Tag Archives: Christianity

The Original Antonin Scalia

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in his room at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a luxury resort in the Big Bend region of West Texas last weekend. The ranch is in such an isolated locale that it took hours for local officials to find a justice of the peace to make an official ruling on Scalia’s death. Finally, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara arrived on the scene and made the declaration without viewing Scalia’s body and without ordering an autopsy, both of which are permissible under Texas law.

Scalia is the 35th U.S. Supreme Court justice to die while still in office, and the fourth to die during a presidential election year. An icon to social and religious conservatives here in the U.S., Scalia was one of the most colorful characters to occupy the nation’s highest judicial bench. He was as brilliant as he was combative. His quirky sense of humor and brutal honesty illuminated the halls of what had always been considered a stodgy realm.

I recall, during the debate over the 2000 presidential elections, attorney Joseph Klock – arguing on behalf of the state of Florida – embarrassed himself by confusing some of the Supreme Court justice’s names. “For the record,” Scalia told Klock, before questioning him, “I’m Justice Scalia.”

I have to respect Scalia for his knowledge of the law and his willingness to take a stand for his own principles. People who rise to that level within the judiciary maze aren’t the same ones who handle traffic tickets. They are, instead, the most genuine of intellects; the folks who interpret the law when others can’t reach a mutual understanding. They are extraordinarily cerebral and steadfast in their beliefs; incredibly insightful and charming; and – in some cases – dangerous.

Aside from his wit and biting criticisms, Scalia is known for the concept of “originalism” or “textualism” regarding his view of the U.S. Constitution. He openly scoffed at the idea it was a malleable text; instead calling it a “dead document,” as if it had been dipped in amber – like a prehistoric butterfly – and encapsulated in its own perfection. It was not subject to interpretation from its authors’ descendants; lest its structural integrity be cracked and subsequently destroyed.

But, if the U.S. Constitution is a “dead document,” is it still relevant? Purposeful? Necessary? More importantly, if it’s dead, why has it been amended 27 times? I view the Constitution as either a dictionary, in that words are periodically added to it; or as a standard operating procedures manual (SOP), in that procedures are changed in accordance with technological advances. The term “Internet,” for example, didn’t exist a half-century ago, so a Merriam-Webster dictionary published in 1966 wouldn’t feature that word. Similarly, a SOP composed in 1966 for a bank wouldn’t describe the process of scanning paper documents into digital images because such a procedure hadn’t been devised yet. Someone somewhere may have thought of it, but that person was probably a nerdy type ensconced in a basement or a garage.

Aside from painting and writing, there were no audio or visual recording devices when the Constitution was written. Although the concept of photography was devised as early as the 11th century C.E., the first practical photograph was roughly a half-century and an ocean away from being taken by the time of the U.S. Revolution. The first sound recording was almost one hundred years in the future. Therefore, it’s difficult to infer what the Constitution’s framers meant exactly with their verbiage.

As devout Roman Catholics, Scalia and his wife, Maureen, didn’t believe in birth control and had nine children. One of them, Paul, decided to “take one for the team” – in his father’s words – and join the priesthood; thus becoming a conduit to one of the most violent and oppressive institutions on Earth. Like its conspirators, Judaism and Islam, Roman Catholicism (actually, all of Christianity) declared itself the model for humanity centuries ago and set out to conquer and annihilate people it deems heathens. Thus, it commands people to procreate (pollute) the world with their bodies and their toxic ideologies. Every time I think of that “go forth and multiply” biblical shit I think of the late Mother Teresa; the Romanian nun who infiltrated the starving masses of India and announced that she would care for any bitter soul and broken body who came her way; never realizing that the best way to prevent such misery is…oh, maybe teach women to be empowered by keeping their legs crossed, or telling men every erection doesn’t need to produce a child who ultimately can’t be fed and clothed.

Scalia often tried to force his ardent religiosity onto others; his personal beliefs rearing its ugly head in one of the most cumbersome issues of our time: abortion. In eight different opinions, he noted the U.S. Constitution doesn’t mention the term “abortion” and therefore, women had no right to it under constitutional concepts.

“You want a right to abortion?” he asked. “There’s nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn’t mean you cannot prohibit it.” His reference was that abortion laws should be left strictly up to individual states. He dubbed the legendary Roe v. Wade case an “absurdity,” adding that the Constitution’s 14th Amendment doesn’t guarantee equal protection for women when it comes to the subject of abortion. That’s congruent with the Christian biblical commandment of “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,” which – if you read the entire passage – actually begins with “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house,” and everything in it; including said neighbor’s “manservant,” “ox” and “ass.” The Christian Bible, along with the Judaic Torah and the Islamic Quran, considers anyone with a vagina (and many with penises) property – akin to houses and donkeys. The U.S. Supreme Court itself was purportedly designed with Christian theology in mind.

Scalia possessed equal animosity towards homosexuality. In another landmark ruling, Lawrence v. Texas, denigrated the right to sexual relations between consenting adults of the same gender by comparing it to…flagpole-sitting.

“[S]uppose all the States had laws against flagpole sitting at one time, you know, there was a time when it was a popular thing and probably annoyed a lot of communities, and then almost all of them repealed those laws,” Scalia asked the attorney fighting the Texas law. “Does that make flagpole sitting a fundamental right?” His hate for gays and lesbians was so intense that he did something Supreme Court justices rarely do when they write their opinion: he stood and read it himself in the Lawrence case.

He also used the tired old right-wing mantra of comparing homosexuality to murder in Romer v Evans. “Of course it is our moral heritage that one should not hate any human being or class of human beings,” he wrote. “But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible – murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals – and could exhibit even ‘animus’ toward such conduct. Surely that is the only sort of ‘animus’ at issue here: moral disapproval of homosexual conduct[.]”

But, despite his brilliance, Scalia proved how underhanded he could be in 2004, when he handled a case involving his old college buddy, then-Vice President Dick Cheney. In 2003, Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club sued Cheney for access to information regarding his clandestine energy task force meeting in 2001. A Washington, D.C., district judge ruled that the two groups had the right to know who was present at the meeting, in accordance with the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act. Cheney rebuffed the demand and took it to the Supreme Court; whereupon the matter ended up on Scalia’s docket. Shortly before that, however, Scalia and Cheney went on a duck hunting trip together in Kansas, with the jurist riding in the Vice-President’s plane. Such a close relationship smacked of impropriety and bias, but that certainly bothered neither Cheney nor Scalia.

“It did not involve a lawsuit against Dick Cheney as a private individual,” Scalia said. “This was a government issue. It’s acceptable practice to socialize with executive branch officials when there are not personal claims against them. That’s all I’m going to say for now. Quack, quack.” Yes, he really did say that, “Quack, quack,” which is essentially giving the middle finger to the concept of impartiality and judicial integrity.

Scalia’s innate bigotry glowed again in his opinion regarding a recent affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin. Referencing some obscure amicus brief, Scalia said that “it does not benefit African-Americans to – to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less – a slower-track school where they do well.” He argued that “most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas.” Talking like a psychic-medium, he declared, “They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re – that they’re being pushed ahead in – in classes that are too – too fast for them.”

Translation: niggers are too stupid to go to big-time universities. He might as well have said the same about Hispanics and Native Americans. It’s amazing, though, in the 21st century that some people still possess such idiotic views. But, then again, the Word War II generation and those who did everything they could to halt the advance of civil rights haven’t all died out yet. They lost one of their own in Scalia. Good riddance.

Scalia made history as the first Italian-American on the U.S. Supreme Court. Several years ago I read an editorial about jury selection in 1950s-era Dallas County, Texas, which bore this statement from then-Assistant District Attorney Bill Alexander: “Do not take Jews, Negroes, Dagos, Mexicans or a member of any minority race on a jury, no matter how rich or how well educated. I may like these people, but they will not do on juries.” The term ‘dago’ refers to Italians.

I find it ironic that Scalia lied in state on the same day as author Harper Lee died. Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” remains a classic of American literature; a book that dealt brazenly and unapologetically with the subject of racial injustice. Regardless of what one thinks of him, Antonin Scalia carved a deep impact into the consciousness of American society.

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The Grandest Trickery

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“Francis – Latin: Franciscus – ‘Free man,’ a man subservient to his government.”

Name Your Baby by Lareina Rule, 1963.

 

After a brief and heavily-publicized tour of the United States, Pope Francis returned to the Vatican last Sunday night. Amidst his hectic schedule, frequent baby-kissing and the usual slew of parades, complete with Miss America-type waves, Francis became the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress and the first to hold mass at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The media and Catholic faithful couldn’t get enough of it. I’d had enough the moment he stepped foot on U.S. soil.

In a way, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was returning home; since he’s the first pope from the Americas and the first outside of Europe. But he’s of Italian extraction, and his hometown of Buenos Aires is more European than Latin American. So, he’s not that different from his predecessors. You know what would be different? If the Church had selected a full-blooded Indian who was raised dirt-poor in the mountains of México; perhaps even a man who had been married to a woman and then widowed or (better yet) divorced; maybe someone with a criminal background, like burglary or auto theft. But that would make him too imperfect. I can’t see someone with that many scars rising to the lead one of the most self-righteous institutions the world has ever seen.

I’m not concerned with perfection. No such quality exists in humans. Most everyone in America, from President Obama down to the latest illegal immigrant across the U.S.-México border, was smitten with Francis. As a recovered Catholic, I could see right through the velvet and silk menagerie of angelic verbiage and outstretched hand. Yes, Francis may sound different; offering juicy tidbits of progressive ideology by saying, for example, it’s improper to judge gays and lesbians and criticizing the growing wealth divide. But he’s still head of one of the most powerful and affluent entities on Earth; an empire with an estimated net fortune up to $750 billion. As a former altar boy at a Dallas Catholic church, I wonder now if any priest or nun thought of molesting me; knowing how shy and obedient I was during my childhood. Francis has convinced many people to return to the Catholic Church. I left the Church years ago for one primary reason: its mistreatment of women. And I’ll stay away. I’ve always had a tendency to hold grudges, but this goes beyond personal feelings.

 

Women’s Work

Of the world’s estimated 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, women comprise more than half, which corresponds to the world’s overall population; that is, women make up more than 50%. Yet, unlike most of the planet, certainly unlike developed nations, the Church is far behind in how it views women and their “place” in society. Women actually make the Church function; they’re the ones who teach the kids, sweep the floors, cook the meals, do the laundry, carry the water and so forth. Meanwhile, their male counterparts (term used loosely) don all those chic designer gowns and issue judgmental pronouncements on human behavior. In medieval times, for example, the Church condemned as heretics any medical practitioner who sought to ease the pains of pregnancy and birth for women. Such agonies, the Church declared, are the price all women must pay for Eve’s trickery in the ethereal “Garden of Eden.” You know the story: the one where the wicked female shoved an apple, or some type of fruit, down Adam’s throat; thus making him and all of humanity a victim of feminine wiles. Even now, the Church refuses to grant the role of priesthood to women. It was hell – almost literally – for them to allow alter girls. But, aside from the convent and church secretaries, there aren’t too many formal positions for women in Roman Catholicism. The Church still won’t even sanction birth control.

 

Native Americans

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI canonized the first Native American saint, Kateri Tekakwa. It was a unique moment in the Church’s history. Native Americans have a contentious relationship with Roman Catholicism and all of Christianity. That came to the forefront recently when the Church announced that Francis would canonize Spanish missionary Junipero Serra. Canonization is exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church; a lengthy and exhaustive process a deceased individual undergoes before achieving sainthood. Sainthood is that coveted status in the Church where people are proclaimed to be as God-like as humanly possible. Someone has to do a great deal in the name of the Church (and God) just to be considered for canonization. It’s sort of like the U.S. Medal of Honor, except the Church doesn’t acknowledge the recipient may have killed some folks along the way. More importantly, Medal of Honor recipients don’t try to convince people they’re above humanity.

In the 18th century, Serra established one of the first Christian missions in what is now the state of California. I’ve always proudly announced that Spaniards were the first Europeans to colonize the American Southwest; building entire communities. But I’m just as quick to acknowledge the other side of the epic tale: the indigenous peoples of the same region often fell victim to the violence and oppression Europeans brought in their hunger for land and precious metals. When Spain’s Queen Isabella, who funded Christopher Columbus’ voyages and who’s also one of my direct ancestors, learned that her minions were torturing and killing the Indians, she ordered them to stop – which they did. She then ordered them to begin trying to convert the Indians to Christianity – which they did. Then Isabella died, and the slaughter continued. The brutality was almost as bad as that imposed by British and French royalty who had no problems killing those people who either didn’t catch the flu and died or dropped to their knees and started praying to Jesus. In America’s infancy, many White Christians held a concept called “Manifest Destiny.” Some still do.

Francis proclaimed Serra “one of the founding fathers of the United States” and praised his willingness to abandon the comforts of his native Spain to spread Christianity in the Americas. Absent in the virtual deification is the fact that Serra was a tool in a brutal colonial system that killed thousands of Native Americans and subjugated thousands of others who didn’t perish. In August, the California state senate voted to replace a statue of Serra with one of a truly heroic figure: the late astronaut Sally Ride, a California native who was the first American woman in space. You know that had to piss off the Vatican elite. A woman given higher status than a male missionary?! How dare they!

Naturally Francis didn’t address the Native American holocaust; the longest-lasting and most far-reaching genocide in human history. Instead, he said that, when it comes to Christian missionaries, we must “examine their strengths and, above all, their weaknesses and shortcomings.” In other words: we don’t give a shit how you people feel.

 

The Pedophile Scandal

In June of 1985, American Roman Catholic bishops held their annual conference in Colorado. There, they were presented with a report entitled “The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy: Meeting the Problem in a Comprehensive and Responsible Manner.” Labeled “confidential,” the massive document was prepared just as the church was dealing with the case of Gilbert J. Gauthe, a priest in Lafayette, Louisiana who had been convicted of child molestation. While we now know the pedophile priest scandal stretches back for decades, the Gauthe case is where the madness first came to light. Revelations about what the Church knew and when shocked and horrified the Catholic faithful. That the Church tried to cover up the scandal by spiriting its gallery of child rapists from one diocese to another – a sort of ecumenical Witness Protection Program – initially seems unimaginable. But, with its vast financial resources and entrenched role as a global powerhouse, I’m not the least bit surprised. Like any international conglomerate, the Church didn’t want to concede it was wrong; opting instead, to pay out millions to keep the loudmouths quiet.

There’s no amount of money that can make up for the pedophile scourge. The damage has been done. This is not a 1950s-era TV show where mom dents the car, and the kids stumble around trying to keep dad from finding out. Francis grudgingly acknowledged the pedophile conundrum during his visit to the U.S. by meeting privately with a handful of victims and proclaiming that “God weeps” at the sexual abuse of children. I guess God weeps when old fuckers like Francis couch their disdain for talking about it publicly by using such generalized terminology. I say this because Francis also praised American bishops for how they confronted the scandal and told priests he felt their pain. For the record, the Roman Catholic Church never confronted this scandal, until U.S. law enforcement got involved. And the priests certainly aren’t the ones who endured any pain – unless it was pain from handcuffs that were too tight or soreness from sitting in a chair for hours, while giving a deposition. But I don’t feel that qualifies.

In the myriad dreams my writer’s psyche produces, the disintegration of the Roman Catholic Church is one of the grandest. But it’s still a dream. We’re talking about an institution nearly two millennia years of age. It’s the foundation of all Christianity – something evangelicals are loathe to admit. It’s not going away anytime soon, unless a comet strikes the Earth or every super volcano on the planet erupts simultaneously. With his soft voice and impish smile, Francis may have convinced a number of people he’s a pope unlike any other; a man wanting to bring the Church into the modern age. After all, he has a Twitter account!

Social media savvy or not, I see the same ruse. I see the same hypocrisy. I see the same figurehead. I see the same wicked entity. It just won’t change for the better. It can’t. It’s deceived too many souls.

 

Image courtesy J. Belmont.

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Doctorate in Dumbass

Alleged proof that humans and dinosaurs lived and played together.

Alleged proof that humans and dinosaurs lived and played together.

As if the state of Texas hasn’t embarrassed itself enough by keeping Rick Perry in the governor’s office for nearly 14 years and electing the maniacally right-wing Ted Cruz to a prominent U.S. Senate seat, we now have this gem. The Institution for Creation Research, which has been attempting to educate people about the veracity of the Christian Bible through scientific research since its founding in 1970, is now making an even more concerted effort at validating the Genesis story of “Creation.” Nine Ph.D.-bearing individuals from such esteemed institutions as Harvard University and the Los Alamos National Laboratory assert that Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution are nonsense, with no basis in fact, and that the universe was created by God between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.

“Our attempt is to demonstrate that the Bible is accurate, not just religiously authoritative,” said Henry Morris III, CEO of ICR, a nonprofit with 49 staff members and an annual budget of roughly $7 million. “The rationale behind it is this: if God really does exist, he shouldn’t be lying to us. And if he’s lying to us right off the bat in the book of Genesis, we’ve got some real problems.”

Yea, if God lies, then you know we’re all in trouble. ICR rightfully notes that most non-religious institutions in the U.S. have taught the theory of evolution for nearly a hundred years now. But, they complain it’s been a lopsided deal; no other theory of how the Earth and its inhabitants came into existence has been presented. The frustration gave birth to a new educational forum: creation science.

ICR argues – among other things – that humans lived among dinosaurs; Noah really did build a massive vessel in advance of a catastrophic global flood; and the Grand Canyon formed in months, not over millions of years.

“Most Christians are like most people,” Morris said. “They don’t want to be thought of as weird. They don’t want to go against the majority.”

ICR highlights discrepancies in scientific proclamations, or conflicts within what they consider to be purely hypothetical statements. For example, Jason Lisle, an astrophysicist and ICR researcher, points to the “spiral winding problem” as proof that galaxies cannot be billions of years old. If stars had been bouncing around for billions of years, he says, they’d look more like CDs than what we see through telescopes, which are hurricane-shaped spirals. Another problem, he believes, lies with oceans. They should be more salty, if they were billions of years old. Finally, there’s the inescapable dinosaur quandary; if dinosaur bones actually were millions of years old, Lisle proclaims, paleontologists wouldn’t be able to recover traces of soft tissue from them.

I personally believe in a “Great Creator,” but that’s just my belief. I have no proof. There is proof of the sun and the moon and radiocarbon dating, which should lay a lot of this nonsense to rest. But, it doesn’t. People will believe whatever they want, and that’s their right. Trying to make a science out of it, however, moves the discussion into another realm.

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Happy Easter!

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“A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.”

Mahatma Gandhi

“Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.”

Samuel Logan Brengle

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Repairing Jesus’ Birthplace

Visitors light candles in the Church of the Nativity.

Visitors light candles in the Church of the Nativity.

Christian lore has it that Jesus was born in a manger in the city of Bethlehem and ultimately died to bring peace and joy to the world.  Looking at the centuries-old violence that has plagued the region now called the Middle East, it seems to have been in vain.  But, Palestinian authorities have set aside their animosity for outsiders by allowing a handful of Italian craftsmen to begin much-needed repairs to the roof of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which dates to the 4th century A.D.  Water leaks, seismic activity and general weather conditions have taken a toll on a structure classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The church’s pine and cedar timbers are up to 800 years old and its deteriorating roof was donated by England’s King Edward IV in 1479.

“It’s very emotional to work here,” says Marcello Piacenti, head of a family business that is rejuvenating the structure; something his clan has being doing for six generations.

Workers are applying protective gauze to gold-leaf mosaics, while technicians examine the church’s wooden trusses for hidden damage.

As one might expect, there are internal clashes over the structure’s care.  Monks from Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian churches have disputed who has authority to clean and repair the church.  The three dominions manage the building under a tense arrangement that seems to mirror the overall Middle East conflict.  You’d think they’d know better.

Finally, in 2009, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, fearing the church might collapse, issued a decree to repair the church.  That brought some agreement among its proprietors, and Piacenti’s company was called in to help.

Whatever religious disputes anyone has, I can only hope they drop all that friction and realize how important the church is.  Christian or not, it is a piece of history and it needs to be preserved.

Lieu de naissance de Jésus : l’église de la Nativité et la route de pèlerinage, Bethléem

Lieu de naissance de Jésus : l’église de la Nativité et la route de pèlerinage, Bethléem

Lieu de naissance de Jésus : l’église de la Nativité et la route de pèlerinage, Bethléem

Le Lieu de naissance de Jésus : l’église de la Nativité et la route de pèlerinage, Bethléem

Lieu de naissance de Jésus : l’église de la Nativité et la route de pèlerinage, Bethléem

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Save the Boys, Damn the Religion!

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Where was the outrage?

Last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) reported that, between November of 2000 and December of 2011, eleven infant boys in the New York City area developed herpes infections following orthodox Jewish circumcision rituals.  In keeping with religious tradition, every infant male born into the Jewish faith undergoes a bris, or brit milah, on the 8th day of life, during which the foreskin of his penis is removed.  The cleric, a mohel, often dabs the infant’s lips with a drop of wine supposedly to numb the pain before performing the ritual.  In the rare cases when the baby is born without a foreskin – a condition called aposthia – or if he was circumcised outside of the standard bris ceremony, the mohel performs a symbolic circumcision called a hatafat dam brit in which he pricks the head of the infant’s penis to draw a drop of blood.  All of this is done in accordance with Jewish scripture, Genesis 17:10-14 and Leviticus 12:3, which Abraham, the founder of Judaism, allegedly wrote.  Orthodox Jews, like many staunchly religious people, view their faith as an unmitigated commandment that should not be questioned.

No one knows if Abraham considered the possibility of herpes infections.  But, during some of these ultra-orthodox rituals, the mohel often performs metzitzah b’peh, or oral suction, to minimize blood loss.  In other words, he sucks on the baby’s penis, while family members and others stand around in quiet observation.  I believe, in keeping with contemporary federal law, that’s called pedophilia and – regardless of one’s religious affiliations – it’s a felonious criminal offense.

Health officials have known for years that herpes infections can be detrimental to newborns.  Because of their undeveloped immune systems, babies born to women infected with genital herpes (herpes simplex type 2) can develop fevers, seizures and / or blindness.  Death is not uncommon among these infants.  Herpes simplex type 1 usually causes blisters on the mouth, lips or eyes; otherwise known as cold sores.  Of the 11 aforementioned New York cases, 10 of the babies were hospitalized; at least 2 developed brain damage, and 2 others died.

In December of 2005, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg – tiptoeing through the minefield of religious sensibilities – issued a letter to the local Jewish community warning of the health risks of metzitzah b’peh and politely asked rabbis to cease the practice.  Religious leaders scoffed at the notion, insisting that the ritual was perfectly safe.  As usual, they claimed religious freedom and vowed to fight any attempts to ban it.

Such cases may be rare, but I noticed no demands were made of New York’s Jewish community to stop putting their infants at risk; no threats of prosecution; no criminal charges – nothing but courteous requests to think about what they were doing.  Had those infants been girls, I realized, Bloomberg himself would have rounded up every religious leader and every parent and thrown them in jail.  But, since male circumcision has become such an insidious element of pediatric care in the U.S. and since violence against males – even infant males – is socially acceptable here, no one seemed to notice.

Religious freedom – like free speech and voting – is one of the hallmarks of American society.  It’s a critical feature of any civilized state.  But, I have to wonder how the public would react to infant females contracting genital herpes following some archaic religious ceremony.  Would the local mayor merely ask religious leaders to stop and just hope for the best?  Where, in fact, was the media outrage over the 2012 CDCP report?  Why is that people seem to think it’s okay that baby boys aren’t just being cut up in the name of religion, but dying because of it?

Male circumcision is primarily associated with Judaism, but it’s also a sacred rite among Muslims.  Unlike Jews, however, Muslims wait until their sons are older to perform the ritual – usually between the ages of 6 and 11.  But, its origins in the Islamic faith, however, are unclear.  It’s mentioned in the hadith (sayings from the profit Mohammed), but not in the Quran.  Circumcision is not considered a religious rite among Christians, even though the “Gospel of Luke” states that Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth.  Circumcision was also considered a rite of passage among some African and Indigenous Australian groups where it was viewed as a pathway to manhood for boys.

A purported circumcision from the Temple of Khonspekhrod in Luxor, Egypt, c. 1360 B.C.

A purported circumcision from the Temple of Khonspekhrod in Luxor, Egypt, c. 1360 B.C.

Male circumcision was once virtually unknown in the United States.  Early proponents were doctors who believed it would prevent male sexual deviants from committing further crimes, such as rape and pedophilia; others included homosexuality in that evil repertoire.  Circumcision was even recommended for men charged with adultery and to stop boys from masturbating.  This was during a time when physicians believed human sexuality (and its various perversions) were strictly tied to genitalia.  In 1858, for example, the European medical community urged clitoridectomies to overcome frigidity and hysteria in women.  In 1891, England’s Royal College of Surgeons published On Circumcision as Preventative of Masturbation.  Around the same time, John Harvey Kellogg, a nutritionist and self-proclaimed sexual advisor, developed his corn flakes cereal as a means to prevent children from masturbating.  Kellogg believed masturbation – then often called onanism or self-pollution – caused insanity and, if left unchecked, could be fatal.  He even suggested threading silver wire through the foreskins of young boys to prevent them from getting erections and therefore, stamp out their sexual urges.  He also came up with the idea of injecting some of his patients with yogurt enemas to cleanse their intestinal tracts.  Fortunately, neither of these latter two practices caught on with the American public.

Neither did circumcision.  That began to change, however, after World War II.  Much of it has been credited to the rapid influx of Jewish immigrants fleeing Nazi-riddled Europe.  But, a growing body of medical practitioners had already begun to urge circumcision of newborn boys as a means of preventing penile cancer later in life.  In 1932, Abraham Leo Wolbarst, [Circumcision and penile cancer. Lancet 1932; 1: 150-153], published a review of 1,103 cases of penile cancer in the U.S. and noted that none occurred among Jews.  He cited similar figures from Europe and pointed out that Muslim men who had been circumcised as pre-teen boys were less likely to develop penile cancer.  A 1935 report entitled “Epithelioma of the Penis,” published in the Journal of Urology, [Dean AL Jr. Epithelioma of the penis. J Urol 1935; 33: 252-283], seemed to confirm those findings with an analysis of a mere 120 penile cancer victims at New York’s Memorial Hospital: none were Jews.  Circumcision among adult males began to increase throughout the 1930s.

Detail of Friedrich Herlin’s 1466 depiction the circumcision of Jesus, “Twelve Apostles Altar.”

Detail of Friedrich Herlin’s 1466 depiction of the circumcision of Jesus, “Twelve Apostles Altar.”

Then, in 1946, various reports started coming out in the U.S. claiming that men returning home from World War II, especially those who’d served in North Africa, were suffering from penile cancer.  These men, some medical professionals supposedly observed, had gone for long periods without bathing and, for the uncircumcised ones, this culminated in a build-up of smegma; which in turn, developed into penile cancer.  It is true that many of those servicemen were uncircumcised and had gone without bathing for lengthy stretches.  But, they weren’t suddenly afflicted with penile cancer.  Instead, many of them were suffering from venereal diseases, mainly syphilis.  It’s quite plausible to assume many of them, happy that the relentless war had finally ended, celebrated by patronizing local brothels before returning home.  Yet, the unsubstantiated claims of a sudden outbreak of penile cancer nonetheless launched a movement and circumcisions of newborn males began occurring at a rapid pace.  By the mid-1950s, up to 90% of newborn American boys were circumcised; thus making it the most common surgical practice in the country.  By the early 1960s, some health insurance companies began reimbursing doctors for circumcisions, thus invoking a profit motive.  Some hospitals started performing circumcisions without the parents’ knowledge or consent – and then charging them for it.  In the early 1980s, the rate of newborn male circumcisions began to drop; albeit slowly, and continued dropping.  By 2010, the rate stood at roughly 40% in the U.S. – the first time it was below 50% in over half a century.

Preventing penile cancer is perhaps the top myth related to male circumcision.  As with anything, the truth often gets lost amidst the rancor of popular opinion and uncertain medical advice.  Tell a lie often enough, as the saying goes, and people start to believe it.  But, here are the facts, starting with that number one lie:

Myth:  It prevents penile cancer.

Fact:  Penile cancer is one of the rarest forms of carcinoma known to humanity.  Worldwide penile cancer accounts for about 0.2% of all cancers in men.  In the U.S., it accounts for some 0.1% of all cancers in men, or about 1 man in 100,000.  Men are actually more likely to die from a rare form of male breast cancer than penile cancer.  Even in other developed nations, such as England and Japan, where male circumcision is uncommon, penile cancer is actually more rare.

After years of intense medical analyses with various groups of men, no doctor has been able to prove conclusively that intact foreskins are linked directly to penile cancer.  Doctors do know that the number one cause of penile cancer is the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is spread through unprotected and often frequent sex.  Poor diet, obesity and nicotine consumption are other contributing factors.

Myth:  It prevents cervical cancer in men’s female partners.  This is another top reason provided for male circumcision.

Fact:  As with penile cancer, HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer, with poor diet, obesity and nicotine consumption listed as other risk factors.  Up until the mid-1950s, cervical cancer was one of the leading causes of cancer deaths among women in the U.S.  But, physicians don’t credit the increase in male circumcisions for the decline; rather, they point to the increased prevalence of pre-cancerous screenings (Pap smears) and greater attention to women’s overall gynecological health.

Circumcising males to protect females may be politically correct, but it’s morally unethical and medically impractical.  You don’t safeguard one group of people by violating the basic human rights of another.  Even if all men are circumcised, venereal diseases can still be spread through unprotected sex.  As with the number of pregnancies and births, the rates of venereal disease infections drop when women are empowered with information.  Women in developed countries, for example, have on average 2 children; while women in developing nations have as many as 5 children.

Myth:  It minimizes the risk of venereal disease transmissions.

Fact:  The term “minimize” is often substituted for the term “prevent,” but the misunderstanding can be dangerous.  Even though most males born in the U.S. from the 1950s to the 1970s were circumcised, the rates of sexually transmitted diseases increased exponentially during that same time period.  Gonorrhea was one of the biggest culprits, with 193 reported cases per 100,000 individuals in 1950; and 442 reported cases per 100,000 individuals in 1980.  Syphilis actually experienced a dramatic decrease: 642 reported cases per 100,000 individuals in 1950; and 60 reported cases per 100,000 individuals in 1980.  The key term, of course is “reported.”  Even now, though, both those ailments remain the most commonly-transmitted venereal diseases.  (Health, United States, 2010, U.S. Health and Human Services, Trend Tables: Table 44, p. 212.)

Genital herpes exploded from an average annual 5% infection rate in the late 1960s to about 30% by 1980Chlamydia, which was rare before 1990, saw 1.4 million cases in the U.S. in 2011.  Hepatitis B has also been tenuously linked to male circumcision.  Scientists identified Hepatitis B as a separate strain in 1955 and discovered it could be sexually transmitted in 1975; the same year they identified Hepatitis C, which they initially called “non-A, non-B.”  Until the 1970s, Hepatitis B had been dubbed the “druggies’ disease” because it primarily infected intravenous drug users.  In the 1980s, Hepatitis B became linked with another growing epidemic, another consequence of the sexual revolution: AIDS.  And, that in turn, has now metamorphosed into yet another ruse for circumcision.

In recent years, some epidemiologists have claimed that circumcision minimizes the spread of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections.  Much of this is based on a controlled study of 5,534 uncircumcised, HIV-positive Ugandan men, beginning in 2002.  Doctors convinced the men (all of whom identified as heterosexual) to get circumcised.  None of the physicians believed the men would be cured of HIV, but they wanted to see if the men developed higher T-cell counts once their foreskins were removed.  As often happens, things looked great on paper, but didn’t go as planned once put into action.  Many of the men – believing they’d been cured of HIV – began having unprotected sex; others disappeared from the control group, so doctors couldn’t track their activities.  Still, the doctors insisted the study showed promise; claiming that circumcision reduced a man’s risk of acquiring HIV by as much as 60%.  But, to me, the concept of a bunch of mostly White, mostly female European and American physicians urging a cluster of uneducated, basically illiterate Black men to have their penises mutilated seems as racist and sexist as it does immoral.

Myth:  It prevents urinary tract infections (UTI), especially in male children.

Fact:  The medical community can’t seem to make up its mind on this one.  On average, about 5% of girls and 2% of boys will develop a UTI.  Between 1971 and 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics published 5 policy statements on the circumcision of boys in relation to UTIs and could find no credible evidence of a direct correlation.  In other words, circumcision didn’t prevent UTIs in boys.  In 1986, however, they still noted the procedure “has potential medical benefits.”  Then, in 1999, they reversed course and didn’t recommend it.

An analysis of 136,086 boys born at U.S. Army hospitals from 1980 to 1985 showed that 100,157 were circumcised.  Of those, 193 experienced complications related to the procedure; that apparently included UTIs.  Of the 35,929 uncircumcised infants, 88 (or .24%) developed UTIs.  It’s obvious infants develop UTIs because they can’t control their bladder and therefore, can’t clean themselves.

There is only one legitimate medical reason for circumcision: phimosis, which is the inability of the foreskin to be retracted.  The condition can lead to inflammation of the penile glans and urinary tract infections.  Occasionally, topical ointments such as hydrocortisone can relieve the tightness of the skin and subsequent inflammation.  But, more practically, removal or loosening of the foreskin is appropriate.  Still, on average, only about 1% of boys are born with or develop this condition.

Another medical reason often given for circumcision is prevention of balanitis, which is inflammation of the penile glans.  This usually occurs in uncircumcised men, but is traced to one primary cause: poor hygiene.  Severe balanitis requires more aggressive treatments, such as antibiotic pills or steroid creams.  But, it’s amazing what regular hygienic habits can accomplish.  Simple hand-washing, for example, can reduce the risk of respiratory-associated infections by up to 16% and reduce the risk of diarrheal disease-associated deaths by up to 50%.

Yet another explanation often given to justify circumcision is purely aesthetic: it allegedly makes the penis look better.  That, of course, is a personal opinion, but not enough to warrant mandatory foreskin removal.  I’ve entered into a number of debates about this one in particular; often with women who would scream if I suggested they have a surgical procedure done to meet what I think is my own definition of beauty.  Any woman who thinks the uncircumcised penis looks ugly needs to hold a mirror up to her own crotch; the female genitalia isn’t exactly a work of art either.  Human genitalia altogether isn’t built for appearance; it’s built for function.  You don’t look at it; you work with it.

Then, there’s the presence of smegma – the nasty buildup of dead skin cells beneath the foreskin.  It’s primary cause?  Once again, poor hygiene.  For most uncircumcised men, hygiene is a simple matter, like breathing – we retract the foreskin and clean ourselves.  Any uncircumcised man who doesn’t engage in this most basic of behavior has far more problems than the inability to reach for soap and water.

If circumcision truly prevented penile or cervical cancers, then perhaps we should mandate, or at least strongly recommend, that women have double mastectomies once they pass their child-bearing years to avoid breast cancer.  Despite recent medical advances and awareness, breast cancer remains the number one killer of women in the U.S.  For that matter, we should mandate adult males have prostatectomies to avoid prostate cancer, which is the third greatest cause of carcinoma-related deaths of men in the U.S.  (Lung cancer is the top killer, but I don’t think mandatory thoracotomies would be practical.)

Appendicitis is much more common than penile cancer, and since the appendix serves absolutely no purpose in the human body, appendectomies could save valuable time and money.  Tonsillitis is a common affliction in children, but doctors still don’t perform tonsillectomies as a preemptive measure.  Wisdom teeth often become impacted and necessitate removal, but again, doctors don’t seem to automatically mandate it.

Global_Map_of_Male_Circumcision_Prevalence_at_Country_Level

Unlike so-called female circumcision, calls to ban male circumcision have been met with hostility from people who suddenly develop an affection for religious freedom.  The loudest voices have come from the Jewish community; many of whom will use any excuse to play the victim.  When a handful of Muslim groups protested that banning female circumcision violated their religious freedoms, human rights activists paid no attention.  In that regard, protecting the health and safety of infant and toddler females trumped the religious ideologies of their parents.  A number of countries rightfully passed laws outlawing the practice, including the U.S.  When it comes to males, however, that religious freedom issue abruptly rears its ugly head and suddenly takes precedence over the rights of the child.

In 1996, then Congresswoman Pat Schroeder of Colorado proposed the Female Genital Mutilation Prevention Act (FGMPA) to outlaw female circumcision in the U.S.  It didn’t seem to matter that the ritual never had been practiced here, or most anywhere in the developed world.  The FGMPA passed unanimously, and then-President Bill Clinton signed it into law.  I’d never even heard of female circumcision until the early 1990’s, when human rights advocates started complaining about the thousands of girls suffering and dying in isolated parts of Africa and Asia.  For a much longer period, however, others had been complaining about the savagery of male circumcision and the fact that boys are suffering and dying as well.  The same devout Muslims who practice female circumcision in Africa and Asia also practice male circumcision – with the same level of barbarity; no anesthesia, no sterilization and no post-operative medical care.  With each child – female or male – they just cut off part of the flesh.  But, as in the developed world, the deaths and injuries suffered by males are ignored.  It is truly a gender-bias abomination.  But, in the politically correct universe of 1990’s America, that didn’t seem to matter; thus, the FGMPA became law without question and remains law, even though female circumcision was never practiced in the U.S. or any other developed nation.

In 2011, two California cities – San Francisco and Santa Monica – proposed to ban male circumcision.  In both cases, the issue reached the state legislature where Assemblyman Mike Gatto reacted by introducing a bill that would prevent any municipality in California from outlawing the procedure.  Ultimately, supporters of the ban in both cities experienced disenfranchisement.  In San Francisco, voters defeated the measure at the ballot box in November of 2011.  In Santa Monica, those who had proposed the anti-circumcision measure merely withdrew it from consideration.

In July of 2012, the German government backed away from its sweeping proposal to ban male circumcision.  Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Jewish and Muslim groups will be allowed to circumcise their sons in accordance with their respective religious beliefs.

The 11 cases highlighted in the 2012 CDCP report aren’t really anomalies.  Every year in the U.S., about 100 infant and toddler boys die due to botched circumcision procedures, which include complications from administration of anesthesia.  Some say the number sometimes reaches 300, but actual statistics are difficult to ascertain.  I’m quite certain if 100 to 300 infant or toddler girls were dying from botched medical procedures, the practice would have been outlawed without question, no matter whose religion was offended.  If 100 to 300 adult females died annually from a botched cosmetic procedure, it definitely would have been outlawed!

It’s shocking to think that infant male circumcision is the most common surgical practice performed in the United States, but it has been for over six decades.  Even with the rash of weight reduction surgeries and face lifts in recent years, removing the foreskins of baby boys still ranks number one among cosmetic procedures.  But, the adverse effects of those circumcisions are conveniently left out of the debate.

Almost every year for nearly three decades, a bill simply titled the “Male Genital Mutilation Bill” has been presented to the U.S. Congress.  And, every year it never comes up for discussion.  It goes back to the cloak of religious freedom, and the grip it has on society.

When people make medical decisions based on religious ideology, other people – usually infants and children – often die.  In medieval Europe, the Roman Catholic Church often punished as heretics any medical practitioner who tried to ease the difficulties of pregnancy and childbirth; the Church believed women had to suffer for the sins of “Eve.”  Even now, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) forces women and girls to endure the agony of childbirth because of Eve’s alleged transgressions.  When the “Black Death” struck 14th century Europe, the Roman Catholic Church pointed to Jews as the culprits.  As we now know, of course, the “Black Death” was the bubonic plague, which is a virus transmitted by fleas that live on rats and other animals.  The lack of hygiene among medieval Europeans and the fact they often slept in the same quarters as their animals contributed to the virus’ spread.  Jews were saved mostly because they often washed their hands before preparing food and engaged in other such ghastly habits like bathing more than once a year.

Just recently, a measles outbreak in Fort Worth, Texas has been traced to an evangelical Christian church where members refused vaccinations of any kind.  When some in the congregation returned from overseas proselytizing trips infected with the highly contagious disease, leaders prescribed prayer instead of medicine.  Now, 21 people in two counties have been diagnosed with measles.

I realize it’s difficult to alter religious ardor.  People tell me Jews and Muslims should be allowed to circumcise their sons because they’ve been doing it for centuries.  Well, for centuries, slavery was considered perfectly acceptable.  Blatant racism was a factor of American life from its beginning; something that changed only in recent decades.  That, in and of itself, ties into the enslavement of the first African-Americans; their contemporary European counterparts believed slavery was mandated by the Bible.  In the 19th century, White Americans concocted the philosophy of “Manifest Destiny” to forge westward across North America, which obligated them to destroy any darkness and savagery they encountered; meaning, of course, God commanded them to kill any heathenous Indians who got in their way.

As a former Roman Catholic devotee – an altar boy at that! – I once believed in the concept of “original sin” and the story of creationism.  Then, I saw the light and divorced myself from such ludicrous ideology – a sacrilege unto itself in the Church.  The Church’s disrespectful treatment of women was the real catalyst for my departure from its ranks of the blind faithful.  Roman Catholicism – and all branches of Christianity – has always taught that women were second-class citizens; another by-product of Eve’s wickedness.  Even now, the Church forbids birth control; believing everyone should procreate whether they like it or not.  The Church naturally doesn’t feel obligated to provide financing for those procreative results.

When human rights clashes with religious freedom, religion needs to take a back seat – always and forever, no exceptions.  I don’t care about anyone’s religious affiliation – Jew, Christian, Muslim, whatever – infants have more of a right to have their bodies left intact than their parents or their communities have to practice a certain philosophy.  If all of Judaism or Islam collapse because parents won’t be able to carve up their sons’ penises, then that would be a good thing.  Religion has been a great oppressor throughout human history.  Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in particular, have been the worst offenders; more people have been maimed and murdered because of those three religions than any other human construct.  It’s still happening even now.

And again, with 11 newborn babies infected with herpes, I ask – where was the outrage?

Attorneys for the Rights of the Child

International Coalition for Genital Integrity

MGMbill.org

Jews Against Circumcision

Mothers Against Circumcision

Nurses for the Rights of the Child

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Why I Believe in Jesus – But Not Christianity

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Anyone who knows me personally, or through my writings, is often surprised when I say I revere Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  They’re surprised because I usually keep that quiet.  My faith in Jesus is a private matter – as I think all such convictions should be.  The glaring opulence of the Roman Catholic Church, for example, sours me almost as bad as their overt disrespect for women.  The overt arrogance and verbosity of people like Pat Robertson, Robert Schuller and their ilk literally makes me nauseous.

I know I sound like a Tim Tebow acolyte.  But, I have about as much reverence for sports and entertainment figures as I do politicians and televangelists.  In fact, devoutly religious people usually chew up most of my nerves.  They have the tendency to shove their ideology in my face and think they know what’s best for me.  For as long as I can remember, the faithful have asked me to accompany them to (their) church.  Yes, I appreciate their concern for my well-being, but I don’t need it that badly.  Baptists and Pentecostals are among the most aggressive, but Catholics are not that much better.

In February of 1998, my father’s oldest sister, Amparo, died after an extended illness.  She’d been hospitalized for a month, before her frail body finally gave out.  Her death hit our family hard.  She was one of the strongest people any of us had ever known.  She helped care for me when I was a boy.  In fact, Amparo cared for most everyone else in our family; taking her older brother to cancer treatments in the mid-1980s, for example, because no one else – not even his own wife and adult children – could find the time.  Her burial instructions were straightforward: just throw her in a box, toss it into the ground, say a prayer or two and go on with our lives.  And, that’s just what we did.  There was no long, drawn-out rosary preceding an equally long, drawn-out funeral.  We had a brief service at the mausoleum, a quick internment, and then, we were gone.

When I told one of my closest friends, he was surprised to learn there had been no rosary, as Hispanic Catholics are prone to do.  “Oh, oh,” he moaned ominously.  “I hate to tell you this, but your aunt’s chances of getting into Heaven are slim.”

I became instantly enraged.  “How do you know?!” I screamed at him.  Amparo’s commitment to her family far outweighed the pious proclamations of my friend; someone who actually practiced voodoo for a short time in the 1980s, before reverting back to Catholicism.  That one statement almost ended our long friendship.

But, it’s that sort of self-righteousness – the sense of ‘I-know-what-God-wants-better-than-you’ – that sends me into epileptic fits.  I once worked with a woman who often wore a gold ‘Jesus Loves Me’ pin – while strutting about the office talking behind people’s backs and speaking in a condescending tone to others.  I’m just not one to proselytize.  Thus, it’s a stretch for me to express my personal beliefs about Jesus even in this forum.

There’s really no concrete proof that Jesus was little more than an influential philosopher from what is now Israel.  But, I feel that He was a real person; someone who lived a short life, yet has had a grand impact on the world.  I also believe Jesus has manifested Himself in other forms and in other faiths to a variety of people.  But, they’re just that – beliefs.  I never profess to know for certain who Jesus was or what He plans to do.

Some folks have this vision of Jesus arriving on a gilded chariot, amidst a cacophony of trumpets, and sweeping them up into His arms for eternal safekeeping.  They’re certain they know what Jesus will do – and that they’ll be right there with Him.  These are the same people who’ll be horrified when science discovers the center of the universe – and they’re not it!

Here’s something else I believe: the “Second Coming” means Christ will return to Earth, look around at the mess created by many of His devoted followers, and say, “You know, I had a really good idea about love and harmony 2,000 years ago, and you people just fucked it all up.  BAM!”  And, that’s how the world as we know it will end.

If Jesus should return to Earth anytime soon, I’m certain He won’t make his way to visit Pope Francis.  We won’t see Him having dinner with Mitt Romney or tea with Queen Elizabeth.  No, I’m almost positive – if we do catch a glimpse of Him – he’d be on the streets of places like South Dallas, trying to convince prostitutes life has more to offer than streetwalking.  We’d see Him in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, telling kids not to sniff glue; or in the deserts of the Middle East, ordering angry young men to put down their rocket launchers.  He might even show up at an atheists’ convention – if they have such things.  Wherever He’ll be, He won’t be cavorting with the faithful – the so-called “Chosen Ones.”  No, He’d be with the lost souls; the “Forgotten Ones”; the folks the rest of allegedly civilized society declares unworthy and unsaved.

On this Easter Sunday, I only wish for a few simple things – like a few more years with my parents and my dog; to get my novel published; to live as long and healthy of a life as I can.  Yes, I wish for peace on Earth and for the blind to see.  But, those are such grand aspirations.  I can’t save the world alone.  Neither can any one person.  Yes, it may seem strange to many, but I don’t care.  I have little respect for a religion called Christianity, or most other religions for that matter.  But, I still have faith in someone named Jesus.

Jesus_098

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