Thursday, July 30, 2015

Leah Mickens on Kenyan Catholic Bishops' Response to Polio Vaccination Campaign: Problem Is Not Just Kenyan Bishops

Yesterday, Leah Mickens published a statement about the response of the Catholic bishops of Kenya to the polio vaccination campaign in their nation, about which I had posted. As I did, Leah notes that the Kenyan bishops had previously opposed a tetanus vaccination initiative with claims that it was a covert attempt to make Kenyan women infertile. She points out that Islamic clerics in some countries have also been maintaining that polio vaccinations are used by the West to sterilize or give contraceptives to non-Western people.

About the willingness of the Catholic bishops of Kenya to sow seeds of suspicion regarding an important public-health campaign, as they employ rank fear-mongering and absurd anti-scientific myths to accomplish their goal, Leah writes,

I suppose Western Catholics will insist that this kind of knee-jerk anti-science/anti-public health attitude is just the result of bishops in a poor country without access to proper doctors or accurate information and should not be seen as indicative of the church as a whole, but that’s not true. I remember that a lot of the parishioners at St F, the Latin Mass parish I once attended, didn’t vaccinate because they were afraid that they had been produced with aborted fetal tissue, and didn't want to be "accessories to evil" (see here for a rebuttal to this: Western conservative Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, have been eagerly using sub-saharan Africa as a proxy front in the culture wars by convincing their African peers that godless liberals and international organizations like UNICEF are trying to undermine "traditional values" and that fundamentalist religion is the only way to inoculate themselves against this diabolical threat. During his tenure as an "active pope," Benedict XVI used the language of Western values "infecting Africa," as well as providing credence to views contrary to science-based medicine, like the infamous "condoms don’t protect against HIV infection" comment. When even the highest prelate in the church is engaging in woo-tastic thinking, can we really be surprised that lower clergy are following suit?

We really do live in a remarkable period of religious (and Catholic) history, it seems to me — remarkable due to the willingness of many people of faith to go to such extreme lengths to attack sound scientific findings in the name of preconceived religious ideas, to oppose inoculation on the basis of hysterical fantasies about medical procedures, to use the language of disease and infection to fan the flames of ugly prejudice. After Vatican II, it looked to many of us as if the Catholic church had turned a corner regarding such matters.

Unfortunately, our hope was betrayed, and we're back in the Middle Ages with this rhetoric of devils in disguise and infection spread by threatening others. And as Leah says, to the chagrin of the entire church, not a little of this ugliness emanates right from the top of the Catholic church. At times, it appears the men running the Catholic church will do almost anything to assure that the rights of women and gay folks are kept in check anywhere in the world in which religious strictures continue to make this possible.

No comments: