Mar 18, 2009

The Catholic Church and the Fight Against AIDS

Pope Benedict in response to a question on whether the church's position on fighting AIDS was "unrealistic" and "ineffective"?

Here is some of what he said in response on the Papal plane:

"One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem.

"The solution can only be a double one: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; second, a true friendship even and especially with those who suffer, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices and to be with the suffering. And these are factors that help and that result in real and visible progress.

"Therefore I would say this is our double strength -- to renew the human being from the inside, to give him spiritual human strength for proper behavior regarding one's own body and toward the other person, and the capacity to suffer with the suffering. ... I think this is the proper response and the church is doing this, and so it offers a great and important contribution. I thank all those who are doing this."

As your trusty translator of papal language, I'd like to say that this is going to make negative headlines but it is really one of the more beautiful things that a Pope has ever said.

In a world that has turned sex into just another commodity--something to just be consumed--the Pope's thought is that there needs to be a culture shift in thinking about sex in a new (old?) way. Sex is beautiful--so beautiful that it needs not become just another daily exercise or an item on your "to do" (no pun intended) list. We know it is powerful psychologically in creating unity between husband and wife but it also has creative power--the literal power to create another human being. How often do we think about either of these things when it comes to sex--or when we're simply "in the mood?" For people who have sex often the novelty of sex may have worn thin, seemingly difficult to re-capture those initial sparks. But is that because they never really consider sex in a deeper dimension; only focusing on the genital pleasure that it provides as opposed to the deeper intimacy that we should strive for in connecting with one another?

His second point is just as beautiful. If we really cared about the people in Africa with AIDS we'd be doing a lot more for them. Instead we wallow in our own mundane concerns and leave this problem to the people in their country. We hear many people say that we need to take care of our country first and other countries later. The Pope's thought here is that we need to take care of all humanity always. We need a renewed spirit and vision in order to make this a priority. We can't solve all the world's problems alone--but together we can indeed make great strides with our human committment as well as with our dollars.

The "problem" with the Pope's thought--and I use the quotes not to minimize this but merely to get more deeply at the issue...

This takes time.

A culture shift cannot happen overnight. Condom use may indeed prevent the spread of AIDS in the immediate realm but it does nothing to shift the culture. It merely makes having sex for people who have the virus (or even those who wish to avoid pregnancy) more conveinent. Now because the culture is not there yet--the dilemma is huge. How does one change a culture and then continue to protect those who are in danger of contracting AIDS because there are people who do not yet share the Pope's views on the need for a culture change. Men are indeed infecting young women with the AIDS virus because they have a disregard for their lives and see women as a disposable commodity and secondly because they also regard genital sex as their only need as opposed to intimate connection with another. Crudely put, why would they want intimate connection with someone who they do not consider to even be worthy of the same status that they have. Simply put, because men are regarded as being "better" than women in African culture--we have a huge problem.

Women's rights all over the world need to be treated as a priority--but have we started to provide women with a mixed message? I think the message the culture has given them with regards to sex is this:

Women of the can get laid like men and treat them in the same manner that they have been treating you, if you just use birth control and condoms. Men indeed are just as disposable as women and are commodofied for sexual gratification in many cultures.

This indeed is the attitude that needs to change. We must strive for a culture of mutual respect for both genders despite our past which certainly favored men over women in almost every culture. This doesn't mean we revert to the submissive woman and the dominant male but rather, we need to shift much more broadly into a culture of life. Where woman matters equally with men, where children are valued by community and cared for by the community as well as by the parents. This community needs to re-create sexual power to highlight its transcendant nature over its orgasmic immediacy.

Until that time comes--and it probably won't happen anytime soon (mostly because most people, and most people in the church itself, are selfish and want to simply satisfy their own urges and don't really give a hoot about anything or anyone else) the world indeed stays broken.

Where do we start? That's the big scary question.

And none of us dare to answer it.


annegirl said...

Thanks so much for your insight on this subject...this was a very thoughtful response to the pope's statement. I agree that the dilemma is huge and isn't that often the place that we find ourselves in as a faith community called by Christ in the modern world. I wish more people would take the time to think through the Pope's words though. I hope to forward your posting on to some of my friends who have a tendency to fly off the handle whenever the pope says something unpopular.
Annie Devine

Jason said...

It merely makes having sex for people who have the virus more conveinent.

I think it's unfair to reduce it to a matter of convenience. Truly, this is life and death we're talking about. This is not condoms as contraception, but condoms as HIV prevention.

As you said, the needed cultural shift is a long-term project and the Church is right to pursue this with ferver, but in the short term do we just allow people to get HIV and die, especially in a place where adequate treatment is just not available like it is here in the US?

Is this our approach as a pro-life community?

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