I wrote this article to post on this forum because of the pain that I felt at one time. I know that I can never get any acknowledgment from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society because they could never admit that infant male circumcision is mutilation and abuse. If for some reason some of you believe with all your heart that circumcision is a good thing, I would request that you read this with an open mind. It is the story of how I started to leave the WTBTS in mind, if not yet in body. Thanks.
One of the first things that I learned about on the internet back in the nineties was about the modern origins of the medical practice of circumcision. To give the reader a little background, I was born in the United States of America back in the sixties. Routine infant circumcision was common then. Few men of my generation escaped the knife. As a young boy my father explained to me that my younger brother and I had been circumcised. I didn’t understand exactly what that implied but was told that it was so that I could preach to Jewish people because they believe in circumcision. My circumcision was a ‘good’ one. That is, I have no problems because of it as far as standard American medical practice is concerned. I figured out how to masturbate on my own at about nine years of age. It wasn’t long before I was taught to feel guilty about this normal and natural practice. From time to time throughout my childhood, I would see my cousins, friends, and other boys my age naked. Everyone was circumcised. I thought it was normal and never gave it a second thought.
When I was about eighteen, I saw an uncircumcised penis for the first time. Actually, it would be better to use the term ‘intact’ to describe a penis that has not been circumcised. After all, all humans are born intact. At the house of a friend of mine, his four year old nephew came out of the bathroom naked. The little boy was intact. Why, I remember wondering, did this child get to keep his penis whole?
Of course, I knew that circumcision was not a requirement for ‘true Christians’. That had been decided back in the first century by the ‘Governing Body’ at that time. However, the ‘Governing Body’ in modern times seemed to think that circumcision was a good idea, at least for medical reasons. (See number 1 below) After all, it was reasoned, didn’t God make his laws for our well being and good health? (2) In support of that line of reasoning, the “Watching the World” section of the Awake! would occasionally refer to some ‘scientific’ study that had ‘proved’ the medical value of circumcising infant males. It was claimed that intact males caused cervical cancer in women (3) or that intact infants suffered more urinary tract infections. (4) I guess it was also supposed to be yet more proof that God’s Word was medically and scientifically sound. (5)
Because of that reasoning, I know of at least a few Witness families that wouldn’t consider leaving their sons intact. Granted, it is not a subject of polite conversation in this day and age. I remember having a conversation back in 1998 with an elder about his newborn baby boy. Apparently, his family has the genetic trait of having all or part of an extra finger. He mentioned that the doctor had surgically removed the appendage so that the child would look normal to other people. Since we were already talking about the child undergoing minor surgery, I ventured to ask whether or not the baby had also been circumcised. The elder replied in the affirmative in a way that told me his decision was influenced by the Watch Tower Society.
When my sister was pregnant, I almost got into an argument with my brother-in-law over whether or not my nephew should be circumcised. I had no say in the matter, but by then I realized that there was something wrong with routine infant circumcision. He, on the other hand, claimed that even though it was not a Christian requirement, it was an expression of God’s wisdom. He went on to claim that circumcision could once again become a requirement for God’s people, if not now, then in the ‘paradise’. Therefore, ‘why not just get it over with here and now. After all, it’s not like babies can remember the pain.’
These attitudes, however, are not universal among Jehovah’s Witnesses. I know of at least one cousin who left her boy intact, and there are likely many others who do the same nowadays.
Back in the nineties I read an article in the Awake! magazine that disturbed me. (6) It described the practice in some countries of female genital mutilation, which is often erroneously referred to as female circumcision. It is a horrible practice that the magazine was right to condemn. That fact does not give Awake! any brownie points, however, because everyone on the planet except the practitioners of this form of sexual abuse roundly condemns female genital mutilation. I was dismayed to learn that such a cruel practice exists in the world. I was even more dismayed when this same article said that male circumcision is still acceptable and is ‘up to the parents to decide’. (7)
I was dismayed, but I also knew the reason why. Male circumcision is not abusive because ‘God’ told Abraham to do it, and isn’t God love? If we are to believe the Bible, sometime after Abraham had lived in Egypt, God made a covenant with him to give him the land of Canaan if he and his descendants would cut off their foreskins. Now, the Egyptians practiced male circumcision as part of their religion. The Egyptians believed in immortality. They used the symbol of a snake shedding its old skin as representative of that belief. Therefore, as the snake shed its skin, so Egyptian men would shed their foreskins in the pagan rite of circumcision. Consider for a moment all of the things that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to do because of their ‘pagan origins’. (See http://www.mothersagainstcirc.org/history.htm - I originally read this from one of Desmond Morris’ books. The web site quotes his book Babywatching.) What effect did this ritual abuse have on Abraham’s descendants? Remember how David went gleefully murdering the neighboring Philistines in order to collect a hundred foreskins at King Saul’s request? The scripture then says: “Jehovah was with David.” So, God hated foreskins, or at least he hated people with foreskins. Foreskins were ‘unclean’. But if we are to believe the Bible, God made man perfect with a foreskin ‘in the beginning’.
So, the wedge got driven in deeper. There was an obvious double standard in my view that called one form of genital mutilation sexual abuse, whereas the other form of genital mutilation was called ‘a routine medical procedure’ or even God’s Will.
I had eventually ‘scripturally’ discredited what my father had told me about my own circumcision in my own mind. I am not of Jewish descent.. If one is to believe the Bible, the only reason why Paul circumcised Timothy was due to the fact that according to Jewish tradition, Timothy was considered Jewish. I guess people back then went around checking genitalia quite often. Timothy consented to be circumcised so as not to offend the Jews he would likely be trying to convert to Christianity while taking a soak in a Roman bath. There is a good point to be gained from this. If a man consents to being circumcised, it is fine. It’s no different than a grown man deciding to pierce his ears or get a tattoo. Also, if a man was circumcised early in life and is happy about it, then that is fine as well. There are those of us out there, however, who are not so happy about what someone did to us once at a time in our lives when we couldn’t defend ourselves.
That leads me finally to the time when I first found information about circumcision on the internet back in 1998. I finally realized that I was not alone in my feelings. I also found out about the modern history of circumcision. I will try to make a long story short and to the point. If one wants the whole story, there are any number of web sites and books that go into more detail. Back in the 1800's in the United States, boys and girls were severely punished for masturbation. Those that wouldn’t stop were circumcised. At that time it was widely known that the foreskin is a very pleasurable part of the anatomy. It was believed that circumcision removed that intense pleasure, and according to the accounts of many adults who have been circumcised after early childhood, it can. The medical establishment of that time considered masturbation to be a sickness and the cause of illness. Gradually circumcision came to be viewed as healthy and hygienic. It came to be practiced en masse in the industrial medical system of the English speaking world. It was supported by pseudo-science for much of the twentieth century.
As science and medicine have improved, the old reasoning has been tossed aside. Cases of botched circumcisions and death have proven the surgical procedure to be risky. (8) (9) The net result is that routine male infant circumcision is an unnecessary and potentially dangerous operation that removes a pleasurable part of a boy’s penis for cosmetic reasons. It has been proven that infants do feel the intense pain associated with circumcision. Masturbation has been called ‘self [sexual] abuse’. Even children innocently exploring their bodies with friends (considered quite natural in many non-Christian cultures), are said to be abusing each other. Yet, mutilating a child’s penis, causing him intense pain, and robbing his future pleasure is ‘not abuse’ in America. Sure, one can still experience some sexual pleasure without a foreskin. A man’s reproductive ability is generally not compromised, either. But do any of these rationalizations justify a parent requesting unnecessary cosmetic surgery on a child? After I had absorbed much of this information, I reevaluated what the Watchtower Society had to say on the subject. As I pointed out before, the Society was not concerned about the ethical implications of male circumcision. I did consider writing a letter to them expressing my concerns. I realize, of course, that it wouldn’t have done any good. I also knew that the congregation elders were not going to help me. They were likely to be the most indoctrinated ones of all. I gradually buried my feelings. In time I began to fit other puzzle pieces together. I think, though, that the issue of circumcision is where my doubting and skeptical thinking began to take hold. I still wanted to believe ‘the truth’, but I found it hard to reconcile Watch Tower doctrine and the Bible with what I had learned.
References: (Note: My comments are presented among the following references like this.)
* * * w 6 4 1 1 / 1 5 p . 6 9 6 p a r . 2 5 H o w t h e O r g a n i z a t i o n S h o u l d V i e w C h a s t e n e s s * * *
2 5 Consequently we need to have mental hygiene as well as physical hygiene. (1) Among the ancient Jews under Jehovah’s law through Moses the circumcision of the flesh of the males proved to be very hygienic and helped to safeguard the health of both male and female Jews. Christians who have been relieved of this law of circumcision do, however, have to practice the ‘circumcision of the heart.’ No Christian could be a spiritual Jew in God’s sight unless he had this circumcision “of the heart by spirit.” (Rom. 2:28, 29) God’s spirit is certainly needed to get such circumcision.
(Note: This same line of reasoning has been applied to Female Genital Mutilation as pointed out in the next excerpt.)
* * * g 8 5 6 / 2 2 p . 2 6 F e m a l e C i r c u m c i s i o n — W h y ? * * *
Some insist that female circumcision is necessary for hygiene , while others maintain that it preserves a girl’s chastity. It is also said that a woman’s external genitals are “dirty and ugly,” and circumcision is “an effort to obtain a smooth, and therefore clean, body.” (Note: This article does not support ‘Female Circumcision’. However, I do wonder if there ever was an article by the WTBTS that did in the past.)
* * * g 7 9 1 1 / 8 p p . 2 1- 2 4 “ S h o u l d O u r B a b y B e C i r c u m c i s e d ? ” * * *
“ S h o u l d O u r B a b y B e C i r c u m c i s e d ? ”
—How one couple answered the question
IF YOU are expecting a baby, you may be considering this question. As the parents of two sons, we too had our season for thinking, reading and talking about it. And as Bible students, we had a special interest in the subject, remembering that circumcision was for many centuries an inviolable law given to the descendants of Abraham by the Great Physician himself, Jehovah.—Gen. 17:10.
Due to this very special aspect of circumcision, we have viewed with interest a recent trend in some circles to question the wisdom of routine circumcision. Although about 90 percent of all United States males are routinely circumcised at birth, several articles have appeared in recent medical journals advocating a cessation of the practice.
Upon examination, it seemed to us that some of these articles voiced rather extreme opinions. Others, however, seemed serious enough to merit our parental attention. These refer to the risks involved in circumcision. Some also quote certain child psychiatrists such as the late Dr. Rene Spitz, who said: “This is one of the cruelties the medical profession thoughtlessly inflicts on infants.”
These suggestions interest Bible students whether they are parents or not. After all, did Jehovah give his chosen people a mandate that, in the light of modern science, involved grave risk and even cruelty? We wanted to know more about it.
O r i g i n o f t h e P r a c t i c e
A review of the history of circumcision reveals that it is an ancient practice indeed. Some authorities believe that except for omphalotomy, the severance of the navel cord, circumcision is probably the oldest type of surgery. The word circumcision is formed from the Latin words meaning “around+cut,” and refers to the cutting off of the prepuce or sleevelike foreskin of the penis. This surgery has been practiced by many tribes and peoples other than the Jews.
(5) But modern science has provided fresh reason for our faith that circumcision was divinely prescribed to the Jews; for their practice of it was unique in one particular aspect: the timing. Commenting on this unique factor, the noted Dr. Alan F. Guttmacher says:
“It is noteworthy that the early Jews, who made many interesting observations in both medicine and hygiene, fixed the operation for the eighth day. This was probably arrived at by trial and error. Not an inconsiderable number of those done before the eighth day probably bled dangerously, while those done on the eighth day rarely bled excessively. Modern medicine has found a possible explanation in Vitamin K. This vitamin . . . contributes to the process of blood- clotting. . . . At birth the level in the baby’s blood is relatively low, and it drops even lower during the first few days of life, since the child cannot manufacture its own Vitamin K until it swallows a healthy supply of germs. The baby’s intestinal tract then begins to produce its own Vitamin K, and the supply gradually rises until it reaches an adequate level when the baby is a week old.”
Of course, Bible students will dispute one point with Dr. Guttmacher. The “many interesting observations” made by the early Jews, such as the diagnosis and treatment of disease, the importance of clean water, quarantine, the value of frequent washing and bathing, and precautionary measures in the handling of blood, cadavers, wastes, and sexual matters, including circumcision on the eighth day, were not arrived at by “trial and error,” but by divine revelation.
Nor is Vitamin K the only factor involved in the divinely prescribed timing of circumcision. Another necessary blood- clotting element is prothrombin. Summarizing data that appear in H o l t P e d i a t r i c s , Dr. S. I. McMillen notes that “on the third day of a baby’s life the available prothrombin is only thirty percent of normal. Any surgical operation performed on a baby during that time would predispose to serious hemorrhage . . . the prothrombin skyrockets on the eighth day to a level even better than normal—110 percent. It then levels off . . . It appears that an eight- day- old baby has more available prothrombin than on any other day in its entire life. Thus one observes that . . . the perfect day to perform a circumcision is the eighth day.”
(2) These medical discoveries made thousands of years after Jehovah’s mandate to Abraham to circumcise precisely on the eighth day are significant. We are once again reminded that Jehovah not only knows what is best for us, but applies his knowledge for our good.
Today, however, medical circumcisions are almost all performed before the eighth day of life. Why? Well, it is more convenient to do it before the baby leaves the hospital.
We concluded that circumcision, performed at the time prescribed by the Creator, did not involve any extraordinary risk. Nevertheless, opponents of routine circumcision do refer to “risks.” How great are these risks of modern circumcision?
W e i g h i n g t h e R i s k s
(8) Captain E. Noel Preston, MC USAF, lists such possibilities as hemorrhage, infections, the removal of too much skin, accidental lacerations, incomplete circumcision (resulting in the formation of adhesions and secondary penile deformity), and even accidental amputation. (Note: Awake! even admits the risks.)
As parents, we were frankly overwhelmed by such a list of horrifying possibilities! But after discussing the matter, we began to gain some perspective. We reasoned that, although we live in a country where 90 percent of all boys are circumcised, we personally had never heard of a single complication—not even a little infection, much less a mutilation. What do the statistics say?
(9)According to one report, an average of 16 children died annually in England and Wales between 1942 and 1947, as a direct result of circumcision. On the other hand, we have the observation of Dr. M. S. Eiger, a pediatrician, who states: “In ten years of practice at two large New York hospitals, I have never seen a complication of circumcision that I would consider of serious proportions.” Several studies made in the U.S. would seem to corroborate this later observation. In one New York hospital there were six complications and no deaths in a series of more than 10,000 circumcisions performed between 1933 and 1951; three cases of bleeding requiring stitches and no deaths among 1,878 cases reported from California in 1951, and only one death in more than half a million circumcisions performed in New York city from 1939 to 1951. (Note: What exactly does the good doctor mean by the above statement?)
Now, even one death in more than half a million is a terrible loss ; but we wonder if even these rare cases might be eliminated if the operation was performed on a scientifically sound day. After due consideration, we decided that, if performed on the eighth day by an experienced physician, circumcision was probably one of the smallest risks our sons would ever face, and that the possible risks were overshadowed by the probable benefits.
A n t i c i p a t e d B e n e f i t s
Since mandatory circumcision was divinely abolished during the first century, we realized that our sons could boast no religious merit through circumcision. (Acts 15:1- 29; 1 Cor. 7:19) We also realized that the foreskin is a part of Jehovah’s creation and that he did not require his servants prior to Abraham to have it removed, nor does he require it of his Christian worshipers. We knew that the prospects of our sons as servants of the Most High would depend on the more important ‘circumcision of the heart,’ that is, the removal from the heart of that which is superfluous and would contribute to the growth of uncleanness.—Rom. 2:29; Col. 3:5- 11.
However, that there is practical value in circumcision was explained in S c i e n c e N e w s L e t t e r , Oct. 31, 1964: “The reason for circumcision is cleanliness, to prevent accumulation of an irritating mixture called smegma in the narrow space between the male glans and the overlying foreskin.” An article in T o d a y ’ sH e a l t h explains that “smegma . . . if it is not removed . . . becomes a malodorous breeding ground for bacteria which cause irritations and infection.”
Opponents of routine circumcision suggest that “if a child can be taught to tie his shoes or brush his teeth or wash behind his ears, he can also be taught to wash beneath his foreskin.” That is no doubt true of many children. But, I regret to say, our boys have never been diligent or thorough at any of these tasks! And while the worst that one may expect from improperly cleaned teeth is dental decay, a good deal more may be involved in the case of an unclean foreskin.
Studies made in America, Europe and Asia have disclosed a much higher incidence of cancer of the penis in uncircumcised men than in circumcised. In fact, as M. S. Eiger, M.D., observes, “Cancer of the penis virtually never occurs in a man who was circumcised in infancy.” These studies have been so conclusive that even an outspoken opponent of routine circumcision in the U.S. admits: “Poor sexual hygiene, inadequate hygienic facilities, and venereal diseases tend to i n c r e a s e t h e i n c i d e n c e o fg e n i t o u r i n a r y c a n c e r s i n t h e e t h n i c g r o u p s or populations t h a t d o n o t p r a c t i c e c i r c u m c i s i o n . In these groups, then, circumcision would seem to be indicated.”
This same doctor, however, does not feel that routine circumcision is necessary in the U.S., where a high degree of personal hygiene is convenient (for most people). An article in W o m a n ’ s D a y states that “adequate hygiene confers nearly as much protection against cancer of the penis as circumcision.”
(3) However, cancer of the cervix, the third most common cancer killer of American women, is virtually unknown among Jewish women. Many authorities feel that the fact that Jewish men are circumcised is a factor contributing to this.
A study made in Yugoslavia compared circumcised emancipated Moslems and uncircumcised non- Moslems. They found twice as many pre- malignant cervical lesions in the wives of the u n c i r c u m c i s e d non- Moslems as in the c i r c u m c i s e d emancipated Moslems (11 per 1,000 in the former, 5.5 per 1,000 in the latter). Interestingly, they found that in the Orthodox Moslems (who practice adolescent circumcision a l o n gw i t h o t h e r f o r m s o f s e x u a l h y g i e n e ) the occurrence of this malady was n i l .
But is circumcision cruel? Well, to us the protection afforded by circumcision seemed to more than compensate for the momentary pain. We remembered that, in many of life’s better investments, “better is the end afterward of a matter than its beginning.” (Eccl. 7:8) We weren’t afraid of causing scarred personalities in our sons, remembering the many desirable personalities among the ranks of the circumcised.
I t W a s O U R D e c i s i o n
(Note: Unless it is YOUR body, it is NOT YOUR DECISION!)
We realize that not all parents agree with our decision. Whether parents opt for circumcision or not, their decision merits the respect of others. Particularly if they are Christians, we may be sure that they have not lightly made any decision involving their children. One Christian father explained their decision in this way: “Gabriel was born prematurely, and we felt that we shouldn’t add to his difficulties the wound of circumcision. Of course, Jehovah’s reminders have made us aware of the importance of genital cleanliness; so we have carefully instructed him in this regard.”
Other parents may feel that they cannot afford the expense of the operation, or it may not be readily available to them. Finally, some may reason that if Jehovah had thought circumcision to be indispensable, he would not have caused the termination of the ancient mandate.
This, then, brings our discussion full circle, leaving the decision right where it belongs, with you, the parents.— C o n t r i b u t e d .
* * * g 8 9 6 / 2 2 p . 2 8 W a t c h i n g t h e W o r l d * * *
A D V A N T A G E S O F C I R C U M C I S I O N
The American Academy of Pediatrics has had to reverse its position on the matter of circumcision. In 1971 the group held that there were “no valid medical indications” to warrant circumcising newborn males routinely. (4) However, recent studies have shown that circumcision may help prevent kidney and urinary-tract infections, which can be quite dangerous. In one study, uncircumcised boys were 11 times more likely to suffer urinary-tract infections than circumcised boys. The pediatric academy now says that circumcision “has potential medical benefits and advantages.” While Christians are not bound by the Mosaic law requiring circumcision, the new findings do suggest that the law was of practical benefit to the ancient Israelites who obeyed it.
(See also: http://www.circumstitions.com/Utis.html, http://www.aafp.org/afp/980401ap/ahmed2.html -recommends treatment with antibiotics, http://www.urologychannel.com/uti/index.shtml - female UTIs are far more common, but does that make FGM a good idea?)
* * * g 9 3 6 / 8 p . 2 8 W a t c h i n g t h e W o r l d * * *
C i r c u m c i s i o n a n d A I D S
The practice of male circumcision appears to be an advantage in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS, says the French magazine L a R e v u e F r a n ç a i s e d u L a b o r a t o i r e . The magazine cites three independent medical studies that show male circumcision (the removal of the foreskin) to be a factor in curbing the spread of AIDS. Research on laboratory monkeys has shown that the tissues of the male foreskin contain a higher number of cells susceptible to infection by the AIDS virus than other tissues. Furthermore, a Canadian study conducted in 140 different regions of Africa revealed a higher incidence of AIDS among groups not practicing circumcision than among those who do. Another study found fewer cases of the infection among American heterosexual men who were circumcised. (Note: It has also been suggested that FGM may also help stem the tide of AIDS transmission. Does that make FGM a good idea? See http://www.ias-2005.org/planner/Abstracts.aspx?AID=3138 )
(Note: Even when research that intended to provide support for routine infant circumcision has been debunked, the Watch Tower Society has never admitted it. They do have a long track record of using just enough ‘science’ to support biased positions.)
(6) * * * g 9 3 4 / 8 p . 2 1 M i l l i o n s A r e S u f f e r i n g — C a n T h e y B e H e l p e d ? * * * (article about Female Genital Mutilation)
W h a t A b o u t M a l e C i r c u m c i s i o n ?
Some may raise the question, Is not male circumcision a mutilation of the body as well? The Bible states that at one time God made the circumcision of males mandatory. Later, with the establishment of the Christian congregation, circumcision was no longer a requirement, although not prohibited. (7) It is left up to each individual to decide whether he will submit himself or his sons to circumcision or not.
Today, male circumcision is practiced in many places. True, the operation involves the surgical removal of flesh. But this procedure is in no way a counterpart of FGM. As a rule, men do not experience adverse side effects after circumcision. In contrast, normal female functions, such as menstruation, intercourse, childbirth, and the elimination of urine, are often accompanied by lifelong excruciating agony as a result of FGM. Also, extremely complicated childbirth has caused serious birth defects in and even the death of many newborns.
How many men would subject themselves or their sons to a procedure that mutilated the penis so as to prevent all sensation during intercourse and that caused persistent pain and health hazards throughout life? Clearly, there is no comparison between male circumcision and FGM .
(Note: Male genital mutilation may not be as severe in its consequences for most men as Female Genital Mutilation is for women, but the effects on the abusers/perpetrators is the same. Abusers often use minimization to try to justify their actions. Doctors are taught to ‘First Do No Harm’.)
See the following internet resources: http://www.nocirc.org/