Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.
— Philippians 3:2
The Hebrew word katatomē literally translates as a 'cutting off' or 'mutilation'. In using this word to describe the time-honoured Jewish practice of milah (circumcision) or more reverently bris milah (covenant of circumcision) Paul is deliberately drawing attention to the physical act of violence done to the male body in the name of faithfulness. The true covenant, says Paul, cannot be achieved by such means, but only through faith in Jesus Christ. The way Jews use circumcision, Paul implies, is little more than (what today we'd call) virtue signalling. Empty gesture, backed up neither by substance, nor meaningful action.
That circumcision, more accurately named genital mutilation, is still a practice in the world today is beyond extraordinary. In some cultures not only is male genital mutilation (MGM) practiced but so also is female genital mutilation (FGM). It is to the UK's credit that FGM is outlawed, but when reading the reasons (no medical reason, it's child abuse, very painful, creates immediate health problems, and long-term problems with sex and mental health)1 we must wonder why MGM is not equally outlawed for exactly the same reasons. Both are violent practices, with zero health benefits, and a great number of appalling side effects.2 The only excuse for this practice is religion, and that is no valid excuse at all. It is to the great shame of those Jewish and Islamic societies—and also secular societies such as UK and even more so the USA—and their rulers that genital mutilation is still so widely practiced and so normalised. It speaks volumes about the inherent violence of our world, a violence that Jesus came to warn us about, and ask us to rethink our ways. Two thousand years on we still cannot hear the message, not even this glaringly obvious bit.
Paul was centuries ahead of his time in his thinking here. Circumcision is mutilation for show alone, with no benefit, he tells us, and it has nothing to do with faith. And if that message alone isn't enough, Paul tells us that the act is carried out by dogs and evil-doers, that is, people with pack mentality, violent self-servers unable to think for themselves or discern right from wrong, and those who would deliberately set out to harm us. And yet we listen to such people, even today. Why?