Some of you may enjoy reading Paul Tobin's response to criticisms of his work in John W. Loftus new book, The Christian Delusion. These criticisms are compiled in The Infidel Delusion (PDF), which was written by Patrick Chan, Jason Engwer, Steve Hays, and Paul Manata.
Part I of Tobin's response is at the link below.
Here are a few snippets that were interesting to me.
Regarding circumcision. . .
Next Hays discussed the issue of Abraham and circumcision. In my article, I pointed out that since circumcision was a widely practiced custom among the various cultures Abraham supposed came into contact with, such as the Egyptians and the Canaanites, it could not have been used as a ‘sign of the covenant.’ In other words, it is useless as a social or cultural “boundary marker.” Such markers are supposed to set the believers apart from those around them.
Hay’s comment was “That‘s rather silly. The same symbol can have a polysemous import depending on the cultural connotations which any given society or subculture assigns to it.”
Perhaps I can make the issue clearer with an hypothetical example. Imagine the founder of a new religion in Iran or Saudi Arabia - where almost everyone is Muslim, and practice circumcision – telling his followers, “To set you apart, God has commanded that you remove the foreskins from your penises.” This would have been met with utter lack of comprehension, since everyone around them was already circumcised!
His example of the swastika, presumably in its use by the Nazi’s, missed this point completely. The Nazi used the swastika precisely because it was a symbol which sets it apart from everyone else – the symbol had “Aryan roots” and it was used by the German nationalists during the 19th century. A perfect symbol to identify them (i.e. set them apart from everyone else) in their socio-politico-cultural milieu!