Sunday, April 02, 2006

9.37 p.m., April 2...


...most Poles can tell you that’s when Pope John Paul II finally succumbed to his long, and very public, illness.

A man of immense influence on world events, of course. But how influential?

One year ago, the day after he died, poor old John Paul was getting the blame by liberals for just about everything. He was even responsible for the spread of the AIDS virus in Africa, apparently.

Polly Tonybee, in the UK Guardian, predictably, described the Pope as 'a man whose edict killed millions'. Human rights activist Peter Tatchell, of OutRage!, said, 'Millions of people in developing countries are orphans, having lost their parents to AIDS because of the Pope's anti-condom dogma.'

I’m no Catholic – far from it - but I never went for this theory. John Paul might have played a major role in the demise of communism in Poland, for instance, but he wasn’t all powerful.

If it is correct that the Polish Pope helped spread AIDS in Africa by ordering the faithful to not wear condoms, then you would expect that the countries with the most Catholics in them would be the ones with the highest rate of HIV infection, right?

Well, no, not really.

In a very good article in Spiked last year, Brendan O'Neill pointed out what should have been obvious:

‘The two worst-hit countries (not only in Africa, but the world) are Swaziland, where the [infection]rate is 38.8 per cent, and Botswana, where it is 37.3 per cent. Yet these countries have low numbers of practicing Catholics: in Swaziland, between 10 and 20 per cent of the population is Catholic, while 40 per cent are Zionist (a blend of Christianity and indigenous ancestral worship) and 10 per cent are Muslim; in Botswana fewer than 5 per cent are Catholic, with 85 per cent of the population subscribing to ancient indigenous beliefs.’

And anyway, African Catholics are like Catholics all over the world. O’Neill goes on:

‘No doubt the Catholic Church has a malign influence in some areas, and religion is often more prevalent in poverty-stricken parts. But millions of Catholics around the world ignore Catholic doctrine every day, on contraception, abortion, sex before marriage, sex outside of marriage - and not only in Western Europe and the USA. A recent survey found that 90 per cent of the populations in Mexico and Brazil - two devout Catholic countries - support sex education for children under 14 (much to the fury of the Vatican). Why should Africans be any different?’

Liberals see Africans differently, I would argue, because they see them like they see themselves, as weak victims of all powerful forces beyond their control – in this case, the words of John Paul II.

Or maybe it's just a touchy-feely version of racial prejudice?

It can be argued that John Paul’s constant reminders that homosexuality is a heinous sin emboldened homophobes in Poland in recent years and contributed to making sexuality a political issue here. But pinning responsibility for AIDS in Africa on the old man is just patronizing nonsense.

26 comments:

DBN said...

As far as spreading sex is concerned, the liberal "doctrine" of casual sexual relationships is probably one of the reason for the spread of Aids in the West.

Surely, nobody in their right mind can blame abstinence for the spread of Aids.

In terms of homosexuality, if I am correct, Catholic teaching considers the homosexual act to be sinful.

Homosexuality itself is simply considered to be a mental disease.


Again, while controversial, this isn't far fetched. Homosexuality is obviously abnormal, if we look at human beings as a species (for a species must generate new members). Calling it "bad" rather than "good" is simply makings a judgment as to whether such an abnormality fits in to a larger picture of what humans are.

I haven't found a more comprehensive or more internally coherent account of the human that the one offered by the Catholic church (i.e. Christian teaching + Thomas Aquinas).

DBN said...

Beatroot, the first sentence of my comment should be: "As far as spreading Aids is conserned...".

Could you please change it.

beatroot said...

I think the main medium of HIV in the west is dirty needless, actually.

Abstinence would a very effective method of stopping everything - including leading a normal life, that is.

Homosexuality is a sin - if you take the bible seriously. But what if you don't?

Homosexuality as pathology? It depends, as you say, on how you regard statistical difference. There is no reason to see a small statistical deviation as morally bad - that's a political thing and nothing 'natural' about it. Just becuase something is unusual does not, logically, make it bad.

Thomas Aquinas had a pre-scientific view of humans, which was advanced for his time.

But that was when they were still burning witches.

beatroot said...

To ne honest dbn, I don't know how to change it. All I got is a rubbish bin....

but I knew what you meant when I read it...

georgesdelatour said...

I'm no Catholic, and I believe passionately in homosexual equality. And, like you, I think the anti-Pope assessments of Toynbee and Tatchell (and Eagleton) were unfair. He also did more for Christian-Jewish reconcilliation than any previous Pope.

beatroot said...

Eagleton is a catholic-marxist. It must have been difficult for him.

I'm not defending the Pope...I kind of admired him, as a man, but that's it.

My point is that westerners - and liberals particularly - have a very patronising view of Africans. They seem to think that if the Pope says 'don't wear condoms' then everyone will automatically go 'Oh, OK then,' and throw away the packet of durex.

DBN said...

"Abstinence would a very effective method of stopping everything - including leading a normal life, that is."


And "this is where the buried dog lies", as Poles would say. How do we define "leading a normal life?". Does this include casual sexual relationships, or does it limit sex exclusively to marriage?

I believe that there is the correct answer this question - for all human beings. But I don't necessarily believe that we have reached it yet.

The answer to this question is the proper aim of philosophy. But unfortunately, in today's world, where there is no truth, just points of view, there is no possibility for discussion.

Why talk if there is no goal to aim for?

[Only lovers talk to each other to find out more about each other. Otherwise we talk because we want to find out something about the world independent from us, and hence independent from our points of view]

Michael Farris said...

I think in strictly natural terms, homosexuality doesn't exist, homosexual acts exist (the same way there's no such thing as 'life', just living things).

Homosexual acts are based on the ability to bond with members of one's own sex and the capacity for enjoying recreational sex. Virtually all human beings share both those qualities (not having one or the other is probably maladaptive and far more 'unnatural' than homosexual acts in and of themselves). For most people the two don't co-occur or aren't linked, but there's nothing mysterious about the phenomenon.

Religious leaders may not think much of natural explanations though.

IMHO JPII did lots of good (detailed by lots of people in lots of places) and did some damage (some things that stick out for me were his inability to understand the differences between Eastern Europe and Central America and how political labels can mean different things in different places for instance, and his flat inability or unwillingness to come to terms with the modern world didn't do the church any favors).

Generally, I follow the advice of not saying negative things about him here because no one will listen.

DBN said...

WE are listening :)


ps homosexuality "exists" pretty much in the same way as "skillfulness", "glutony",or "hapiness" exist.

A universal that denotes concrete individuals.

sonia said...

dbn,

Catholic teaching considers the homosexual act to be sinful

Which act are you talking about? Sodomy? Heterosexuals perform it too. Oral sex? Straight people perform it as well. There isn't a single sexual act that isn't performed by both gay and straight people...

Homosexuality isn't about performing specific acts, it's about performing normal acts with people of the same sex. So this “hate the sin, love the sinner” BS is pure hypocrisy…

Homosexuality itself is simply considered to be a mental disease

Wow! I am so grateful that the Church considers me mentally diseased, rather than a sinner. What a relief!

Why should I care one way or another?

As for the Pope, he was a product of his time and place. I certainly don’t blame him for not understanding homosexuality or AIDS. He was ahead of his time on philo-semitism and anti-Communism, so that’s good enough for me.

Michael,

homosexuality doesn't exist

I think I would rather be mentally diseased than non-existent… So I will sooner accept the Church’s position than yours…

his inability to understand the differences between Eastern Europe and Central America and how political labels can mean different things in different places

If I understand it correctly, you think the Pope should have denounced Communism in Eastern Europe, but promoted it in Central America? The fact that the church was persecuted in Cuba, that the Sandinistas were a bunch of blood-thirsty thugs and that leftists rebels in El Salvador made Pol Pot look moderate, might have something to do with his reluctance to follow your advice…

georgesdelatour said...

This is an interesting post.

I like this argument that there are there are no homosexualists, simply homosexual acts. Sonia's right that every act associated with gayness is performed heterosexually too. And wherever gender separation is enforced (eg prison) you get significant numbers of "straight" people practicing "gay" sex. Are they mentally sraight, even as they're being physically gay?

But. I spend my whole working day with someone who's gay. He was brought up a Catholic, though he's now a militant Dawkins-style atheist. He's told me he knew he was gay from being a small child. He's planning a civil partnership ceremony soon. He'd insist that he's a hard-wired gay person, not just a person who happens only to have ever had gay sex.

Pope Benedict recently said gayness was "objectively disordered", though he refused to divulge any objective evidence for the scrutiny of others. It seemed to me his comments were highly subjective.

beatroot said...

DBN said: ...today's world, where there is no truth, just points of view, there is no possibility for discussion.

I agree with that, 100%. This is the relativism that has infected liberal cultural elites in the last twenty years. They think it's all very 'progressive' but actually, it's anti-scientist, and politically conservative and reactionary. It makes social progress impossible ('But, ooo, who's to say which society or culture is better than the other, balh, blah, blah....?"

Excuse me why I go and throw up...

That's better. Sonia is right to point out that physical acts are common to all types of humans. There is a history to this. Up until 1850s it was acts (eg. sodomy) that brought on the roth of the religious and the social sanction of the law. But then changes in medical and legal thought in the west created a new type of person - the homosexual. After that laws were made, not against acts, but against certain types of people - sexual deviants.

georgesdelatour said...

Beatroot -

Have you heard Rowan Williams' (head of the Anglican Church) interpretation of Leviticus? Leviticus says (approximately) "if a man lies with another man as he lies with a woman he commits an abomination". Williams says this injunction refers only to a heterosexual man who tries out gay sex for the purposes of sexual variety - not a man of purely homosexual orientation.

I don't think for one second that this is what the author of Leviticus meant, but as a lawyer-type argument it's quite brilliant. Williams knows the game is to do a 180 degree turnaround while insisting nothing has changed. He's not finding it easy. Catholics will probably find it even harder. Still, it's this kind of ingenious reinterpretation we need religious authorities to start practicing - especially Islamic ones.

beatroot said...

Leviticus also reminds us that:

You can't eat pork or shellfish;

Any emission of semen makes you unclean for a day;

A menstruating woman should be avoided for about a week, and anything she's touched is unclean;

You should only have one crop in your garden;

Slave-girls may be given a good seeing to regularly, if you make an offering to God first...

It's a wacky chapter, is Laviticus.

But as you say, George, the C of E is ,er..., bending over backwards to accomadate anyone and anything in a desperate attampt to get people back into church on Sunday.

Even if that does mean having menstrating women in church.

Michael Farris said...

"ps homosexuality "exists" pretty much in the same way as "skillfulness", "glutony",or "hapiness" exist.

A universal that denotes concrete individuals."

As a heuristic concept for denoting concrete actions, I think you mean.

heterosexuality and bisexuality also don't exist, there are just heterosexual acts, a bisexual act would have to involve more than one two people, but perhaps a thread about the anniversary of JPII's death isn't the most appropriate place for a discussion of this.

Michael Farris said...

" WE are listening :)"

Okay, his biggest failure early on was not realizing that the Catholic church and its policies were different in different times and places.

In Poland, the church was alligned with the people against state power and repression, in Central America (most of Latin America really) it was alligned with the state against the people.

The 'liberation' theologists he was so deadset against wiping out were actually trying to do something very much like he was trying to do in Poland, but he couldn't get past the labels.

I don't think it's any accident that the protestantism boomed in the 80's in latin america. Protestants were doing grasswork projects that helped people while JPII was censuring priests who tried to do the same ....

Now, aren't you sorry you asked?

beatroot said...

...a heuristic concept for denoting concrete actions, I think you mean.

You see folks, you even get bit of phenomenology on the beatroot blog!!!

gumish said...

micheal how do you know they were aiming at the same goal - the Pope and the liberation theologists. I just think liberation theologists have pretty forgotten most of what the Christ had taught.

Michael Farris said...

"how do you know they were aiming at the same goal - the Pope and the liberation theologists
I just think liberation theologists have pretty forgotten most of what the Christ had taught."

They were (primarily) in favor of representing the poor and oppressed against state power. I really don't think JPII ever fully understood how much the church in LAmerica stood _with_ state (and elite) power against the people. I think they probably could have been coopted pretty easily but diplomacy within the church hierarchy has never favored a light touch.

DBN said...

I think michael farris is right in his claim that JP2 was too harsh and onesided regarding "liberation" movements in South America.

The problem with liberation theology itslef is that it is a political movement, and as such goes beyond religious activity (and probably breaks agreements between Vatican and S American governments).

Michael Farris said...

"I think michael farris is right in his claim that JP2 was too harsh and onesided regarding "liberation" movements in South America."

Well, it's not "my" claim (I just agree with it tenatively). Hopefully, we won't dwell too much on this, I'm really not interested in getting into a long debate about the fine points of what LT was about. And overall, of course JP2 did a lot more good than harm, but no human with that much power can do _only_ good (that was my real point).

beatroot said...

My original post was about liberals' attitude to Africans - and we have been around the whole of humanity since - so why not a bit of LT!

LTists were closer to Christ than the mndern day Vatican (it could be argued). Christianity came from the poorer sectors of Roman occupied Israel. It was a religion designed to attract the poor. So LT was taking the 'revolutionary' spirit of christianity and giving it a South American twist.

And they were opposing a very aggressive US in those days (did you see that movie El Salvador and the nuns?.

And now we are in the second of wave of leftism in South America - just when we have a very aggressive US again.

The Pope should have supported the LTers. Rich man...eye of needle...camels

georgesdelatour said...

Beatroot -

I think your original point was that we assume US and European Catholics can listen to Catholic teaching on, say, contraceptives and make their own mind up. The Polish birth rate, for instance, proves that many otherwise pious Polish Catholics disregard a religious edict whenever they feel that edict is wrong or archaic. But we assume that African Catholics are like children, who know only total obedience, total submission to Papal authority. As you say, that's a racist assumption.

What happens if we apply your argument to Islamic societies, where not just condoms are involved, but stonings and beheadings too? I think calling for an apostate to be murdered is barbarism. I think everyone knows it's barbarism - even those calling for it. Yet those barbarians know they won't face serious hostile counter-demonstrations or opposition groups protesting against them. If Pope Benedict suddenly declared that all lapsed Catholics should be burned at the stake the entire Catholic community would be outraged, and the Vatican would have him declared insane and removed.

beatroot said...

Europeans think Africans are like children...

Well, exactly...and liberal journlaists are just being lazy (and reproducing prejudice) when they uncritically reprint that sort of nonsense without even checking facts in the obvious way O'Neill did.

What happens if we apply your argument to Islamic societies, where not just condoms are involved, but stonings and beheadings too? I think calling for an apostate to be murdered is barbarism.

True. The difference being that these are Islamic states...there are no 'Catholic states' to my knowledge (except for the Vatican, of course).

Islam nenver went through the Englightenment process the way that Judaism and Christianity had to.

Romerican said...

...most Poles can tell you that’s when Pope John Paul II finally succumbed to his long, and very public, illness.

I knew it! That photograph is clear evidence of an early form of Bird Flu!

beatroot said...

:-)