Thursday, June 04, 2009

Sad? Silly? Crazy? Cruel? The Pope's Attitude Is Anything But Good

According the AP, "marital fidelity and a 'moral view' of sexuality are the best strategies to stop the spread of AIDS," said Pope Benedict while welcoming Namibia's and South Africa's new ambassadors to Vatican City. “Only a strategy based on education to individual responsibility in the framework of a moral view of human sexuality, especially through conjugal fidelity, can have a real impact on the prevention of this disease,” Benedict said. Apparently the moral view, for the pope, doesn't include the use of life-saving condoms.

Maybe it's just me, but i'm a little annoyed with someone who takes a life-long vow of celibacy presenting himself as the authority on human sexuality. And I'm furious that decades into the AIDS crisis, "conjugal fidelity" is the best response a major religious leader can offer. The Pope's advice is flawed for AT LEAST three reasons:

1. Covenantal fidelity is just that...faithfulness to a covenant. The covenant two people make may exclusive..."You and me and no others will we see." But a covenant can also exist between three persons..."We three are all it will be" or even between four persons, "Us four and no more." You see, covenants are negotiated and honored by the people living with them.

I'm a little conservative about this personally, and prefer the two person model, but other relationships are built on different values and seem to do fine. Fidelity isn't about how many people make up the relationship. Fidelity is about keeping your promises. Such fidelity will provide emotional safety within a relationship, but will not magically protect one from AIDS. If the covenant allows for "extra curricular" sexual activity, or if someone within the covenantal relationship is HIV positive, fidelity to the promises made will not prove to be an anti-viral strategy.

2. That leads to the second reason this out-dated, hopelessly irrelevant papal point of view just doesn't work. Even in the most conservative, old-fashioned (by Western Christian standards), narrow way of thinking, monogamy is not a magic barrier against a virus. If there are two people in a relationship, and they choose (and I insist that it is their choice to make, not the pope's) to be monogamous, but one of them is HIV positive, monogamy will not keep the virus in one body while preventing it from spreading to the other. Condoms, by way of contrast, will.

3. Finally, I do agree that a "moral view of human sexuality" is needed. And the moral view would suggest that we should not value dogma over human lives. Condoms save lives. Let's use it as a mantra: Condoms save lives! Condoms save lives! Condoms save lives!
It's the 21st century and time to acknowledge that human sexuality is good, human-beings are capable of negotiating their own relationships and the terms of those relationships, and people shouldn't have to die because a celebate man nearing the end of his life doesn't understand that.

Now, let me be clear...celibacy is a perfectly valid life-style choice (as long as it is freely chosen and not demanded).
Monogamay is a valid choice...if that is what both parties in the relationship mutually agree to.
Open relationships can be moral, again, if the parties agree that is what they want and they are faithful to whatever rules they agree on in order to keep them emotionally safe in the relationship.
And, loving relationships that invovle more than two people (such as a three person relationship), if the relationship is mutual and life-giving, can also be healthy, moral, and holy.

Life and love and human sexuality are more complex than the pope's antiquated rule book from patriarchy's hey-day seems to allow. Yes, people in relationships should keep their promises, and we should trust them to make promises they can keep, but my relationship (or yours) is really not the pope's business. And regardless of the promises people make to each other, condoms must be available for their physical safety. I'm just not willing to risk human lives to protect the rules that give the pope his power.

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