The follow in an excerpt from Matthew O’Neil’s latest book What the Bible Really Does (and Doesn’t Say) about Sex: The How, When, Why, and With Whom of Scriptural Prohibitions and Permissions (Pitchstone Publishing, 2015).
O’Neil, who also writes for this blog, has written a brilliant book that explores the often unhealthy and troublesome relationship between sex and religion. Focusing principally on Christianity, it examines the arguments religious moralizers and sanctimonious politicians make to condone or condemn certain sexual practices and lifestyles. But do they even get it right? What does scripture really say about the how, when, why, and with whom of sex? Is homosexuality really an abomination? Is abortion murder? Is premarital sex a sin? The answers may surprise you.
Check out the excerpt below about the Catholic Church, AIDS, and contraception:
Pope Paul VI wrote in Humanae Vitae (Human Life) in 1968 that it was “intrinsically wrong to use contraception,” inclusive of, but not limited to, sterilization, condoms, spermicides, coitus interruptus, and the pill. In 2003, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who led the Vatican’s Ponti cal Council, told news sources that the use of condoms would spread AIDS through a false sense of security after they were recommended to people who tested positive for HIV in Africa. Pope Benedict XVI stated in 2005 that condoms would “make the problem [of AIDS in Africa] worse” and offered an alternative to their recommendation, declaring that the “traditional teaching of the church has proven to be the only fail safe way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.” While it is undeniable that abstinence is the only guaranteed way to prevent the spread of the disease sexually, it is an unrealistic ideal. As studies have shown, individuals, especially young adults, who take an abstinence pledge are more likely to have more sexual partners, be at a higher risk of contracting STIs or STDs, and have an early or unplanned pregnancy than those who don’t take such a pledge.
What is worse than the outright denial of the effectiveness of contraception are the counseling clinics that peddle religious ideologies and literature to turn people away from contraception rather than provide medically sound information, preventative care, and abortion. One such example is Pregnancy Services of Western Pennsylvania, a facility run by Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr. This group caters to (mostly) impoverished women and attempts to talk the women seeking services out of abortion. It also promotes abstinence over contraception, including in lectures at public schools.
Similar to the medical-sounding facilities that fail to provide proper medical advice are the “educational” reports that rail against birth control, abortion, and preventative health care. These reports, produced by fundamentalist Christians, are typically pumped through self-published “academic” journals—all of which rely on discredited science. For example, Joe McIlhaney, an evangelical Christian medical doctor with numerous books on the negative effects of sexuality in mainstream culture, published a brochure the Catholic Church would have been proud of called “Why Condoms Aren’t Safe.”
Such tactics are nothing in comparison to the government circus that backed abstinence-only education at the beginning of the twenty- first century. Heads of various government agencies during this time appointed by George W. Bush were members of the Christian right who favored abstinence-only education and worked hard to discredit, and even silence, sound scientific research by public health officials. They also censored data that conflicted with their ideology, especially in relation to birth control. The promotion of pseudoscience within government led the Union of Concerned Scientists to author a March 2004 report titled Scientific Integrity in Policy Making. In it, the authors wrote, “There is significant can’t evidence that the scope and scale of the manipulation, suppression, and misrepresentation of science by the Bush administration are unprecedented.”