Brian Earp is a research assistant in the philosophy department at the University of Oxford, and he will shortly be publishing this excellent essay. I encourage you to read and share it, as he makes excellent and irrefutable points. I pulled some selected quotes below, and there are also excellent comments on the original site.
Earp, B. D. (forthcoming, pre-publication draft). Assessing a religious practice from secular-ethical grounds: Competing metaphysics in the circumcision debate, and a note about discursive respect. To appear in G. C. Denniston, F. M. Hodges, & M. F. Milos (Eds.), Proceedings of the 12th Annual International Symposium on Law, Genital Autonomy, and Children’s Rights, published by Springer.* Note, this is not the finished version of this document, and changes may be made before final publication.
“I’ve noticed that there is sometimes a very serious reluctance to address the issue of religious motivation directly… Because religious convictions are a deep, and certainly emotionally-charged, aspect of the lives of so many, attempts to question a religiously-motivated practice—especially by one who is not religious, or differently religious—can lead to outcomes that are very far from productive.”
“Many practices that are now seen as very clearly unethical had been going on for an extremely long time before anyone had the idea to question them. Examples include slavery, footbinding, the cutting of female genitals, and beating disobedient children with sticks. Usually these practices persisted without much alarm for one of two reasons. Either the moral standards that they would eventually be seen as violating had not yet had been developed, or those standards did exist for other cases but just weren’t commonly seen as applying to the practice itself until enough people sat down and made the connection. I think what’s happening right now with circumcision is not so much the first of these, but more the second. In other words, the relevant ethical principles—about bodily integrity, consent, protecting the vulnerable in society, and so on—have been available to us for quite some time now. It’s just that we’re so used to circumcision as a cultural habit, that many people fail to see how blatantly inconsistent this practice is with the rest of their own moral landscape.”
“And so, I think before we can get anywhere in this discussion, we are going to have to just acknowledge that that is a different metaphysic. I think we have to acknowledge that certain religious commitments are based on a meta-ethical view of the universe that is in direct conflict with Western ideas about individuals, human rights adhering to those individuals as individuals, and the notion that children and infants, above all, need special protection because they can’t defend those rights on their own.”
“And it allows us to say that these things are wrong not just arbitrarily, or because God says so, or because we just feel like doing it that way, but because we have reason to say so. They are wrong because individuals have rights. They are wrong because those rights include things like bodily integrity, and they are wrong because the infringement of that integrity requires consent. So the idea I want to leave you with is this. If we think that there is any chance that we should give up these basic concepts—so that we can defer to a worldview that says that things like community identity are more important than individual identity and bodily integrity—then we’ll have to pay the price of that choice and face it honestly. And that means that the very same people who are asking for the religious freedom to perform circumcisions in a secular society, would have to be prepared to give up their own right to complain if someone wanted to cut off a part of their body, or interfere with their genitals, or that of their daughters or sisters or wives. That is, as I say, a logically possible universe. But it isn’t one that I would want to live in, and I don’t think you can have it both ways.”