still widely, frequently and unashamedly used in the US to mean “unclean” “impure” etc. and disgust at the foreskin is commonplace.

      My alter ego has a study of the treatment of the foreskin and circumcision in the popular media here.

    • RF
      Posted June 30, 2012 at 1:43 am | Permalink

      I don’t see how “foreskinne-clippers” is a synecdoche. Is it because not all Jews are mohels? Just because someone is not a mohel doesn’t mean they aren’t participating in circumcision.

  26. Pray Hard
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    There will be no true freedom until the clergy, all clergy, learns to keep its filthy, perverted hands off of the genitals of children. Equating the slicing of genitals of children with religious freedom speaks volumes to me about the toxicity of all religion, how far down the rabbit hole we’ve gone and how far we still have to go. What if you walked into a religious establishment and upon entering the sky pilot met you at the door with a medical doctor, or not, with a scalpel or razor in his hand and said “OK, I’m going to cut a piece of your dick off, I have a right to do it and you don’t have a right to say no, because God said so” … That’s exactly what is happening. Would any of us put up with it? I doubt it. But, we have allowed it to be perpetrated on our children forever.

    • bacopa
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      I wish we had likes or upvotes here. Circumcision was introduced to the US as an anti-sex surgery. its porponents hoped to eliminate masturbation.

    • Posted June 30, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      “What if you walked into a religious establishment and upon entering the sky pilot met you at the door with a medical doctor, or not, with a scalpel or razor in his hand and said “OK, I’m going to cut a piece of your dick off, I have a right to do it and you don’t have a right to say no, because God said so”

      As Jewish mother Jenny Goodman pointed out on BBC Radio 4 (chapter 3) yesterday, Gen 17 says the father must do it, and to not only his son but everyone in his household and the stranger within his gate, and all of that has already been abandoned.

  27. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    What a media troll!

    a cover under which they and their beloved state might interfere in both family life and the realm of religious conscience in order to reprimand people for believing the wrong things and carrying our “cruel” practices.

    [My italics]

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    Moral insight guides you, not what you can do to others. For this we have jurisdiction.

    Or equally, people such as family can’t be owned. It would be slavery.

    What is being attacked here is the fundamental right of parents and communities to pass on their beliefs to their offspring.

    The agreed upon right is religious freedom, because it stops violence. That doesn’t mean you can turn around to betray your children by violating them.

    It means rather that you have the right to communicate your belief and show your traditions to all free citizens.

    They may or may not be impressed, depending on your pitch. Including your children.

  28. MadScientist
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Yes, of course female circumcision is acceptable and anyone who says otherwise is a Stalinist pro-slavery anti-black person. On the bright side, the Texas GOP will wee this as a sign that the Jews are on their way to magical conversion to their own Jesus cult – it’s all part of god’s plan as Augustine the Hippo wrote numerous times in “City of God”.

  29. SLC
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    For any Christians who think it is a barbaric practice, I would point out that Yeshua of Nazareth underwent the procedure on Jan. 1, eight days after his birth on Dec 25. I don’t notice that he hauled Joseph and Mary into court for subjecting him to the operation without his consent, unlike an individual I read about several years ago who was suing his parents, the hospital where the procedure was performed, and the doctor who performed the procedure.

    • Occam
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      I would point out that Yeshua of Nazareth underwent the procedure on Jan. 1, eight days after his birth on Dec 25

      I would point out that there are no records of Yeshua of Nazareth, medical or otherwise.
      But, if tradition were to be believed, suing his parents would have amounted to a logical tangle, as it would have involved suing Himself (and Himself)…

      Oh yes, the small matter that, through his circumcision, he sealed the covenant with himself…

    • Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      (Of course the idea that he was born on Dec 25 and therefore circumcised on Jan 1 is by definition less well attested than the idea that he was born at all.) Christians believe that He was circumcised as He was crucified, so that we need not be. The only time he (reportedly, John John 7 21-23) mentions it , he contrasts it with healing on the Sabbath, as an examble of over-zealous lawkeeping.

      Some lawsuits have succeeded, but usually there was a lapse of consent (the mother was still under drugs) or information; the parents were not told that it could be (more than usually) botched, and it was.

  30. Gabrielle Guichard
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Maybe this first rule won’t become a national law, but it is a crack; the whole building will collapse.

  31. Andy Dufresne
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    If it becomes clear, empirically, that the health risks of not being circumcised constitute a serious hazard—a clear and present danger to a male human’s long-term health—then most would agree that it would be proper and humane for medical doctors to circumcise newborn boys. At that level of risk, not doing so would be like not vaccinating a kid—the youngster would be vulnerable to all manner of illness, some quite serious. At present, it does not seem to me that the health risks associated with being “un-cut” rise to anything close that level.

    So there’s a real question as to whether the present risk level justifies the present policy, which (in most places) leaves it up to the boy’s parents. I’m truly unsure how the law should treat this. (As a general moral question, I think the procedure, though arguably beneficial, is not medically necessary and therefore wrong). Making male circumcision illegal may only succeed in taking it out of a medical setting; it probably won’t stop zealots from taking a blade to their kids’ member. Then we’ll have do-it-yourself surgeries gone wrong, with the parents not bringing the kid in for proper medical attention for fear of prosecution. But…what kind of just society can deem it “legal” for someone to carve up baby’s genitals? I sincerely don’t know how the law should treat this. I guess I’m leaning slightly toward outlawing the practice, calling it what it is: mutilation.

    • Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

      What a pack of nerds we must all be to reach post # 31 without having considered the possibility that a richly innervated, uniquely mobile, strategically placed (whether divinely or naturally) structure on the male genitals might have a sexual function! It’s all been about health and religion to this point.

      Sorrells et al. found that circumcision removes the most sensitive part of the penis.

      Frisch et al found circumcised men and their partners had more sexual problems.

      It was common knowledge for milliennia before non-therapeutic circumcision became common that the foreskin itself gives pleasure and that circumcision impairs that. My alter ego looks at the details here, for example why circumcised men saying “if I had any more sensitivity I’d have a heart attack” is actually an argument against circumcision.

      Sorry guys.

      So even if “the health risks of not being circumcised constitute[d] a serious hazard—a clear and present danger to a male human’s long-term health” I would still hesitate to “agree that it would be proper and humane for medical doctors to circumcise newborn boys”.

      But the experiment has been done, in Australia and New Zealand. They circumcised virtually all boys in the 1950s, now a small minority in Australia and hardly any in NZ, and nothing bad has happened. (NZ’s HIV rate is one of the lowest in the world.) And a generation of men has grown up looking different from the fathers with no suggestion of issues there either.

  32. Alex
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    As this blog is about evolution, I’d be intrigued to know what Jerry (and others) make of this bit of research into potential selective advantages to the behavior under discussion (and other male cutting behaviors like it). It does seem a bit of a puzzle. Can a cultural practice be selected? Wouln’t it be a cultural rather than a genetic adaptation?

    (paywall, sadly)

    • Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      Wilson seems to be of the old school of anthropologists who thinks that anthropologists are white men who study people of other colours. His theory breaks down completely when considering male genital cutting as practised by “civilized” people. Polygyny? Get away!

  33. corio37
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    OK, Rabbi, you have ten seconds to come up with a verifiable, objective, reason for inflicting these atrocities on innocent and defenceless children. Your time starts now…….

  34. scumbagstyle
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think atheists had anything to do with the decision, but I’d be happy to take credit 🙂

  35. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    ” … they and their beloved state … “

    To the Far Right, anyone to the left of Father Coughlin is a raging statist. Fellow right-wingers, on the other hand, are righteous patriots, pledging their undying obeisance with three cheers for the Red, the White, and the Blue. Make up your mind, Wingtards!

    “[C]hildren ‘have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas.’ What is being attacked here is the fundamental right of parents and communities to pass on their beliefs to their offspring[.]”

    Um, no; no one is challenging the right of parents to foist even their lamest beliefs on their progeny. But this right does not by its dint alone transmogrify bad ideas into good ones.

  36. occamseraser
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    blood sucking dick cutters:

  37. Steve Wagner
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

  38. Steve Wagner
    Posted June 30, 2012 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    A dozen Mormons plan to defect en mass this weekend. Atheists will no doubt be blamed for that, too! [Count me as one who would be happy to share the blame on this one].,0,7789584.story

    • Steve Wagner
      Posted June 30, 2012 at 1:39 am | Permalink

      Sorry – I spoke too soon. It’s “several dozens,” not a dozen, defecting Mormons. Some reasons given are:

      Among the reasons cited by those resigning are the church’s political activism against gay marriage; doctrinal teachings that conflict with scientific findings or are perceived as racist or sexist; and inconsistencies in the church’s explanation of its own history, including the practice of polygamy.

    • RF
      Posted June 30, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      If I may be pedantic, it’s “en masse”.

  39. Dick Veldkamp
    Posted June 30, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    This court decision (somewhat) restores my faith in humanity – maybe more so than the pictures in the post baove this one!

    On to the whole of Germany!

  40. Kevin
    Posted July 1, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    “atheists don’t think it’s okay to tell your children lies”

    Does that include telling them that they have two fathers or two mothers?

    • gbjames
      Posted July 1, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

      Only when they don’t have two fathers or two mothers.

  41. Posted July 2, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Parents get to decide the religion of their kids, whether their kids get circumcised, and whether their girls get genital mutation. So, what’s wrong with that?

    • Steve Wagner
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 12:45 am | Permalink

      In California a parent cannot legally tattoo a child. What’s wrong with that? Why should they be allowed to mutilate the same child for the sake of their own delusions? Children are human beings, not chattel to be branded, beaten, and herded.

    • Steve Wagner
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 2:44 am | Permalink

      This is from the July 4th Jewish Press:
      The Petition Against Germany’s Ban On Brit Milah June 24, 2012: A German court declared that Brit Milah (religious circumcision) to be against German law. July 1, 2012: The Jewish Hospital in Berlin suspended all religious circumcisions based on the ruling.
      “We, the undersigned declare that Germany has absolutely no moral or ethical right to pass any laws or make any statements regarding Brit Milah (circumcision) or on any other Jewish practice.
      “Germany, permanently stained with the blood of 6 million Jews, has not learned the lessons of history, and the German court’s recent ban on circumcision is an act of overt and explicit anti-Semitism.
      “It is a mark of shame on the German people.
      Never Again!”

      • Posted July 5, 2012 at 1:22 am | Permalink

        I invoke Godwin’s Law.

        Here is another petition:

        German Minister of Justice: Protect children’s rights to bodily integrity. Age-restrict circumcision.

        Congratulations to Germany for protecting the rights of baby boys! The Court in Cologne found that “The operation does serious bodily harm and only males old enough to consent to it freely should undergo it.” Circumcision always causes irreparable damage in that it removes healthy, functioning, highly specialized, innervated tissue.

        Many baby boys and children under the age of 18 are circumcised in Germany and other countries against their will, often under the guise of religious reasons. Children should be allowed to choose for themselves once they reach the age of majority whether or not they wish to have their genitals permanently surgically altered.

        Allowing males below 18 years of age to be circumcised whilst outlawing female circumcision of minors leads to a double-standard, and is actually sexual discrimination against males. All children have the right to genital integrity.

        We urge you to please confirm the findings of the Court in Cologne with age-restricted circumcision to protect all children in Germany from any genital mutilation! This is not religious discrimination but protection of society’s most vulnerable members: babies and children, as mandated by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Children can always be circumcised once they are 18. If anything, permitting Jewish and Muslim communities to continue to circumcise their children would also be a form of discrimination against them. Jewish and Muslim children deserve the same protection from unnecessary, risky surgery as all other children, especially in light of the complications that can, and do, arise, such as excessive bleeding, amputation, infection, and death.

        Thank you for defending the rights of babies and children, and for creating a moral precedent for the world to follow.

        • Steve Wagner
          Posted July 5, 2012 at 2:36 am | Permalink

          Excellent! The petition supporting the German court uses reason and logic to explain why circumcision is not something that should be forced on babies who do not have the capacity to make such a life-altering decision for themselves. The Jewish Press petition argues apples and oranges: It makes no points, except to further guilt-trip Germans who were born long after WWII was over, and hurling the all-purpose, ever handy, “anti-semite” label. There is no contest here: The court in Cologne, and the petition that supports their decision, are winners, hands down. The Jewish Press petition loses, no doubt about it.

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 1:08 am | Permalink

      Parents may decide what religion a child is taught, but one she or he grows up, she or he may choose another. Genital cutting however is pretty well irreversible. That’s what’s wrong with it.

      There’s not a lot we can do about genital mutation short of making girls wear lead underwear, but female genital cutting is outlawed, no matter how minor, in most of the western world. In some jurisdictions including mine, an adult woman cannot consent to having herself cut, apparently lest she be coerced into it.

      In 2010 the AAP’s Bioethics committee proposed to allow a token ritual nick to girls “much less extenisive than neonatal male genital cutting” lest worse befall, but had to “retire” the policy within a month after a public backlash. The reason is clearly a double standard.

  42. Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I have 5 sons, 3 grand-sons and 2 great-grand-sons, none of whom has been circumcised. When my sons asked me many years ago why they were
    “different” from their school-chums, I justified their “difference” by telling them that circumcision originated in the sandy areas of the Middle East and went on to explain that during a sandstorm, sand “got everywhere” and the very last place you wanted it to be was behind the foreskin.My sons passed this light-hearted comment on to their sons who, in turn, passed it on to their sons.
    There was no anti-Semitism expressed or implied. At my school in England we were known as Roundheads,(those who were circumcised), and Cavaliers,(those who were not). This allusion harked back to the days of The Civil War, when Cromwell’s army all had shaved heads and the royalist army all wore large floppy hats .

    • Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

      “He might have to fight in the desert” was a common excuse for circumcising boys in Australia and New Zealand after WW2. They tried it on a friend of mine as late as 1964. When they tried it on my mother, a pacifist, it had the reverse effect: “B*****ed if I’ll cut my boys to make them cannon-fodder!’

      My alter ego deals with what we call The Sand Myth.

  43. Steve Wagner
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    German Jews urged to ignore Cologne court’s circumcision decision:

  44. Steve in Oakland
    Posted July 16, 2012 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    Chancellor Merkel Pledges to Keep Circumcision Legal
    After what German diplomats have described as a “disastrous” damage to Germany’s image abroad, especially in light of its Nazi past, it appears that Berlin has finally gotten the message.

    (The sent a petition with 12,000 signatures to the German Ambassador in Tel Aviv, declaring that “Germany has absolutely no moral or ethical right to pass any laws or make any statements regarding Brit Milah (circumcision) or on any other Jewish practice.”)

    The German government on Friday pledged “quick action” to protect the right of Jews and Muslims to circumcise their boys, after a much protested court ruling to the contrary, AFP reports.

    A spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters the Chancellor was “concerned” about the judgement passed by the Cologne court last month, which defined religious circumcision as a criminal act against the child.

    “It is absolutely clear to the federal government that we want Jewish, we want Muslim religious life in Germany. Circumcisions carried out in a responsible way must not be subject to prosecution in this country,” the apokesman said, adding, “It is urgently necessary that we establish legal certainty. It is clear this cannot be put on the back burner. Freedom to practice religion is a cherished legal principle.”

    According to AFP, the German justice ministry is considering three options for new draft legislation to protect circumcisions on religious grounds.

    In an interview published Saturday in Die Welt, the leader of Merkel’s conservative parliamentary faction, Volker Kauder, called for a resolution on the right to ritual circumcision to be passed in the Bundestag next Thursday.

    • Shteln
      Posted July 16, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      This recent turn of events is disasterous for the rights of children and the adults they will become. The ‘religious right to circumcise’? Whose rights are being thought of here- the child’s, whose body will be scarred and minimised for life?
      What if the child grows up and discards the religion of his parents? Can he get his foreskin replaced?
      Are we bartering away a person’s rights for good ‘public relations’ with religious ‘groups’? Since when do ‘groups’ rights trump ‘individual’ rights?
      Politicians will do anything, say anything to whore for votes. Its image over substance and profoundly disgusting.
      As been referenced earlier: there never was sound science to justify cutting children: the agenda was strictly Religious Morality. Religious values begat bad science which created a cultural practice.
      ‘Scientific’ claims made it seem legitimate.

      • gbjames
        Posted July 16, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        Since when do ‘groups’ rights trump ‘individual’ rights?

        Sadly, since forever. Circumcisions didn’t just start being done.

  45. Steve in Oakland
    Posted July 21, 2012 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    The Jewish Press, Fri July 20, 2012:

    Germany’s parliament called on the government to step in to protect the right to religious circumcision of boys, as long as it is done by a medically qualified practitioner who avoids inflicting pain.

    An overwhelming majority of German lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution Thursday urging the administration of Chancellor Angela Merkel to submit a law this fall ensuring that the ritual practiced by both Jews and Muslims not be criminalized. Responsible doctors should not fear the law, they said.

    The resolution, drafted by members of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, the Social Democratic Party and the Free Democratic Party, followed weeks of debate over a May ruling from a Cologne district court that criminalized non-medical circumcisions of male children in that region of Germany.

    The lawmakers said that “Jewish and Islamic religious life must continue to be possible in Germany,” and insisted that those performing the operation be medically trained.

    A full parliamentary debate on the issue generally follows the government’s presentation of a proposed law.

    Germany’s socialist left Party, which did not sign the resolution, said that only a symbolic circumcision should be allowed on minors, to be completed in adulthood upon request, Reuters reported. Green Party representatives said it would be difficult for Germany to justify banning a procedure that is practiced around the world.

    A Social Democratic lawmaker vowed that even if religious-based circumcision of boys is expressly protected, so-called female circumcision would never be legal in Germany.

  46. Steve in Oakland
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    By: JTA

    Published: August 13th, 2012

    The Israel Ambulatory Pediatric Association is calling for an end to a controversial circumcision-related rite that is also under fire in New York.

    Direct oral-genital suction, known as metzitzah b’peh, should not be performed during Jewish ritual circumcision, the IAPA said. The association is calling on Israel’s Health Ministry to require maternity wards and clinics to advise parents against metzitzah b’peh, Israeli media reported.

    IAPA is recommending that mohels, or ritual circumcisers, use a tube to take the blood from the circumcision wound, preventing direct contact with the infant’s incision.

    The rite is not used in most Jewish circumcision ceremonies, but many in the haredi Orthodox community still adhere to it.

    The controversy over metzitzah b’peh was reignited in New York in March after it came to light that an unidentified infant died Sept. 28 at Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center from “disseminated herpes simplex virus Type 1, complicating ritual circumcision with oral suction,” according to the death certificate.

    New York Health Department investigations of newborns with the herpes virus from 2000 to 2011 have shown that 11 infants contracted the virus when mohels placed their mouths directly on the child’s circumcision wound to draw blood away from the circumcision cut, according to a statement from the department. Ten of the infants were hospitalized, at least two developed brain damage and two babies died.

    About the Author:

    © 2012 JewishPress. All rights reserved.

    Printed from:

  47. Steve in Oakland
    Posted August 15, 2012 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    Circumcision on Danish television:

  48. Steve in Oakland
    Posted August 21, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    » News » News Briefs »

    Rabbi Charged with Illegal Circumcision in Germany

    By: Jewish Press News Briefs

    Published: August 21st, 2012
    Latest update: August 22nd, 2012

    Criminal assault charges have been filed against the rabbi of the Jewish community in oberfränkischen Hof, Rabbi David Goldberg, for circumcision for religious reasons. Chief prosecutor Gerhard Schmitt confirmed that the complaint was filed by a doctor from Hessen, which is under the jurisdiction of the Cologne Regional Court, which decided a while ago that non-medical circumcision was a criminal offense.

    According to the “Judische Allgemeine,” Rabbi Goldberg, who is also a mohel, or religious circumciser, was informed by journalists about the lawsuit.

    Cologne Rabbi Yaron Engelmayer of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference declared: “I’m shocked.”

    It was the first time that a rabbi has been charged with a criminal violation in the Federal Republic of Germany because he performed a religious ritual..

    Maram Stern, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, said there was an urgent need to create legal certainty about this matter. “We hope that the prosecutor will show sensitivity regarding this issue and will not initiate an investigation against the mohel.”


    About the Author: brings you the latest in Jewish news from around the world. Stay up to date by following up on Facebook and Twitter. Do you have something noteworthy to report? Submit your news story to us here.


  49. Steve in Oakland
    Posted August 23, 2012 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    Home » News » News Briefs »

    Israel’s Chief Rabbi in Germany to Help Resolve Circumcision Crisis

    By: Jacob Edelist

    Published: August 22nd, 2012
    Latest update: August 23rd, 2012

    After a rabbi in Bavaria, Germany, has been slapped with criminal charges of committing bodily harm, in the first known case to arise from an anti-circumcision ruling in May, Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger has arrived in Germany for talks aimed at resolving the controversy over the legality of religious circumcision.

    The charge against Rabbi David Goldberg, who is a mohel, or ritual circumciser, means that the May decision in the state of Hesse has been applied in Bavaria, confirming the fears of Jewish leaders here that the local ruling would have a wider impact.

    Rabbi Goldberg, 64, a Jerusalem native living in Hof Saale in Bavaria, told JTA he had not yet received a notice from the court. He said he would decide what to do after he had seen it. The criminal charge was reported by the main Jewish newspaper of Germany, the Juedische Allgemeine Zeitung.

    The rabbi also said he did not know what act the charges could refer to, since he has not performed any circumcisions recently in Germany. “Only abroad: in Budapest, in the Czech Republic, in Italy,” he said.

    Still, Rabbi Goldberg said no secular ruling would stop him from performing brit milah in Germany as well. If a family in Germany came to him with a request to perform a circumcision, Goldberg said he would ask the Central Council of Jews in Germany what to do. “A few weeks ago, they said, ‘You can continue,’” he said.

    German lawmakers and Israeli, Jewish and Muslim dignitaries have urged the German government to draft a law this fall explicitly permitting circumcision.

    In June, a Cologne court concluded that circumcision amounts to bodily harm — a ruling that doesn’t amount to a ban but worried Jewish and Muslim groups.

    Chief Rabbi Metzger said on Tuesday that Jews are commanded by God to circumcise their male children on their 8th day.

    He said that after his meetings at the Justice Ministry a compromise is emerging, whereby mohels would receive additional medical training.

    Goldberg said regional journalists had informed him of the criminal charges against him, saying it had been filed by a doctor in the state of Hessen who had gathered 600 signatures in an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel that supported the anti-circumcision ruling.

    Merkel and the German parliament have said that they intend to push for legislation to ensure that Jews and Muslims have the right to carry out the religious ritual.

    The original ruling in May related to a Muslim family in Cologne whose son suffered complications after his circumcision. The court found that non-medical circumcision of a minor is a criminal act. Although the ruling was local, it has alarmed traditional Jews and Muslims across the country. Virtually all Jewish denominations have joined in condemning the ruling.

    Meanwhile, JTA reported that anecdotal evidence shows that Jewish ritual circumcisions continue to be performed in Germany despite the ruling’s chilling effect. Although several hospitals have declared moratoriums on the practice for now, brit milah is being performed in private homes and in synagogues.

    The head of the Conference of European Rabbis, Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, told JTA: “This latest development in Hof, Germany, is yet another grave affront to religious freedom and underlines the urgent need for the German government to expedite the process of ensuring that the fundamental rights of minority communities are protected.”

  50. Steve in Oakland
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Permalink


    BERLIN (Reuters) – The German postal service is set to issue a stamp reminding Germans that 2,000 years ago Jesus underwent circumcision as an eight-day-old baby, a ritual religious practice that a German court has controversially banned in part of the country.

    The stamp, marking the 200th anniversary of the German Bible Society on September 11, shows a page from the New Testament that includes a description of Jesus being circumcised.

    The Bible Society says the stamp’s design was finalized well before the heated debate over circumcision began, but it does not intend to delay the date of issue.

    The 85-cent stamp bears a passage from the Gospel of Saint Luke that includes the words, “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus.”

    A court in Cologne, ruling in the case of a Muslim boy taken to a doctor with bleeding after circumcision, said in June that the procedure should not be carried out on young boys, but could be practiced on older males who gave consent.

    The ruling, which applies only to the Cologne area, incensed Jews and Muslims and led to an emotional debate about the rights of children and families and about religious freedom in a country that is very sensitive to charges of intolerance because of its Nazi past.

    Jewish religious practice requires boys to be circumcised from eight days old, while for Muslims, circumcision is required but the age at which it is carried out varies according to family, country and branch of Islam.

    “We don’t want to add fuel to the fire,” said Stefan Wittig, a Lutheran pastor who works for the Bible Society.

    (Reporting by Chris Cottrell, editing by Tim Pearce)

  51. Steve in Oakland
    Posted August 28, 2012 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    German Jews to Israeli Chief Rabbi: Your Circumcision Commotion Did More Harm than Good

    By: Jacob Edelist

    Published: August 28th, 2012

    Israel’s Foreign Office and the Jewish community in Germany have criticized the intervention of Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger in the issue of the ban on ritual circumcisions in Germany.

    Dr. Dieter Graumann, president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, criticized Yishai’s call on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to intercede in the matter, as well as Chief Rabbi Metzger’s comments during his visit to Germany last week.

    “We are concerned that Interior Minister Yishai didn’t think of becoming better informed about the details,” complained Graumann, suggesting Yishai had not paused to consider “whether his intervention was necessary or beneficial.”

    In a polite but strongly worded letter to Israel’s ambassador to Germany Yaakov Hadas, Graumann declared: “There’s no need to elaborate – it’s not beneficial.”

    Accoring to Graumann, Yishai chose to “ignore the fact that the Chancellor had clearly expressed her position supporting the right to perform ritual circumcisions.”

    Referring to Rabbi Metzger’s visit, Graumann accuses him of meeting with high level government officials without notifying or even consulting with the local Jewish community or rabbinic institutions.

    “This is an unprecedented example of interference in religious and political issues in an independent Jewish community outside the State of Israel,” Graumann stated.

    In reference to Rabbi Metzger’s proposal of mohalim (ritual circumcisers) being trained by German doctors, Graumann wrote that “it raises doubt regarding the training being provided for the mohalim.”

    Graumann concluded that “if the intervention of Interior Minister Yishai and Rabbi Metzger yielded some limited benefit, it was outright inefficient by causing needless harm and introducing additional mistrust.”

    A source in the Foreign Office told Maariv that “the Jewish community in Germany is in the midst of several moves, both public and confidential, on the political, judicial and legislative levels, that are ripening. Suddenly the arena is invaded by forces like Minister Yishai or Rabbi Metzger who are unfamiliar with the local rules of the game, they create a big commotion that damages our efforts.”

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