Defending Organized Religion and the Catholic Church’s AIDS Policy

Argument: Organized religion is not good for the world.  Dogmatic belief systems create a rigidity of thought that makes it much harder to affect change if it goes against what people were brought up to think.

Can’t you say “large numbers and organization lead to rigidity” argument about organized groups of anything? Political parties, schools and classes, artists, dinner parties? But sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – for a basic example, after the Beatles broke up, none of the four members could make music as good as the group’s was. This question is just too broad to be answered with a yes or no.

Rigid rules of behavior make traffic possible. Organized words make communication possible. Organized exercise makes the Olympics possible. Organized music makes Beethoven’s 9th possible. Anyone who can’t think of 10 great things organized religion has made possible isn’t knowledgeable enough about this subject.

In thinking of these 10 things he might see, as I do, that there are way way way too many data points for anyone to answer this question. There are literally billions of them, considering my own personal (and positive) experiences as a Catholic are a data point themselves, and they go back for all of human history! And we are just young people with other research interests who are sitting in front of computer screens.

Why does the Catholic Church oppose condom distribution in Africa?

Condoms as AIDS prevention are like morphine as a painkiller. They soothe the effects but don’t treat the cause, which is the average African male’s sexual behavior, and besides that they are intrinsically harmful. A friend of mine says they’re like putting out a grease fire with water. Everyone knows water puts out fires, but water makes grease fires worse.

How are condoms harmful? I’ll leave aside theological and personal aspects for now because social science’s argument is so compelling: risk compensation.

In a Washington Post editorial, Harvard researcher Charles Green says, “The Pope was right.”

When we know our risk is decreased, we sometimes overcompensate with riskier behavior. The most common example is overeating after exercise, but it also applies to driving, skydiving, oil drilling, and, yes, sex.

The risk of pregnancy or STDs from abstinence is 0, and if you’re committed, it’s hard to get into a situation where you’ll make a mistake. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “Fifty-four percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant. Among those women, 76% of pill users and 49% of condom users report having used their method inconsistently, while 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users report correct use.” So there is a small rate of product failure and a larger rate of human error (forgetting or forgoing your contraceptive) which would be more pronounced in a place like Africa where contraceptives are not a native part of the culture. You can only get pregnant 3 days a cycle, which means that STDs are even more dangerous. If the failure rate is just 1%, if you have sex a hundred or a couple hundred times, you’re in danger.

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