Religion’s Role in the Expansion of AIDS
Note: this article was published for the first time in Persian by “Sekoolar” (the Secular), a publication of Anti-Religion Society. Hereby we translate it to English and publish it again in the event of AIDS day 2006. The final two paragraphs, which were specific about Anti-religion society, have been omitted from the text.
Among the numerous burdens of capitalism that are taking away human lives everyday, some are seemingly “natural” burdens, the result of the tension between nature and human; in some theories these are even nature’s reaction to human violence against it.
Of these burdens we can name deadly diseases in general and AIDS in particular.
AIDS has put its shadow on the entire world like a spectre. The virus has been known for less than a quarter of a century, but its shadow has changed all our lives. More than 40 million people, which is more than the population of Spain, live with HIV. More than 25 million people have died from AIDS, more than a million people every year. In this very recent year, 2005, more than 3 million people (at least half a million being children) have died from this disease.
But is AIDS entirely a natural burden? Is it only a disease that humans are not able to cure? Let’s just say that the notion that unpreventable killing of humans by this disease is a “natural” thing, is a delusion.
Religious moral and sexual relations
Nearly two centuries after the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, religion not only interferes with people’s lives, but it has gone from being the “opium of the people” to being, as Korosh Modaressi once said, the machine of opium gangsters.
Many humans understand the world via religion and religious morality, and they are raised and educated accordingly. In Islamic countries, this story is a sadder one. That is where many girls have to wear the Islamic hijab from childhood and Islamic moralities shape their lives in many ways. One of the most important of these “morals” is antagonism toward sex and sexual relations. The reality that many humans, all over the world, live with the superstitious belief that “sex before marriage” is non-acceptable and generally have a hostile attitude to sexuality is a crime of religion that one could write a great deal about. But when it comes to AIDS, this and other religious moral prove deadly and play a direct role in humans’ deaths.
Religious Taboos on sexual education: a road for AIDS expansion
It is no secret that one of the chief routes of AIDS transmission is sexual relations between humans. Therefore one of the most important ways to prevent AIDS is using a condom in a sexual relation. Today it is widely accepted that sexual education, including education about the need to use condoms, and making condoms widely available for all, is an important condition to prevent AIDS. Conferences, bulletins and publications on AIDS are emphatic about this. But religion is a major obstacle against the AIDS fighters and medieval moralities overshadow the lives of thousands of people who are, one way or another, chained by them.
The issue is simple. Sex and sexual relations of humans, that as Marx said are the most natural relations between humans, have become a “Taboo” in religion such that one can’t easily even speak of them. To talk about one’s body or that of the opposite sex, or any talk on sexual relations, is a major sin in a culture of religious moralities; anybody who has been unfortunate enough to live under a religious regime, as we did, can truly understand this. Therefore sexual knowledge is terribly low in religious societies; sometimes even to utter the word “condom” (at least to do so before marriage) is a sinful act.
Religion transforms sex and sexuality to a taboo and thereby obstructs sexual education and the wide availability of condoms. This opens the door to AIDS and other STDs. A society that has made a taboo out of sex is very open to AIDS. (And I believe this has been noted in declarations and resolutions of conferences against AIDS). Lack of information about sexual relations and the unavailability of condoms can easily lead to unsafe sex and reproduce the monster of AIDS.
The belief that with abstinence from sex you can avoid AIDS is absurd. Sex is a natural relation between humans and you can’t avoid AIDS by avoiding sex, any more than you can avoid polluted air by simply not breathing it. But religion proclaims this ridiculous idea and points to “licentious people” as the ones responsible for AIDS, a policy which produces tragic results.
Unfortunately religion and the machines of organized religious have started their own way and have already caused the expansion of AIDS. Pope Jean Paul II officially opposed the use of condoms, perhaps to show how backward, reactionary and ridiculous Christianity is. We all know that in our very own Islamic Republic, there is not a slight availability of condoms and more important, sexual education. There are people who up to the age of marriage are clueless about sex.
There are more particular examples too. Right now, the activities of the Malaysian Aids Council have been banned in the states of Terengganu and Kelantan that are ruled by the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS); thus these two provinces are under more danger from AIDS.
And then we have thousands and millions of families who, living with the chains of religious law, ban sexual education for their children and prevent their participation in sexual education classes even in the heart of European families. Indeed, it appears that the recent researches of some wise and respected inventors of “cultural relativism” have shown that people who are born in a Muslim family may not need sexual education at all.
Religion and AIDS victims
An antagonistic attitude toward sexual relations shows its sinister aspect in its attitude toward AIDS victims. It is here that those who have become infected with AIDS because of religious moralities and lack of information are boycotted from the society by those very moralities; now they are to suffer the stigma of “having the virus”. This is especially true because AIDS is seen as a homosexual disease (which is not the case) and, to the religious, this adds to the stigma.
The fact that a human has a virus and has to live with it throughout life, and some moralities, rather than helping, claim that these victims “deserve” it is one of the bitterly painful realities of today’s world. The life of AIDS victims in religious societies or even religious families, or those families with religious moralities, is a life of great tragedies.
Life free of religion
The demand to expand sexual education, along with decriminalizing and helping AIDS victims, are among the demands of gatherings and conferences that usually take place on International Aids Day (December the 1st). We should fight for these demands. We should force the Islamic Republic and any other reactionary government in the world to accept these demands. This should be among the primary principles of human’s rights.
A large obstacle in AIDS activists’ way is their lack of radicalization against religions. They, according to the public rhetoric, denounce only “religious fundamentalism”. Of course I don’t say that every activist and campaigner should always denounce all religions, but at least these moralities and beliefs should be opposed as “religious” moralities, and not, as they often are, as “misinterpretation of religions.” They have made obstacles in wide sexual education even in Europe and US and this is caused by nothing but religious moralities in Islamic, Christian, Jewish and other religious families. These obstacles must be removed, and this should be a more specific demand of AIDS activists.
We should proclaim that people with AIDS are part of our society and we are responsible for taking care of them. We should expose and renounce those religious and sub-religious ideas that demand the transportation of AIDS victims to segregated islands.
Religion and religious moralities should get out of people’s lives. The sexual relations of humans have nothing to do with any god, and any belief that casts a pall over these relations should be resisted. Laws are not enough. Each and every one of us should work for the emancipation and enlightenment of our friends, relatives and loved ones from the chains of religion. We should declare that everyone should refer back to humans and humanity.
Arash Sorx is a young Iranian activist.