Better hygiene is among the most widely cited advantages of circumcision. However, all that we know for sure is that a healthy skin is the best defence against pathogens. Injured, inflamed and scarred skin or dry mucous membrane is not. If Gods were concerned with human hygiene they’d recommend cutting of nails rather than cutting off the most sensitive skin.
The hygienic arguments are modern inventions because microbes only recently have revealed themselves to doctors. The holy writs do not mention hygiene at all. Nor do they maintain that circumcision is harmless. On the contrary – they consider circumcision a sacrifice in the name of God or a test of faith. An urgent circumcision performed with a sharp stone under the threat of death does not seem hygienic neither as regards the body nor the mind.
The assumption that removing the foreskin would improve a man is quite arrogant as it implies that nature is imperfect and needs be corrected. From a religious point of view it suggests that the pinnacle of God’s creation is imperfect at least morally. Is it not wiser and cheaper to wash the problematic body parts now and then instead of cutting them off? Of course, it is. Improvement of hygiene is far safer and more natural than amputation of the body parts that can get dirty.
Soon after pathogenic microorganisms were discovery they were blamed for all diseases. Microbes were equalized with disease and war was declared on them. Cleansing and sanitation proved very useful for filthy lifestyles and, of course, they still are. Antibiotics were invented. But with time it was realized that they have many side-effects and intoxicate the organism.
The understanding of microorganisms as personification of evil turned out to be oversimplified. During the following century it was realized that microorganisms are indispensable to our health. It became clear we cannot live without them. It turned out that multicellular organisms are individual ecosystems that normally coexist with a vast number of bacteria living on and inside them. The normal human microbiota [ii] not only provides for the health of the host but performs vital functions that he is unable to carry out alone. Symbiotic microorganisms are not enemies but friends of the healthy individual. The human microbiome is in a state of balance with anyone of us. It changes and suffers with us as we do with it. When we get ill it gets abnormal and vice versa, and in extreme cases of misbalance it may help the disease. The former panacea, the antibiotics, for instance, can worsen general health by intoxicating the organism and by misbalancing the human microbiome.
One after another microorganisms have shown to be salutary. Subsequently, many of them have acquired beneficial status. Former pathogens became only potentially pathogenic and normally beneficent agents. The antagonists of antibiotics – the probiotics – become more and more fashionable.[iii] Nowadays healing mutates from extermination to dissemination of microorganisms. Now we prefer to contaminate ourselves with bacteria in order to renormalize our microbiota instead of to sterilize it. But old thinking habits die hard. And especially so if they are unsophisticated so they do not require learning and if they cast the blame to external causes hence help evade assuming responsibility.
Recently it becomes clear that sterile conditions and lack of pathogens especially during childhood pampers and weakens the immune system.[iv] Great sanitation turns out to increase the prevalence of the mysterious autoimmune diseases. It was found, for instance, that the lack of some internal multicellular parasites induces enemas and allergies. The beneficial contaminations compromise the hygiene cult.
Formerly, the preservation of health was equalized to extermination of microorganisms. Now hygiene tends to be understood as preservation of microorganisms. The modern doctrine of hygiene shelters holistic views at least regarding the living surrounding. It was the primitive stage of modern medicine that credited circumcision with hygienic advantages. The hygiene in the sense of sterilization is completely outdated. So if hygienic arguments for circumcision still hold sway it is because we prefer oversimplifications, irresponsibility and reliance on authorities.
Unhygienic translations: the fear of the others
Ascribing evil intentions to others is a trait of primitive social psychology. To consider other people bad is a natural proclivity based on pure egocentrism. This innate hostility is a persistent trait that only education and cultural refinement can suppress. For that reason labelling others wicked or wearing a distinguishable mark are methods for consolidation and discrimination of groups that is still widely used in politics today. And of course, these methods of segregation were even more spread and justified in ancient times. Then groups were differentiated primarily on religious basis as they still do nowadays.
People of a particular faith consider those of another inferior, immoral and unclean. In many languages the words for nonbeliever such as heathen, paganist, gentile and giaour has negative and offensive connotation. But were ancient Greeks or Romans uncultured and uncivilized? In olden days unclean meant vile, immoral or having evil intentions, but not unhygienic. Impure was a synonym of having foreign characteristics or animal desires, but not of being germ-infested. Nowadays the moral notions associated with gentiles and with their genital state that read in the ancient writs are easily mistranslated as sanitary arguments against circumcision. Religions still bring love and union within their communities but cause hate and separation outside them, just as marriage does.
Moral sanitation arguments: the fear of the self
Talmud, Niddah 13a
In fact, most probably the ancients considered any manipulation of the genitalia including hygienic procedures dangerous and unclean as many religious people do today. This is clearly evident in monotheistic faiths. From millennia the Abrahamic religions have indoctrinated their followers with the idea that genitalia are naturally dirty meaning they are impious, wicked, unholy instruments of evil. Genitalia and the pleasure derived from them have been condemned as a source of sin. Cleaning of genitalia focusses on sexuality and any other non-reproductive toying with them was ungodly and spiritually unhygienic. Genital hygiene could only worsen the fall of man.
The sinful nature, or the Original Sin as it occurs in Christian terminology, can never be washed out of the penis so the only way to clean it is trimming. Or even cutting if off. The useful functions of male genitalia were restricted to procreation and the ability to demonstrate loyalty to God by circumcising or removing them.[v] Today the situation is not very different. Not only the circumcising religions but also their descendants feel uneasy about sexuality. Even Christians feel guilty of their sexual desires and perhaps unconsciously also suspect that hygiene is ineffective in cleansing these intrinsically vicious organs.
The sinful nature of the genitalia makes believers suggestible to the danger of sex-transmitted diseases. They readily accepted the claims, for instance, that AIDS is God’s punishment for human immorality without real scientific proof that the syndrome has something to do with sexual behaviour. In this way the enlightened ones sadly became propagators of the darkest medical collusion of the 20th century.