San Francisco, Circumcision, and the Endless Quest for “Liberal Intolerance”

To some people, it’s of the utmost importance to engage in a tireless quixotic quest to locate “liberal intolerance”. These people generally style themselves as “conservatives”, though in fact they’re generally right-wing radicals. And there’s nothing more important to a right-wing radical than attacking “liberals”, however that term is – or much more commonly, is not – defined. (One of these days, I promise, we’ll take a good look at those much-abused terms “liberal” and conservative”, which are almost never used properly anymore, and which I almost always bracket in quotation marks, and for very good reason.) Many of them literally live for it. Since “liberal”, in the true sense of the word, is more or less synonymous with tolerant, “liberal intolerance” is a self-canceling phrase, rather like “conservative movement”. Therefore, it has become a chimera of choice among such“conservatives”.

Recently the Mercatus Center, a very influential right-wing think tank (founded and funded by the billionaire Koch Bros., who have been quietly but steadily buying out democracy for several years) released a laughable “study” showing that “liberal” states (California, New York, New Jersey) enjoy less freedom than “conservative” states. Essentially, the rule of thumb they followed is the fewer laws, the more freedom. They don’t seem to consider the possibility that the Big Apple, with some 8,000,000 inhabitants crammed onto a compact sliver of soil, might actually need more laws than Lamont, Wyoming with its population of 3. Furthermore, if you take a glance at the graph of the factors they considered and how they were weighted (yes, they were actually so inept as to publicize this information), you’ll note that financial matters constitute TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT of what they regard as crucial. Guns, of course figure significantly into the mix, but nowhere is there a mention of reproductive regulation, which almost all right-wingers are very gung ho about. Just goes to show that you really can prove black is white, provided you have no scruples about cooking the books.

It’s only natural, then, that such “conservatives” should salivatingly turn their gaze toward the librul Gomorrah called San Francisco, which has always been a supreme melting pot of all kinds of lifestyles, and therefore has always had a reputation for tolerance. (I speak with some authority on this topic, having lived more than 15 years of my own life as a San Franciscan.) And oh yeah, San Francisco sometimes passes certain laws, you see; and according to right-wing logic, a law aimed at curbing intolerance is the ultimate act of intolerance.

Recently, rumor has it that the City By The Bay played into their hands by banning circumcision. How dare those effete elites decree that we can’t carve up the wee-wees of our own babies? It’s been called a blatant infringement of “freedom of expression”, as if infant genitalia were artistic materials to be molded into expressive shapes to our liking.

Actually, San Francisco has not banned circumcision, at least not yet. What happened was that after a requisite number of signatures were collected, the proposed law was placed on the ballot, so in November, the electorate will decide whether or not to approve it. It’s the democratic process (also known as “liberal intolerance”) the way it was meant to work.

Fox “News” couldn’t wait for November, but promptly declared the measure to be a hitleresque attack on Jews. Never mind that the ban applies to all circumcisions, the great majority of which are performed by goyim. Never mind that a quarter of the city’s residents are Jewish, including no doubt a good many who signed the petition. Yes, it’s true that many Jews have decried the measure, but many others support it; just don’t expect to hear much about them, because they don’t fit the media narrative of librul intolerance so neatly. Incidentally, Fox’s righteous indignation doesn’t appear to extend so much to concern for Muslims, who are also habitual pecker-choppers.

You expect this kind of crap from Fox, but they weren’t alone. This was a golden opportunity for the powerful right-wing propaganda engine to do what it does best: manufacture outrage out of misinformation. It’s probably safe to say that there has been far more outrage expressed in the last few weeks over this one little law (which isn’t even a law, and probably never will be) than there has ever been expressed over circumcision itself, even though it’s been around for ages, and many have always found it objectionable.

Even more interesting, there has been far more outrage over female circumcision, which is already illegal not only in librul San Francisco, but everywhere else in The United States, as well as many other countries. And I’ve never heard of anyone complain of those laws infringing on freedom of expression.

This discrepancy is surprising for two reasons: there are far fewer female circumcisions than male, and females are usually considered of lesser worth than male, particularly in societies heavily dominated by religion. But that’s the rub: religion. Although female circumcision is often inspired by religious beliefs, it is typically not a religious rite per se. Its purpose is to permanently impair the ability of women to experience sexual pleasure, and to help keep the female head securely under the male boot.

Similarly, male circumcision has been the rage in America since Puritan times, when it caught on not for religious reasons (Jews were really a small minority then) but because it was believed to discourage boys from choking the chicken. (The Puritans were on the right track, but you’d really have to cut off the whole thing.) Still, while religion didn’t provide the inspiration, it provided the defense: anything good enough for Jesus is good enough for our children, so shuddup and pass the nails .

Religion and tradition are the twin pillars that have supported all kinds of practices including slavery and human sacrifice. These activities have been largely eliminated after many bold strokes of librul intolerance, in defiance of “conservatives” who demanded “I don’t need no stinkin’ guvmint limiting my freedom to do whatever I want to other people.”

No, no, I am not suggesting that circumcision is in a class with those things. The point is that while “conservatives” often seem to invoke religion and tradition to justify anything and everything, the truth is that absolutely NOTHING can be logically justified on such grounds alone; there are always other factors that need to be considered. Circumcision, for example, has long been believed to be hygienically beneficial, though the evidence is by no means conclusive. The people of San Francisco, or at least some of them, have considered certain other factors.

There is, for one thing, the inescapable fact that circumcision is quite painful. This can be mitigated somewhat, and many try to convince themselves that babies don’t feel the pain at all. But that’s royal technicolor bullshit. At any age, it hurts like hell to have something amputated from your body – whether it be a finger, an ear, or part of Mr. Winkie.

For some slice-ees, the experience is also highly traumatic. There is even evidence that circumcised males may be more prone to low self-esteem and depression. It clearly doesn’t have that kind of effect on everyone, but there are support groups with plenty of members (no pun intended) for circumcised adults, some of whom even undergo procedures to restore the loss.

So the issue is not tolerance vs. intolerance. It’s extreme tolerance vs. extreme tolerance. On the one hand, you have the tolerance for religious tradition, to the point of allowing parents to make religious decisions for their children, even to the point of inflicting pain and possible lifelong trauma, and permanently deciding the appearance of Tiny Tim. On the other hand, you have the tolerance for individualism, to the point of sparing children the pain and trauma, and allowing them to decide for themselves whether their package will remain intact.

You may not approve of what decision the San Francisco voters ultimately make. You have the right not to approve. But to brand the initiative itself as intolerance is truly the pinnacle of reactionary spin.


  1. But the Constitution says that religion does trump other concerns.

    Biologically conditioned? Every birth I’ve attended (8 so far) has had the child screaming their lungs out. That’s conditioned behavior? 🙂

    I was commenting on the idea that people tend to think a very public thing such as ear piercing, done in the name of “beauty,” is somehow less bothersome and more acceptable than a basically private thing quite often done on a religious basis. Who are we as adults to compare the level of pain? What about the heel stick done almost immediately after birth (iron levels, IIRC)? All my kids screamed bloody murder at that.

    And the money thing bothers me, too. I think it’s selfish of Schofield doing something like this. He’s got to know that if it passes, it’s going to be challenged, but at that point, he’ll have had his 15 minutes, and he’ll be off to do something else as taxpayers pay for defending a bad law. If he doesn’t know now that it’s going be challenged, he’s not as smart as he should be. The Board of Elections I think should have no duty to certify an initiative that’s unconstitutional from the beginning.

    I was hoping as I logged in with FB that this would echo out on my wall, but it didn’t. I’d like to hear more from folks.

    • One reason babies cry at birth is to expel fluid from their lungs so they don’t get pneumonia. As a matter of fact, I’d call that some excellent biological programming.
      If you believe the Constitution decrees that religion trumps all else, then you’re reading a very different constitution from the one I grew up with. I don’t think there’s a court anywhere, even in the reddest of states, that would declare that our religious beliefs entitle us to sell our daughters into slavery (which is authorized in The Bible).
      Again, why the obsession with ear-piercing? Nobody says you have to like one or the other. But ear-piercing would be a matter for the same level of concern as circumcision if it had the same kind of effects. It doesn’t.
      I have no intention of defending Schofield or even his ballot initiative. But he expresses some valid concerns that are being deliberately misrepresented. And whatever faults we may find with the law he proposes, I haven’t seen anything in it that is unconstitutional, although I fully expect that the courts will so rule.

  2. I have three basic issues with the initiative.

    First, there is no allowance for religious reasons for circumcision, which makes the proposed law unconstitutional from the get-go. My feeling is that the Board of Elections should have stopped this measure until that was addressed. In fact, not only does Mr Schofield make no allowances for religious reasons, he specifically bans consideration of religious reasons. He has to know from the beginning that even if the measure passes, it’s going to fail in the courts. Of course at that point, it’s no longer his battle or his money, or at least not just his money. The citizens of SF will be forced to defend a poorly conceived initiative passed by people who didn’t think things through.

    My next issue is the idea that something that generally happens in the first hours of life outside the womb can emotionally affect a man in any measurable degree. If that’s the case, I suspect the whole delivery process is even more traumatic, going from this nice, dark, warm and relatively quiet place into this other dark place where things keep squeezing really hard for HOURS, then bursting out into a bright, cold, loud place. Talk about trauma!

    I’ll easily grant that it’s painful, but so are inoculations, and no one argues against them based on the pain issue. (They do argue about them for other reasons, some good, some bad, but that’s beyond the scope of your post or mine). So why bring pain into it? I’m sure conventional birth is painful, and it could be argued that that’s an elective process, since C-sections are “less traumatic” for the child.

    Finally, as I tweeted earlier today, if this is considered something that should be banned with no regard for religious freedom, when are SF voters going to address the heartless and cruel mutilation of young girls, some less than a year old, all in the name of “beauty,” AKA pierced ears? It’s an interesting sense of priorities.

  3. As I believe I pointed out, the measure is not an attack on religion. It just makes the value judgment that religion should not trump other concerns. I don’t ask anyone to approve or disapprove of that call; I just ask people to stop misrepresenting it.
    It appears that we are biologically conditioned for the trauma of birth, and in any case it’s a necessity for anyone wishing to live in this world. Neither claim can be made for circumcision.
    As for the comparison of circumcision to ear-piercing or inoculations, don’t be silly. There is no comparable pain, trauma, or disfigurement. (I don’t approve of piercing the ears of children without their consent, by the way. It’s just a ridiculous comparison.)

  4. Hi POP,

    I am sorry I missed commenting on this thread earlier, but at the time it came out I was just beginning to discover the world of computers, and double clicking my mouse was difficult enough for me, let alone leaving a comment on the POP.

    After reading this older post, I have to take issue with one of your claims (or attitudes) about the tradition of circumcision. But first here is a post from one of your comments to Mr. Mueller above:

    “If you believe the Constitution decrees that religion trumps all else, then you’re reading a very different constitution from the one I grew up with. I don’t think there’s a court anywhere, even in the reddest of states, that would declare that our religious beliefs entitle us to sell our daughters into slavery (which is authorized in The Bible).”

    But the point is that yes, the Constitution doesn’t deem religions as having the right to trump all else—but it doesn’t give the government the right to determine the course of various religions either.

    As long as charley manson isn’t carving up his next victim, Jim Jones isn’t busy passing out free kool-aid, and Davidians are not engaged in a firefight with law enforcement authorities, the government has no right to tell established churches or religions just how to conduct their services and rituals. True, Christian Scientists walk some very murky grounds when contemplating whether or not to give their dying children the proper medications, or bombard them with induced spiritual miracle healings instead. But most of our traditions associated with religions are not considered socially dangerous or illegal—and if circumcision itself is not dangerous to a child, (won’t cause death or hinder health) then the government (even the local government in San Francisco has no right to dictate what is right and what is wrong—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF,
    In other word’s, hands off!—even toward rituals or practices that we don’t like or that we think are horrendous—and that’s the only way to do it in America!

    Personally I don’t find any value in the tradition of speaking in tongues, rolling around like a holy roller, or bowing for hours at a wailing wall and hoping that will make God do what we ourselves project as his righteous ability to smite sinners! I also don’t like the often lavish and ostentatious display of holy bling, at Catholic services—however I have no right to outlaw anything—which doesn’t harm others. Nor does any church in the world have the authority to dictate the functions of Congress or enforce its own narrow theocracy and religious weirdness on me—So, when was the last time you saw a Jewish guy chasing a kid down the street with a knife screaming, “I don’t care if you believe in Christ, get that tally whacker out and let me do God’s work. Or else, when have you seen him chase the parents of that child down the street either?

    In general I find your satirical portrayals of religions and the things they espouse, to be amusing and quite spot on. But in this case, if you are defending a political entity, such as the city of San Francisco, as it attempts to dictate to religious groups, just what they can and cannot do (even if religions have no monopoly on the practice) I think you are way off of the mark.

    Bob Mueller make a good point by pointing out that many traditions and practices require some measure of pain (like receiving injections) and for those faiths that prefer complete immersion baptisms, I hear the experience is not pleasant. However, I don’t have the right to outlaw this ritual, no matter how insane I personally feel it is—particularly if no significant injury is involved. Baby may feel pain when the blade does its work, but I doubt that he or she will remember the experience at any point in the future. And if pain is what makes this practice wrong, then we should outlaw any forms of dentistry that involves pain, As well as the work of a coked out Tattoo parlor employee.

    I have no desire to go the way of the Taliban, and don’t want an oppressive theocracy determining my every thought, but I also don’t want a world where any government can instruct any Church whether to marry or not marry gays—Its just none of the governments business! Most matters or religious rituals, are only a matter of tradition and faith. If they cause no real harm, we have no real reason to dictate what they should do, or not do.

    I usually enjoy your sarcasm for the purpose of humor, but really!…”anything good enough for Jesus is good enough for our children, so shaddup and pass the nails?” As if any sane parent would want somthing like that for his or her, own children. Religions have come up with some pretty ugly and outrageous beliefs, but ritual crucification of children is not one of them to worry about in this day and location and, I think you are being outrageously tacky by making such a lame attempt at humor.

    One of my first memories is that of being baptised with a sprinkle of water on my head, I think I was about three and just beginning to form a memory. The experience was uncomfortable and I remember crying—still something like circumcision is in essence, just another routine religious ritual. And sometimes circumcision is viewed as just another medical issue, or one about hygiene. Personally I do think its a bit barbaric, but much of that is my own cultural self centered bias. Even if a child cries a bit, he or she is not going to be forced to kill Sharon Tate, or caught i some psychotic power trip just on the basis of preferring circumcision!

    I do recognize that many religious practices, can be objectively viewed as quite whacked out, and i am not going to drink poison and handle snakes in order to reserve a room in the hotel paradise, nor do I think doing such a thing is entirely sane. However, if we want to prevent religiously centered government from teaching intelligent design to our kids, we must simultaneously understand that most religious practices are not harmful to others, and that we have no right to lay down the law when any sanity is present in those religions. As Mr. Mueller said, the law is destined to be struck down by the courts anyway. Even though I am writing this comment in 2014, and have no idea what finally happened, I felt it important to add my two cents worth.

    I lived in San Francisco from 1974 to 1976. And, even then, the BART was just too cool to believe. Its a great town with great people, but even the most progressive people, can sometimes miss the boat when it comes to the first amendment. Thanks!

    • My point was that if it’s wrong to inflict pain on babies needlessly, then it’s no less wrong to do so for religious reasons. Vaccines and other medical procedures may inflict some pain, but it’s not needless — the procedures serve an essential purpose. This is documented by science. The belief that a religious ritual like circumcision also serves an essential purpose is a subjective one; and it’s not backed by science. It’s only backed by custom and religious texts. The Constitution guarantees citizens the right to practice their religious beliefs, but those practices still can be limited when they directly impact other people against their will. As I mentioned, the same religious text that calls for circumcision also calls for selling one’s daughters into slavery. No American court at this point in time would allow that. Why sanction the genital mutilation of babies?

      • Dear POP,

        when talking in terms of objective scientific knowledge, one can only determine whether a physical acts bring physical pleasure or pain. Psychologists includes mental pain and psychological trauma as part of the equation, but religious practices which we know bring only minimal pain, are not concerned with logical beliefs and proofs, they are theological and philosophical considerations that rightly or wrongly provide peace and comfort to many who practice the particular rituals of a given faith. In this sense, if one goes on a hunger strike as part of an effort of personal faith. used in order to protest an oppressive regime or oppose a repressive social policy, who are we to tell that person he cannot fast, in order to launch an effective social protest? Gandhi’s own non-violent philosophy was not without spiritual roots or spiritual beliefs. So, although fasters are usually force fed at some point, who determines whether circumcision done for spiritual reasons is really so inhumane or not?

        My point is that some religious practices are steeped in tradition and are prized and honored by those who practice them. Therefore, when we arbitrarily determine which practices are legal and which are not, we should only consider extreme pain, and/or psychological abuse, when deciding what to allow or restrict.

        In the case of circumcision, I also think the process is rather barbaric and hope that no matter what my faith, I would not have such a thing done to my child, however, as far as I can tell, the pain felt by a child who undergoes the procedure, is entirely bearable and temporary—in fact it is most unlikely that it will even be remembered by the person it is done to. No doubt spanking a newborns behind as it leaves the only environment it has ever known is also painful. So in this instance although medial science has determined that this is a good way to get breathing started, i am merely pointing to this relative level of pain, to cast doubts on just how inhumane circumcision is–or may not be.

        When we are talking about religions, there is usually a point beyond which objective scientific knowledge is no longer relevant i. e. when believers talk about having a soul, or hearing a voice within, disputing these things with scientific knowledge means nothing to the believer anyway—simply because faith and belief, although possibly meaningful, are not always thought to be provable or verifiable by science anyway. So, when you impose a scientific restriction on any religious practice, which doesn’t have a terrifically painful or psychologically painful effect one the one who condones it, can you objectively ban something which caused little physical or psychological harm on anyone? Can you however, inflict emotional pain on a large number of people who really believe in the spiritual need for such a cherished practice?

        I believe like you, that our government has the right to intervene when obvious abuse, including physical and/ or psychological harm is involved, but I don’t believe a ritual like circumcision clearly fits that definition.

        If we are going to start denying any or all, religious practices which are not considered humane by us, then should we start by banning sections of the Bible or at least, banning sections of it that discuss harmful things like selling our own daughters into slavery, or being prohibited, under threat of death, from mowing the lawn? Even though one may read these things without actually taking part in such madness, I think we are treading on shaky grounds when considering banning any religious tradition or custom, and especially something like circumcision which is considered so important by so many, yet causes no lasting trauma on an individual.

        One correction I would like to make regarding my previous comment is when using the words, “when he or she will not even remember the procedure.”

        I do agree that circumcision of young females, so that they lose the ability to feel sexual pleasure, is a cruel and unusual religious ritual. As such it is obviously barbaric and should not be legally allowed, but in the case of male children—who later become sexulaly active adults, apparently the ability to feel ecstatic pleasure is still intact. I understand that some believe it even allows one to feel more sextual pleasure.

        In short, supposed objective measure of pain are risky enough when trying to determine what is cruel or not, but who is to say that a large number of religious people are not also being dealt unnecessary psychological pain when forced to disobey one of their cherished religious traditions. If they themselves, decide it is not appropriate, (as some Jewish people apparently have) then that’s one thing, but like I said, unless you are dealing with Charley manson sending his followers to perform twisted ritualistic killing, or tossing virgins into volcanoes, modern science can also be entirely subjective when determining what is cruel or not, according to the cultural views one already has about undue pain and suffering.

        I understand that many Native Americans voluntarily underwent extreme physical stress and abuse in order to spiritually be accepted as warriors, (remember A MAN CALLED HORSE)? and Certain groups of HOPI indians uses peyote as part of spiritual rituals—but who are we to ban these things especially when they are considered (or were considered) so important to the specific cultures that use them?

        You or I may dislike the practice of circumcision, but I hardly think this type of case involves terribly cruel treatment of a child. We know that pains in the teeth and cavities are prevented by dentists because they can cause intense physical pain, but at the same time (especially before technological advances) it was necessary to cause intense pain in order to treat them. Objectively and scientifically a need is served by dentists. But who is to say that a certain religious practice that does not result in long term pain should only be judged subjectively according to our own culturally centric views! Such a determination is not really easy to make and, we are better off to leave well enough alone in such cases.

  5. Hello again,

    After re-reading your post, I found i had not remembered your comment about the presence of “slice-ees” who experience trauma and low self-esteem and depression because of their conditions. However, one could make the argument that when anyone undergoes a procedure that has no clear and objective application or presents no physical need for having it done, that person is motivated not by whether he or she is (physically) lacking, but rather by what he or she, feels is not acceptable to their society, culture, or peers. So, even scientifically approved procedures are not always needed. And on a practical level, when it comes to the physical or objective need, to eat only fish on friday, or to purchase only kosher foods science obviously does not affirm a definite physical need for such traditions. should we also then legislate against these religious practices? And if only painful or physically harmful things are allowed to be determined by law, should we ban tattoos the big mac, or drinking soda? Should we legally force anyone to eat only a certain amount from certain food groups each day?

    Certainly some of these things have been considered by society—usually with along with much dissent and personal antipathy—but isn’t it basically the same when you or I, a Catholic or a presbyterian, a rich man or a poor man, an atheist or a believer, or anyone else begins to assume that something is very harmful to another—particularly a religious belief that has great meaning only to those belonging in that particular category?

    The entire matter hinges on what is harmful or not, but sometimes that reasoning has to be tempered with the understanding that, another person’s race, heritage, or religious traditions, may define something that is commonly and accepted by others as cruel and inhumane. To be truly correct, We must admit that often, one man’s meat is often another man’s poison.

    Its true that when obvious physical or emotional harm results, then it is good to examine the degree to which inhumane or abusive practices are involved, but again, by assuming that circumcisions are terribly painful, we are also deciding that any religious practice that produces negative physical results is against the law—including fasting, or undergoing an arduous experience which lead to a religious vision.

    I really agree with you more than you might realize, but my objections are not made with an attitude that them “librulze” are making us do what we don’t want to do, only as the result of a more culturally anthropological view, or a feeling that religious beliefs are often acceptable largely based on the relative opinons of the society that approves or disapproves of them.

    I don’t think that making decisions on the basis of what might be painful or wrong doesn’t matter, just that when stepping into the arena of religious freedom as applied to 1st amendment rights, we are often quite biased about what we deem harmful or not.That’s why when we talk about the separation of Church and State, we should be very careful when we start disapproving or certain beliefs or ritual that might offend us yet are axiomatic to the faith of others.

    I think the best way to change any l subjective social belief is to do what you do in your articles—talk about the issue in ways that are often not apparent, and then, begin a change in the way we think. In that sense, if jews begin to dislike and disapprove of circumcision they will being to change that tradition— by themselves—not by relying on legal arguments that are applied as laws, or changes in laws. An example might be that, although we can disagree on the basis of reason, the Catholic Church is often perceived as being off of its nut when endorsing celibacy for its priests or outlawing the pill. But if we take legal steps to outlaw these things (no matter how archaic believing in them might be) we are taking the wrong approach. If we respect the first amendment on the basis of cruelty or pain, we had better also respect the long history of feelings and relevance that certain religious traditions hold for those who follow them.

    It really is a matter of religious, philosophical and theological tolerance that should only be interfered with in cases of clear and obvious harm to human beings. Consider that when a transexual has a sex change operation, that procedure is not really physically necessary and it is usually involves painful surgery but it is now considered justified by medical science. What makes it neccessary is the mind of the person who desires it, just as some Jewish people desire living by fixed traditions and, desire to keep those traditions unopposed by government—especially if they are not extremely harmful to anyone involved!

    I don’t know just how much pain a baby feels when circumcised, just as I don’t know how much pain a 1st trimester fetus feels when aborted. The truth is actually not objectively available since babies can’t talk and forget the experience soon after. So, we make laws in these cases according to what we surmise to be the truth based on incomplete knowledge. And so far, we have no objective truth that a circumcision is as hurtful or harmful as we might think! So what right do we have to legislate against such a practice based essentially on our own opinons?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s