Pope, extra ribbed
Benedict says condoms make AIDS worse. God recoils in shame
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, April 3, 2009
What sort of wretched deity is this? What sort of tormented, clenched God must you believe in to cause you to openly promote ignorance and death for the sake of power and ideology and fear -- always, always a deep fear -- of love and sex and basic human connection?
Let me try to be a little more specific: Is it not some form of strange self-torture, a kind of brutal spiritual immolation, to believe that God is this gloomy, obsessive micromanager, so petty and vindictive regarding what you do with your body that you/he will let people die for the sake of it? Do you have any sort of answer?
Shall we ask the pope?
"The 81-year-old Benedict doesn't mingle with reporters individually but stands before them in the rear section of the plane flanked by aides, and responds drily to the questions."
What a touching image. It's just one of the takeaway lines I took away from the recent story about Pope Benedict and his first, "troubled" trip to Africa, about how he generally handles -- or rather, mishandles -- questions about the grand scheme of worldly things like the soul, war, the role of God in everyday life and whether or not he might be some sort of dangerous underworld automaton sent from the Netherrealms of Ignorance to inflict guilt and desolation upon the world.
It must be true. It's a question I'd want to pose, anyway, were I standing at the back of that papal aircraft staring down this dour and ideologically archaic man who seems very intent on not merely cementing slippery human divinity in the hard concrete of 1500, but also shoving it off a bridge to watch it sink to the bottom, just for good measure.
Perhaps you think I'm out of line. Perhaps you think I'm being too hard on the ultraconservative, disengaged 81-year-old pontiff.
Perhaps you did not read about how Benedict once again condemned condom usage in AIDS-ravaged Africa, apparently one of the last continents still deeply susceptible to the Vatican's insidious, pre-historic sexual ideology, and apparently the one major region that's singlehandedly keeping the church in the news these days because, dear God, are the rest of us not just about done with this sort of myopic sexual hysteria and dangerous misinformation? It would be nice to think so.
But wait, there's more. The pope did not merely say, as the church has yawned for a thousand years, that any form of contraception is wrong. Would that he were so quaint and easily dismissed.
Benedict actually took it a shocking, deadly step further and announced to sick, poor, dying Africans -- 22.5 million cases of HIV and counting fast -- that condoms could actually make AIDS worse, and that everyone should, instead, do what he and his sour band of unhappies have done for the past 2,000 very repressed years and simply not have sex, unless you are married and unsoiled and maybe not even then, because if there's one thing his very cruel God will not tolerate, it's humans doing things with their bodies in any way other than what some vindictive bishop scribbled into an insufferable rulebook about a thousand years ago.
Still out of line? Are you thinking, come on, the pope might not be all that hip to the basic health issues of this lifetime, but so what? He's largely irrelevant to the lives of everyday Catholics. He's just a surreal figurehead, a sad spectacle parading through the streets of foreign cities in his gold-dipped shoes and a scepter made of tears. Who cares about his harmful lies, really?
Perhaps you're right. Perhaps we shouldn't really give a damn for places where people are dying of diseases that could, at least in part, be easily prevented by simple sexual information and education, but which are instead being made worse by the appalling lies of someone who claims to have the Almighty on speed dial. What does it matter? Don't we have larger issues to worry about? Have you seen the housing market?
Perhaps you wish to point out all the good the church does in the world, the various charities and outreach programs and shelters for the poor and so on. And you know what? You are absolutely right. There are some lovely people at play in the fields of the lord, even if that lord is a bit of a domineering, patriarchal megalomaniac who's never really satisfied.
There is other good news: Some bishops already operate in open defiance of the Vatican's ignorance and publicly disagree with the pope's silly pronouncements. What's more, plenty of Catholic charities already freely distribute condoms to those living with AIDS (though of course, not to schools or to healthy sinners).
Very well then. Perhaps we should look at it differently, and use Benedict as our grand reminder that the general Rule of Divinity still holds true: the more you claim to be some sort of inviolable authority on things sacred and holy, the less you are to be trusted and the more we should all hope and pray for your urgent obsoletion. Simple enough?
(Cross reference the pope with, say, the Dalai Lama, widely considered to be one of the most divinely luminous beings on the planet, a man who claims, well, absolutely no divine authority whatsoever. His only claim? A deep humility shot through with astonishing kindness and love, a man who is always learning, always open to new ideas, the fluid and illusive nature of this life. What a contrast).
But don't just take my word for it. Listen to the foreign press -- American media being generally too timid and nervous to dare criticize the church too aggressively -- where response to the pope's condom stance was one of open-throated disgust and outrage.
"When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record," The Lancet, one of the world's most respected medical journals, said in an editorial.
Or maybe you agree more with former French prime minister Alain Juppe, who said that "this pope is starting to be a real problem" because he lives in "a situation of total autism." Or maybe German Green European deputy, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who seethed, "We've had enough of this pope," and described his condom comments as "close to premeditated murder."
There you go. Not even Obama would have the balls to say something like that.
So, what can you do about it all? Can you support Spain as it announces, one day after Benedict's deadly edict, that it will donate one million condoms to Africa? Shall you join the multitude of international Facebook protests? Shall you merely sigh and shake your head at the ongoing small-mindedness of major organized religion, and wonder when we might finally evolve past it? Absolutely.
Meantime, maybe we can simply hope, when this pope's bitter, conservative reign is over and white smoke next rises from the Sistine Chapel, it will in celebration of someone who, if not exactly progressive and open-minded and full of joy at the deep pleasures of this life, will at least be, at bare minimum, not someone who so cruelly demeans it.
Wow. Just...wow. Perhaps when that smoke rises, it will be the indicator of the funeral pyre of something rancid and rotten that has long overstayed its time.