Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Pope's reckless stupidity

Following on from the Pope's pre-Christmas statement that humanity needs "saving" from homosexuals because "a blurring of the distinction between male and female could lead to the "self-destruction" of the human race" (which apparently hasn't happened for countless other species where homosexual behaviour is observed). The "God given" variations in hormones and behaviour of human beings apparently should mean a whole segment of humanity should deny who they are because of a powerful celibate self sacrificing man.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the Pope is now saying HIV "cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems".

The absence of logic is astonishing.

You may as well say that using condoms makes the likelihood of pregnancy higher.

The simple mathematical truth is that near universal condom use would dramatically contain the spread of HIV. It would NOT eliminate it, but by dramatically cutting the rate of transmission it will reduce it. After all, this is in part what happened among homosexual men in the Western world. Partly promiscuity reduced, but predominantly condom use became the norm - the rate of transmission reduced significantly.

To say it aggravate the problem is an utter lie, a reckless misnomer that will result in people having unprotected sex because they'll say "condoms make it worse".

He, no doubt thinks, that it is better people abstain from sex, with the threat of HIV being the incentive to abstain. He also probably thinks that the existence of condoms makes it more likely people will have sex, and more likely HIV will be transmitted.

So let's look at the scenarios behind his statement. Assume there are 100,000 in a country who are sexually mature and unmarried, let's assume 15% of those have HIV, so 15,000 are already infected (about the rate in South Africa). Of them, one third are undiagnosed. The scenarios below are rough mathematically, as I haven't exponentially included the chain effect of passing on the virus, but you should get the idea:

Scenario 1: Pope's ideal: All abstain from sex, except after marriage. Assume over 5 years half marry. So 50,000 marry. Of them 15% of the people in those marriages have HIV, of whom one third don't know. It takes 14 acts of intercourse for ALL those married to someone with HIV to be statistically certain of infection. The odds are that married couples will achieve this in 2-3 weeks and may produce children, also infected.

Scenario 2: Pope's policy, promiscuous lifestyle: All have sex with 5 partners over this period, on average 20 times with each person (sex once a fortnight). Those knowingly with HIV restrict this to 2. Odds are that over half of the population have sex with an infected person, and that there is a near certain chance of infection. Around 40,000 get infected. This is given that the rate of HIV infection for unprotected sex is 7%.

Scenario 3: 100% condom use, promiscuous lifestyle: As scenario 2, but all encounters involve a condom. According to a report by the National Institutes of Health (USA) condoms reduce the risk of HIV transmission by 87% (to 0.9%). As a result, while over half the population STILL has sex with an infected person, the odds of infection have dropped from virtually 100% (20 encounters with 7% chance each time), to 18%. Around 15,300 get infected.

Scenario 4: 100% condom use, half marry rest abstain: As scenario 1, but all who are married use condoms. 50,000 married, 15% married to people infected, but it takes them to have sex 111 times in that period before they statistically are all infected, a period of perhaps 6 months, during which HIV testing would have been available to them both easily.

My point is simple. Condoms reduce the incidence of HIV transmission. It works for people who are promiscuous and those who are not. Unless, the Pope wants everyone with HIV to remain unmarried.

It is sheer reckless stupidity, which barely shields the suffering Augustine ascetism of the Vatican. The Pope is either ignorant or would rather more Africans caught HIV as "punishment" for not following the church's teachings than they use simple proven technology to prevent disease transmission.

My problem is, it isn't clear which one it is, or whether it is actually both.

(As an aside, what I'd really like to know is why the church remains obsessed with sex (I can make some psychological assumptions) provisions in the Old Testament, but not those related to shellfish, hair and the like. My first guess is that if we all treated shellfish eating as a hedonistic pleasure, and sex as mundane and uninteresting as breathing, it may be different - it's about sacrifice, denial and suffering).


ZenTiger said...

If condoms "reduce" the risk, but they are used frequently, then isn't it statistically certain that HIV will be transmitted, as per the same logic you use in other scenarios?

libertyscott said...

Compared to not using them?? Of course not. It spreads the bell curve out over a longer period. It means the odds that a single encounter transmits the disease are very very low. Condoms used very well could have a lower rate, as they would be with a monogamous couple.

It can't be evaded, condoms do not make things worse, they make it better, but are not enough.

ZenTiger said...

It depends on how you measure "success". If you are a person who has sex with multiple partners infrequently, then just maybe, condom use will protect the one night stand. If you have sex with that person multiple times, then den't count on it.

But of course, the Pope isn't just saying "don't use condoms", he is also saying be faithful to your partner and approach sex as something more than momentary gratification. He's asking for the whole package, and if you aint listening to one part of it, you aint listening to all of it.

So no need to get upset about one part of it. Accept the inevitability that condoms will not protect in the long term, and that promiscuity comes at a price.

You asked why the Pope is "obsessed with sex"? That's a slanted question. You could perhaps ask why the Pope is obsessed with pointing out the follies of people who are so obsessed with sex they generate an HIV epidemic, unable to control themselves and deciding that condoms and abortions square everything up and negate the downside.

They don't, so maybe everyone else can just get over it, rather than get upset at the Pope pointing out the bleeding obvious?

libertyscott said...

Zen - Please don't evade the core issue - the Pope is saying using condoms "aggravates" the problem.

This is nonsense.

I can respect him arguing for monogamy as a way of reducing transmission. It is true.

I can respect him arguing that condoms do not eliminate the risk, and are insufficient in themselves. Altering behaviour reduces risk further (risk is never 100% eliminated) That also is true.

I wouldn't respect him saying they are ineffective. This is nonsense based on much empirical evidence. Condoms significantly reduce the incidence of transmission in any sexual encounter.

Saying condoms make it worse is wrong. He SHOULD have known that such a controversial (and novel) statement would be widely reported of itself, not the whole package. The Vatican is not that stupid surely.

The result is some people will not use condoms. Many less will also change behaviour at the same time, but many will continue being sexually active and increase their risk of infection as a result.

Spreading falsehoods is indefensible, particularly ones that if relied up, could spell a higher chance of death for people.

and Catholics wonder why so many criticise the Vatican's claim to moral authority when such statements are made.

ZenTiger said...

He SHOULD have known that such a controversial (and novel) statement would be widely reported of itself, not the whole package.

Anything he says is hyped, misreported, misrepresented. Your recommendation to talk in safe soundbites still would not work.

Besides, the ONLY people that would listen to the Pope (other to criticise him) would be Catholics. If they want to pick and choose the bits of the Catholic faith they will adhere to, then they need to decide if they are actually Catholics or not. There are apparently some 30,000 alternative Christian denominations they could follow, and probably 90% of them allow for contraception and implicitly the options that go with it.

So all you are doing is criticising the Pope for speaking to Catholics who, by being Catholic need to be looking at "the whole package" or rethinking their faith.

If that cuts the number of Catholics in half or more around the world, every atheist and many other people would be cheering from here to Nigeria. So be it.

It's amazing to me that the failure of "safe sex" campaigns to reduce teenage pregnancy are well documented [for example], and even when the response of doing the same thing, doubled (more advertising, more free condoms etc) fails, people will still argue this is really the only option.

Condoms offer less protection than the average person on the street has been led to believe. They don't help particularly well against STDs, and it is a numbers game when it comes to HIV in Africa. I suspect when it comes down to it, promiscuity is the biggest killer, and saying that is not evading the issue.

That's not meant as a moral judgment either, it's just saying it the way it is.

libertyscott said...

Oh everyone gets reported out of context - but the Vatican should surely be media savvy enough to know that - it should have known such a statement would generate publicity, and maybe that was the point.

I do NOT believe only Catholics will listen. This is a major world figure saying condoms make things worse. THAT is the crux of my point. By NO measure do they make things worse. An argument can be made that their effectiveness is exaggerated(which is what you are saying), but not they make it worse. I used condoms for years with girlfriends/fiance's and pregnancy did not occur, I grandly defied the statistical average dare I say. This, I believe, is a function of education and technique.

You are right, promiscuity is the serious issue. That ALWAYS increases STD risk, no different than driving more increases the risk of being killed in a car accident.

My point is he is wrong about condoms making it worse - it simply is not true.

Canterbury Atheists said...


Don’t try fighting against Catholics mate, their world is black & white with no shades of grey.

You need to remember The Catholic Church is not a democracy, it is a totalitarian dictatorship with passionate followers.

The staunch party members like Oberleutant Zen ‘tow the company line’ and rally (as in Nuremburg) against any liberalisms, like condom use – even when it will save lives.

The ‘one true religions’ yearns for a return to the good old days of ‘burning at the stake’

By the way I’ve picked-out Macrocapa for my funeral pyre, it may be a bit more expensive than normal wood, but trust me it pays not to skimp on costs when Zen the Inquisitor lights ‘that’ fire beneath you.

A well written , articulate post, mate.

Fine piece of print.


ZenTiger said...

Zen the Inquisitor

I didn't realise the full range of Zen Figurines were already on the shelves.

I'll have a word with my marketing manager, because I distinctly recall approving "Self Defence Zen", but at no time have I ever suggested marketing "burn people who disagree with my point of view at a stake Zen."

You seem to be confused, and I might have to consider a law suit for defamation if you make unfounded attacks which diminish my brand reputation.

Why don't you head down to the shops and buy a "Chillax Zen" and sit back and chill and relax and feel the vibes of good will?

That's one of my favorites, and I think you could benefit.

libertyscott said...


Nah, Zen is genuinely in my view, a good guy, and I have had several good online debates with him. I don't expect to be shot at dawn by him and Catholic storm troopers when the revolution comes, partly because I have a list of Catholic friends who have a range of views on these things.

As much as I believe the Vatican is morally wanting in so many ways, I don't think negatively of Catholics at all because of Catholicism.

Canterbury Atheists said...

Yeah Lib, the guy likes The Cure and Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy - so he can't be that bad (deep down)

By the way a tip for ya.

Don't mention you have mates that are Catholic in public. And never in writing!

See ya.