Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Kids, Condoms, and Common Sense

Pope Benedict has been quoted as having said that condoms are not the solution to the HIV/AIDS problem and, in fact, actually make matters worse though the story did not say exactly how the pontiff justified his remarks. What he actually said, as quoted by Timesonline.com/uk is: “AIDS is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems".

If there is one thing that can rile a Protestant, it is a Catholic telling them that artificial birth control is a ‘bad thing’. As a Methodist pastor who grew up in the Catholic Church, I have seen these arguments go back and forth and accomplish very little. I have seen Protestants (and many Catholics) arm themselves with very worldly, though pretentiously pious arguments in favor of birth control while the pope has been intent on defending Church traditions and teachings, both claiming to know the mind and will of the Lord. Is it possible that one is wrong? Or could it be that Protestants will not take the pope seriously because, well, that wouldn’t be very ‘protestant’ of them, now would it?

In the past there have been those ridiculous arguments that the Roman Church, and specifically the pope, are responsible for the AIDS epidemic and world over-population by telling the “ignorant masses” that artificial birth control is a sin and against the historic teachings of the Church. I don’t know how much more ridiculous an argument can be, but a reason to reject such teachings out of hand - because these teachings seem so out of touch with the contemporary world - may be the very reason why the faithful, even contemporary ones, should give pause and consider more closely exactly what is being said.

Abstinence is ridiculed by so many as “unrealistic”, a violation of the rights and natural responses of human beings. Abstinence does not consider the animalistic nature of the human mammal. Abstinence solves nothing. 90% chance of safety with a rubber is a far cry better than a 100% chance with abstinence (??). And these statements are made with a straight face. And yet not one statement supposes to tell those whose “rights” may be violated that rights come with responsibilities, and there is also that possibility that some rights may even have consequences. Of course, we don’t want to hear this. We only want to know what our rights are (self-designated is much preferable, though) and how we go about not only exercising these rights but how we go about securing a reasonable safety net that will protect us from ourselves as we exercise our rights with no mind toward imminent results for which we are not prepared.

Whether abstinence is unrealistic is a matter of what is most important to us. Bristol Palin, the teenaged daughter of Alaska governor Sarah Palin, has been quoted by the national media as saying teenage abstinence is unrealistic. Along with those who suggest (or rather, demand) that abstinence on the continent of Africa is also unrealistic, these arguments fall flat when defending our humanity and our human instincts with the notion that we are mindless, instinctive animals with no control over our urges. We demand that governments clean up after we exercise our natural rights to engage in whatever sex we choose. We demand abortions even though we know that pregnancy is a very natural result of sex. We demand government solutions to STD’s, including HIV/AIDS, even while we reasonably recognize such as a quite natural result of sex with multiple partners. Not once do we consider that, as humans with the capacity to reason, we have the ability to control these “natural” urges; that what we actually lack is the will.

That which “aggravates the problem”, as Pope Benedict has pointed out, is not only that condoms offer no absolute guarantees, only a reduced risk, but that we are more willing to put such absolute faith in man-made products and mindlessly (though instinctively) go on about just doing what feels natural. The pope is right on the money in this. Condoms will not solve problems, birth control pills will not solve problems, abortions most certainly only compound and multiply existing problems, because the problems are not the results we actually hope to avoid. The problem, instead, is humanity’s lack of self-responsibility and self-control beforehand. The problems, as they are, are exacerbated when we demand rights but reject responsibilities.

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