Nothing worthwhile comes easy, of course and the religious crowd arguing for the sanctity of religiously motivated circumcision of children won’t go down without a fight. And as was to be expected, instead of using rational arguments and empirical data, strawmen are built, demonization employed, false equivalences created, and unsupported claims thrown around.
There’s Gunda Trepp, for instance, who claims that the reason that a circumcision ban was defeated in San Francisco is:
Because [parents] know that children need a framework, a value system, a religion, and a tradition.
Which might come as a surprise to all the atheist parents out there. How about I raise my child with communist values, in the tradition of Marx, Luxemburg and others, and as a sign that he/she belongs, I have a little hammer and sickle tattooed on his/her shoulder when they’re babies, not big, 2 times 2 centimeters maybe. Wanna bet whether the pro-circumcisioners will loudly defend my right to do so?
Mrs Trepp’s claims that the main motivation for opposing non-medical circumcision of children is anti-semitism are relatively subtly worded, even though she bluntly claims at the end of her piece that no one really cares when children in Germany die due to parental negligence (ignoring the extensive discussion and attacks on social service providers, for instance).
Matthias Matussek, on the other hand, makes no attempt at subtlety (can be googled here). The first sentence establishes the tone:
By now, it’s an embarrassment to almost everyone in Germany that, in the grounds for one of its decisions, a regional court in Cologne almost off-handedly declared circumcision — a religious tradition dating back thousands of years — to be illegal.
Let me count the ways:
1) an argument from popularity,
2) based on a false assertion,
3) loaded language, and
4) an appeal from tradition.
It’s remarkable that there is nothing in this sentence that effectively argues why non-medical circumcision of children should be legal:
1) whether a majority agrees or disagrees with a position makes it (un)popular but does not have any relation to whether it is right or wrong.
2) the argument from popularity becomes even weaker when it goes agains the result of a poll in which almost half of the polled support a ban on non-medical circumcision of children. (source – unfortunately only in German)
3) the court in Cologne didn’t act “almost off-handedly” but discusses the different rights at play in their decision (also in German).
4) and finally it doesn’t matter how long something has been practiced. Beating one’s children was common practice for centuries yet nowadays we recognize that it is not covered by the right of parents to educate their children.
Matussek doesn’t let up though and pulls out the vaccination strawman:
A procedure that is hardly more painful than a vaccination — something for which parents also don’t consult their child in advance…
Dr Stehr’s editorial lays out why this is a strawman but it bears repeating: vaccination has empirically proven medical benefits and low risk, circumcision has no medical benefits, may cause long-term harm, and has non-negligible risk. When it comes to medical interventions, a risk-benefit analysis has to be made and if something has no benefits, then it better have no risks either.
I am not going to point out every argument from popularity or discuss in detail how this is one more religious mind that can’t conceive of non-religiously motivated morality, wonder, or love (or the arguments from authority that are so important to religion).
But just in case the reader hasn’t fallen prey to all these irrelevant arguments yet, he’s saved his most powerful false equivalence for the end. Softening the reader with another assertion about the lacking morality of the secular mind:
We have eliminated almost all taboos in our society, and we tout this as a sign of great progress.
he finishes with:
But we need taboos. Child pornography is one of them, and denying the Holocaust is another. Both are punishable offences.
What if we rejected blasphemy — that is, the foolish disparagement of God and faith — out of inner conviction and respect for others?
Banning non-medical circumcision of children, child pornography, denying the holocaust are apparently equivalent in Matthias Matussek’s world.
Now, what I find truly fascinating in all this is that the pro-circumcision people had a rational argument in the beginning: that not being circumcised would lead to social harm for those boys in their religiously influenced communities. This is not necessarily a strong argument but on the basis of it (and others like it), a rational discussion could have been had. But this line of arguing has been abandoned by now and I wonder why.
My less-cynical interpretation is that they realized that this would not be a winner.
The cynic in me wonders, however, whether the discussion about non-medical circumcision of children in Germany is to be made into a precedent. Matussek tries to make this argument: that this is not about non-medical circumcision but that more generally religious practices should be exempt from investigation by the secular state, that while everything else can be criticized, religion is beyond rational questioning.
I reaction to which I can only quote Greta Christina: Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?