Separation Anxiety

Feminist Mormon Housewives is having another one of those unexpected conversations that seem to appear only on that blog. Weighing in on the subject of male infant circumcision, many commenters have noted that until recently circumcision was nearly universal in the United States, while virtually unknown in Europe outside of particular religious and cultural groups.

You’re familiar with the concept of Six Degrees of Separation?

Question: There is one degree of separation between Brigham Young and the century-long prevalance of circumcision in the United States. What is that one-step connection? Wild but tasteful speculation acceptable.

The answer will be posted in a day or two.

5 comments for “Separation Anxiety

  1. Herodotus
    December 16, 2006 at 8:35 am

    Well, this is the best I can do:

    The practice here in the U.S. is usually attributed Dr. Lewis A. Sayre. He advocated the theory of “reflex neurosis,” the idea that there was an intricate web of nervous affinity running through the spine to every organ of the body and that, in turn, each organ had its own sphere of influence on physical and mental. He circumcised a few children with paralytic conditions, and encouraged by the results, published his findings in Transactions of the American Medical Association, certain that he had unlocked the secret of a host of ills. “Many of the cases of irritable children, with restless sleep, and bad digestion, which are often attributed to worms, is [sic] solely due to the irritation of the nervous system caused by an adherent or constricted prepuce,” Sayre asserted. “Hernia and inflammation of the bladder can also be produced by the severe straining to pass water in some of these cases of contracted prepuce.”

    This was not a new idea, but when Sayre advocated it people paid attention. He was the prime mover in the New York Pathological Society and an officer of the New York Academy of Medicine. In 1866 he became vice president of the fledgling American Medical Association (AMA) and in 1880 he was elected president.

    His ideas led to some pretty wild and crazy “sexual surgery” in both men and women that probably aren’t worth repeating here.

    The one interesting thing about Sayre is that he wasn’t just a physician. He was also a missionary.

    There may be a link there, but I’m too dumb to find it.

  2. anon
    December 16, 2006 at 3:19 pm

    I’ll go with restoration of all things, ancient Abrahamic covenant and so forth.

  3. December 16, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    Justin shared this quote with me a while back:

    Another of [John] Lyon’s tasks [as superintendent of the Endowment House] was to arrange for a doctor to be present at the Endowment House, where parents brought their children to be circumcised when eight days old. Early Church leaders felt that they were truly reestablishing Israel and so had to restore all known ordinances; the substitute temple was a logical place to perform the covenant ceremony of circumcision (T. Edgar Lyon, Interview, 1975). Lyon worked under the direction of Heber C. Kimball, the chief administrator of the House.

    T. Edgar Lyon, Jr., John Lyon, Life of a Pioneer Poet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), p. 229.

    This reminds me of John W. Taylors exhortation to the saints to stay away from pork and to not go to the temple after certain activities…good times.

  4. December 17, 2006 at 6:45 pm

    Bingo! Herodotus got it right on the first try, with the first half of the connection. Dr. Sayre is the “one degree of separation” between Brigham Young and widespread American circumcision. Dr. Sayre is the one whose advocacy made the practice so prevalent, and he and Brigham Young met in 1866. This was more than a casual meeting, too, leading to the importation of modern surgical methods into the Mormon kingdom. An account of their meeting has been posted here.

    (I didn’t mean to imply, by the way, that Brigham Young had anything to do with causing the American practice. My understanding of the way the “degrees of separation” theory works is that there need be only a link — a meeting, an acquaintance, starring in the same movie — not that there is any cause and effect relationship.)

    J. Stapley — Some of the letters during Brigham Young’s administration to distant bishops and stake presidents inviting them to bring groups from their flocks for ordinances also mention restraint from certain activities. Somewhere I have one about a bishop correcting his earlier letter about the number from his ward to expect at the Endowment House, because certain couples were no longer “eligible.” Good times indeed.

  5. December 18, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Just heard that circ may be the key to African AIDS…

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