Brush your teeth, Clean your penis: My talk at TCD opposing religious circumcision

by Michael Nugent on October 16, 2012

This is a video and transcript of my talk yesterday evening opposing religious circumcision at TCD Theological Society.

Thank you very much for inviting me here today. It’s a pretty disturbing topic.

I find circumcision to be one of the more disgusting and reprehensible examples of religion corrupting our natural sense of morality, which is based on compassion and reciprocity and not on this type of behaviour.

The foreskin, at risk of making a banal, non-controversial assertion, is a natural, healthy and useful part of the human body.

It protects infants from contamination when they have nappy rash. At any age, it protects nerve endings and keeps the penis warm and clean and soft. In adults, it helps sexually in terms of both sensitivity and natural lubrication.

If it poses any health problems, cutting it off is a disproportionate response to those problems.

Most of the supposed health problems associated with the foreskin can be resolved by cleaning your penis properly, and by using condoms during sex.

The HIV studies show mixed results, and insofar as they do show a possible protection, it is that a circumcised man may be less likely to contract HIV from a woman, but not to give HIV to a woman, but only if they are also consistently carrying out safe sex.

And cutting off your foreskin, to reduce your chances of getting HIV, is like pulling out half of your teeth, in order to reduce your chances of getting tooth cavities.

Just brush your teeth, clean your penis, wear a condom, and you don’t have to cut off parts of your body to stay healthy.

But the important point about religious circumcision is that it is not motivated in any case by health concerns.

It is motivated by worshipping a God who seems obsessed with the genitalia of human beings on planet Earth.

This God of the Judaic Bible tells Abraham and Moses to circumcise their children or he will kill them.

The first split in what eventually evolved into Christianity comes when Paul is trying to spread the good news to the Gentiles.

And he is selling them the message, and they are going “yeah, that sounds really good, yeah, eternal life, yeah, that sounds really great, how do we join?” and he says “well, you have to cut off your foreskin…”, and suddenly he has a bit of a marketing problem.

So he has to try to persuade the rest of the Jesus Disciples to allow Gentiles to follow the religion without mutilating themselves, which understandably they are reluctant to do, because they are adults.

And that is one of the reasons that religions insist on circumcising children when they are below the age when they can consent to it, because they know that the purpose of circumcision is to desensitize and control human sexuality.

And they know that if you leave the decision until the time when people are adults, that very few people will take up the option.

If they want to, that’s fine. I’ve no problem with adults choosing to mutilate themselves in any way they want.

But don’t inflict it on defenseless children.

It is a human rights issue. And human rights law, as was mentioned earlier, is moving gradually more and more towards respecting the fact that children have rights; rights of their own.

Human rights in the context of freedom of religion and belief an conscience used to be about protecting religious communities, when there was a concern that religious communities might die out.

And then they gradually evolved into protecting the rights of parents, as heads of families, to have their particular religious views and practices protected.

But it is now moving towards recognizing that children have their own rights, irresepective of what their parents believe.

And though it is unfortunate that the German Government has fallen in to religious pressure after the German courts recognized correctly the rights of the child, I think in the long run, or even in the medium term, we are moving in the right direction.

And the rights of the child will be protected by courts, and then cravenly and cowardly followed by politicians, who will protect them on the basis of “Oh well, the courts have made us do it.”

The final point I would like to make is that male circumcision is part of the same mindset that justifies Female Genital Mutilation

And that’s really a debate for another day, but it is a much more serious invasion of human rights than is male circumcision, and a much more serious mutilation of the sexuality of an individual, than is male circumcision.

But it does show the mindset of the type of people who, under any circumstances, are prepared to justify the mutilation of the genitals of a defenseless child.

So, I’ll leave it at that.

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

Well, circumcision is cutting off your foreskin to spite your penis, and to spite your natural sexuality.

If you want to do that for yourself, to yourself, go ahead.

But don’t inflict it on defenseless children.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michael Morris October 16, 2012 at 4:21 am

Excellent! You’re exactly right that it’s a human rights issue. Leave the kid alone and let him decide when he’s an adult. If I may quote Jesus himself from the Gospel of Thomas:
Jesus’ disciples said unto him, “Is circumcision beneficial or is it not?” He said to them, “If it were beneficial, children’s fathers would produce them circumcised already from their mothers.” —Gospel of Thomas #53
Too bad this didn’t make it into the “acceptable” gospels, because Jesus couldn’t have made it much clearer!

2 Ophelia Benson October 18, 2012 at 1:13 am

Exactly. This is what I found so disgusting about the way Giles Fraser talked about it in a piece for the Guardian – it was about everything but explaining why it couldn’t just be left until adulthood rather than forcing it on an infant.

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