May 7, 2007 issue - Poor "Misha." Caught in a terrible custody war, this 12-year-old boy from Washington state has become a cause célèbre for a diverse group of activists. Here are the facts, in brief: Misha lives with his father, who has sole custody and who recently converted to Judaism. The father wants Misha to convert as well, and so he wants Misha circumcised. The boy's mother, who is Russian Orthodox, is against it. Doctors Opposing Circumcision, an activist group, started circulating Misha's story online, asking for donations for Misha's defense. A lower court affirmed the father's right to circumcise his son but has allowed the mother to exhaust her legal options before he does so; now the mother hopes that her case will be taken up by the Oregon Supreme Court. The boy's own desires remain unclear.Read the rest here.
Two weeks ago, Richard Dawkins, the Oxford don, noted atheist and author of "The God Delusion," posted Misha's story on his Web site. Dawkins was irate, calling Misha's father's intentions "religiously inspired child abuse." While court documents clearly paint a picture of a marriage and divorce so acrimonious and bizarre as to strain credulity, the questions Misha's case present remain interesting. What is the contemporary religious justification for circumcision? How do couples deal fairly with religious differences in situations of divorce and remarriage?
First let me note I am loathe to comment on a situation where clearly a great many facts have been left unprinted. That said this raises some interesting questions that I think are worth some discussion. Not the least of which is what do you about children when one or both of the parents convert to another faith? My general feeling has been that children in such situations should be divided into three groups.
Those who have attained the age of reason and are fairly close to their majority:
I loosely define this as the 15 or 16 and up kids. Since they often have already established a religious faith, possibly the one being abandoned by their parent(s) and further they are also old enough to have strong opinions and are near their majority, I don't think they can or should be obliged to convert or even necessarily attend the services of the new faith.
Those who have attained the age of reason but are still a number of years removed from their majority:
I loosely define this as the roughly preteens to 15 crowd. They can be obliged to attend services but I think that formal participation in sacramental life or conversion should be a matter of choice. This is really a tricky area since since its hard to measure each child by uniform standards in terms of how mature they are and their individual faith level.
The very young: These are the children who have not really attained the age of reason or are too young to formulate serious decisions. Again roughly speaking this would probably cover the ten and under crowd. In their case the parent(s) is within his rights to make the decision for the child.
Beyond all of the many complicating factors that I can think of to throw a wrench into my above guide is the glaring issue in this case. What happens when the rite of conversion involves the surgical mutilation of the child? Given the age of the child and the fact that he would be obliged to undergo a very painful procedure of doubtful medical benefit that would deprive him of part of his manhood, I think this should not be done unless the child has made an informed and pressure free decision to go through with it.
I do not know all of the exigent circumstances in the case. But reading between the lines it sounds like the author was hinting that both parents have more issues than the magazine he works for. If that is in fact the case, perhaps the child properly belongs in the hands of a relative until the two parents get their act together. Thoughts?