Germany Outlaws Judaism
Well, not quite. But a ruling from a court in Cologne points in that direction. According to the ruling (a report in English here; in German here), circumcision is serious physical damage that can be justified only by the informed consent of an adult. Therefore, it will be prohibited for parents to have their sons circumcised, at least in the area under the court’s jurisdiction.
The case involved a Muslim boy, whose circumcision by a doctor led to dangerous complications. In the shadow of German history, however, it’s hard not to think of the implications for Jews. The convenant of Abraham is now against the law in Cologne.
There’s no indication of specific hostility to Judaism here. Nevertheless, the ruling is the logical consequence of a concept of religion implied by Protestantism and articulated philosophically by Benedict Spinoza and John Locke.
According to that view, religion is rooted in private belief. Associations and rituals are legitimate only to the extent that they are submitted to voluntarily by consenting adults, who can withdraw their consent at any time. And religious obligations can never trump the civil law.
There are good reasons that this position was appealing in the 17th and 18th centuries. Trouble is, we’ve forgotten not only that it doesn’t fit many older traditions, including Judaism and Roman Catholicism, but that it was specifically designed to exclude them. The understanding of religion’s legitimate sphere that informed the Cologne court’s ruling, in other words, is not theologico-politically neutral. It was, and remains, a polemical concept that elevates state over church, individual over community, consent over continuity in ways that traditional Catholics and Jews find hard to accept.
Given German sensitivities to anti-Semitism, it’s likely that some kind of exemption will be established for Jews and, by extension, for Muslims. But the problem of a narrow and unreflective understanding of religion isn’t limited to Germany, as shown by the controversy over Catholic hospitals in the United States. Contrary to some of its critics, including the notorious Leo Strauss, modern liberalism isn’t hostile to religion as such. As Michael Brendan Dougherty observes, however, it does requires that every religion transform itself into a variant of Protestantism--or find itself on the wrong side of the law.