Dark days ahead as Europe ratchets up hostility towards religion

Detail from Benvenuto Tisi's The Circumcision (1519). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Detail from Benvenuto Tisi’s The Circumcision (1519). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Since 1945 Western Europe has been a haven of religious freedom and tolerance. But the steady erosion of that religious freedom which has been taking place in recent years took a step further today with the bill put before the Icelandic Parliament proposing a ban on male circumcision.

The bill, if passed, would attach a penalty of up to six years in prison for anyone carrying out a circumcision other than for medical reasons.

“We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to belief.”

Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir

The bill, brought by Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the centre-right Progressive party, states that while parents have the right to give religious guidance to their children, “such a right can never exceed the rights of the child.”

It also claims that circumcision is incompatible with the United Nations convention on the rights of the child.

Referring to the legal ban on Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, which has been in place in Iceland since 2005, Gunnarsdóttir said, “If we have laws banning circumcision for girls, then we should do so for boys.

“We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to belief.”

Noting that Nordic countries have well-deserved reputations for promoting human rights, she said, “If Iceland backs this, I think other countries will follow.”

History repeating

In 1290, under King Edward I, England became the first country in Europe to order the expulsion of its Jews. The following three hundred saw the Jews expelled from numerous other countries within Europe.[1]

At various stages throughout history, Jews (as well as Christians) have also been made to wear yellow badges on their outer garments as a public badge of shame.[2] The practice was re-introduced during the twentieth century in Nazi Germany and its occupied territories from 1941 onwards.[3]

Jews in Nazi Germany, 1940's, marked with the mandatory yellow badge
Jews in Nazi Germany, 1940’s, marked with the mandatory yellow badge

“All of this is evidence of the increasing intolerance and hostility of Western Europe towards religion, as Europe’s secular agenda increasingly insists that ‘public order,’ human rights and multiculturalism trump individual free speech and freedom of belief.”

Happily, since the defeat of the Nazi regime in 1945, Western Europe has been a haven of religious freedom and tolerance. But in recent years that religious freedom has been steadily eroded, with — for example — Switzerland in 2009 enacting a legal ban on minarets, and two Christian preachers in Bristol being arrested and convicted for publicly quoting the King James Bible before their conviction was later overturned on appeal.

All of this is evidence of the increasing intolerance and hostility of Western Europe towards religion, as Europe’s secular agenda increasingly insists that ‘public order,’ human rights and multiculturalism trump individual free speech and freedom of belief.

Thus, in spite of the fact that Jews and Muslims have practised neonatal circumcision for centuries — millennia in the case of Judaism — and it is a central command of the Jewish Bible to Abraham,

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

the National Secular Society UK has called on the UK to follow Iceland’s lead and end what it calls “genital cutting.”

Speaking about the Icelandic bill, Gunnarsdóttir said that it had cross-party backing and wide public support.

And therein lies the problem.

“After 1945 the constitutions and powers of Western Europe realized that it was vital to protect the rights of its minorities — so that there could not be a repeat of the horrors inflicted upon Jews, gypsies, homosexuals from 1933 onwards.”

After 1945 the constitutions and powers of Western Europe realized that it was vital to protect the rights of its minorities — so that there could not be a repeat of the horrors inflicted upon Jews, gypsies, homosexuals from 1933 onwards.[4]

If the governments of Western Europe, in either their ignorance or their disregard of history, decide that the majority is always right — “wide public support” — then the inevitable result will be a repeat of the religious persecutions and marginalizations which beset Europe in the latter half of the nineteenth century[5] and culminated in the Holocaust in the twentieth century.

Democratically elected government, if it is to be true government, must hold a difficult balancing act.

It must be accountable to the populace which elected it, or it loses its legitimacy.

At the same time, it must transcend the whim and fad of its electorate, and work on principles of genuine freedom, equality and fairness. It must not allow itself — even in a social media age — to become the puppet of the majority. Because, as we have seen at many times throughout history, the will of the majority is not a reliable barometer of what is right.

Where is this leading?

In the Germany and the occupied territories of the 1930’s and 1940’s, Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and basically anybody who was viewed as a threat to the National Socialists’ order were rounded up and removed.[6]

“This proposed law banning male circumcision is nothing to do with public health or with the rights of children. The comparisons being made between male circumcision and FGM are odious. No, let’s say it for what it is: This is nothing other than a secularist attack on religious freedom.”

Western Europe today is, of course, a far, far freer place than that. We ought to rejoice for the freedoms which we have, and to cherish those freedoms. “For our tomorrow, they gave their today.”

But we cannot be complacent.

This proposed law banning male circumcision is nothing to do with public health or with the rights of children. The comparisons being made between male circumcision and FGM are odious. No, let’s say it for what it is: This is nothing other than a secularist attack on religious freedom.

We must stand up against these impositions of secularism on our freedom. In the nineteenth century, clever scientific arguments were deployed to give anti-semitism a veneer of respectability.

It is the same today. Talk of the rights of children, or of public health, makes Gunnarsdóttir’s proposed legislation sound all nice and so reasonable. But look where it ended up, just under a hundred years ago.

 

I would like to commend both the Guardian and the BBC for reporting this story and for putting forward the religious viewpoint on it.

 

 

Note
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Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Expulsion

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_badge

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_badge#Nazi_Europe

[4] https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005144

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_antisemitism#Nineteenth_century

[6] https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005144

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