Friday, March 20, 2009

Condoms Cause AIDS: The Cruel, Twisted "Logic" of Right-Wing Christian Opposition to Condoms

22 million people have got AIDS now because of the condom campaign. It’s making it worse, not better!

I blogged recently about the maleficent right-wing discourse that forms the backdrop to the pope’s recent statement that condoms do not inhibit the spread of AIDS but make the epidemic worse (here). As my posting notes, centrist American Catholic apologists for Benedict and the status quo are deliberately missing the point, when they ask what the pope could have, might have, must have meant by his remarks about condoms and AIDS.

The pope’s intent in stating that condom use does not solve but deepens the AIDS crisis is clearly evident in the bogus science and cruel ideological distortions promoted by right-wing political and religious groups who adamantly oppose distribution of condoms in Africa and elsewhere. One of those ideologues appeared on British television this week: Joanna Bogle, a Catholic journalist and theology student at Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England. The statements that form the epigraph of this posting—22 million people have got AIDS now because of the condom campaign; [condoms are ] making it worse—are from a panel discussion recently moderated by Jon Snow on a British television station (here).

Following her embarrassing rant on Jon Snow’s program, Joanna Bogle has continued fiercely to defend her position that condoms are causing the AIDS crisis, not addressing it. She defends this position on her blog against fellow Catholics who do not subscribe to her extreme ideological position, and who tell her she is an embarrassment to them as Catholics.

In response to these critics, Bogle states,

Distribution of condoms has led to an overall widespread increase in casual sexual contacts, as people have been told that casual sex can now be made "safe". . . .

So promotion of any policy that promotes increased sexual encounters is going to increase the overall chances of further AIDS cases day by day.

The Church offers a 100 per cent measure that will protect you from AIDS - no sexual contact with an infected person. (

Bogle also maintains that her primary interest vis-a-vis condoms concern for those dying of AIDS (here). In opposing the availability and distribution of condoms—passionately so—and in promoting what she characterizes as “the” Catholic position and the Holy Father’s position—Bogle is only trying to save lives, and to succor those now dying of AIDS.

Something is clearly wrong with this picture. And it baffles (and appalls) me that American Catholics of the center apparently don’t see this, just as they apparently do not see the sharp knives hidden in other aspects of traditional Catholic sexual morality. This is another of those cases in which Catholic sexual morality, in all its far-flung implications, simply misses the point—spectacularly so. Human experience and human behavior do not conform to rational schemes imposed from on high by those who know better than the mere mortals with whose lives they are playing as they impose their rational absolutes.

The “logic” of the position Bogle is defending (and this is, indeed, the position Benedict promotes with his comments, notwithstanding the attempts of my centrist brothers and sisters to spin his words in a more moderate direction) could not be starker, clearer—and more wrong:

1. People get AIDS through sexual contact.
2. Increase the possibility of casual sexual contact, and you increase the possibility that AIDS will spread.
3. The only absolute safeguard against the spread of AIDS is abstinence and/or monogamous sex within one relationship for life.
4. People who get AIDS have behaved immorally, because they have not been abstinent and/or have violated their monogamous marital relationship.

Logical, no? Ironclad in its demonstrable proofs, no? And totally wrongheaded? Yes, absolutely so.

People do not behave like logical automatons. People's behavior cannot be predicted logically in the same way that one can predict the trajectory of a pinball launched into a pinball machine. People are unpredictable. People are weak. People do what is unexpected. People know better but do not always do better.

When one takes those incontrovertible facts about human behavior and translates them into a situation in which unpredictability, weakness, inability to do what is logically correct and mandated from on high may expose people to death, one has a strong, overriding moral responsibility to prevent death. Even if preventing death means questioning less compelling moral norms such as the obligation to be chaste. The opposition of right-wing Christian ideologues to condom use in the AIDS epidemic is all about increasing the chances that people will die, while we uphold doctrinal purity in the most draconian ideological way possible.

And it's not just “immoral” people who “deservedly” get AIDS who will die Innocent people. Babies who become infected even before they have been born. Women whose husbands sleep with someone infected with HIV and then have sex with their wives. Prostitutes whose livelihood depends on having sex and who have little control over the decisions of those with whom they have sex—who may, in fact, be coerced by their clients. People who are raped and coerced into having sex. Teens just discovering erotic drives and lacking sound information about all that is entailed in their choice (or propulsion) to be sexually active.

These are the people right-wing Christian ideologues would expose to lethal illness—to death—by their insistence that condoms are part of the problem and not the solution to the AIDS crisis. These are the people about whom they claim to care, as they crusade against condoms.

These human beings are clearly simply the human fallout in ideological wars that have nothing at all to do with the human beings who happen to die in these wars. The resistance to condoms in places like Africa is not, ultimately and sadly, about Africans, or poor people, or women (or girls) coerced into having sex in brutally patriarchal cultures in which women do not have the power to say no.

This resistance is all about keeping Catholic sexual morality hard, fast, and secure in the developing nations of the world. It is a resistance to the control that more and more women have over their destinies, bodies, and reproductive lives since the advent of the birth control pill. It is, above all, an adamant, cruel, opposition to the claims of gay and lesbian brothers and sisters on the rest of the body of Christ.

What Benedict and Joanna Bogle are defending is ideology, not the gospel. An ideology that they intend to maintain at all cost, as if the church's future and the whole meaning of the gospel depends on that immutable ideology. Because they have invested everything in this ideology. Because they believe that questioning it or allowing others to question it will lead to crucial changes in church and society that they do not intend to permit. Because questioning or allowing others to question this ideology may open the door to women's empowerment in the Catholic church and to the welcome of gay and lesbian human beings.

When any ideology finds its way to the top of the canon of revealed truth—though it is not revealed truth—and when that ideology clearly links to callousness about the lives of real human beings, innocent human beings, weak and fallible human beings—we have departed from the gospels. Nothing about the insistence that condoms do not prevent but help spread AIDS is rooted in the gospels—despite the loud insistence of those promoting this position that it is the only valid, the only thinkable, Catholic position.