Magazine article USA TODAY

Has Religion Dropped a Notch below S&M?

Magazine article USA TODAY

Has Religion Dropped a Notch below S&M?

Article excerpt

THE RESIDENTS of San Francisco, Calif., were to vote this month to decide whether Jewish people and other believers will be permitted to practice their religion fully. Actually, as San Francisco is rumored to not screen voters, the election well may have comprised the opinion of many nonresidents who choose to take the drive. Some citizens were pushing for this ballot initiative to put an end to male circumcision for everyone under the age of 18.

In June, due to outrage generated by Glenn Beck's coverage of the story on Fox News, the movement temporarily was quelled. Beck showed the comic books--Nazi propaganda--published by Matthew Hess of, the driver behind this particular faction of the anticircumcision movement. The vampiric rabbi-villain was as evil a slur as anything put forth by Adolf Hitler's organization. The comic book closes with a victorious beach celebration after the little Jewish boy is rescued, and includes the burning of what appears to be a Menorah, decorated with tiny pictures of gingerbread-type people. Thankfully, Beck was able to give these images an effective, albeit brief, national viewing on television. It is important to remember that, in the battle to protect Judaism, this skirmish may have been won, but the war is far from over.

The obligation to perform circumcision on infant males is an ancient one, integral to the covenant between Abraham and the God of Israel. This is not merely some sort of formality or empty gesture: the circumcision is a reminder that, in every moment, even the most private, an individual is part of a community that exists in relation to its Creator. The legislative push in San Francisco sought to prevent pediatricians and rabbis from violating the wholeness of children; if such measures were passed, the police apparently would be charged with shielding the foreskins and dignity of little Jacob and Bibi.

The individuals pushing for this law assert they are protecting baby boys, and are trying to muddy the waters by linking this use of the word "circumcision" with so-called female circumcision. The latter often results in hemorrhage, permanent urinary incontinence, and the inability to tolerate intercourse without profound pain--if the operation even is survived. Female circumcision more commonly is referred to as genital mutilation because it is, in effect and fact, grotesquely different from male circumcision. The female variety involves literally culling off (perhaps with surgical instruments, perhaps with an unsterilized piece of broken glass) part or all of the external female genitalia. I have scoured Genesis and there is no mention of this procedure. There are no published medical studies showing that slicing off the labia and clitoris helps reduce the spread of AIDS or the risk of cancer--benefits scientifically linked to male circumcision. This is a shadow issue, though: infant male circumcision ultimately is not about hygiene or reducing the risk of cancers in males or their partners; it is a profound statement of submission to, and entering into, the covenantal relationship. A relationship that elevates one into a special bond with the Creator of the universe would not seem, on its surface, to be a profound threat to human dignity.

San Francisco may be singular in its protectiveness for human dignity. It is apparently one of the striking examples of that cancer of moral and cultural relativism, the one much bemoaned by many political and religious leaders. Pope Benedict XVI, during his long and productive career as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, focused like a laser on cultural and moral relativism as a major source of disorder in European culture: "We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."

Regarding stepping on the rights of Jews to practice their religion, it seems dear that the dictatorship of relativism, in this example, is as schizoaffective as Hitler appeared to have been. …

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