Replying to a critic: My last circumcision post (for a while) – with video debate
VIDEO DEBATE LINKED TO BELOW – ARI KOHEN AND I DISCUSS THE ETHICS OF RELIGIOUSLY-MOTIVATED CIRCUMCISION
Ari Kohen doesn’t like my recent post about circumcision—the one in which I argue that it is unethical to remove healthy tissue from another person’s body without first getting his permission. I then go on to say that religious justifications cannot override this basic principle. Here’s that post again.
Ari is a professor of political theory and human rights at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. In this blog post, he takes me to task for failing to take seriously the religious commitments of Jews in framing my arguments. And while he gets some things wrong about, for example, the relevance of “sexually-sensitive tissue” to my overall reasoning; and while he misses the point of my bringing up female genital cutting entirely (I’ve since edited my post to clear up any lingering ambiguity) – he is probably right that my approach to debating this issue is unlikely to win me any converts from within the ranks of the religious.
For a better attempt at that sort of tactic—the convert-winning kind, I mean—please read Jean Kazez’s thoughtful post here. In it, she argues the circumcision is not only unethical, but actually quite meaningless even from within a religious framework. That is, she takes the beliefs-and-values system of Judaism as a starting point, and shows how circumcision is actually inconsistent with those very ethics. It’s a wonderful post, and I hope you’ll take the time to give it a read. I also recommend Iain Brassington’s excellent reflection on the poor quality of “mainstream” arguments in favor of religiously-motivated genital cutting.
Rather than banging out a lengthy reply to Ari, though, and setting off a string of dueling blog posts (I have already hogged more than my fair share of the Practical Ethics “airways” in pressing my pet ethical project: see here, here, here, and here), I invited him to have a web-based video conversation with me, in which we talked through our various disagreements in real-time. I am very pleased to report that the resulting conversation was stimulating, fair-minded, nuanced, and even fun.
We cover male and female genital cutting; Islam, Judaism, and Christianity; we talk about multiculturalism and religious belief; we share some personal stories; and we find some common ground. I think we figured out the places where we really do disagree, and were even surprised to find that our general views are not so different as they had seemed before. Fortunately for you, we recorded our conversation and it’s available here.
What do you think?
Here are some other excellent posts on this issue: