Circumcision: A Sign of Manhood?

Summer—according to meteorologists, this season extends for the whole months of June, July, and August in the northern hemisphere and the whole months of December, January, and February in the southern hemisphere. However, here in the Philippines, our summer extends for the whole months of March, April, and May. This is because (1) these are the hottest months of the year and (2) these are the months where schools take a break, thus, students a can enjoy their vacation and spend time with their families going to beaches and resorts. Although, for boys that are pre-adolescent, something else awaits them—circumcision.

In the Philippines, most people consider circumcision as a very serious tradition. That a boy will not become a real man unless he is cut. This kind of thinking has been with many men—an even women—for decades, and they ridicule, discriminate, and even frown upon those who are uncut and have passed the age of being circumcised (in the Philippines, it is ideal that a boy gets cut at the age of ten to twelve, thirteen being the latest). But can a boy be a man even being uncut? What is the real significance of circumcision?

Prevalence and Origin of Circumcision in the Philippines

According to a previous report, about 93 percent of Filipino males are circumcised—a rate much higher than for the rest of world, as the World Health Organization reports that only 30 percent to 33 percent of males fifteen years and above are circumcised. This tradition has been part of the Filipino culture that, at some point, uncircumcised males are being called names and made fun of publicly.

Many believe that the Spaniards brought circumcision to the Philippines when they introduced Roman Catholicism to the country; however, circumcision is not a religious requirement of Roman Catholicism. Some Filipinos might even be surprised and incredulous that some of the popes—if not all—were uncircumcised. There is a theory that the prevalence of the rite is due to Islam (wherein circumcision is an obligatory religious practice), which arrived in the islands at least two hundred years before the wake of Christianity in the country.

Circumcision: A Biblical Command and a Sign of Christianity?

Another reason that many—especially religious households and parents—require their sons to undergo the process is that they argue that circumcision being a biblical command; and as Christians, they should follow the same. Is circumcision really biblical? Yes, but it is not a requirement for everyone.

In Genesis 17:11, we read: “You must get circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it must serve as a sign of the covenant between me and you.” Now, these words were spoken by God to Abraham, and certainly, God did not mean to say that Abraham has transitioned from boyhood to manhood as he was ninety-nine years old at that time. God commanded Abraham to undergo circumcision as a sign of the covenant that he made between himself and Abraham; thus, in God’s eyes, circumcision had nothing to do with manhood—it was performed to indicate that a person belonged to the Israelite descendants of Abraham, who were privileged to be “entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God” (Romans 3:1, 2).

Is there, though, an account in the Christian Greek Scripture (New Testament) that supports this argument—that God does not view circumcision as a sign of manhood and that it is not a requirement of the Christian faith? Yes, there is.

When the time came that the nation of Israel proved unworthy of that trust by rejecting the true Seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ, they were rejected by God, and their state of circumcision ceased to have any meaning in God’s eyes. However, some Christians in the first century CE insisted that circumcision was still a requirement of God (Acts 11:2, 3; 15:5). Because of this, the apostle Paul sent Titus to “correct the things that were defective” in various congregations. To Titus, Paul wrote about one defect: “There are many unruly men, profitless talkers, and deceivers of the mind, especially those men who adhere to the circumcision. It is necessary to shut the mouths of these, as these very men keep on subverting entire households by teaching things they ought not for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:5, 10, 11).

Paul’s counsel is still applicable. It would certainly be contrary to the Scriptures for a true Christian to suggest that someone else’s child be circumcised. Instead of being “a busybody in other people’s matters,” a Christian leaves such personal decisions for parents to make (1 Peter 4:15). Moreover, Paul was inspired to write about circumcision according to the Mosaic Law: “Was any man called circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has any man been called in uncircumcision? Let him not get circumcised. Circumcision does not mean a thing, and uncircumcision means not a thing, but observance of God’s commandments does. In whatever state each one was called, let him remain in it” (1 Corinthians 7:18–20).

Circumcision: A Mere Right of Passage

Over the years, boys have been told that they need to be circumcised to them to become a man, a real man. This has made circumcision nothing but a rite of passage in the Filipino culture. A rite that is highly so prevalent in the country.

Most boys around the age of ten to twelve are highly enthusiastic about undergoing this process, most probably because of what they have been told. They have been told that they will not grow unless they are cut. Another thing they are made to believe is that, if they do not undergo circumcision, they would not bear children—or if they would, their children would be sickly or weak. It is also common to hear that cut men would make better lovers as adults, and uncut men would turn women off because an intact penis is dirt, let alone stinky. Ands perhaps the most emotionally agonizing of all is that they would be laughed at and bullied by others knowing that they are uncircumcised—they are called names, they are told that they smell of smegma, that their penis is smaller because they are uncut, etc.

Of course, there have been plenty of evidences accumulated over the decades proving these arguments as just myths. Perhaps the only acceptable condition that a child must undergo circumcision is when he has a medical condition—like phimosis and paraphimosis—that calls for the procedure as the only cure.

Is It Really a Sign of Manhood?

Many argue that one cannot be a man unless he has been circumcised. But what about the majority of males all around the world who remain uncut? Are they not real men? What makes a man a real man?

For me, certainly, it is not circumcision. A whole lot of uncut men have done better in many fields that cut men. Does not having your foreskin make you better at what you do? Does it make you perform in all your duties as a man—provide for you family, shoulder responsibilities to the society, complete your professional tasks, etc.—more proficiently? No, it does not. A skin removed from your body has very little impact in your life, or maybe even no impact at all—unless you live in a country, like the Philippines, who people’s mind have been so corrupted by this thinking that this is what makes a man. Owning up to your responsibilities to yourself, your family, your faith, the society, etc., is what makes you a man—not a procedure that removes your foreskin.

And isn’t it ironic that when it comes to songs and movies, people prefer the uncut versions, but uncut people are being ridiculed, discriminated, and frowned upon? It is only our culture that “demands” men to be cut. Circumcision has become nothing more than a rite of passage these days—what men call a sign of manhood. Sure, it has health and hygiene benefits, but shouldn’t we respect other people’s life choices? Even we ourselves do not like it when other people judge our personal choices.

Further Reading

Tuli a rite of passage for Filipino boys

To Cut or Not to Cut: Circumcision in the Philippines

Uncircumcised Filipinos: Circumstitions

Real men are circumcised? Tales and travail of Pinoy male tradition

 

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