Posted: July 26th, 2012 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: How Weird is our Culture, religion I can accept, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »
I was in church this evening. Or should I say I was in “a” church. I was not there for a dose of Christian theology but to watch a performance of Il Duo*, part of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. Just being in a church made me restless. It’s not a place I belong.
It’s an old church, with suitably uncomfortable pews, beautiful stained glass windows, and a very impressive old pipe organ, the kind with real pipes. And in the seat back in front of me I found a card. Here’s what it said:
*************card from Augustine Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada**************
Welcome to Augustine United Church
We are pleased you have chosen to worship here at Augustine. Please let us know how we may serve you by taking a moment to fill out the back of this card and place it in the offering place. We will do our best to respond.
The mission of Augustine United Church is to worship God, care for each other, seek justice and deepen our faith in an inclusive, Affirming Christian community.
As an affirming Congregation, Augustine is a community that welcomes, recognizes and accepts lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in our midst as full and equal participants in all aspects of our life, work and worship. (emphasis mine)
*************end of card from Augustine Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada****************
There you have it. I never thought I’d set foot in a church again, and I certainly have no respect or affection for Christian theology. But I have to applaud a church that rises above prejudice and bigotry and changes to suit the times.
*Il Duo was a delight. Beautiful voices, fast paced comedy with audience participation, great fun. I particularly liked their encore, a filk version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” that said it like it is. They’ll have it up on their site soon.
Posted: July 13th, 2012 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: Cicumcision debate, How Weird is our Culture, Personal issues, separation of church and state, sexuality, Uncategorized | No Comments »
Note: I considered labelling this post, and these images, as NSFW and putting everything behind a click through, but if we can do this to an infant it is obviously not something we should be ashamed of. So deal with it, and my apologies if you are squeamish.
I’ve had enough conversations now with people who justify infant male circumcision that I can see the arguments coming at me a mile away, and have a hard time not responding with exasperation. I must constantly keep in mind that, though I’ve refuted these arguments before, many times, the person I’m talking to has not given their argument any real thought, and probably hasn’t had anybody argue against their beliefs. So I must be patient. I must resist the urge to scream.
Aside from the fact that I’ve heard them all so often, another noteworthy thing about these arguments is the evidence of cognitive dissonance. A recent example occurred when I said that “infant male circumcision is barbaric”. Instead of considering whether it is or is not barbaric, the person I was talking to responded with: “Thanks for calling my parents barbarians.” Anger is often the first sign of cognitive dissonance. The emotional part of the brain is reacting before any arguments are even considered.
If I describe a circumcised penis as “mangled” or “mutilated”, the predictable response from a victim is “It isn’t mutilation. My penis is not mangled. It’s just fine, thank you very much.” The very word “victim” calls out for denial and a hostile response.
Even PZ Myers, a staunch opponent of infant male circumcision, can slip into this denial mode, as he did in a post some time ago: “I consider circumcision to be needless cosmetic surgery and a barbaric practice, and I’m not going to condone it, but neither am I going to go off the deep end like that guy and consider my life ruined by it. A majority of American males have been circumcised, and we’re a randy, raunchy, sexed-up lot who don’t seem to be suffering from an epidemic of sexual inadequacy.” As I told him in his comments, this doesn’t serve us. He’s contributing to the “it doesn’t really matter” argument. It’s also denying the importance of an issue that some men find very important, akin to Richard Dawkins belittling Rebecca Watson because he thinks her concerns about potential rape are trivial. One should not trivialize another person’s issues, based solely on the fact that you don’t share the issue.
Cognitive dissonance is a powerful force. The theory predicts that the more a person has invested in a belief or a practice, the more likely they are to reject any evidence or argument against that belief or practice. Consider the cognitive dissonance for stake holders in the circumcision debate:
Jews, Muslims and others from a Circumcision Culture – we are asking them to reject their tradition, their covenant with their God, their belief system that circumcision gives them their identity. Not likely to be well received.
Parents – we are asking parents to say that they did something bad to a child, an infant, in their care. This is not something they will accept without resistance. Typical response is: “Nonsense. It’s good for the child. Doctors say it should be done. Everybody does it. It was automatic at the hospital. etc.” What parent wants to admit to doing irreparable damage to their child?
Doctors – what doctor wants to admit that he or she has done unnecessary surgery that has no medical benefits and is actually harmful? Ignore the fact that all reasons for infant male circumcision have been refuted, and most now seem laughable (such as the hysteria about masturbation and the claim by doctors that masturbation caused everything from curvature of the spine to epileptic fits to heart trouble and bad vision, but that it could be mitigated or prevented by circumcision.) Doctors continue to seek justification for this practice that can’t be justified.
Those who have been circumcised – who wants to think of himself as a victim? Who wants to think that his parents made a mistake and allowed him to be harmed as an infant? Not only allowed it, but asked for it and sought it out? Who wants to think they could be sexually less than they might have been? Who wants to think that the great pleasure they have had in sex might not be as great as they thought?
Given all this, it’s not surprising that I hear the same arguments every time I engage in this discussion. While many are open to information they might not have had, or might not have thought about, most stake holders react with a knee jerk rejection and one or all of the following:
Circumcision is part of my culture and heritage. We Jews/Muslims/other-religious-group consider it a covenant with God. Laws against circumcision interfere with my religion. They go against the separation of church and state.
It makes no difference to a man’s sex life. So it isn’t important.
It’s not worth arguing about.
Being circumcised has benefits. Circumcision is good. My doctor said so.
It makes it easier to keep the penis clean.
I know somebody who had to be circumcised later in life and it was no joke.
It’s been shown to reduce STD’s and AIDS.
A boy should look like his father.
A boy will be ridiculed if he looks different from other boys.
It looks neater.
And at the root of the argument is infant rights. Do parents own their children, or are they just custodians? If I react with outrage at the idea that it is okay to cut off a part of another person’s body with no medical justification, merely for aesthetic or tradition or religious reasons, I can expect to hear the following:
The Parental Authority Argument
Parents make all kinds of decisions for their children, everything from choosing the schools to vaccination to nutrition. That’s what parents do. Many of these decisions are irreversible, and some may result in harm. But that’s what parents do. Are you going to ban parents from giving their child fattening foods, or too much ice cream? Are you going to ban ear piercing?
To say that I find all of these arguments either flawed or absurd is an understatement. If you agree with any one of them, please let me know which and I’ll do my very best to give you some information that might possibly change your mind.
My boys were not circumcised. If they ever tell me they are unhappy about their condition, I can hand them a couple of hundred bucks and send them to a doctor. What will the father say to his son if he allowed the infant to be circumcised, and the adult now resents it? What possible valid argument is there for not leaving the decision to the owner of the penis?
I was circumcised as an infant. I had the great satisfaction of hearing my mother say that she would not make the same decision if she were living her life over. That does nothing to restore my penis to it’s proper condition, but it still was good to hear.
Posted: July 10th, 2012 | Author: Darwin Harmless | Filed under: How Weird is our Culture, Uncategorized | 10 Comments »
Convergence has come and gone. My first con, and I had a great time. I spent most of my time hanging out at the Free Thought Blogs party room, which was conveniently located right next to the Skepchicks party room. It was really great to meet some of the bloggers I read on a regular basis. People like Dan Fincke of Camels with Hammers, Jason Thibeault of Lousy Canuck, Rebecca Watson and Bug Girl of Skepchicks, Stephanie Zvan of Almost Diamonds, Christina Rad of Christina Rad, and of course Paul Z. Myers from Pharyngula. My kind of people.
Now I need to recover. I’m relapsing into a recent cold/flu after too many nights with too little sleep. We participated in the music circle on Saturday evening until five in the morning on Sunday, and then got up to make the 9:30am panel discussion on Invisible Heroes, the women of science. The most fun discussion of the day was the panel on the evolution of the female orgasm, mostly because Rebecca Watson is such an incredibly quick thinker with a great sense of humour. We also enjoyed listening to the Teen Skepchick panel. Young women of such articulate speech and clear thinking that they renew my faith in the future of humanity.
I really needed the FTB crowd, just to wash off the stupid I got slathered with by a faith head who told me with quiet intensity about returning to Jesus and the incredible mystery of the Shroud of Turin (head, meet desk). That is one of the continuing mysteries of this world – how people with enough brain cells to walk and talk at the same time can believe the utter nonsense that is Christian dogma.
Now I’m sad that Convergence is over. I could hang out with artists, weirdos and scientists all the time. If you were there, and you saw the guy with the banjo, you had a close encounter of the third kind with Darwin Harmless. I hope you had as much fun as I had.