Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Choosing HIV

I'm incredibly busy today (work stuff) so I'll have to be brief. With the recent elevation (pontiffication?) of Ratzinger to the papacy, a dreary realisation that the Church's stance on condom use won't be changing soon has settled over sane people everywhere.

Over on Conservative Commentary, however, the increasingly silly Peter Cuthbertson (the future of the tory party) appears overjoyed that a highly conservative man has become pope. So much so that he almost had a religious conversion at the news! Mind you, Peter talks about religious conversion with roughly the same amount of gravity as most people discuss what they feel like eating for supper this evening.

However what I want to draw attention to is the mind-boggling revelation in the comments to that message. I mentioned the Church's stance on condom use as being the vile and murderous position that it is when considering African nations currently being decimated by the AIDS virus.

Immediately I was accused of "pious humbug". Don't be ridiculous, I was essentially told, people aren't deciding against condom use because of what the Church says. After all, they do plenty of other things the church condemns.

What a complete and utter waste of my time. Not that I was debating the subject with a bunch of rightwing fools; but that I was debating it with people who had never once given the issue a moment's thought. Because if they had done, they'd know that the problem isn't what the church says, but what it does.

There are large areas of AIDS-infected Africa where condoms are simply not available. The medical centres and hospitals are run by Catholic organisations, and the local churches preach savagely against anyone who might be distributing them. The idea that people in AIDS-infected Africa are "choosing" en masse not to use condoms is a pathetic and dangerous lie told by right wing nutjobs who would rather see millions of poor people die horribly than admit they might be wrong about something.

And anyone who unthinkingly buys into that lie needs to wise up fast.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one said they were choosing not to use condoms. The point was made that people can choose to believe in Catholic doctrine or not and that it is facile to blame the deep problems of Africa on the Church. The point was further made that the Catholic view is nonsense and that people who think they can do better charity work should work to displace the Church rather than waste their time moaning about the Pope and Church dogma.

Scarcely the views of 'right wing' nut jobs.

20/4/05 16:01  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

Well no anonymous, you're talking out of your arse.

"No one said they were choosing not to use condoms."

In the comments I referred to, that was said by two separate people...

"Do people in 'developing' countries really pay any serious attention to Church teaching on contraception? They seem to quite happily ignore it on all other matters. The Church has its view, people are free to either pay it attention or not"


"What makes people so sure that African Catholics are going to follow the teaching of the church on condoms whilst ignoring it's teaching on extra marital sex and so forth?"

and later (after I'd made the point about it not being a choice)...

"The problem is often that the men choose to have sex and choose to do it without condoms"

So I'm afraid, anonymous (would people please sign a name... even a false one, so I can refer to them as something other than "anonymous"?) that there were and are plenty of people saying "they were choosing not to use condoms".

I agree that the views of the Catholic church are nonsense. And the poor 18-year-old boy in Southern Angola may also consider them nonsense. Unfortunately, the church runs the only medical centre within three day's walk and have enough political clout in the region to ensure that he can't buy condoms in a shop (even if he had money, which he doesn't).

As for the "people who think they can do better..." argument? Fuck off.

So if a missionary organisation implements a policy which needlessly endangers the health of huge numbers of people, it's wrong to criticise it? What the hell are you on about?

20/4/05 16:12  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim, you are needlessly aggressive in your tone and seem wilfully to construe the arguments of others as uncharitably as possible.

Choosing to believe in Catholic teaching is not the same as choosing not to use condoms.

The points about condom use were made more explicity after your original complaints and, according to documentaries I have seen, are true to some extent. Even where condoms are given out the women complain that the men will not use them and will force or coerce the women into sex anyway.

Moreover, extreme and ruthless criticism of the Catholic Church is certainly in order. They are wrong in all that they think and do on these matters, but it is not me you need to convince about that but the people in Africa who choose to go along with these mistaken beliefs. (And by that I mean the people who refuse to distribute condoms.)

Africa's problems are deep, the fact that there are no shops, condoms, medical centres, sensible advice etc. are the problems of poverty and the Catholic church is not to blame for that nor will changing its stance condoms alter that fact.

Your complaints about the Church are 'pious humbug' because if the Church is really the only organisation running medical centres then that is because others are not willing.

20/4/05 16:41  
Blogger Bloggers4Labour said...

Is it "pious humbug" to expect a large and influential organisation, in a privileged position, and with a powerful hold over (and therefore a duty of care over) many millions of people to deny them information that could greatly improve their lives?

Ultimately you can't force people to behave in a certain way, but a more moral organisation would educate the vast majority, empower women, and criticise the recalcitrant rather than allowing them to believe they're doing god's work.

How typically New Right not to expect an organisation to behave morally but rely upon patently imperfect competition and an un-free market ('of ideas') to change the mindset of the local Catholic churches.

Next time the Daily Mail runs a story calculated to threaten and victimise travellers I must remind myself that the editors are strictly neutral and that the paper's readers are being held in thrall by the rigorous arguments being put forward, rather than the ideological fantasies of the people in charge or their need to rake in more money. Not that the Catholic Church is run like that, obviously.

20/4/05 19:41  
Anonymous Peter said...

"Peter talks about religious conversion with roughly the same amount of gravity as most people discuss what they feel like eating for supper this evening."

Well, yes, because I was making a joke - y'know, talking about downloading an application form for the Catholic Church on the internet? The reaction of silly liberals to the new Pope is heartening, but it's certainly not enough to make me convert to Catholicism.

20/4/05 20:14  
Blogger Andrew said...

You're setting up a false choice. The choice is not between Catholic-run medical centres, or medical centres run by condom-wielding aid workers. It is between Catholic-run medical centres or no medical centres at all.

You can disagree with the Catholic church, but at least they put their money where their mouths are. Once you've established a global religion with the associated deep pockets, feel free to engage in your own brand of missionary work.

20/4/05 20:30  
Blogger Bloggers4Labour said...

Yes but you just like stirring things up, believing we're so holier than thou that we'll whip ourselves into righteous (you'd say 'self-righteous') fury at any non-Guardian-approved 'thought crime'.

The mistake you make is that only about 75% of liberals are like that.

20/4/05 20:33  
Blogger Bloggers4Labour said...

Oh, my last one was aimed at Peter.

NTS, that's also a false choice. A more liberal Catholic approach would add a "condom-wielding Catholic aid workers" option. Nobody's suggesting that existing Catholic aid workers should be booted out, only that a less ideological approach from their 'superiors' could allow them to educate and save lives. If they can't/won't do that, why should they use their financial muscle to keep out others? So much for free markets.

20/4/05 20:39  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

anonymous, you are completely right when you accuse me of a needlessly aggressive tone in my last comment. I apologise for that.

To explain why (though not to justify), let me just say that, to me, the "people who think they can do better..." argument is like a red rag to a bull. Not only is it bunk in and of itself, but I find it personally insulting when levelled in my direction (for a bunch of reasons that I shan't go into right now).

All that aside, however, let's look at what's happening in some parts of Africa and I'll explain precisely what I find immoral about how the Catholic Church behaves there. If you find their behaviour in no way objectionable, then I guess we just have very different moral codes and we can leave it at that.

There are communities in some of the worst AIDS-infected areas where Catholic doctrine on this issue is implemented to such an extent as to effectively deny the choice of condom use there. This doesn't extend only to physically preventing them reaching the people there, but to an active campaign portraying them in a negative light.

You mention that: "Even where condoms are given out the women complain that the men will not use them and will force or coerce the women into sex anyway."

Well yes, a lot like Britain in the 40s then. And when the pill came along in the 60s, condoms disappeared again. Until AIDS. And then it took a huge advertising campaign to get reluctant men back into condoms. Unless you're suggesting that, at a racial level, African men are somehow fundamentally different in this respect to Europeans (and I don't think for a second that you are); then you must accept that it's a cultural thing.

And when you have the schools run by Catholic organisations, and the medical centres run by them, and all the official government literature on the subject sanctioned by them, and whatever mass media is accessible in the area is touting the same line...? Well it's no wonder the average man doesn't want to slip on a rubber.

But of course, my real problem is the deliberate removal of that option. That's what I find immoral. If an organisation like the Catholic Church sets up a medical centre in a deprived area, then they have a moral obligation to provide the best health care that their resources allow.

And they have a moral obligation not to allow a mystical doctrine to interfere with that care provision. Everyone knows the best way to combat the spread of AIDS is the distribution of condoms in tandem with a public education campaign. That's what it took over here. That's what needs to happen over there.

And even if you take a racial line, and say that black Africans cannot be educated in the dangers of unprotected sex and the benefits of condom use, then it still doesn't make it any less immoral that the only health professionals in the area are refusing to even try based upon personal religious conviction.

So it's got nothing to do with "false choices" between this or that. It's to do with the fact that I believe it's morally reprehensible for a doctor to accept charge of a group of people, and deliberately deny them access to something that has the potential to prevent them catching and perhaps spreading a deadly disease.

Do you believe that a doctor has the right to do that (and even to mislead on the subject) based upon their mystical beliefs? Or do you believe they have a higher moral obligation to the people in their care?

21/4/05 00:02  
Blogger merrick said...

There's something astonishingly narrow about saying it's nothing to do with the Catholic Church, that instead it's all because women want to use condoms but men are reluctant and the men get their way.

Hmm, let's see, what might contribute to a culture when women don't feel empowered enough to stand up to men, where they feel like they're second class and inferior?

The idea that we can't object to an organisation's action if we are not personally providing a positive alternative is dead right, though.

On those grounds, I will henceforth stop complaining about the erratic service on the 56 bus route in Leeds as I am not setting up a more relaible bus company.

And Jonathon Ross can fuck right off with any negative opinions on Film 2005 until he starts making good films himself.

And you, self-righteous pompous Jim Bliss, can shut up about Adobe until you have developed and released better applications.

22/4/05 14:28  

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