Pope Benedict XVI appears to be facing some resistance in his obtuse crusade to charge Catholicism and its billion or so adherents bravely into the sixteenth century. Several European Union nations have public expressed outrage regarding the Pope’s affirmation that condoms are not only unhelpful for combating HIV, but actually help spread the virus. That this flies in the face of scientific proof that latex condoms provide an effective barrier to transmission is immaterial – the Pope is impervious to information of any kind. He is similarly blind to the 22 million people currently infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, of whom 1.6 million are expected to die if current trends continue. These announcements are made on an semiannual basis, and I am sure the Pope feels that such revelations are essential to his mission and are newsworthy in that the statements are photocopied and recited without a single word out of place each time. Misinformation like this is what makes the HIV pandemic so effective in Africa, where condom use is low, women’s reproductive rights are rarely enforced, and Christianity is adhered to closely enough that such words do have an effect. The archbishop of Mozambique certainly believes this, as he informed his nation that condoms are intentionally infected with HIV by foreigners, and should be avoided en masse while his people breed their way to an early grave.
Despite that the Pope’s recurrent edicts are condescending at best and genocidal at worst, I am not of the opinion that he should be reprimanded in the least in his work. Regardless of what anyone feels on the matter, he is doing his job. The papacy was created to preserve the religious dogma of the Catholic Church, not to issue political statements or push the Church in a progressive direction. Even if ideology demands accelerating one of the largest and certainly the most insidious plague in human history, ruining any hope of economic recovery in Africa, and leaving wide swaths of land devoid of all people save children and the elderly, then so be it. If the Catholic Church has demonstrated nothing else, it is the utter indifference of its God and the immobility of His teachings. If I were God, I would be deeply fucking pissed to represented in this way, but perhaps God or the Pope have a vicious sense of irony.
The outcome of the Pope’s ardent principle is that death is preferable to a life where Catholic doctrine is compromised. While I admire his bravery and willingness to sacrifice the lives of millions on behalf of his belief system, the entire sordid relationship he has with Africa smacks of the worst hangover from colonialism, and the last gasp of the White Man’s Burden. Promising only theoretical salvation in exchange for continued unprotected sex and the continued momentum of HIV requires a blithely cavalier attitude. The Church advocates that marital fidelity is bulwark enough against infection, despite marriage as one of the major risk factors for HIV infection for women. Some local priests recommend condom use in spouses, but even this the Pope cannot accept. There must be no compromise in the march to the mausoleum.
I can think of no worse way to sell a religion than to place a Klieg light upon its status as a sect that actively sells death, but its steadfast position seems to be all Catholicism, and ultimately Christianity in general, has left. Physics is growing ever closer to discovering the ‘god particle’ that can help explain the Big Bang and perhaps the Unified Field Theory. Biology and Evolutionary Theory, though a work in progress, is a collection of theories that explore the living world and how it has shaped itself over millennia. Various branches of philosophy investigate the human mind, emotion, and ethical considerations in an imperfect world. What exactly does religion offer to those who are in the market for understanding? One could claim religion seeks an ultimate truth, but this is a flimsy elucidation at best. Seeking truth involves looking for an explanation, whereas all religions have in common a refusal to learn anything new. “Truth” in the eyes of the devout is to cease asking questions of any kind and accept the ravings of ancient people born long before people even understood that the stars were not holes in a giant bowl that sat upon the earth.
Leave the Pope alone – he and religion in general have ceased to matter to the human race and its pursuit of meaning and understanding. The big joke is, the vast majority of the global population have yet to realize this. Targeting the Pope is a waste of time, and attempting to reason with a mind long ossified by lunacy is to lecture a wall. A more useful approach involves bringing information to people – any method will do. Small measures such as tutoring a kid in school to understand math without using a calculator or starting a nature film series for activity-starved inner city kids can have immeasurable effects. Larger efforts like supporting politicians that champion the potential of public schools, volunteering to teach language or business subjects in developing countries, or bringing HIV prevention teaching to hard-hit regions will end up saving lives, and guaranteeing a greater quality of life to people you will never even meet. HIV prevention involves dispassionate provision of information, rather than the proselytizing agenda that the Pope would prefer. This is how the war of ideas is fought – an inch at a time, against those who would prefer to forget that facts are to the detriment of faith.