It’s taken quite some time for the attacks upon the Roman Catholic church, the Pope and all serious Christians to die down. Dead they are not, but resting in their ugly tomb they most certainly are until the opportunity arises again. The reason, or the excuse, for the last barrage was the Pope’s comments about the dangers of condom use in Africa in the attempt to prevent AIDS. It has been an extraordinary lesson in applied ignorance and the survival of prejudice. Talk-radio hosts who had long callously and naively blamed Africans for all of Africa’s sufferings suddenly became champions of the continent.
Doctors and academics who had shown no previous concern for the plight of Africa were instantly transformed into experts and partisans. It is enough to make one weep. The weeping, however, should be for Africa, rather than a bunch of anti-Catholic hypocrites.
Some context first. AIDS had smashed its way through Africa for almost two generations before most people in Europe or North America had even heard of it. It killed poor black people many miles away and nobody matters less to wealthy whites than poor blacks many miles away. It was only when the disease was brought into the male homosexual community of the United States that the likes of Elizabeth Taylor became so emotional on television and numerous actors, politicians and public figures made it one of the most fashionable causes in modern times.
Indeed, AIDS is a fascinating case study in itself, in that while politicized statistics and agenda-driven activists try to tell us otherwise, AIDS in the West is still largely a concern for gay men and intravenous drug-users. It’s hard to forget the announcement from Canadian health officials that the AIDS rate had doubled in the mainstream community in one particular area. It had. From one person to two. But it is the suffering itself, rather than the nature of the sufferer, that should motivate us. Problem is, this philosophy was not applied when it was Africans, rather than Californians, in need.
That, at least, was the attitude of the Western elites – the very people now condemning the Roman Catholic church. Yet, it was the church that was in Africa caring for people with AIDS when Hollywood and the Western media were more concerned with puppies and kittens. Indeed, even today, almost half of all Africans with AIDS are nursed by people working for the Roman Catholic church. A church, by the way, that has also called for all African debts to be forgiven and for a radical redistribution of wealth from North to South.
None of this was mentioned when Pope Benedict was attacked for his condemnation of the condom fetish. If we read the man’s statements, however, what we see is a sophisticated deconstruction of Western double standards and a thoughtful critique of the failed attempt to control AIDS.
First, it’s not working. In countries where condoms are state-distributed, free and ubiquitous AIDS has not been controlled and is often spreading. Second, even where AIDS is less an issue, such as in North America, the increased availability and use of condoms has coincided with an actual increase in STDs and so-called unwanted pregnancies. Third, one failure of a condom to work – and the failure rate is significant, if not overwhelming – is not a mere mistake, but a death sentence. Fourth, condoms enable promiscuity, rather than encourage abstinence. And sexual activity is about more than mere intercourse; a cut finger or a small body wound can allow infection to occur. Fifth, how dare we treat black people as if they were children? They are capable of self-control and all over Africa, most successfully but not exclusively in Uganda, there are elaborate, empathetic and extraordinarily successful abstinence programs that emphasize humanity rather than lust – a philosophy that runs directly contrary to the sexual gratification cult so favoured by some of the people in the West now so apoplectic at Pope Benedict’s comments.
Of course, there is more to this anti-papal neurosis than television comedians making jokes about celibate clergy and commentators assuming that they know far more about reality than a priest who has worked in an African city slum for 40 years. Conventional wisdom has it that Africa has a population problem and that Africans can become “more civilized” if they have fewer children. It’s an organized, and sometimes quite sinister, campaign. In Africa, the problems are far more about Western greed, colonization, resource exploitation and arms sales than about family size.
The Catholic church has spoken out on these issues for decades and was, for example, one of the leading voices at the United Nations involved in persuading the multi-national pharmaceutical companies to make their anti-AIDS drugs generic, and thus affordable, in the Third World.
Paradox and lack of understanding rules the day. We applaud an obscenely wealthy American actress when she takes a black baby from Africa, but forget that the Hollywood values she epitomizes encourage loveless sex and treating one another as sexual objects rather than distinct individuals – the precise phenomenon that encourages the spread of AIDS. More than this, the solution to children living in poverty in Africa is not to remove the children, but to remove the poverty. But there is never a camera crew around for that sort of thing.
It appears, these days, to be open season on Pope Benedict XVI. Then again, it’s open season on Christians the world over, primarily because followers of Christ are part of a great mirror, held up to the world to reflect society’s failures and absurdities. And how that addled society screams when it sees itself.
Michael Coren can be booked for public speaking at www.michaelcoren.com.