Thursday, March 19, 2009

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

After the PR disaster surrounding the rape of a Brazilian 9-year-old and the cold response of the Catholic Church, at least one Vatican prelate is starting to back track on the Church's official position. He's still peddling the bureaucratic legalism bullshit about how the excommunications were "automatic" and therefore the church can eschew responsibility. But at least this dissent is a sign that there is some room, however small, for a little humanistic rationalism within that fraternity of costumed old men.

Oh, but the honeymoon does not last very long. On a recent trip to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI told a bald-faced lie about the AIDS epidemic:
"HIV/Aids is a tragedy that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem"

To spread the dangerous and destructive lie that condom use somehow "increases the problem" is morally egregious. Honestly, it kind of makes me upset. Hasn't he read any studies on transmission of the disease or even talked to a general health physician for 5 minutes?

Thankfully, a commenter on has put the whole situation into perspective and talked down my outrage.
An idiotic statement from the leader of an increasingly irrelevant religion.


SuiginChou said...

I think the basis for his argument is that condoms encourage sex and therefore more opportunities for STD transmission, regardless of percentages. What I mean is ...

Made-up numbers: 10 men out of 100 men in Congo are willing to have sex with no condom, and of those 10 men let us say that 3 of them get HIV. (30% rate of transmission for sexually-active men, 3% of Congolese men get HIV each year)

50 men out of 100 men in Congo are willing to have sex with or without a condom (most of them with), and of those 50 men let us say that only 5 of them get HIV (10% rate of transmission for sexually-active men, 5% of Congolese men get HIV each year)

This unfortunate scenario (if the real-world numbers were similar) would allow men on both sides of the fence to tell half-truths in order to build up their positions.

Pro-condom camp: "as you can see, the rate of HIV transmission went down to 33% of its previous (non-condom) levels. So guys, please wear a condom."

Anti-condom camp: "as you can see, condoms give men a false sense of security and in the end result in more men coming down with AIDS than would have had there been no condoms after all."

This sort of wording can be skewed to mean "wearing a condom can increase your risk of getting HIV from infected partners," but all it really says is "wearing a condom is likely to increase your odds of getting HIV from infected sex partners because you'll be more willing to risk having sex with them with a condom than without."

So, is Benedict XVI being duplicitous with his facts? Absolutely. Is he being dishonest? Absolutely not. He is telling the truth in such a way as to spook people out of using condoms which will in turn (a) directly make them complicit with Catholic doctrine and (b) indirectly make them abstain from having sex in the first place.

Long story short, both camps are giving the Congolese unacceptable advice: because whether it's "don't have sex" or "don't have sex without a condom," either route equates to "don't procreate," and "don't procreate" means "allow the Congo to fall to enemy hands when all of her boys have been swallowed up by famine, pestilence, and war." The Congolese as a society, like any society on Earth big or small, have a sense of self-preservation: and so any advice which would lead them to social extinction is not advice they're likely to take seriously.

If, on the other hand, the United Nations and other interested 3rd parties were able and willing to help the Congolese not only use condoms (for all of their pent-up sexual urges) but to also take advantage of in vitro fertilizations (to allow for Congolese reproduction sans risk of either parent contracting HIV from a dishonest or ignorant partner), then I think we might see more widespread condom use.

After all, subtract out the AIDS and that's pretty much what the horny Westerners get to do: wear condoms the 99% of times they want to have sex without making babies and then deliberately leave them off the 1% of the times they do want to have a go at babymaking. For the Congolese, the only difference'd be that their 1% is no sex at all and is just masturbation by the man, egg extraction from the female, artificial insemination in a test tube, and reimplantation of the washed-off zygote (to ensure the woman isn't going to get HIV virions put back into her). Or something.

But as you can see, this is way way way too much of a hassle practice-wise and cost-wise.

Jay said... doesn't increase the problem. That claim is patently false. Now, if he wants to say, "we shouldn't encourage condom use because it promotes promiscuity or sex for sex's sake" sure, okay. But to suggest that increased use of prophylactics might somehow increase the incident of HIV/AIDS is a fantasy and the very height of irresponsibility. As many in the blogosphere have already rightly pointed out, people will die because of this misinformation.

SuiginChou said...

Look at it this way: for a person or group of people to lose credibility, it is required for them to deceive others and for that deception to be made obvious to as many people as possible.

This is not meant as a justification for papal decrees which will cost many central Africans their lives. I do not at all mean to suggest that the central Africans who could have avoided contracting HIV had they only worn condoms are to be treated as martyrs or guinea pigs. What it is meant to be is some small but significant comfort to you. You should take comfort in the fact that, at the very least, when an organization is responsible for such gross misinformation as this, misinformation which will cost thousands of people their lives, that that organization will become (as you put it) "increasingly irrelevant" with each passing year.

In other words, those religions which twiddle their thumbs and do nothing to stir up the hornet's nest (e.g. Hinduism) have found themselves short of followers today but are likely in a better position to still be around in 1000 years vs. those religions which have taken bold positions on social issues which for the time being have gained them followers but which will also eventually cost them those same followers, and perhaps some of the followers they had had before them, when those bold positions become flimsy and dangerous in the World of Tomorrow.

That stated, it would be nice to have actual numbers. You keep saying his claims are "patently false" and I'm inclined to agree except for the fact that you have yet to defuse the logical possibility I explored earlier. Simply saying, "No, that is wrong" isn't good proof. Do you have UNICEF or UNESCO numbers to back up the claim that my postulation is only that -- mere hypothetical babble?