. . . The Fallacies and Lack of Sense Inherent in Such an Approach
Would you trust your life to a crapshoot? [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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We orthodox Catholics all know the mantra: the Catholic Church has no compassion on suffering people; we’re anti-sex; we’re anti-science. We like to control people and take away their fun and freedom. We arbitrarily impose our will on poor unsuspecting folks who just want to have a little (sexual) fun. We’re completely unrealistic and stuck in some Puritanistic time warp. We cover our eyes to reality and offer simplistic, naive solutions to real problems. Yes; those of us who observe our wonderfully sound, profoundly wise culture observe these “criticisms” of the Church all the time.
First, let’s see what Pope Benedict XVI actually said, about condoms and AIDS, which was a big controversy a few months back, rather than reading jaded, hackneyed, tendentious secular news reports that “summarize” what he said:
The pope was asked, “Holy Father among the many evils that affect Africa there is also the particular problem of the spread of AIDS. The position of the Catholic Church for fighting this evil is frequently considered unrealistic and ineffective?”
Pope Benedict XVI replied:
I would say the opposite. I think that the reality that is most effective, the most present and the strongest in the fight against AIDS, is precisely that of the Catholic Church, with its programs and its diversity. I think of the Sant’Egidio Community, which does so much visibly and invisibly in the fight against AIDS … and of all the sisters at the service of the sick.
I would say that one cannot overcome this problem of AIDS only with money — which is important, but if there is no soul, no people who know how to use it, (money) doesn’t help.
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.
[ source ]
In the same article, it was reported that a prominent AIDS prevention researcher backed up the pope’s words:
Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, has said that the evidence confirms that the Pope is correct in his assessment that condom distribution exacerbates the problem of AIDS. “The pope is correct,” Green told National Review Online Wednesday, “or put it a better way, the best evidence we have supports the pope’s comments.”
“There is,” Green added, “a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded ‘Demographic Health Surveys,’ between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction ‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by ‘compensating’ or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology.” ( see the full interview with Green here )
The Harvard AIDS Project’s webpage on Green lists his book “Rethinking AIDS Prevention: Learning from Successes in Developing Countries“. It is stated that Green reveals, “The largely medical solutions funded by major donors have had little impact in Africa, the continent hardest hit by AIDS. Instead, relatively simple, low-cost behavioral change programs–stressing increased monogamy and delayed sexual activity for young people–have made the greatest headway in fighting or preventing the disease’s spread.” . . .
See Dr. Green’s impressive credentials and list of publications.
The National Review interview with Dr. Green has more interesting facts:
“We have found no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates, which, 25 years into the pandemic, we should be seeing if this intervention was working.”
So notes Edward C. Green, . . .
Green added: “I also noticed that the pope said ‘monogamy’ was the best single answer to African AIDS, rather than ‘abstinence.’ The best and latest empirical evidence indeed shows that reduction in multiple and concurrent sexual partners is the most important single behavior change associated with reduction in HIV-infection rates (the other major factor is male circumcision). . . . More and more AIDS experts are coming to accept the above. The two countries with the worst HIV epidemics, Swaziland and Botswana, have both launched campaigns to discourage multiple and concurrent partners, and to encourage fidelity.”
Another prominent AIDS prevention activist from Uganda, Martin Ssempa, has also thanked the pope for his remarks. The article states:
“Here in Uganda when AIDS came we did not think it was caused by lack of condoms. No it was the presence of promiscuity. What the Pope is saying is true. It however makes those who are determined to live in a life of promiscuity feel spotlighted,” Ssempa said.
Martin Ssempa has spent nearly two decades on the frontline of Uganda’s highly successful AIDS prevention program that focuses on encouraging sexual abstinence and fidelity in marriage. “Our successful policy,” he said, “always put abstinence and being faithful ahead of any medical products such as condoms and testing.” . . .
I have constructed my own argument that looks at the logic of this sort of thinking (condom advocacy):
Uganda’s population is mainly Christian, and the message, supported by government-sponsored promotion, that men and women should not engage in extra-marital sex dramatically reduced Uganda’s AIDS rate over the last couple decades. Ssempa and other local AIDS activists have frequently decried the interference of US and Europe-based international organizations who reject abstinence and fidelity principles in favor of condoms. This, they say only encourages promiscuity and the spread of the deadly disease. Since the intervention of the international AIDS groups, with their emphasis on condoms and downplaying of abstinence, Uganda’s AIDS rate has begun, according to local experts, to “tick back up.”
When one thing (A) causes another bad, undesirable, dangerous thing (B), it is clear that the first thing that causes the other ought to cease. So to prevent B, we ought to urge cessation of A. This is the reasoning we apply to cigarettes and lung cancer. To stop the latter, we strongly urge the cessation of the former, because a clear causal connection has been proven. In the case of AIDS, we know that the usual cause is sexual promiscuity and also anal sex.
The fallacy and folly arises introducing stop-gap measure C into the equation. The reasoning then runs as follows:
- 1) We know that A (certain sexual practices) causes B (AIDS) (direct causal relationship).
- 2) Therefore, to reduce B, it might be reasonably thought that we ought to reduce A.
- 3) But people don’t want to (and perhaps are unable to) reduce A, because it is a sexual practice they enjoy and refuse to give up.
- 4) Therefore, we’ll introduce C (condoms), which reduces the incidence of B in many cases, but not all the time.
- 5) But unfortunately this entails “sacrificing” many people who don’t properly utilize C (and C has also been shown to not be foolproof in prevention even if used properly). In other words, it is inevitable that many thousands will continue to suffer with B, because C is not a complete answer to preventing B. We know this to be a fact.
- 6) But we’ll do it anyway because of the impossibility (in reality) of most people ever giving up A.
The Church disagrees with this, on many levels. This is how the Church reasons:
- 1) We know that A (certain sexual practices) causes B (AIDS) (direct causal relationship).
- 2) We also know that A as practiced is often immoral, according to traditional sexual morality (and many additional non-religious arguments for this can be produced, such as, e.g., the plain medical facts that immoral sex is overwhelmingly more unhealthy and dangerous on the whole, than traditional sex), not just in Christianity but in most of the world’s major religions (fornication, adultery, homosexual acts, etc.).
- 3) So we prohibit immoral forms of A even before we arrive at this issue.
- 4) But even setting aside for the sake of argument, the moral issues and approaching it on purely secular, pragmatic “health” and “prevention” grounds, does it help things at all to introduce stopgap measure C (condoms) which is only partially successful: especially into a situation that is already tragically widespread, alarming, and of an epidemic nature?
- 5) It does not, because it “sacrifices” those who won’t use the stopgap measure properly. It doesn’t work without fail, as abstinence in those situations does work without fail.
- 6) Moreover, we reject the notion that human beings cannot control their sexual impulses. They certainly can, with proper education and support for the resolve to live according to traditional sexual morality. Today it is easier than ever to teach this, not only from a moral perspective, but from the perspective of self-protection and self-interest: not wanting to be unhealthy or to have bad relationships in the long run.
- 7) But the recourse to stopgap measure C is also ethically and rationally dubious, because it is exactly analogous to sending someone out to sea with a boat that doesn’t develop leaks, say, 90% of the time (and there are no life jackets). Assume a scenario where it is known to be a fact that the boats will leak and sink 10% of the time, as a matter of statistics. But we send them out anyway, under the illusion that they are quite safe from leaks and the sea. We send them knowing that 10% on average will drown or otherwise suffer, due to known failure of the seaworthiness of the boats (i.e., leaks). Is this a sensible, moral choice? Do we propose solutions where we know they cannot and will not be 100% effective? No; we wouldn’t do that. We would either tell a person not to go out to sea in such a boat (“abstain from the sea,” so to speak) or we would develop a boat that is 100% sink-proof (like the Titanic was).
- 8) Therefore, the Catholic Church proposes that traditional morality, including abstention where necessary, is the way to reduce and eliminate AIDS, not using measures that cannot attack the cause of the problem at its roots, and where people will die, under the illusion that they are “safe.” It is possible to control the sexual urge and to be healthy, with proper moral and scientific education.
- 9) The Catholic solution is both far more rational and compassionate, because it refuses to accept that human beings are uncontrollable animals, or that they have to die by engaging in practices known to be unhealthy. The sexual practices involved were known to be unhealthy, as it is, long before AIDS was ever heard of.
The Church (along with many other world religions) has taught for 2000 years that certain sexual practices were wrong. What is morally wrong also tends to be highly unhealthy, physically and psychologically. But when people reject Christianity, they no longer accept the word of the Church. Therefore, they must be approached with hard facts from medical science, that appeal to the natural human self-interest and self-protection from injury. We can provide those.
We know that people are, overall, much happier and healthier by following traditional sexual morality. And we know this from medical science and social science, not just “subjective and arbitrary” or “anti-pleasure” (as it is thought to be) religious dogma. That is the answer; not a “band-aid” on a gaping wound, that has no chance of resolving the problem because it fails to attack it at the roots and fundamental causational level.
Related Studies of Condom Use
Secular / Scientific / Medical Sources
Safety First: 14 Common Condom Use Errors [LiveScience]
Condom Fact Sheet In Brief [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]
“[C]ondom use cannot provide absolute protection against any STD. The most reliable ways to avoid transmission of STDs are to abstain from sexual activity, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.”
Catholic or Pro-Life Sources
Condoms: Little-Known Scientific Facts [Human Life International]
Doctors speak out about condom failures [ProLife.com]
Surprise: Study Finds Condoms Don’t Work [Against STDs] [Catholic News Agency]
The Condom: False Savior [American Life League]