Circumcision

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I am bewildered by the fairly common practice of American Evangelical parents of circumcising their sons. Given that most American Evangelicals are not Jewish, why is this practice so widespread? The book of Galatians makes it abundantly clear that this is not necessary for salvation. In theory, circumcision by Gentiles should only be done in an effort to convert to Judaism, but that hardly seems to be the motivation here.

If you are a Covenantal (i.e. you think that the Church has inherited the promises of Israel), then I might see how you might think that circumcision is a good thing except for the fact that Covenantals believe that the rite of baptism has replaced the rite of circumcision. And thus I remain bewildered by those who practice both infant baptism and circumcision.

Anyone care to enlighten me?

8 Comments

I think the truth of the matter is that most Americans don't associate circumcision with any religious feeling or thought. Mostly it is something that has become something of a cultural norm, and is often done for aesthetic reasons. There was a time when doctors maintained that there were health reasons for circumcision. However there no any national or international public health authority in the west which advocates routine circumcision.

Personally I've never missed it, but if I had a son I'm not sure what I'd do.

It's usually not for religious reasons at all (unless the people involved just haven't thought very carefully about how the various ways OT laws are fulfilled in the NT). It's usually for health reasons. Our doctor told us when Ethan was about to be born that circumcision tends to reduce the chances of one medical problem and increase the chances of another one. I don't remember what those problems were. I think one was some sort of cancer and the other related to infection, but I don't remember which went with which. We decided if it was a toss-up that it wasn't worth it. My mom told me that, over the course of her six sons, medical opinion changed two or three times, and they just went with what doctors at each time were saying.

It's a medial thing. When my only brother was born almost 30 years ago, my mother said it was just something doctors did. If I ever have a son, I won't have it done to him.

I feel like it is more than a medical/cultural thing. Many people in my Church and Seminary asked me if I was going to circumcise my son, and noone from the secular world asked.

Furthermore, in some/many of the people in my church and seminary talk about circumcision in reverent terms. For example, when one couple at my seminary had a son, they proudly crowed to me that he "was circumcised on the 8th day...just like Jesus!" When that same couple later asked me if we were going to circumcise Spark, and I told them I saw no reason to theologically, they did not respond with any sort of medical reason to do so.

Adrian Warnock blogged about this a while back here. He focused on the Americanness of the phenomenon. He's a non-practicing M.D. in the UK. I don't think your question, which was very similar to his question, got answered there either.

I really do think anyone who has a religious motivation that they think is Christian for circumcision has an extremely poor understanding of how the NT authors viewed the OT.

As others said a lot of people do it for health reasons. While it doesn't make *that* big a difference, it does make it easier to be hygenic. I know of one kid who wasn't circumcised and it did get infected leading to a circumcision while 10 or so. Not pleasant.

There was a trend to stop circumcisions for a while and its rate in the US was going down. The trend has reversed of late, due to changing medical views - although as I said I don't think it is that serious a thing.

Definitely a cultural thing that has little to nothing to do with ancient Judaism. I personally find non-circumcision to be quite weird, but that's just because of the little corner of the galaxy I grew up in.

While it is right that the American custom of circumcision is a cultural thing and that medical opinions have changed, there is also a dark underside to this practice. Please see my letter published in the Journal of Medical Ethics: Circumcision’s Seamy Underside (http://jme.bmjjournals.com/cgi/eletters/30/3/248?ck=nck#195)

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