21 March 2009

How does one answer

The Pope's trip to Africa, which according to John Allen and, judging from the crowds, Africans themselves is a resounding success, has only one facet in Western news: Condoms. This was caused by the Pope's answer to a question on his flight into Cameroon. The old canards that the Catholic Church is responsible for AIDS in Africa and such are being trotted out in force. Father Z pulled out this article last week.

Before I begin, I have to say, articles like this leave me at a loss for a response. Other articles of this ilk blame the Popes for the spread of AIDS in Africa. Their logic requires a kind of suspension of all logic. They require the reader to believe that the people who ignore the Catholic Church's teaching forbidding sex outside of marriage at the same time are heeding the Church's teaching about condoms. One cannot argue logically against people who believe such things, because clearly logic has no place in their thoughts.

Without further ado, here is another such suspension of logic. My comments will be blue.

Pope's Dangerous AIDS Message In Africa: No Condoms
March 18, 2009 10:11
AM ET Bonnie Erbe Permanent Link Print
By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Pope Benedict's statement upon arriving in Cameroon was, "AIDS cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms."

First, a semantic point. This was and was not a statement. The Pope's words were a statement in that it was a declarative sentence. It was not a statement in the sense of an issued press release. The way this writer has set it up it seems as though
the Pope made an official statement regarding condoms on his way to Africa, when in fact this was an answer to a question posed by a reporter on the plane.

This is one of the most horrifically ignorant statements made by a world leader since former President George W. Bush's promise to "smoke 'em out" in reference to terrorist leaders including Osama bin Laden. Need I remind you that Bush never did "smoke out" bin Laden?

This is here solely for effect. Bush speaking about Bin Laden and the Pope speaking about condoms have nothing to do with each other, except perhaps it allows the writer to pour contempt on both. Pay attention to the words "horrifically ignorant". How can anyone be so stupid as to believe such a things as this? As it turns out, there is someone else, someone close at hand, who also believes this to be true.

Back to Africa: (Here the writer is virtually acknowledging her non sequitor.) Pope Benedict told a tumultuous welcoming crowd in Yaounde, Cameroon's capital, that not only do condoms fail to prevent the spread of AIDS, "On the contrary, they increase the problem." (Here is something interesting in her writing. The tumultuous crowd o whom these remarks were addressed, had no problem with this
statement. But toss that aside. This writer does, and rather than report the news as it happened, she is going to give us her opinion.)
It was his most provocative, delineated anti-condom pronouncement since his election in 2005. (This statement is true only in a kind of advertising logic. The Pope has repeatedly made statements to this effect using the same or similar words. In the world of advertising, this falls under the category of "parity product". Parity products are products that are the same, no matter who makes them, such as ASA. ASA is the same product whether it is called Aspirin, or no name or whatever. Therefore, under the heading of truth in advertising no maker of ASA may claim theirs is better than anyone else's, because they are the same. But because they are the same, and because you will never get any better ASA, the producers may claim that theirs is the best ASA you can get- because there is none better. Get it? In this case, the Pope's statements are the most provocative he has ever made because it was the same as the rest- he has never made a more provocative statement. This article, like advertising, is about leaving an effect, not about accurately representing facts.) Moreover, he made the statement (again, it is a statement) as he began his visit to the most AIDS-ravaged continent. In Africa, more than 25 million people have died of AIDS, and another 22 million plus are living with the disease. (And yet, he had a tumultuous reception.)

All the pontiff need do to acquire a more educated view of AIDS in Africa is to read the widespread literature about women and how they acquire the disease. The percentage of female AIDS patients who are prostitutes, or drug addicts, is dwarfed by the percentage who are married women living upstanding lives in their communities.

The author is now narrowing their focus. This is not about AIDS in general, but about women with AIDS. She is assuming the Pope has not educated himself about women, because if he had he would be in agreement with her.

The Pope advised them, according to the Reuters news agency, to exhibit, "correct behavior regarding one's body." Very helpful! That advice is completely useless to the typical "woman" in Africa who contracts the disease. Her profile is that of a teenage virgin sold into marriage against her will and "betrothed" to a much older man with many lovers who carries AIDS and refuses to use protection.

Here is where we are getting into the confusing part for me. The Pope, to state a very simple truism, is Catholic. His words are directed to Catholics, and the only people likely to pay heed to his words are Catholics. People who sell child brides to older profligates are not Catholic. His advice is useless to them, because they are not
people who would heed his words in the first place. This situation is horrible, make no mistake, but there is little the pontiff could say one way or another that would be of use to these women.

The United Nations magazine, Africa Re newal, quotes an expert who participated in a UN survey of AIDS' impact on young African women. She described the conditions under which most young African women contract AIDS as follows:

"[They] are not in a position to abstain. They are not in a position to demand faithfulness of their partners. In many cases they are in fact faithful, but are being infected by unfaithful partners...A woman who is a victim of violence or the fear of violence is not going to negotiate anything, let alone fidelity or condom use...Her main objective is to get through the day without being beaten up."

And again, is this Catholic behaviour? Are people who engage in such behaviour likely to listen to the Pope should he speak about any subject, whether condoms or not? Furthermore, as the report says, women in this situation will not have the opportunity to insist on condom use or not.

So much for condom-bashing.

Here she has it backwards: So much for condom promotion.

The Pope is correct in saying that AIDS cannot be eradicated by condom use
alone. Clearly, when young women are raped or otherwise forced into sex against
their will, the men abusing them will not commit to use condoms.

So the Pope was in essence correct in his "horrifically ignorant" assessment of the situation. His point is taken as true. However, since it was "provocative" and all that, there must be a "but" coming, as in "he was right, but he was still wrong". And here it comes:

But instead of offering these women useless verbiage, (I cannot resist: Useless verbiage like this) the Pope could have offered the vast resources of the Church to distribute anti-viral foam to young married women in AIDS-infested areas. Foam is the only form of AIDS prevention that young wives completely control and can use without their husbands' permission.

This article has been completely about the use of condoms. The Pope was asked a question about condoms, he answered a question about condoms. This author found the article provoking and condescending. Then she agreed with the statement. Now she faults the Pope for a statement he never made about foam. Foam promises to
give women completely empowerment and control. Foam is the cure-all. Watch where she goes from here.

Distributing anti-viral foam to young married women would help prevent the spread of AIDS while still creating the babies the Church so desperately needs to fill its pews. (Condescending, but possibly true) But Pope Benedict made no mention of offering such help to African AIDS victims. He showed no understanding of the terrible lives these women endure, or the damage done to their children, many of whom are born HIV-positive or with AIDS.

Reuters also reported on the Pope's trip: "The Church teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage, chastity and abstinence are the best ways to stop AIDS. It does not approve condoms but some Church leaders have been calling for allowing their use in rare cases between married heterosexual couples where one partner has the disease." This is a more principled view and much more charitable to parishioners than that of the Pope. (More principled- without stating what principles it is upholding. It should be clear by now: this statement is good because she agrees with it despite the fact that she has just admitted that condoms will not help halt the spread of AIDS in Africa. Also: the news has cited bishops who disagree with the Church's teaching rather than the bishops who do, as is typical. Makes for better copy. The other bishops- the ones not cited here- have stated their belief that condoms do not help because they give a false sense of invulnerability and therefore often encourage dangerous behaviour. But this view is apparently "unsympathetic")

Pope Benedict has shown no sympathy for wives whose husbands have AIDS. A less compassionate or understanding view of their situation than his is hard to fathom.

Keep in mind, this conclusion is drawn from a single statement, one taken out of context to the exclusion of all other statements made by the Pope, which the author has admitted to be true.

It is articles like this that leave me at a loss for words. She is outraged at the Pope's words, which she admitted to be true, is further outraged at the Pope for not saying what she wanted him to say, and is still outraged at the Pope's true words. What can one say to such people that will have any impact?

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