Religion and those who make a living out of pandering its simplistic and defunct notions are unable to stay out of our bedrooms it seems. The Pope has recently hit headlines again with his decree that HIV “cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”.
People like to have sex. They like it a lot. The problem as we all know is that when people have unprotected sex they pass on HIV and women get pregnant when they do not want to be pregnant. It’s not rocket science.
There is, however, something that largely prevents this from happening when used properly. It is a miracle … of modern science, research, materials development, quality control and mechanised high-voltage testing and it is called a condom.
It is clear that if everybody used condoms responsibly, HIV and unwanted pregnancy would be dramatically reduced. It is not an evil thing; just a little piece of latex and it has no affiliation to any religion, country or agenda. It simply exists and is there to be used by enlightened, informed people.
By papal thinking, however, if you allow people easy access to these condoms, they may be tempted to use them and have that nasty, dirty sex all the time. To the church, for some crazy reason, this is much more of a threat than the transmission of deadly HIV. It’s like destroying all the guns and throwing the villagers a bunch of Bibles when the invading army is lined up on the hill. It’s a quaint and novel spiritual idea but misguided in an ironically Darwinian way and lives will surely be lost in droves.
One might also be tempted to ask how a celibate German gentleman such as Herr Ratzinger, otherwise known as the Pope, may have arrived at conclusions at such odds with science, reason and recent Aids deaths statistics.
One may further enquire how he has the gall to stand before the world and pronounce on something that he has never explored for himself. Experience certainly has been known to modify theory. It may well apply in this case. Surely people who have actually had sex and work intimately with people suffering from HIV should advise the HIV policy for the sex lives of millions?
One might now also demand to know where his solution for the HIV pandemic is derived from since the Bible never explicitly mentions it and he is, we assume, not speaking from practical experience. Did he do any studies? Did he interview thousands of people who engage in sex regularly or is he just parroting the party line?
So, the solution to the problem, according to this puerile papal thinking is to decree that people should not be allowed to use condoms because condoms are against God’s will. In that way, is it theorised that the flock will suddenly and homogenously become totally responsible and will start abstaining from the very act that perpetuates us as a species until conditions are Churchly perfect. Take away the condoms and people will just realise that they should stop having sex until they are in a loving and faithful relationship for life. Just like that.
I think not.
If there is one thing you can bet on through the course of human history, it is infidelity. Prostitution is not called the oldest profession in the world for nothing. People have always had unprotected sex and have always had sex with people they should not have sex with.
Even people as incorruptible as the Catholic clergy seem to periodically dabble in sex in many twisted and repressed forms. How then is removing the condom, the only feasible economic mode of protection available, from the hands of the people going to suddenly modify encoded human behaviour that existed long before the condom? If the clergy struggle, what’s an average guy supposed to do?
Of course the uncanny reaction of Catholics worldwide, when asked about the obvious idiocy of the Church’s views, has been to distance themselves from the views but not the religion. “I am a Catholic but I use condoms” is about as mystifying to me as “I am a vegetarian but I eat biltong”. Surely a crack in the crust indicates some deeper seismic issues? Do these people not wonder what else could be flawed with their doctrine before blindly forging on?
One could argue, if one could be bothered, in favour of the Pope, that his stance is already well-known. The Catholic Church has simply restated its old views and the world media have pounced and made headlines about what we already know. It’s not really news.
One could also argue that many Muslim states have similar draconian rules and laws pertaining to sexual relations. Woman in many parts of the Middle East are wrapped up so tight that an ankle flashed in error is enough to get you into real trouble. Every religion that comes to mind tries to meddle to some extent in our sexual conduct. Why focus on the poor old Pope? He is espousing some good old family values. Abstinence and loving relationships hardly sound like the makings of an ill-founded and evil mantra.
The current relevance, however, is that this misguided man was quoted sitting on a plane on his way to Africa, the centre of the Aids pandemic and the primary battleground in the fight against the disease. Tireless people without bullet-proof Pope mobiles fight here daily to improve the situation. Along comes one man, sweeps in and undoes all of that hard, painstaking work.
Doubly ironic here is the fact that the Pope has millions of followers in Africa who were only too happy to rid themselves of colonial governance and all forms of colonial oppression except that of the imported religions that came with it. While almost every Eurocentric suggestion of interference is treated with contempt by Africans, this deadly one couched in a defunct, outdated moral code is lovingly respected. Irony does not come thicker than that.
As a result of the Pope’s African visit, millions of people may forsake condoms or doubt their efficacy and avoid them due to this one powerful message. Will the Pope take responsibility when they all die or will he look after the Aids orphans he creates? No, he will continue to preach his nonsense jetting off to a new location writing their genocide off conveniently as God’s will.
Will he get involved in seeing that his alternative reality of abstinence is observed and will the infection numbers come down? No and no again.
Do the countless NGOs that preach the “Word of Condom” implement practical structures on the ground and see that they are implemented? Yes and yes again. Do they save lives and empower people through education to better their own lives? Yes and yes again.
Unfortunately the Pope is by no means alone in this crusade. He is now and has in times past been flanked by some of history’s greatest and therefore, in my opinion, most irresponsible names. Mother Teresa herself flew around the world for photo opportunities with any leaders who provided her the chance to plug her simplistic views on abortion and birth control. From India to Ireland, from Haiti to Africa, she pottered along in sensible shoes and spread the word to millions — do not use condoms or birth control she said.
In South Africa, Thabo Mbeki and his long-time toady, Manto Tshabala-Msimang, made international news on a regular basis with an equally disturbing pseudo-scientific stance exemplified by Matthias Rath and his nutty vitamin cure being given a serious hearing.
In Mbeki’s case, Harvard did the math and he seems, in tandem with his troop of incompetent health ogres, to be responsible for the early extinguishing of roughly 330 000 lives. Thankfully that era of pointless death and suffering has drawn to a close but we are still living with its legacy.
I could not find a number large enough to put to the harm Mother Teresa vested on the world by her repeated bleating to stop abortions and ban birth control and condoms. Deaths aside, her insistence that suffering was a divine right for the poor and that terminal patients should suck it up and die in pain without spending a cent of her massive donation money on proper painkillers, puts her true agenda into perspective for me.
In absence of the numbers, however, I can refer you to an enlightening text on this highly overrated Catholic menace called “The Missionary Position” by Christopher Hitchens. What can be said without fear of contradiction is that she shamelessly used her fame to catapult her church’s dangerous views around the globe, consorted with and accepted huge donations from some very unsavoury people in doing so and we are all presently living with her stone-age legacy and will do for some time. Nobel prize indeed!
Nobody, by the way, is saying that the Pope is just plain wrong. It could probably be convincingly argued that a militant theocracy in which infidelity is punishable by death or life imprisonment, imposed upon people living in an HIV-prevalent region may solve the problem. They could round up the infected and put them into “Bible camps” styled on the Missions of Mother Teresa. There they could pass away without cure or pain regimen, cramped in agony but clutching their Bibles, as the good Lord would supposedly want them to do. It is a feasible hypothesis. Pretty rough life compared to condoms and ARVs if there turns out to be no afterlife but that’s religion in Technicolor for you folks.
It is also mighty unlikely that infidelity and unprotected sex would reduce to zero in such a case anyway, as a study of many of the Muslim theocratic states will attest, but I will concede that it would drop to levels that perhaps only an educated, condom-using population may compete with. As such it may be a solution, provided people are happy to be treated like sheep and stripped of their dignity and rights. It may also prove to be even more difficult to implement than simply distributing condoms and a message but that’s for the Catholic Church to figure out on their own time.
So that in a nutshell, is our choice. Practically, and I use that word pointedly, results can probably be achieved with an archaic Taliban-style theocracy or similar with a militant Catholic twist, or with modern education, freedom and condoms.
I choose condoms.