« Greenwich and Woolwich | Main | Grabbed the Woman by Her Hair and Dragged Her Out »

March 19, 2009



Whilst I certainly wouldn't defend the Catholic church, there is idiocy all round on this issue. The Catholic position is ridiculous and indefensible but the claims of the opponents have more to do with beating up Christianity than any sense of doing what's right.

1. Aids (and, I understand, all STDs) are highest in nominally Protestant countries in Africa. Catholic countries are measurably behind and Muslim countries are far in the rear.

2. There is no requirement on Protestant (or Animists) to follow the preachings of the Catholic Church and indeed they don't.

3. Whilst there may be some effect from the Catholic church removing its ban, it's not clear that this will have dramatic results. Just as in European countries, Catholic people break the church's teaching and use contraception. The idea that in comparison Africans are uniquely brainwashable, particularly when they don't even follow Catholicism, is frankly the racism of low expectations.

4. There are other voices in Africa besides Christian Aid organisation. Many are secular ones from the West that openly promote condom use. Some even distribute them for free.

I never see an examination of why condom use is so low except when it's reduce to the simplistic terms of the "wicked Catholic Church". Is that the only factor? Do Africans have any part to play? Does the fact that western aid agencies are overwhelmingly white have a negative effect? What role do the Animists play? What cultural factors affect the use of condoms? etc etc etc. None of this ever gets an airing except in fringe websites.

Twenty years ago when the Ethiopian famine was in full swing and Bob Geldof was making his second career we were deliberately shielded from African complexity by the media. Indeed many like Michael Buerk openly admitted that they had done this to keep the narrative simple. Many years later Alex de Waal said, "The humanitarian effort prolonged the war, and with it, human suffering."

If you imagine that this kind of blinkered coverage has vanished rather than got more refined then my respect for you has shrunk.

So by all means beat up the Catholic Church - it serves up an open goal but please recognise that this issue has rather more complexity than we are being served up.

Mick H

That was a lot of effort for very little result. Yes, of course it's a complex issue, and there are many factors involved. Nevertheless what the Pope said was - as you admit - ridiculous and indefensible.

Mr Grumpy

'It's true of course: condoms are not as effective as abstinence. Equally, when it comes to crime, the setting up of police forces, with the powers to prosecute and detain criminals, is not as effective as honesty. The church's next campaign, perhaps... '

Methinks the analogy doesn't quite work. Whilst I can have no direct impact on the honesty of the folk who might be interested in burgling my flat, the decision to practise abstinence and thus run 0 risk of AIDS is mine to make or not make.

Btw, why do gay men in the West *still* get AIDS? Shortage of condoms?

Mick H

Yes it's not a perfect analogy, but I was trying to capture the futility of urging unrealistically good behaviour on people, and then arguing that to try and prevent the consequences with other means (with condoms in the case of AIDS, with a police force in the case of burglary) was somehow worse than useless. Not a perfect analogy, but not bad.

Laban Tall

"the futility of urging unrealistically good behaviour on people"

Well, the Church has been urging that for the past 2,000-odd years, and doubtless the Pharisees before them. I thought anon's stuff was rather good, myself.

Isn't it strange that the more judgemental, the more don't-do-it are the attitudes to fornication in an African country, the lower the HIV toll ? The same applies among the UKs diverse communities, where levels of STIs are lowest among Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Is that because of their earlier sex education and greater condom use ?


In S2s immortal words :

"Not being a Catholic myself, it's possible that I've missed some recent doctrinal development, but, last I checked, the Catholic Church was preaching that each person should have a maximum of one sexual partner per lifetime. Follow that advice, and your chances of getting any STD are virtually nil. The African AIDS epidemic has not, therefore, been caused or exacerbated by Catholics doing what the Pope tells them to. In fact, if everyone in the world had followed the Pope's advice, AIDS would be an unknown disease.

Ah, say the idiots, but you can't really expect people to have enough willpower to stick to that rule, can you? Perhaps not, but if people can break one rule, they can break two. If you don't expect people to follow one of the Pope's instructions, why are you convinced that they have no option but to follow one of his others?"


Laban Tall

slightly off topic, but anons comments about the reality of Ethiopia being shielded by the media :

"I am not innocent in all this. The people of Ireland remained in ignorance of the reality of Africa because of cowardly journalists like me. When I went to Ethiopia just over 20 years ago, I saw many things I never reported -- such as the menacing effect of gangs of young men with Kalashnikovs everywhere, while women did all the work. In the very middle of starvation and death, men spent their time drinking the local hooch in the boonabate shebeens. Alongside the boonabates were shanty-brothels, to which drinkers would casually repair, to briefly relieve themselves in the scarred orifice of some wretched prostitute (whom God preserve and protect). I saw all this and did not report it, nor the anger of the Irish aid workers at the sexual incontinence and fecklessness of Ethiopian men. Why? Because I wanted to write much-acclaimed, tear-jerkingly purple prose about wide-eyed, fly-infested children -- not cold, unpopular and even "racist" accusations about African male culpability."


John Thacker

A better analogy would be the Roman Catholic Church being against insurance, rather than police. Condom availability, like insurance, both create moral hazard and increase somewhat the base underlying activity whose effects they are intended to prevent. It is an economic fact that condom availability causes some people to have more sex who otherwise would not; the question of the size of the effect is of course to a manner of question. Just as insurance for other things, whether auto or fire, causes some people to be less careful than they otherwise would be.

But most people don't consider the moral hazard effect of insurance enough to fight for its abolition. (Though some may feel that way about financial institutions being "too big to fail," though.)

The comments to this entry are closed.