Tarry for the Nonce

June 14, 2005

Learning Your ABCs

Filed under: News — lmwalker @ 2:35 pm

Was Karol Wojtyla a mass murderer?

As has been previously mentioned on this weblog, the Pope’s consistent message of abstinence as the desired method of preventing STD transmission has been highly criticized by members of academia and the media who consider his viewpoint short-sighted and unrealistic. One Australian even suggested he should be charged with “crimes against humanity.”

Michael Cook disagrees:

Two doubtful ideas run through all these criticisms. The first is basically this: African Catholics are so devout that if they have sex outside of marriage, dally with prostitutes or take a third wife, they will piously refrain from using condoms because the Great White Father told them not to . . .

. . . Catholics can’t be both too goody-two-shoes to use condoms and too wicked to resist temptation . . .

Superimposing maps of prevalence of AIDS on prevalence of Catholicism is enough to sink the link between the Catholic Church and AIDS. In the hospice which is Swaziland nowadays, only about 5 per cent of the population is Catholic. In Botswana, where 37 per cent of the adult population is HIV infected, only 4 per cent of the population is Catholic. In South Africa, 22 per cent of the population is HIV infected, and only 6 per cent is Catholic. But in Uganda, with 43 per cent of the population Catholic, the proportion of HIV infected adults is 4 per cent . . .

Amazingly, despite the dogmatic insistence that distributing condoms is the only way to stop AIDS in its tracks, there are very few studies to prove it. An article in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization last year admitted that very little research has been done on the impact of condom-promotion programs on the actual incidence of HIV infection . . .

A recent study of condom use in the developing world in the journal Studies in Family Planning summed up the situation with these damning words: “no clear examples have emerged yet of a country that has turned back a generalised epidemic primarily by means of condom promotion.” This is most clearly seen in southern Africa. High HIV transmission rates have continued despite high rates of condom use. In Botswana, says Professor Norman Hearst, of the University of California at San Francisco, condom sales rose from one million in 1993 to 3 million in 2001 while HIV prevalence amongst urban pregnant women rose from 27 per cent to 45 percent. In Cameroon condom sales rose from 6 million to 15 million while HIV prevalence rose from 3 per cent to 9 per cent.

In fact, the history of AIDS in Uganda supports the Church’s belief that abstinence and fidelity within marriage are actually the best ways to fight AIDS. In 1991, the infection rate in Uganda was 21 per cent. Now, after years of a simple, low-cost program called ABC, it has dropped to about 6 per cent.

ABC stands for Abstain, Be faithful, or use Condoms if A and B are not practiced . . .

I know I’ve quoted a lot of the article, but I think the statistics are important. I actually heard about this Uganda study in a backhanded way on a radio program earlier this week. The results were trumpeted all over the press, but the method was not. Yahoo News, for example, exhibits the typical press reaction by lauding the government for stepping in quickly and being proactive about the AIDS pandemic, praising the “progressive government of President Yoweri Museveni.” And then, buried at the very end of the article in an “oh, by the way” comment is the method that was used:

The real message of this unpretentious little country is that if you put everything together, as it did in its ABC campaign (“Abstinence, Be Faithful, Use Condoms”), you can do a lot with AIDS.

What? What was that again? (If you read it too quickly, you might have missed it.) Abstinence? Faithfulness? Are you sure you interpreted those results accurately, Uganda? Surely you understand that man is an impulsive animal who can’t control his carnal lusts. Right? Right?

According to Dr. Edward C. Green, anthropologist and senior research scientist in the School of Public Health at Harvard University, the remarkable turnaround in Uganda was based on what was called the “ABC approach.” Since the early 1990s government and health officials have been encouraging their people to Abstain, Be faithful to their spouse or partner, and use Condoms if A and B fail. Teenagers were actively encouraged to wait until marriage before having sex.

Government officials in Uganda claim that the more traditional approach — rather than relying on condoms — was the major reason for the decline in AIDS. Janet Museveni, the nation’s First Lady, gave credit at a World AIDS Day event to “the time-tested message of abstinence from premarital sex and faithfulness in marriage.”

One would imagine that researchers the world over would be rejoicing in this welcome news: a country has managed to stem the tide of a deadly disease through the promotion of positive social mores.

Alas, how naive such thoughts are.

One might think that health experts would embrace such good news, but Green said nothing could be further from the truth. He said that he and his fellow researchers presented their studies to officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the federal agency in the U.S. responsible for dispensing government moneys to combat AIDS in Africa. Green told them that “the key factor in the decline was less casual sex, more fidelity … more abstinence among youth.” However, he added, USAID officials and others “were evidently horrified by what we said.”

Why were they horrified? According to Vinand Nantulya, a senior advisor at the United Nation’s Global Fund, USAID officials rejected the evidence “because the studies were not showing that the condoms were the only things that worked.”

Some of the more conservative commentators are insisting that a massive coverup is in effect in order to keep the African nations underdeveloped and dependent on foreign aid. I’m not one of those people. I do, however, wonder what would happen to the condom distributors if an entire movement should deem their product as nothing more than a supplement to a much better choice. I imagine that – like big tobacco companies – they have a vested interest in protecting their investment.

It makes me wonder who’s in bed with whom.



  1. I seriously doubt that Big Latex is engineering health programs in 3rd world countries. They make a lot more money if their customers are alive and prosperous, not dead and penniless.

    It seems like you’re having the same selective vision that the pro-condom folks are. You’re focusing on the AB part but forgetting that there’s a C at the end. the AB part is probably having a positive impact but the very fact that there’s a C is in sharp contrast to the Pope’s (either one of them) policy on condom use. Uganda is promoting no-sex and safe-sex. The pope is promoting no-sex and you’ll-burn-forever-if-you-use-a-condom.

    It’s not only the fact that the Catholic church is a broken record on abstinence. It’s also that it has actively spread disinformation on how effective condoms are against the spread of AIDS.

    It’s one thing to say that condoms are morally wrong. It’s another to tell lies to trick people into subscribing to your moral code. Those lies by the way have the potential to take life.

    Comment by Mark — June 14, 2005 @ 4:57 pm

  2. Actually, there’s a fair amount of evidence that would lead one to conclude that the WTO/World Bank is in cahoots with the WHO. WTO uses monetary treaties and policies that effectively force third world countries (if they want the capital, that is) to increase their population control programs. Its so bad that in some countries women are given shots thought to be for polio vaccination that contain sterilizing agents, w/o the women’s knowledge. I learned this from a medical friend of mine who smuggled some of it back to the US for analysis, but then backed out when she found that no one would analyze it because of the repercussions to their medical careers. If you don’t believe me, look at the contingencies placed on the deals made w/ the WTO and the World Bank. They include many population control programs, including abortion, increased condom awareness, etc. Even if a country’s fundamental philosophy is against such programs, the World Bank still imposes its will because it holds all the cards. No population control = no money for the third world country. Of course, now we would have to delve into the world overpopulation myth, the fear of the baby boomers in the 70s, and the baby killing industry. I’ll diverge and save you the essay….

    As for disinformation, condoms are not 100% effective against the spread of STDs or against pregnancies. You should really use a much better site to convince us of the disinformation campaign.

    And the irony is, that site actually has real sources to backup what it says (unlike trojancondoms.com & several others). I found this study rather interesting as well “Overall effectiveness, the proportionate reduction in HIV seroconversion with condom use, is approximately 80%.” Which, well, isn’t very good…that means that 20% of the time people will become infected.

    As for pregnancy, its common knowledge that condoms are 86% effective (ie. 14% of the time, someone will get pregnant). The lab studies show something closer to 3%. However, the condom industry seems to like to blame the users of the condom for not properly putting it on, taking it off, pulling it out, etc (user error). Personally, NFP is the way to go. Its approx. 99.5 – 99.98% effective against pregnancy (and yes, if you aren’t doing it properly, you too can get pregnant…how ironic). But it has the added benefit of a closer bonding of the couple, and allows for a more natural approach to sex.

    To recap…AIDS: evil, WTO: evil, World Bank: evil, Catholic Church: good.


    But then, I’m an anti-federalist, so anything with too much power makes me nervous.

    Comment by Andrew P. — June 15, 2005 @ 12:31 pm

  3. I don’t get how anything you said leads to Catholic Church = good.

    As for disinformation, the link you used continues to promote the misleading convention that since viruses are smaller than the holes in latex, it’s like throwing a golfball through a tennis net. That would be problematic if you filled a condom full of refined AIDS powder and shoved it in someone. However the AIDS virus is carried in the semen which is unable to pass through holes typical to condoms.

    And how am I supposed to take an article seriously and as unbiased with the line “The condom’s biggest flaw is that those using it to prevent the conception of another human being are offending God.”

    I still am not hearing anything to convince me that condom use is not an effective way to combat AIDS. Even if you use the lowball Catholic figure of 80%, they are saying that it’s sinful or foolish to make use of something that can safe a life 8 out of 10 times.

    Can someone please explain the moral argument behind condoms being bad? Whom do they hurt? They don’t stop life from happening post-conception. If preventing conception is the big thing that’s bugging God, is he also pissed about cold showers and chaperones? How about a spouse not feeling like having sex just cause the other spouse is horney? Is that a mortal sin too?

    Comment by Mark — June 15, 2005 @ 2:42 pm


    First off, the disinformation link was to humorously point out that you should at least use the best disinformation website when criticising the Church, rather than that of a cardinal’s interview from 2 years ago. You weren’t supposed to take that site seriously. The comment regarding the sources was merely to point out that at least the site has sources to backup their claims, rather than the lack of source information on more mainstream / condom manufacturer sites. Of course, if you ask the CDC, condoms are fairly effective (and I am sure the UN & the CDC have studies to backup CDC claims, even if its really hard to find the data on their sites).

    Secondly, the 80% figure was a fairly relevant study done by The Cochrane Collaboration, an independent UK-based organization, which, to my knowledge, has no affiliation with the Catholic Church, and according to its website:

    …is an international non-profit and independent organisation, dedicated to making up-to-date, accurate information about the effects of healthcare readily available worldwide. It produces and disseminates systematic reviews of healthcare interventions and promotes the search for evidence in the form of clinical trials and other studies of interventions. The Cochrane Collaboration was founded in 1993 and named for the British epidemiologist, Archie Cochrane..

    The major product of the Collaboration is the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews which is published quarterly as part of The Cochrane Library.

    Those who prepare the reviews are mostly health care professionals who volunteer to work in one of the many Collaborative Review Groups, with editorial teams overseeing the preparation and maintenance of the reviews, as well as application of the rigorous quality standards for which Cochrane Reviews have become known.

    The activities of the Collaboration are directed by an elected Steering Group and are supported by staff in Cochrane Entities (Centres, Review Groups, Methods Groups, Fields/Networks) around the world.

    The 80% indicates that assuming you are having intercourse with an HIV infected individual, you have a 20% chance of catching the retrovirus. Or, to break it down into a ratio one might better comprehend… 1 out of every 5 sexual encounters with said individual may lead to HIV infections (you would have better odds if you played Russian Roulette). That’s pretty dam high, when one considers that abstinence has a 0% chance of infection through sexual encounters. On a side note, its actually easier for women to get HIV than men; however, I am not about to tangent off into a completely separate discussion.


    I urge you to read the following page from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as I am sure I am not doing justice to the concepts behind the Church’s stance.

    The Catholic Church’s view on contraceptives is thus (paraphrased, summarized, and condensed for brevity from the Catechism of the Catholic Church) including thoughts from Theology of the Body and Christopher West’s interpretation ibid.:

    The idea is basically this: A married couple has two purposes, unitive and procreative. Unitive meaning uniting to form a whole (ie. two becoming one flesh, mutual respect w/in the bonds of marriage, physical and spiritual union), and procreative meaning continuing on the species in a responsible manner (ie. having and raising children to become moral and responsible members of society).

    From thus we can reasonably conclude that to truly be unitive, one must be open to truly giving of oneself to one’s mate, on multiple levels. In this one sense, a condom impeeds the idea that one is giving oneself totally and freely to the other. It may not be a conscious thought, but there is the fact that there is something concretely being held back (when a barrier contraceptive is used), through various means that does deny complete selflessness/selfgiving within love, which is what love ideally is. Likewise, an implied denial of selfgiving occurs when something like The Pill is used as well. Physical changes occur in the female that prevents fertilization. Think: I love you, but not enough to give you everything I have to offer physically.

    There is a correlation between the rise in contraceptive use and the increase in divorce rates. I won’t go there, but just wanted to point that out. There is also a mental and emotional quotient in every relationship, regardless of the relationship’s nature. Most healthy people would not stay in a relationship with someone who belittled, berated, lied, cheated, and betrayed them. The view of marriage is that both people must be open to completely giving themselves, freely to each other, mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and, as the vows indicate, until death separates the two involved. In order to preserve the dignity of every human being and appeal to justice, one cannot give oneself totally and freely without the permanency of marriage. This is the Mystery of marriage.

    The second, equally important piece, is that, as humans, we must be open to the transmission of life as designed by God (or as is in the order of Nature, if you have no sense of who God is). Being that we cannot see all ends (to misquote an aptly dressed wizard from a recent cinematic mangling of the de facto fantasy-genre series, Lord of the Rings), we do not know what the purpose of said life is, and by impeding such life, we are essentially telling God, as we do in so many ways, that we know better than He [assuming the classical view of God until the diverging views of the late 20th century] what we should do with our procreative powers, if you will. Since we cannot see beyond our own present circumstances, we cannot know what purpose the life will play in the future that may be important to humanity as a whole, or what role that life will play in God’s plan of salvation for humanity. Bottom Line: By not being open to the transmission of life, we deny God’s Will in our lives.

    Therefore, it is a sin to prevent the transmission of life because it does 2 major things: 1. Proves that humans believe themselves to be greater than God/impedes the Will of God and 2. Removes or greatly diminishes the unitive aspect with regards to respect of one’s partner, doing a great injustice to the couple. As human beings, we have a unique place in the universe, with unique gifts and talents. Furthermore, we are obligated, based on what we are given, to attempt to understand our nature and to do the Will of God as best as we can understand it in our lives.

    Ok, so if that didn’t make sense, go read the Catechism, specifically, 2331 – 2336 & 2360 – 2379.

    2370 sums it up well:
    2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.158 These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil:159

    Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.160

    This essentially indicates that not only is contraception wrong outside a natural method to determine the cycles of fertility of the female, but also concludes that forms of male ejaculation, without the purpose of creating life, isn’t just wrong, its intrinsically evil. Why? It goes against the natural order [aka Lewis’/Chesterton’s the Law of Nature], and, more appropriately, against the Will of God.

    Hope that helped clear it up a bit.

    Comment by Andrew P. — June 16, 2005 @ 1:54 am

  5. Um . . . wow.

    Comment by laura — June 17, 2005 @ 9:59 am

  6. Actually, it didn’t clear up the question about cold showers and chaperones. 😉

    Oh man, where to start…

    I think that in writing the Catechism, they started with basically good moral rules, but in formalizing the minutia, ended up with some overly-specific, overbearing, and unnecessary rulings, some of which advances in science have and will continue to challenge. Even in the cases where I don’t think they chose a poor stance, I think these rulings lead to the moral equivalent of “tripping over dollars to pick up pennies.” I guess it’s easiest for your average layperson to follow these specific rulings to the letter since they’re so concrete, it bothers me to think that people might lean on this document rather than explore these issues for themselves. I think by aiming directly for the moral tenets that are explored in the Catechism (here, fidelity and temperance), it would probably be easier to maintain a well-grounded moral compass,

    I understand the natural impulse to feel that ejaculation outside of intercourse (add in the clause “between a married man and woman” if you’re so inclined) is somehow a “waste”. But to call it sinful, let alone *evil*, is just asinine, mean-spirited, and maybe even part of a tool of social control. Are nocturnal emissions also evil? There’s a biological reason they happen — to flush out the old sperm so you’ve got fresher stuff available next time you mate for real. (I didn’t see anything in the Catechism about this, but I imagine they make an exception — they seem to have “outs” for committing sins when you didn’t get a chance to use your free will.)

    Masturbation actually serves the same biological purpose, though, and so many people do it that publishing this ruling just gives nearly everbody a concrete sin they feel they need to confess and atone for. And when you’ve got 90+% of people masturbating (so I hear), I’m suspicious that the 10-% aren’t subject to the same emotional forces that the vast majority are. I’ll further add that the age I deem prudent for marriage has been increasing, the expectation that men never ejaculate until marriage (!!!) becomes more and more unreasonable. Would you really want all the men between the age of, say, 15-30, not having a circuit-breaker for all their sexual energy? For those of you not deeply intimate with the male psyche, the answer is NO. Issue 2!

    I read two reasons why contraception is supposed to be morally wrong. One is that sex shouldn’t be merely for pleasure, even between a married couple. Yet it’s ok if that pleasure is shared expressly for the purpose of deepening the relationship between the couple. Isn’t this splitting hairs? The second reason seems to be that we should always leave the door open for God to tip the odds on conception when you’re having sex — that He should have the ultimate say in matters of life and death. But we don’t leave a lot of the other mechanics of propagating ourselves in His hands this way. It’s clearly up to us to maintain our own reproductive health, and our health in general. What would you think of someone who, say, relied on God to miraculously provide safe and nourishing food? Those days were over with the second plot arc in Genesis — a *long* time ago when mankind got control of its food source with the discovery of agriculture. Which is a *really* profound step, like having code write code, or writing a program that takes a program as its input. It’s the point where things sort of mathematically turned in on themselves, and became self-sustaining and self-maintaining. I believe that as we learn more about the mechanics of the world around us and the human body, we actually need to take more responsibility for these processes. When we have the ability to control food supply, prevent disease, and alter our birth rate, if a crisis related to those variables happens, it’s really on our heads. So while we aren’t at this point yet, there may come a time when there are just too many people and not enough resources. Once we’re there, we either need population control of some sort, or we leave it in God’s hands, and natural forces like starvation will bring us back to equilibrium. (Or else mana falls from Heaven, but I don’t think that should be part of our *plan*.)

    Comment by Chrispy — June 17, 2005 @ 8:01 pm

  7. A couple other things I forgot to say…

    1) Regarding minor sins, one thing I like about the message I took away from Presbyterianism is that they just don’t matter. All you have to do to get to Heaven is truly accept Jesus as your savior. He’s already picked up the bill, going forward and backward in time to eternity — all you have to do is ask to transfer your tab to his. (It’s also nice if you’re a basically well-behaved party guest, and you don’t run the tab up too much.) This lets everyone work on the sins in their own way, which is handy, because people tend to disagree on the little stuff more than the big stuff.

    2) Yes, it’s completely disingenuous to argue that the Pope is a mass murderer. They’re trying to be shocking to draw attention. A much better phrasing of the complaint would be something like “He passed up an opportunity to use his influence for a great public good.” But come on, the existence of AIDS isn’t his fault. I guess the argument is really that the Church is promoting a sub-optimal policy by hardlining on (AB) and rejecting (C), thus throwing away (C)’s bonus damage reduction. But the Church believes that adding (C) diminishes the effectiveness of (AB) to the point where (AB)(C)

    Comment by Chrispy — June 17, 2005 @ 9:36 pm

  8. Hope that helped clear it up a bit.

    It clears up the Church’s thinking on the matter.

    I still think it’s crazy.

    Comment by Mark — June 21, 2005 @ 9:35 am

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