Saturday, May 21, 2005

Fundamentalists & Sex

Pharmaceutical companies are nearing the point of releasing a vaccine for HPV, one of the most common STDs, but more significantly, a cause of cervical cancer. Roughly 4,000 women in the U.S., and 250,000 women worldwide, die each year from cervical cancer, and that number is projected to expand to a million by 2050, assuming no deployment of a vaccine.

But because HPV is an STD, some fundamentalists oppose it because it might promote non-marital sex. From the Family Resource Center's website:
But there is always a behavioral prevention available for sexually transmitted diseases: abstinence until marriage and fidelity within marriage. Although we support research on vaccines and medicines against diseases, including sexually transmitted ones, we see potential harm in giving young people vaccines against STDs. First, young people are risk-takers; they may think a vaccination is a license to engage in premarital sex. Second, vaccinations may help to reduce the risk of one disease, but young people may be exposed to new and unknown risks. Third, there is no vaccination for ailments of the heart. What will protect young people from the loneliness and regret they are likely to experience after premarital sex? Abstinence is the best medicine available for STDs; no one has ever needed a vaccine or antibiotic to treat a case of abstinence.

While that's their general position, they have also specifically come out against an HPV vaccine. If any fundamentalist happens to be out there and agrees with the FRC (among others), I have several questions:
  1. Assuming a vaccine, why do you think behavior would change? It seems to me that if one's opposition to pre-marital sex is tied to beliefs rather than risks (putting aside the presence of plenty of risks even if HPV is eradicated), nothing would change.
  2. Lots of people are going to engage in pre-marital and extra-marital sex regardless of the other people's religious beliefs -- are you saying it's better that such folks (a.k.a., sinners) die than allow a vaccine? What about the spouse of an adulterer, who doesn't even know about a cheating husband until it's too late?
  3. The overarching question -- why do many fundamentalists feel that they need to decide morality for everyone, rather than let God be the judge?
  4. (Combining #2 & 3) How certain are you that God would rather one spouse of an adulterer die than save the lives of sinners?

Still on the topic of pre-marital sex, but on the Catholic side of the ledger, a pregnant student was banned from her Catholic high school graduation (she was allowed to graduate, just not attend the ceremony). I'm most disgusted by the hypocrisy embodied by the school doing this while permitting that the father of the child to attend graduation. I can't help but wonder if she would have been allowed to attend the ceremony if she'd gotten an abortion.


Mary P. said...

To my mind, the level of sexual prudery of the United States is largely unparalleled in the developed world. This particular devolution of Christianity is almost exclusively an American phenomenon. Religious folk in other developed countries are not nearly so prudish. Possibly the result of having Puritan forebears?

In other countries, these people do exist, yes, but they are recognized by everyone, including other Christians, as the lunatic fringe. Every group has such a fringe, and no group is proud of it. In America, though, the lunatic fringe seems somehow to have managed to grow in power and influence, till they are no longer a fringe element. As a result, they are bolder, making more and more outrageous demands. Scary!

If the religious right had any integrity at all, they'd be ashamed of themselves. Jesus spent a lot of airtime in the New Testament slamming the very religious hypocrisy they typify. Evangelical fundamentalists love to slam “Pharisees�, the intellectually strong, religiously nitpicky, and politically powerful religious group of the time. They slam Pharisees for their hypocrisy, for their lack of compassion, for their unwillingness to grapple with the difficult truths and challenges that Jesus presented. What they do not seem to see is that, by this typification of Pharisee they are the Pharisees of this time and culture.

Jesus spent time with lepers, who, arguably, occupied the same spot in their time and culture that AIDS victims occupy in the mind and culture of the religious right.

Jesus would choose compassion over legalism in his moral judgements. When Jesus happened across a group of self-righteous citizens all set to kill a married woman caught “in flagrente� with her lover, he challenged them: “Okay, so she's sinned. And the law says you can kill her for that. Fine. Whoever among you has never sinned in his life, you throw the first stone.� He wasn't denying her sin as defined by the laws and morality of the time, but he was arguing for compassion. The people, caught, I like to think, by the force of his character and their awareness of their own hypocrisy, dropped their stones and drifted away.

Phew! Long comment. I could give more examples, but that will suffice, I think! My point being: the religious right have a very shaky notion of what Jesus actually taught and would probably run him out of town on a rail if he were to show up today, preaching his radical, liberal notions!

aaron said...

Mary, I am not a Christian, but my understanding of the notions and teachings of Jesus is similar to yours. For this reason, I have a great deal of trouble with understanding the mentality behind fundamentalism. Still, I can see a difference between leprosy and AIDS, in that most of the spread of AIDS has been via sexual contact or drug transmission, especially now that blood is tested prior to transfusions -- thus, one disease is "caused" by one's behavior (I'm not saying that makes it right to castigate people with AIDS, just observing a difference). Never mind the fact that, as I was trying to point out in my original post, many (though certainly not most) victims of AIDS were infected by the behavior of their spouse. Thank you for your comments.

Mary P. said...

In Jesus' day, leprosy was seen as the evidence of God's disfavour, that somehow the sufferer had done something to make them unclean in this way. So the parallel to AIDS isn't as tenuous as you might think.

It's the complete lack of compassion in fundamentalist thinking that distresses me the most.

Fundamentalists are ideologues, and ideologues are one of the greatest evils of our day. Ideologues of whatever stripe: religious, political, moral, social...

These people see the world through their particular tiny box, have no interest in respectful,intelligent discussion, in considering other perspectives, in gleaning what they can from a perspective they disagree with. Rather, the response to other perspectives is merely to jeer, or to attempt to eradicate it.

Q said...

why do many fundamentalists feel that they need to decide morality for everyone, rather than let God be the judge?

I am not a fundamentalist (not even close) but I am very familiar with the New Testament.

Christians of all denominations recite the Lord's Prayer, which includes the petition, "Thy kingdom come / Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven."

Fundamentalist Christians believe that God's will is very specific, that God has a detailed plan for each person's life. Fundamentalists also believe in universal moral absolutes: standards that are incumbent upon every individual, without exception. Moreover, fundamentalists see themselves as instruments in God's hand, with a mandate to implement His will.

I don't entirely disagree with any of those propositions, but I certainly disagree with the way fundamentalists apply them. The second and third propositions are especially problematic.

I agree that "do not murder" is a moral absolute. But many instances of murderous behaviour (from my perspective) are vigorously defended by fundamentalists. Meanwhile, issues that I consider matters of personal conscience (e.g. homosexuality), fundamentalists position at the centre of their moral universe. Go figure.

I also agree that God calls us to be his co-workers to promote good in the world. For me, this means providing for the poor, promoting the equality of women and ethnic minorities, and other matters of elemental social justice. Strangely, fundamentalists often take positions directly opposite to mine on these issues, too.

I recently discovered a quote from John Stuart Mill: "One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety-nine who have only interests."

That's a great quote. Unfortunately, it explains much of what is wrong with the world: the people with the most destructive ideologies are also the most passionate in their convictions.

For example, the fundamentalists we're talking about were instrumental in getting George W. Bush re-elected. If Americans with moderate social views would have lined up behind Kerry with equal determination, the result might have been different. In my view, a Kerry victory would have been better for global welfare.