There are many opinions about Christopher Hitchens. My appreciation of him concerns his intellect and witty writing more than anything. Still, I get that there are criticisms. Some of them (boorish behavior) exist beyond my interest. Others concerning the accuracy of his opinions are interesting. However, some of those criticisms embrace ignorance because Mr. Hitchens dares to call out our society’s appalling actions. For example, the New Yorker’s review of Mr. Hitchens’ new book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, makes a common, illogical mistake.
… After rightly railing against female genital mutilation in Africa, which is an indigenous cultural practice with no very firm ties to any particular religion, Hitchens lunges at male circumcision. He claims that it is a medically dangerous procedure that has made countless lives miserable. This will come as news to the Jewish community, where male circumcision is universal, and where doctors, hypochondria, and overprotective mothers are not exactly unknown. Jews, Muslims, and others among the nearly one-third of the world’s male population who have been circumcised may be reassured by the World Health Organization’s recent announcement that it recommends male circumcision as a means of preventing the spread of AIDS.
I don’t endorse any particular animosity Mr. Hitchens may expresses¹ about religions that practice child circumcision, but he is quite correct on the madness of child circumcision.
The reviewer missed what I believe is the point of the book, that religion is sometimes irrational and what it endorses is quite often unjustified in logic. That applies to circumcision, which is forced, medically-unnecessary genital surgery on an individual. That is wrong, regardless of how noble, religious, or culturally accepted the circumciser’s intentions happen to be.
Is the reviewer saying that, if female genital mutilation had firm religious ties, it would be acceptable? Of course, the reviewer is also mistaken that circumcision among Jews is “universal”, but that’s more an attempt to say “we all do this, and we’re always right, so male circumcision must be good”. That’s ridiculously naive.
And notice how it’s impossible to skip the recent announcement that circumcision might prevent (heterosexual, female-to-male²) HIV transmission. It’s quite convenient that, in a religious discussion, the reviewer wants you to know about the potential health benefits of male circumcision. I’m not reassured, as I don’t engage in behavior that puts me at risk of HIV.
Like many men, including Mr. Hitchens, I’m sure, all I’m left with is the truth that most people refuse to question forcibly reducing a male child’s genitals through unnecessary surgery because it has a long history of acceptance and God apparently approves. That is wrong. Any god who would demand³ such an abomination is not a god who deserves respect or allegiance.
¹ I have not read the book yet. I have ordered it.
² This is a key point the reviewer forgot, whether because it’s inconvenient to point out how limited this alleged benefit is, or because he couldn’t be bothered to worry about details that might challenge what he wants to believe.
³ Based on Dr. Leonard Glick’s research in Marked In Your Flesh, I’m convinced that God doesn’t demand circumcision.