Say hello to the twisted ideology of choice

By Giles Fraser, August 23, 2012

The current row about circumcision that is now raging all over Europe is profoundly troubling on a number of levels.

The Bavaria case this week comes on the back of the court case in Cologne against a Muslim doctor for circumcising a boy with parental consent and moves in Scandinavia seeking to outlaw male circumcision.

Generally, the logic behind these moves is that circumcision is an act of unnecessary violence against a child and that it is imposing a belief system against a child’s will. If an adult wants to be circumcised, so be it.

But child circumcision violates the rights of the child over his body. I recently defended circumcision in the Guardian and was inundated with letters telling me I was a child abuser, that male circumcision was like female genital mutilation. But mostly, the arguments against were all about choice.

Apparently, only choice makes it ok.

So, I want you to imagine a ridiculous liberal experiment, inspired by the philosophical idea that parents ought not to impose their world-view upon their child. Imagine if some mad parents decided not to teach their child a language.

After all, a language like English is impregnated with a set of values and assumptions. So why not keep the child away from all language and then when they get to adulthood allow them to choose for themselves?

Why is this madness? Because learning a language does not close down options. Rather, learning a language is the very basis upon which choice is made possible. It is a precondition for the possibility of understanding.

I offer this bonkers experiment as a reductio ad absurdum of the sort of thing that is often said about imposing religion on children.

It is a rubbish argument because to be inducted into a community of values is a precondition for making sense of the world in a moral way — it is even a precondition of the very freedom that the mad liberal parents are after, a precondition of the child deciding that he or she is going to believe something different.

Choice has become a cuckoo value in our society — driving out other values like fairness and community. Oh yes, and the idea that the Germans, of all people, should be contemplating criminalising Jewish practice… I shouldn’t even need to finish that sentence.

Giles Fraser is priest-in-charge at St Mary’s Newington in south London

Last updated: 10:04am, August 23 2012