Friday, August 28, 2015

Should Babies Get Pierced Ears?

I heard a story on the radio yesterday (less a story than a blurb, really) that really got me thinking. Apparently it is becoming trendy for parents to have their infants’ ears pierced.

Now, before I begin, let me just make something clear. I am not looking to cast aspersions. If you have had your baby’s ears pierced, or want to do it, I am not making the case that it is evil and you are evil for doing it. I just want to point some things out in the interest of encouraging a thoughtful discussion.

With that said, let me take you down my stream of consciousness. My first thought on hearing this was about circumcision. Obviously. But no, it really was my first thought. There is a growing movement to make infant circumcision illegal, and I think it plays into this discussion.

A number of people think it is cruel to circumcise newborn boys, and to some extent, I get their point. I have heard that it is the healthier choice, but I am not up on the medical aspect of it. And it is not something they remember, so there is no long-term trauma regardless. But in the moment, certainly, it does cause pain.

For its traditional and medical aspects, I personally see no reason why it should be outlawed. It is not an atrocity on par with abortion (which, ironically, the proponents of a circumcision ban tend to support). However, if the movement got steam and was able to make it illegal, I would not be particularly broken up. That is, if not for my religious liberty objections.

You see, the anti-circumcision crowd (AC from now on) is not willing to carve out an exception for Jewish people. Actually, for many AC’s, there is a particular animus against the Jews.

In the Bible, in Genesis 17:9-14, God established His covenant with Abraham and commanded the circumcision of eight-day-old boys as the sign of God’s promises. The Jews are the descendants of Abraham, so this covenant and its commandment extend to them. It is also reconfirmed in Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and throughout the Old Testament.

Christianity does away with this requirement, with baptism essentially taking its place (Colossians 2:11-15). But as far as Jewish people are concerned, it is still in effect. The objection of the AC’s has to do with one of the reasons Christians in my tradition baptize rather than circumcising (as a covenantal sign, anyway). We baptize as a sign of realized faith. It needs to be chosen. There is no point in baptizing an infant because an infant cannot choose whether he wants to follow Christ or not. It should only be practiced on those who can and do want it.

The thinking of the AC’s goes in the same direction. Circumcision as an act of devotion to God is not something that should be done to a baby boy because he cannot choose it for himself. It is not fair for parents to force them into it.

So should Christians who understand baptism as a choice be opposed to infant circumcision? No, for the simple reason that God once commanded it, and the people who do it are trying to serve Him. We need to be able to make the distinction between God’s physical and spiritual children. The Israelites, from whom the Jews come, were set apart as a physical nation. Their very birth automatically associates them with God’s promises, though it does not necessarily confirm them. Circumcision acknowledges an identity, just as baptism acknowledges the new life of someone who has been “born again” (John 3:3).

We may raise the question of whether God any longer wants Jews to circumcise, since He has established a new covenant through Christ. But the point is that it is what they believe He wants of them. It is how they practice their religion, their devotion to God. Just because I do not agree with them does not give me the right to take it away. I would not want anyone to do that to me (Matthew 7:12).

The AC’s are essentially anti-religious liberty, not just anti-circumcision. They want to stop anything with which they disagree, not just protect young children from harm. And they are actually pretty straightforward about it, from what I have seen. To them, religion is anachronistic. At best, it should be limited to private opinions and not practiced. Circumcision is not their only target, which is a chilling thought.

“But Stanley,” you may say, “why have you done this again? I want to hear about babies getting their ears pierced, not circumcision! Why did you bring me here with this click bait?” All right. I hear you. Like I said, though, this was stream of consciousness. I thought about all of it in less time than it took you to read this sentence (yet alone the whole post so far). There is a point, and I am getting there.

Because I had circumcision on the brain (wow, that does not sound right), my initial reaction to infant piercing was to defend it as a parental right. After all, I do not want to be lumped in with the AC’s. But as I thought through it, I realized it was an apples and oranges comparison. Not that it should be illegal, but it needs a different perspective.

The question that needs to be asked, as is so often the case, is “Why?” Piercing has occurred throughout history and in many cultures. Generally it was a mark of ownership. Many pagans used it to show devotion to the gods, and the ancient Israelites used it to show that someone had chosen to be a lifelong slave to someone else (Exodus 21:1-6). Piercing was a sign of subservience.

That should raise some questions, but of course, that is not the reason people get pierced now. It is purely aesthetic. They just want to look a certain way. You can ask the “why” question here, too, but it takes on an added dimension where infant piercing is concerned.

For some people, I have been told it is cultural. And for them, there are probably at least reasons behind it. But for some others, the answer is the same as for adults. It is about the look. It is a way to make the baby pretty. In that case, is the motive good? Is it a baby, or a baby doll? Because I feel like a lot of people are struggling with the difference.

Let me put more emphasis on that. How do you view your children? And don't just tell me what sounds right. Look at the choices you have made, because that is the proof. What are your priorities? Do you spend money on them, or give up money for them? Does their appearance reflect on you, or does it serve to teach them self respect? Are they your idol, or your responsibility? Your trophy, or your legacy? Do you glorify God through them, or yourself? For too many people, children are more a status symbol than real humans with a need for love and guidance. Quite simply, it's messed up.

Again, I am not trying to tell people what they can and cannot do. I am simply asking them to ask themselves what they should or should not do. Infant piercing is just one topic where that can be raised. People are cutting their children. They are making them bleed. Is it for a good reason? Kids are people, not property, so the question needs to be asked. They deserve at least that much.

So my point in the comparison to circumcision is that there isn't one (a comparison. There is a point). Circumcision is an ancient rite of passage and devotion, whether you agree with it or not. Piercing, for many, is about something completely shallow. We need to be able to point out the difference so we don't conflate them. It is possible to defend the one but not the other. That is what I am doing.

Do I want infant piercing to be illegal? No. It doesn't do enough real harm to go that far. Do I want people to stop? Sure, but I'm not going to be insistent. All I really want, is for people to think about what they are doing, and why. They are not infants, to just go for what is shiny. At least take the time to have a reason. And see if you can make it a good one.

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