Pre-infected Condoms

Why did no one (until G Tingey in comments today) tell me Richard Dawkins has set up a foundation and a website? It’s apparently (judging by the dates on some of the postings) been there since May. This is September. I’m out of touch.

So it republishes this Johann Hari piece about the real reasons to feel disapprobation for the pontiff. Here’s an item that stirred a certain amount of distaste in me.

For over a decade now, he has been one of the primary defenders of priests who go to the poorest, most vulnerable people in the world and tell them condoms are the cause of AIDS. In the past year, I have sat in two Catholic churches thousands of miles apart and listened while a Catholic priest told illiterate people with no alternative sources of information that condoms come pre-infected with AIDS and are the reason people die of it. In Bukavu, a crater-city in Congo, and in the slums ringing Caracas, Venezuela, people believed it. They told me they “would not go to Heaven” if they used condoms, and that condoms contain tiny invisible holes through which the virus passes – the advice their priest had doled out.

I knew about the last part, but I didn’t know priests were telling people that condoms come pre-infected and are themselves the reason people die of Aids. I knew priests were telling people condoms were ineffective as well as sinful; I didn’t know they were telling people they were actually the source of infection. I knew they were wicked, I didn’t know they were as wicked as that.

So…there’s one example of a harm that is prompted exclusively by a religious idea. What possible secular reason can there be to object to condoms on principle? And if there were one, what possible secular reason could be strong enough to outweigh the reasons to try to avoid getting and transmitting Aids. One reason preaching against condom-use is so disgusting is that people can be entirely virtuous and faithful and still get Aids from a partner who isn’t, so the Vatican’s policy kills faithful wives along with unfaithful husbands, and then it kills the children of the unfaithful husbands. It takes a real perversion of moral insight to do that, and to go on doing it despite being told that it’s what you’re doing. That’s the kind of thing that makes ‘aggressive’ atheists like me (and like Dawkins, and Hari) angry. There’s enough unavoidable illness and misery in the world; it annoys us that the Vatican goes to so much trouble to create extra, for the sake of – opposing birth control. The game seems not quite worth the candle, frankly.

But there is a deeper philosophical repugnance to Ratzinger lying beneath these individual decisions. His recent lecture was devoted to the premise that the free pursuit of reason will lead all people to a rational belief in the Christian God described in the Bible.

So it’s just a coincidence that most Christians have Christian parents and that most non-Christians have non-Christian parents? Accidents of birth, geography, social surroundings, context, upbringing, education, tradition have nothing to do with it? Interesting. Credulity-straining, but interesting.

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