Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pope values religious dogma over African lives?

On his way to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday that condoms are not the answer to preventing more HIV infections on the continent. "On the contrary," he said, "it increases the problem."

According to Victor Simpson of the Associated Press, three-fourths of all AIDS deaths worldwide in 2007 were in sub-Saharan Africa. By all accounts, an HIV pandemic is raging throughout this impoverished continent and has been for some time.

Pope Benedict has an alternate solution in mind, something he feels will be more effective than condoms. He and his senior Vatican officials advocate fidelity in marriage and abstinence from premarital sex as the key weapons in fighting HIV/AIDS.

Well, that's a nice little fantasy that might do well in a Cinderella cartoon. In reality though, such a recommendation shows a ludicrous "head in the sand" lack of awareness of the social structure in many impoverished African nations, and the collapse of social structure as their resources vanish. In the deep poverty that characterizes much of sub-Saharan Africa, women often lack autonomy in their relationships, marital or premarital. Men decide when, where, how often, and with whom sexual relations occur.

In cultures that have been disrupted by the depletion of natural resources, men often move to urban centers seeking work, leaving wives or girlfriends behind, and beginning new relationships in the informal settlements outside of cities. Men pick up HIV in these settlements and carry it back to their villages on their return visits. If they can afford to return.

Women in urban centers, less employable than men, may live in desperate poverty. Unable to farm in the city, they may be forced into the sex trade to feed their children.

On top of these dynamics are traditional spiritual beliefs, held in some areas, that a man's immortality is secured through the number of progeny he leaves behind, which can encourage promiscuity among men who are forced from their homelands in search of work.

So now the pope says, let's suggest to them that they suddenly return to a society where they are all able to remain with their nuclear family, and practice monogamy throughout adolescence and adulthood.

Does the pope read books? Does he watch documentaries? Is he in any way in touch with reality? I think I'll try to mail him "Darwin's Nightmare," an excellent documentary about the collapse of normal cultural life around Tanzania's Lake Victoria, after the collapse of the lake's ecology.

Rebecca Hodes with the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa said if the pope is serious about new HIV infections, he will focus on promoting wide access to condoms. "Instead, his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans," said Hodes. Hear, hear. Well said, Ms. Hodes. If only the pope were listening, or interested.

What do you think, readers?

Source: Victor Simpson. March 18, 2009. On Africa trip, pope says condoms won't end AIDS. Associated Press.

Keywords:: pope AIDS HIV Africa condoms

4 comments:

Frank Spengler said...

Dr. Kneidel, I have always been disappointed in the election of Joseph Ratzinger to the Holy See by the Church's College of Cardinals. It seemed, even at first, to be a diversion from the previous pope's more progressive policies and legacy. As a former Catholic, I view Pope Benedict's Papacy as an affront to the reforms that had begun under Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council.

When I first read about Benedict's comments regarding condom use and abstinence, I wasn't surprised but was definitely disappointed. It's almost as if Benedict's leading the faithful back to the mindset of the Middle Ages, prior to the Reformation when Christian theocracy, feudalism, and serfdom were the order of the day. I always thought his attitudes dovetailed nicely with those of George W. Bush, especially now, with his advocating of abstinence as not just a first-line defense against sexually transmitted diseases, but depending upon it as the only tool in the toolbox. He's certainly not pragmatic, or even aware -- apparently -- of the ways of the world. To me, he's irrelevant and redundant, and a detriment to the betterment of life on this planet.

Sally Kneidel, PhD said...

Hi Frank
Thanks for your perspective as a former Catholic. I agree that the current pope's views seem to dovetail nicely with George Bush's, which is unfortunate. Bush too, in my assessment, seemed to care more about dogma than reality.
I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts.
Sally K.

Frank Spengler said...

Good evening, Sally. As Michael Wolff wrote in his column, Infallibility can only survive so many gaffes.

You have a very informative blog. I'm not sure how I came across it ("Labor Issues" I think), but I'm glad I did. Hope you don't mind if I offer my two-cents every once in awhile.

Peace, and best of luck with all of your ventures.

Sally Kneidel, PhD said...

Frank, please offer comments whenever and wherever. It makes more interesting reading for everyone. I left a longer comment in response to your 2nd comment about media-generated anxiety.
Sally