Religious Irresponsibility

Condoms

Condoms

It is the hallmark of a good journalist that one lay bare whatever biases may be affecting the topic they write about. And though Thoughtscream is not meant to be a journalistic endeavor (at least, not for the next few years), I do mean to emulate the best habits of the best journalists – not only in their writing styles, but in the mental tools they equip to ensure that whatever they write are in service of the reader, not as a means of manipulating them.

That said, be forewarned that I am, in fact, a fairly hardlined atheist. Quite naturally, my interpretation of religiously-involved news is skewed by a certain perspective on the idea of non-verifiable dogma and unquantifiable faith. Heck, even this paragraph illustrates clearly my stance on the issue of religion in general – I have no use for it, and so far, it’s got no use for me either.

There are times, however, when I feel that the religious institutions of the world have gone from “useless” to outright “harmful.” Though this is true of any number of other institutions and organizations in the world, there is something uniquely potent about the harms that dogma inflicts upon a body of people. The sheer political influence that the Catholic Church has severely delineates it from the garden-variety insanities that humankind has a habit of inflicting upon its own fringe elements: when the Pope makes a proclamation, however unwise, it affects millions across the world, and gets the attention of the billions of others living in the same biosphere.

Case in point: Africa.

Africa's HIV levels

Africa's HIV levels

The current African controversy over the use of condoms is fairly ridiculous, from a secular position. The Church’s claim that condoms don’t prevent the spread of HIV and other STDs is ludicrous on its face – and contrary to all the facts we do know about contraceptive use and disease vectors. Their proposed “solution” to the problem of HIV spread is the same solution they’ve been harping on since time immemorial: abstinence. Just… abstinence.

Let’s not forget that Africa is, by and far, predominantly still caught in a pre-industrial agrarian economic state. That most of its industries are reliant on pure manpower in mass quantities. That there is economic and social pressure to have large families, even on those that follow Catholic or Christian doctrine. After all, one of the few direct orders from their deity is, in fact, to “be fruitful.”

Not to mention that putting a stopper on human sexuality has generally proven to be a fairly wasteful pursuit. Whole reams of studies have been done on this: trying to stop people from having sex by saying “be clean and chaste” is like standing in the path of a hurricane and telling it to go away. Even if we assume that divine powers can change the course of storms at your will, you just flattened the neighboring city. The right to enjoy consensual physical intimacy is not one that people have been willing to dispose of, and putting anything in its way simply redirects the driving energy behind it through other, possibly more questionable, channels.

Furthermore, from America’s own experiment with abstinence education in place of contraceptive use, and Europe’s more sensible approach to sexual education, we can see that abstinence doesn’t bloody work. It does absolutely nothing to prevent the spread of disease – rather teenagers, like lawyers, will hunt down every conceivable loophole around social restrictions on sexual relations, may be cowed enough by their social leaders to avoid intercourse, but they will certainly get involved with all the various… alternatives… available. Vaginal penetration being only one out of many, many ways to get an STD – heck, even kissing is a transmission vector, and not even the Catholic Church has much to say about just kissing – it is clearly seen that the only means of enacting a functional abstinence-only approach to sex and STDs is to enact totalitarian social control over each and every individual involved.

It used to be that some sects of American Puritans would be so strict about the act of intercourse that they would have community watchmen to ensure that even married couples only have sex in church-sanctioned means – officially recognized voyeurism, in short. Generally, modern societies see that much control over individual lives as a bad thing, and a cause for much indignation and revolt.

Quite frankly, the Church ought to be deeply ashamed of the harmful propaganda and deceit it has spread. The idea that the HIV virus somehow leaks through latex, that an 87% increase in combating the disease’s spread via the use of contraceptives is somehow bad and insufficient, that there can be no channel in which to express physical affection and intimacy outside of church-regulated marriages goes beyond preposterous and right into the range of disgusting. If the Catholic Church is at all an ally of the Truth in any of its forms, then it must be held accountable of its abuses and outright rewriting of scientifically verified evidence; of objectively verified facts. Pope Benedict, as the head of the Church, must be held to the same accountability we hold any major public official of any level of political influence: if he Gets It Wrong, he is obligated to Get It Right, and the Church’s stance and policy on sex education and the combat of diseases must be tailored to fit the reality of what works, and what is simply moralistic hot air.

What use is a blindfolded shepherd when the flock is being devoured by wolves?

Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict

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~ by Gonzo Mehum on March 19, 2009.

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