Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Who Cares What the Vatican Says About Condoms?

Well this morning I was trying to decide if I would tell you the funny story about how J already hates school (Hello! All he does at school is paint, play outside, sing and have a snack, how bad could it be?). Or if I would tell you the one unfortunate way in which I have become my mother (I’m not wearing her jeans. I promise.). But then as I was reading the paper I saw this article in the New York Times and decided to take the opportunity to defend my beloved and much-maligned Catholic Church instead.

But before I begin let me tell you that four people who know me in real life read this blog, and they’ve all told me that I make myself sound “a lot more religious” than they think I really am. So let me fess up and say that I am no Sister Mary Margaret. By anyone’s definition. However, Catholic theology, morality and ethics certainly inform my social and political opinions. On a good day they inform my behavior too.

It’s amusing to hear that people who are close to me (one of my best friends and my husband among them) are not even aware of how “religious” I am. I guess I think about it a lot more than I talk about it, because most people I know are not religious, and I don’t want to make anyone feel like I’m trying to convert them. That and I usually assume they’re just not going to be interested in the religious thought process. (Ask me sometime how I managed to explain to my husband why it was important to me to have our marriage blessed by the church after we eloped and to have our babies baptized without really bringing religion into the discussion.)

I guess I prefer the Saint Francis of Assisi method, “Preach the gospel everywhere you go, and when necessary use words.” Because I know I don’t like to be preached to either. That’s why a few weeks ago when the Mormons knocked on my door I simply told them, “Listen, I’m a bad Catholic girl and I’m never going to change,” and sent them on their way.

Okay, enough about me…

The article above is about Pope Benedict ordering a study that could possibly result in the Church declaring that condom use within marriage in Africa for the purpose of preventing the transmission of the AIDS virus is morally acceptable. I don’t know if that’s the conclusion he’ll reach or not, but I think a good case is being made for it. While the church is serious about sexual ethics, marital unity still reigns supreme and so does defending one’s own life. Here’s something you probably don’t know: If a woman is married to a man who refuses to abstain and refuses to have more children, the woman can consent to sex with a condom with a clear conscience. The church is not heartless and the good of marriage generally overrides the good of spiritual discipline.

But here’s why it doesn’t matter what the church decides one way or the other anyway. A quote from the article:

"Making a change would address a relatively small part of the problem because transmission of AIDS usually involves unmarried people. But if Benedict did so, "it will have a huge influence," said Rebecca Schleifer, a researcher on AIDS issues for Human Rights Watch, though that influence may be exactly what many in the Vatican fear.

She and other experts said it could help break down resistance to condom use in places like the Philippines or parts of Africa, where Catholic officials or clerics have a large influence.

"The church taking a step forward in saying, 'They do work and we believe in them in this situation' is important to help protect the lives and health of millions of people around the world," Ms. Schleifer said."

In case you have no idea why this quote is so comical, let me fill you in. More often than not the spread of AIDS is the result of fornication, adultery, rape or homosexual penetration. In other words, two virgin heterosexuals who marry and are faithful to one another their entire lives (and are not victims of a rape) rarely get AIDS. Now much stronger and much louder than the church condemns condoms, the church condemns fornication, adultery, homosexual acts and rape. And yet all the people who don’t give one shit about the church’s teaching on these issues are So. Very. Concerned. about the teaching on condoms? Somehow I don’t think so.

I mean what exactly is the thought process do you imagine? "I don’t mind going to hell once for fornicating, but by God, I’m not going to hell twice for wearing a condom?" Or "I don’t mind going to the nice hell for adulterers, but there’s no way I’m going to end up in that really awful hell reserved for condom wearers?"

Sorry, I don’t buy it.  The reason people choose not to wear condoms is because condoms suck and everyone hates them.  Doesn't mean they shouldn't be used, but really, theology couldn't really have that much to do with people's opinion of them.  To reiterate, if the church had much influence at all on people's sexual preferences and habits, AIDS would perhaps not exist and definitely would not be an epidemic.

Now since Catholic Charities provides a good deal of the medical care in Africa, it could be true that approval might increase access to condoms. But if drug companies were as concerned about providing cures for diseases that kill people as they are about curing erectile dis-function, that would be far more helpful than Pope Benedict making a proclamation that God loves condom users too. Not to mention that plenty of organizations and governments have the ability to distribute condoms if they feel it’s important. If there’s a lack of condoms available you can hardly blame the church one hundred percent.

I wrote about this today because the Catholic Church is the current favorite scapegoat for the AIDS epidemic and, as history always shows, scapegoats are a distraction from the real cause not the actual cause of the problem. It would be a lot more useful if we could channel some of our Catholic-hating into finding a real solution to disease and global suffering. If I were a good Catholic I'd figure out how I could help too. Maybe someday... when I tire of worrying that I'm wearing unfashionable jeans.


Redneck Nerdboy! said...

I've studied religions as a part of my fascination of history, and unfortunately, all religions have been started and maintained by human beings. As a result, each one of them are chock full of contradictions. I can pick out three in the first few pages of the Bible alone.

Religion, in my opinion, is a prison. I think that ideas are the freedom, and that includes ideas about spirituality. I think that's why a lot of people aren't religious these days. They're getting tired of the prison.

At least, that's my idea of it all!

MommyWithAttitude said...

RN I think you're not alone, but obviously I disagree with you. Religion is simply a path to God, and there are lots of different paths. And some people are more interested in the ride than others.

I have a really practical and useful degree in History and Religious Studies, and I've never met a religion I didn't like. Leaders and practitioners of religions are, of course, another story entirely!

Christine D. said...

As someone who only recently started attending church and thinking more about God and spirituality, I think that all the rules of what you can and can't do are what turn people away from organized religion. Or it was what turned me away anyway. I can't imagine having to consider whether I'm "allowed" to have my husband wear a condom or whether I'm going to hell because I slept with him (and others) before we were married.

I like to take religion loosely, I guess -- take the parts that I like and run with it.

Redneck Nerdboy! said...

PI Mom, you know what? You're right! It's not the religions that are the problem, it's the practitioners and leaders even throughout history who have managed to bungle it all up... scientific term, there.

Thanks for that little eye opener there. :D


Anjali said...

Loved the post, and as a Religious Bad Catholic myself, I can relate to your viewpoint well!

Hmmm. Should I start a group called the R.B.C.s?

MommyWithAttitude said...

Yes Anjali, instead of the RCC's, we can be the R.B.Cs. I'll totally join!

Anonymous said...

Something interesting is in the air-- there's a lot of religious discussion in the blogsphere lately. I think one of the reasons why there's so many flavors of Protestantism is that people are doing a lot of pickin' n' choosin' and starting afresh when things don't quite mesh. I think, also, that Catholics have always the scapegoats of the Christian world, though I'm not 100% sure why: maybe 'cuz we can trace our linage waaayback to the very beginning and haven't changed radically and are stalwart and steadfast in the face of radical change.

Gaah, my head 'splode.

ANYWAY, this was mighty yummi blogcake, well written and thunk out.

Anonymous said...

i think you should read "Skepticism Inc"