TCS Daily

Papal Condom-nation

By Tim Worstall - April 21, 2005 12:00 AM

Pope Benedict XVI has only been on the throne for a day and already there are calls for him, from The Guardian and elsewhere, to abandon one of the main planks of the Church's teaching on sex:

"Top of Pope Benedict XVI in-tray should be the question of condom use in the battle against Aids: here a shift of direction is urgently required, and all it would take is for the Pope to acknowledge the long-established Catholic teaching of the lesser evil. Death or condom use?"

I'm not a theologian but I rather think that the question there, death or condoms, is slightly mis-stated. From the Church's point of view it is sex or no sex, and as sex that does not welcome the possibility of conception is immoral, no sex is the answer. No, we don't have to like it or agree with it, very few of us indeed actually live by those standards, but it might be wise to actually understand what is being said rather than what we want to hear.

The Euro-Left (or if you prefer, that part of the dis-intelligentsia that writes in The Guardian) has something of a bee in their bonnet over this particular part of the Church's teaching, two of their stars managing to ignore the politesse of a civilized society and scream insults into the open grave of John Paul II. First, Terry Eagleton, known more generally as a near parody of the Marxist deconstructionist:

"The greatest crime of his papacy, however, was neither his part in this cover up nor his neanderthal attitude to women. It was the grotesque irony by which the Vatican condemned -- as a "culture of death" -- condoms, which might have saved countless Catholics in the developing world from an agonising Aids death. The Pope goes to his eternal reward with those deaths on his hands."

Second, Polly Toynbee (referred to by some of us on this side of the water as Polly Pot or the Pollster):

"With its ban on condoms the church has caused the death of millions of Catholics and others in areas dominated by Catholic missionaries, in Africa and right across the world. In countries where 50% are infected, millions of very young Aids orphans are today's immediate victims of the curia."

Well, that's certainly performing the function of the media, isn't it, speaking truth to power, pointing out the errors in the way the world is run. Well, it would be if the accusation were true, if indeed it were so that millions could be saved if only the Pope (whichever one, new or old) would put aside one of the basic tenets of the Faith. The first and most obvious answer is that of course the Church has no responsibility for these AIDS deaths at all. For along with the idea that one should not use contraceptives are the teachings that one should be virgin at marriage, not have sex outside marriage and marry only one person. It's rather difficult to see how, in a world that actually followed such teachings, AIDS would in fact be a sexually transmitted disease. In essence, the calls seem to be for the instructions to change to, don't sin, but if you must, sin twice, which isn't, as far as I can see, a great sales line for an organization interested in morality.

The condemnation also slightly falls down on the actual facts. Looking for a paper on the incidence of HIV by religious affiliation I found this:

"In areas where male circumcision is not the norm among the entire population, Muslims seem to have a distinct advantage over other religious affiliations. In one study of Uganda, Muslims who were circumcised at birth faced lower risk of HIV infection compared to Christians. 85% of Muslims in this part of Uganda were circumcised in infancy, while only 5% of non-Muslims were circumcised at all. At the same time, HIV prevalence among Muslims in this study averaged only 15% while Catholics and Anglicans averaged 20%. This lower prevalence existed despite greater likelihood of multiple sexual partners among the Islamic community, with a rate of 39% of Muslim males having two or more sexual partners in the last year. This difference can be traced to religious sanction of polygynous marriages as well as other factors."

One of the differences we know about the Anglican (Episcopal in the US) and Catholic Churches is in precisely this area, their views on the morality of the use of contraception, including of course, our friends the condoms, the subject of the above attacks. So it would appear that a change in the way the Catholic Church teaches on condoms would have, well, how much effect?

Just to make sure that the low Muslim rates were not a result of that religion's different views on the matter, try here:

"In the AIDS story, for example, the Daily Nation went to Skeikh Khalif, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims, who said: 'Muslims are opposed to the use of condoms for this will boost promiscuity. We cannot bend God's laws to make them conform to the passions of man.'"

That last sentence of the Sheikh's response could have been uttered by either of the two Popes under discussion.

It would seem therefore that despite the death of one and election of another Pope, fairly momentous events on their own, not a great deal has really changed. Three leftish writers rail against the influence of religion on the basis of no facts whatsoever. Situation normal, in short.

The author is a TCS contributor living in Europe. Find more of his writing here.


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