Food For Thought

“The primary AIDS ministry in this country is not orphanages and hospices. The primary AIDS ministry is the preaching of the lordship of Christ, because AIDS is the first plague in the history of mankind that can be stopped by a change of behaviour.”

— Grant Retief, South African pastor

27 thoughts on “Food For Thought

  1. While the church is teaching that condoms are bad and that people shouldn’t have sex, they are doing more harm than good, because people will hear that condoms are bad, and just carry on having sex.

    The right change of behaviour is more condoms, not less sex.

  2. That’s not food for thought, it’s food for stupidity. The plain and simple fact, in the face of undeniable mountains of evidence, is that promoting abstinence in the face of AIDS just does not work. It’s against human nature to *not* have sex. I agree 100% with JD, the church in Africa is doing more harm than good by preaching that condoms are bad.

    Gerv, do you really honestly think that Jesus would have chosen people dying over the perceived moral “rightness” of not using birth control? Let me emphasise that – people *dying*?

  3. I supposed it depends on which behaviour should be being changed. Safer sex and less/no sex are both changes of behaviour.
    Also a (very cursory) google search shows that Grant Retief appears to be an Anglican Pastor. So far as I know it isn’t the Anglican church preaching condoms are bad.

  4. @Rob: True, as far as I know (meaning, over here in the States) it’s only the Catholics that hold using a condom — or any form of birth control — to be a sin. Which means that just about every other branch of Christianity is more progressive on this point… not that it’s difficult to be more progressive than the Catholics.

    However, Mr. Retief still seems to be promoting an abstinence-only regime in regards to sex. And the other commenters are right; “just say no” doesn’t work when you have hormones racing through your system whose only job is to say “yes”. Teach people how to use proper protection — and keep in mind that condoms are only a facet of protectedness due to failure rate — and in addition to seeing a reduction in AIDS cases down the line you’ll also see fewer abandoned children and fewer abortions.

    Seems to me it’s an easy win for all involved, but there are far too many people in all branches of Christianity who only seem to want to wag their finger at people and brag about how pious they are, instead of helping others. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” someone once said. It’s a shame so few Christians are familiar with his work.

  5. Technically, sex does not per se contribute to the spread of HIV. It’s infidelity that’s the problem.

    And yes, obviously, less infidelity is against human nature, if by human nature you mean the sinful nature we inherit from Adam. This concept is discussed at length in Romans, particularly in chapters 5-7.

    And yes, it’s attempting to teach moral values (such as faithfulness) to unbelievers is at best an uphill battle. If they don’t recognize God’s authority, why are they going to listen to what he has to say about how they should live?

  6. JD, John Francis: I agree that just telling people “condoms are bad” is a terrible idea. But that’s not what he’s saying at all. He’s saying that sexual behaviour can’t be changed by just attempting to impose ideas or morality. People’s lives need to come under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Only then will they change. This is why simply “promoting abstinence” doesn’t work – because it’s morality without the gospel.

    But “it’s against human nature to *not* have sex” is just rubbish. People spend most of their lives not having sex. Some people never have sex, and yet are happy and fulfilled human beings. And anyway, how come people are normally held responsible for their actions and the consequences of them, and yet having sex gets a free pass?

    And the other commenters are right; “just say no” doesn’t work when you have hormones racing through your system whose only job is to say “yes”.

    It can when your life is under the lordship of Christ. That’s his entire point. Preaching morality alone fails. Preaching Christ works.

  7. When given the choice between complete repression in mind and body (“being put under the lordship of christ”) or using condoms, I think most people will choose condoms. The point is giving them a choice, something these de-facto figures of authority seem disinclined to do because the voices in their head are telling them so.

    Which is not to say religion is bad of course. If it makes you happy, more power to you. Given the choice though, I think most people will choose to have sex.

    Since providing safe sex is always going to be easier than convincing people of the “complete package” of religion (both the god bit and the abstinence bit), it’s clear that providing condoms as a public service makes a lot of sense. Certainly more sense than trying to convince people that abstinence is what they really want.

    Given that quite a lot of people seem to be attracted to the god bit of religion (either through brainwashing at early age, social pressure or just because they had a wave of inspiration one day and feel the need to attribute it to something super-natural), maybe religion-warehouses (churches, temples, mosques, etc) can be convinced to provide condoms to their customers and do their bit for society?

    Of course, that would require rational thinking on the part of religion-salesmen (priests, pastors, rabbis, immams, etc), of which sadly they seem incapable.

  8. The first plague was the first plague in the history of mankind that could be stopped by a change of behavior. All people had to do was stop living in filth and kill the rats in their houses. Jews had religious rules about cleanliness and contracted the plague at a much lower rate. (Quick google search gave me this source, though I learned this in high school: http://www.religioustolerance.org/jud_pers3.htm)

  9. The idea of evangelizing is something that makes me foam at the mouth. We won’t give people food or blankets or shelter whatever we think we need to give them.. unless they give up their culture and beliefs and erect a church first?

    FREE FOOD! (But first you have to give up your identity and your spiritual beliefs your village has had for 5,000 years)

    Instead of giving them some little rubber things to put on their junk, we think that making them feel guilty about their humanity is better? If you look at studies that look at kids that have abstinence classes.. those kids are MORE likely to have have sex later on.. and MORE likely to have unprotected sex.. and MORE likely to get pregnant.

  10. Philip: Christianity is the exact opposite of “complete repression in mind and body”. Christians are truly free to be the people they were created to be; it’s those who aren’t Christians who are in slavery to their own sin. Don’t believe me? It’s interesting that people in this thread aren’t really talking about the real food for thought in the quote above – that AIDS could be stopped by a change in behaviour. Then why does it still continue? Because people are slaves to their own desires and passions.

    “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” – Galatians 5:1.

    Freedom doesn’t mean being totally unconstrained in your actions; a fish is not “being free” if it jumps out of the water and gasps about dying on the shore. Freedom is living a life in tune with your creator.

    Adam: I don’t know anyone who does evangelism like that. There are Christian organizations all over the world feeding the poor and clothing the naked without any requirement that people come to believe a certain thing first.

    (But first you have to give up your identity and your spiritual beliefs your village has had for 5,000 years)

    That’s the ad antiquitatem fallacy; just because something’s old doesn’t mean it’s right. And becoming a Christian in no way means giving up your identity – as I said to Philip, on the contrary, it means becoming truly human.

    If you look at studies that look at kids that have abstinence classes.. those kids are MORE likely to have have sex later on

    And that’s because, as Grant Retief says and as I’m saying, just imposing morality doesn’t work – your life needs to be changed by the lordship of Christ.

  11. So just imposing morality doesn’t work, instead you have to convert them to Christianity? Yeah, that will be a whole lot easier….
    What makes you think (other than being blinded by your own faith) that the same people you don’t listen to the moral argument, will listen to someone preaching at them in order to convert them?

    Shall we encourage countries to not use chemical weapons and play by the Geneva convention, or should we try and convert them all to Christianity then they won’t want to be aggressive to other countries. After all its just a change of attitude/behaviour.

    This is about practical measures to save lives, based on who people are – not who we want them to be.

  12. If I am a “slave to my own desires and passions”, I must be suffering from a severe case of Stockholm syndrome too…

    There is a difference between extreme sexual promiscuity (“being totally unconstrained in your actions”) and simply enjoying sex. I will happily agree with you that if you jump on every random street prostitute (without taking sensible precautions to boot), you are about as ingenious as your proverbial fish jumping out of the water. I wouldn’t call trusting adults having consenting and safe sexual relationships “unconstrained” though. I wouldn’t call it “slavery” either.

    Many (most?) people are perfectly able to exercise self-control without needing voices in their heads to tell them to. Again, this is not to say the voices are bad. If people are happy with the voices–great! But wouldn’t you agree that calling people who don’t hear voices, and who feel they don’t need to hear voices, “slaves” and labeling their behaviour as “unconstrained” is maybe going a bit far?

    Both “imposing morality” and “putting under the lordship of christ” sound a lot like forcing people to conform to systems they don’t necessarily want to conform to. I know you don’t mean to “impose morality” on people with a gun to their head and you feel that if people “just saw the light” they would cheerfully be “put under the lordship of christ” but many (most?) people don’t work that way and can live perfectly happy and fulfilling lives while having sex every now and again.

    In fact, the sex probably contributes a lot to the happiness.

  13. Philip: Stockholm Symdrome would be a good way of putting it, actually.

    “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” – 2 Corinthians 4:4.

    Many (most?) people are perfectly able to exercise self-control without needing voices in their heads to tell them to.

    So how do 40% of South Africans have HIV/AIDS? I find it hard to believe that, in 2009, it’s because they don’t know that it’s a sexually-transmitted disease.

    Both “imposing morality” and “putting under the lordship of christ” sound a lot like forcing people to conform to systems they don’t necessarily want to conform to.

    But that second quote isn’t a quote from anyone in this discussion. No-one used the verb “putting” or “forcing”. And no-one is arguing that sex itself is bad, just that it’s something which should be reserved for marriage. The behavious change he’s talking about is not “don’t have sex”, it’s “have sex only with the person you are married to”.

  14. Without getting into sex and HIV and whatnot, I’m going to take issue with

    “AIDS is the first plague in the history of mankind that can be stopped by a change of behaviour”

    because it is not even remotely true. Things like typhoid fever and cholera are stopped by basic sanitation practices which are certainly a change of behavior. In fact all “plagues”, or more accurately pandemics, are infectious diseases which can be stopped by changes in behavior (proper sanitary techniques such as washing your hands, disposing of human waste appropriately, not sharing needles, safe sex or abstinence, etc.) Anything in ICD-10 Chapter 1 can be stopped by changes in behavior.

  15. “And becoming a Christian in no way means giving up your identity – as I said to Philip, on the contrary, it means becoming truly human.”

    Gerv, you have a nasty superiority complex. Which is frustrating, because you’re otherwise a very nice person.

  16. Fantasai: I can see how you would think that. But I would only have a superiority complex if I was claiming it were some merit in me or some achievement of mine which meant that I was a Christian and others are not. Then, I might be seen as boasting.

    But in fact, I am what I am because of God’s sovereign choice. I’m no better than anyone else – in fact, in many ways I’m probably worse. God chooses people out of his grace and kindness, not because they are ‘better’ than others. This is a good thing – because it means the offer of salvation is open to all, no matter what terrible things they may have done in their life.

  17. Let me clarify: you have a superiority complex about your religion, not about yourself.

  18. fantasai: I can’t quite see what you are saying here.

    Wikipedia says: The term “superiority complex”, in everyday usage, refers to an overly high opinion of oneself; in psychology, it refers to the unrealistic and exaggerated belief that one is better than others. In some people, this develops as a way to compensate for unconscious feelings of low self-esteem or inadequacy.

    Do you think my belief that Christianity is the truth is “unrealistic and exaggerated”? Surely that’s just begging the question? If it’s true, then my belief that it’s true is neither unrealistic nor exaggerated. Your suggestion that I have a superiority complex about it is founded upon your presupposition that it’s not.

    Or are you suggesting that I defend it in argument because I secretly know it’s wrong and don’t want to face up to that fact? Given that this is a statement about my inner feelings, I’m not sure how I can refute that apart from saying it’s not true.

  19. your claims on behalf of christianity do border on the insane. and i say that as a believer. what you are saying (doing what you like is a form of slavery? wtf?!) isn’t going to turn anyone on to the important message.

    christians have done unmeasurable damage to the african continent, and still are doing everyday. AIDS is just another opportunity to seriously exacerbate a problem (with the very best of intentions, of course).

    finally i would like to reinforce the obvious point, already made above – all ‘plagues’ could be prevented by changes in behaviour. unfortunately the change required (as always) requires a long hard look at medical and logistical facts, a pragmatic approach, rather than some holier than thou claptrap about morality (which has already made things worse).

  20. your claims on behalf of christianity do border on the insane. and i say that as a believer. what you are saying (doing what you like is a form of slavery? wtf?!) isn’t going to turn anyone on to the important message.

    christians have done unmeasurable damage to the african continent, and still are doing everyday. AIDS is just another opportunity to seriously exacerbate a problem (with the very best of intentions, of course).

    finally i would like to reinforce the obvious point, already made above – all ‘plagues’ could be prevented by changes in behaviour. unfortunately the change required (as always) requires a long hard look at medical and logistical facts, a pragmatic approach, rather than some holier than thou claptrap about morality (which has already made things worse).

  21. Do you think my belief that Christianity is the truth is “unrealistic and exaggerated”?

    So, let me fill in the blanks on that Wikipedia definition:

    The term “superiority complex”, in my usage here, refers to an overly high opinion of your religion… it refers to the unrealistic and exaggerated belief that your religion is better than others.

    I hope that’s clear now. Now I’m going to give you my full, nasty opinion: I consider anyone who believes he knows the true nature of the Universe or the will of God to be an arrogant fool; one who believes that other equally subjective interpretations are misguided and wrong to be the epitome of hubris; and one who discredits the Word of God as inscribed by His Hand upon His Own Creation (i.e. the physical, measurable, tangible universe) in favor of a much-transcribed, much-translated collection of human interpretations of some philosophical doctrine, however Inspired, to be a willfully-ignorant idiot.

    Our human observations of the universe are subject to many, many interpretations. Each person has his own, and as long as it’s consistent with the literal text of the world itself, there’s no undeniable reason to think any one interpretation is more correct than the other. And that includes yours.

  22. ed: “doing what you like is a form of slavery” comes from Galatians 4:1-7. Romans 1 is also a good example of people falling into the slavery of idolatry because they do whatever they want with no regard for God. By contrast, the service of Christ is perfect freedom (in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, and Galatians 5:1).

    [And if you call yourself a believer, I think you need to take a long hard look at the tone of the comments you’ve posted on this blog now and in the past. Were they written in the spirit of the love that there should be between brothers?]

    I don’t think all plagues can be prevented by changes in behaviour. If that is so, why is swine flu a problem? What’s the change in behaviour needed there?

    fantasai: Thanks for the clarification, and the honesty – always preferred :-) As I said, your point is begging the question. If Christianity is true, then my belief that it’s better than others is neither unrealistic, nor exaggerated.

    So here’s my counter-question: how do you know you can trust your own senses and reason? What principle of the universe says that your senses will give you correct data about the world, or that your reason will act correctly on it to produce valid conclusions?

    I agree that anyone who claims that their own view of the Universe is correct is an arrogant fool. And you are right that if we are all sitting around discussing the nature of God, one opinion is of as much value as another. But my view is not my own, and we are not discussing the nature of God without evidence. God himself came to earth to show us what he was like – and his intervention is what makes the difference between one viewpoint and another.

    Lastly, I’m going to rise to the bait of “much-transcribed, much-translated”. Do you actually know anything about how the Bible came to us? It’s certainly not much-translated – current English versions are translations of the original Hebrew and Greek. And while there are many copies from the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries, the very plurality of them makes reconstructing the originals with certainty a much easier task. Which bit of the Bible, containing a key point of doctrine, do you think is textually uncertain? Name names :-)

  23. If Christianity is true, then my belief that it’s better than others is neither unrealistic, nor exaggerated.

    In the context of your religious community (and by that I mean your corner of Christianity, not even the entirety of it), your religion’s assumed superiority is natural and justified. I do not exist in your religious community, and therefore in my context, and that of most other people, it is unrealistic and exaggerated.

    But my view is not my own

    Your view of the universe is your own. The fact that it’s inspired by others’ does not make it any less your own.

    how do you know you can trust your own senses and reason?

    I don’t, in fact, know for sure that I can trust my own senses and reason, but if someone presents me an authoritative book that says San Francisco is flat and I look outside and see hills, I’d me more inclined to think that San Francisco has hills, and consider that either the author meant something other than its topography, or the sentence presumes a different definition of flat, or the author never visited San Francisco and is simply making things up. I’d consider anyone who reads the book and visits San Francisco and still thinks there are no hills in San Francisco to be either willfully-ignorant or mentally handicapped, but accept that there is nonetheless a possibility that they might be right.

  24. “how do you know you can trust your own senses and reason?”

    Happily, at least in science, neither is trusted. Data must be repeated and corroborated by multiple sources, and explanations for the data are fiercely debated until consensus gradually emerges. It’s an undeniably effective system.

    Well, the data is in, and it’s obvious that proselytization in sub-Saharan Africa has failed, much like abstinence-only teaching has failed in the US. The root cause isn’t even worth arguing over as it’s obvious: people with AIDS are having unprotected sex.

    A tiny thought experiment: imagine how much different it would be there if the majority of those people (properly) used condoms. And that’s a behaviour that is actually realistically changed. Ridding the population of lethal superstitions (such as AIDS being cured by having sex with a virgin) and equally dangerous lies (such as condom use being ineffective against [or actually causing!] AIDS) wouldn’t hurt either.

    If only it were feasible to divide the population into three groups, with group one being taught a Gervase Markham-approved brand of Christianity, and group two being taught sex education and given access to condoms. (Group three would of course be a control group.)

    It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that intelligent and educated people could actually disagree over which group would fair better.

  25. Well, the data is in, and it’s obvious that proselytization in sub-Saharan Africa has failed

    That seems a somewhat hasty judgement. Wikipedia says: “Only nine million Christians were in Africa in 1900, but by the year 2000, there were an estimated 380 million Christians.” Don’t pick up that rock, there might be a Christian under it.

    I entirely agree with you that ridding the population of lethal superstitions and lies is a great idea. That’s one of the great things that a relationship with Jesus does for you :-) “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

  26. If using condoms worked there would be no such a thing as AIDS.

    In areas of Africa were keeping God’s sexual laws are kept , incidence of AIDS has fallen, the same cannot be said of condoms.