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West’s Aids strategy is a failure, says new report

By on Wednesday, 1 June 2011

People light candles to mark World Aids Day in Kathmandu, Nepal (CNS Photo/Navesh Chitrakar)

People light candles to mark World Aids Day in Kathmandu, Nepal (CNS Photo/Navesh Chitrakar)

Millions of people are dying from Aids because western governments will not accept that condoms are ineffective in curbing the spread of the disease, a forthcoming report by the Catholic Church claims.

Evidence shows that rates of infection have risen most sharply in those countries which have been flooded with condoms, says the report, because they encourage promiscuity. But rates have fallen in the few places that have encouraged monogamy and fidelity among married couples, it says.

The report, The Catholic Church and the Global Aids Crisis, cites research estimating that if, instead of condoms, fidelity and abstinence were promoted across sub-Saharan Africa some six million new infections would have been averted in less than a decade, with four million fewer Aids orphans created. Such programmes might have saved 3.2 million lives in South Africa alone from 2000 to 2010, and prevented 80 per cent of HIV infections in the hardest hit areas of the continent, the report says.

“The overwhelming body of epidemiological evidence tells us that we have very little to show for all the investments in risk reduction measures, despite assurances that they were the indispensible solution to the problem,” said the author, Matthew Hanley, an American public health expert who has worked on HIV prevention programmes in Africa. “Many would be surprised to learn that condoms … have not delivered as promised in the fight against Aids.

“They have, quite simply, not accounted for declines in HIV prevalence that their advocates had expected. Though condoms have been the priority intervention, and been promoted time and time again, they have a rather poor track record in general – for Aids in Africa as well as a range of other sexually transmitted infections in the West. Quite simply, each of Africa’s declines in Aids rates are most attributable to … changes in sexual behaviour – especially fidelity or what the public health community sometimes calls ‘partner reduction’.”

Since HIV/Aids was first identified in 1981 has infected an estimated 65 million people and killed 25 million of them. About 33 million people are living with the disease today.

Mr Hanley said that condom campaigns failed because they were susceptible to the phenomenon of “risk compensation” in which people who used them tended to be more promiscuous than those who did not.

He says that because condoms have a failure rate, even with “perfect” use some 12,000 infections are expected from every million people.

But the infection rate is in reality much higher, he claims in the report to be published next month by the London-based Catholic Truth Society, because people frequently use condoms either imperfectly or inconsistently.

Mr Hanley said that similar rates of failure and infection also exist in high risk groups in countries like Britain who are “knowledgeable about condoms and could not be more motivated to use them”.

But western governments continue to contribute to the spread of Aids because of their ideological commitment to “absolute sexual freedom” and a “billion dollar industry” in manufacturing and marketing condoms, he said.

“To suggest that people should limit their sexual behaviour is to cross the cultural Rubicon,” he said.

“Even officials to whom the public health is entrusted dare not contradict the prevailing ideological orthodoxy of modern western culture.”

The report provides evidence to show that Uganda saw a 10 per cent drop in the number of people with Aids between 1991 and 2001 after investing in abstinence programmes.
The rates of infection began to climb again when foreign donor agencies insisted on a family planning component in aid packages.

Pope Benedict XVI was severely criticised after he publicly doubted the efficacy of condoms to combat Aids during a visit to Cameroon in 2009. Among the few public figures to defend him, however, was Professor Edward Green, an adviser to US President Barack Obama and the director of the Aids Prevention Research Project at Harvard University.
“The best evidence we have supports the Pope’s comments,” said Dr Green.

Last year, the British government announced proposals to “hard-wire” family planning services into its overseas development programmes.

Andrew Mitchell, International Development Secretary, said that the Government planned an “unprecedented focus” on family planning in the poorest countries of the world.

A three-day conference on Aids held in Rome was preceded by an article in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, last week, also claiming that condoms were ineffective in combating the spread of the disease. The conference focused largely on how to change life-threatening behaviour patterns instead.

  • badjumbly

    I didn’t claim that the quoted sentence was an argument. I think it stands well enough on its own, but I would be prepared to argue against any who argue against it.
    Your last sentence is oddly tautological. If I do not believe in the “divine eyes”, it is obvious that I cannot consider their existence as a fact. You might as well have written that I don’t seem to have considered the fact that ghosts exist whether or not I believe in them.

  • badjumbly

    If Western secular democracies do not survive into the 22nd century, having been submerged by Islam, that is bad news for the majority of the world’s Catholics who live in those secular democracies. Where are you going to bunker down? The Vatican?
    Your view of Africa is rosier than mine. I’m always happy to hear about increasing prosperity there, though that is not quite the same thing as economic growth, and I doubt that it derives from having a higher birth-rate than Europe. Africa has long had a higher birth-rate than Europe, but there is no historic pattern of that translating into prosperity.

  • badjumbly

    I know that faith is alive and well in the world. I myself have faith in plenty of things, though these do not include God, or the Pope or the Catholic Church. We were discussing the Pope’s influence. I’m not sure how great that is in China and Russia and will research it when time allows. I know that the Catholic Church is still strong in Africa, but most of Africa is not yet as educationally developed as Europe. I hope that one day it will be. You say the rock is weathering the storm on ALL sides, yet you do not draw examples from Europe or the Americas. What is happening on those sides?
    Heads of state visit the Pope for the same reason they visit Queen Elizabeth. It is a diplomatic tradition. I would not argue that the Queen’s influence in the world is getting stronger just because she is visited by heads of state from all over the world.
    Whatever the extent of John Paul II’s role in tearing down the Berlin Wall, that has nothing to do with whether the inflence of the present Pope is waxing or waning.

  • badjumbly

    What more can you say? Well, you could give specific examples of my comments not adding up or lacking substance.
    I’m glad to know my comments are not like rocks. A rock is a found object, which can be picked up and brandished by any unthinking neanderthal. I prefer to think of my comments as crafted arrows.

  • badjumbly

    I know they are separate questions, but I was more interested in addressing the question of whether atheists can be good people, since at least one person on this board seems to think the answer is “No”.
    I have often considered the chain of events that led to my moral viewpoint, and I think that’s something well worth considering for anyone.
    Thanks for wishing me good luck on my intellectual journey, but I believe that if the journeyer possesses the intellect, he does not need the luck. 

  • Teach

    Bad boy, darling, how right you are.

    I think this really depends on how big your rocks are. I’m sure you appreciate that massive rocks are unmoveable, they remain in place for all time, and they do not change.

    Arrows, on the other hand, no matter how finely crafted, can be fired in many different directions, they may be blown off course by the wind, and may or may not reach their destination.

    Hope you find some big rocks soon.

  • dutchcatholic

    Whether a secular state would be a good thing depends on what a secular state means. If secular means that no single religion (or denomination) can claim the public sphere at the expense of other religions, creeds and philosophies then most West Europeans live in a secular state (or should I say secularised?) and to their own benefit. Even though the Enlightenment certainly helped increase religious tolerance, crediting it for stopping the Wars of Religion singlehandedly goes too far (the Westphalian system of international relations contributed greatly as well). And the Enlightenment didn’t magically turn everyone into atheists and secularists either, it led to a novel reading of the Gospel by many Christians too. Relentless civil struggle on part of the Catholics and these new perspectives on the Protestant side is what led to Catholic Emancipation and there was not a modern-type secularist in sight.

    That brings me back to secularism. In my opinion there are secularists because they think a secular state hasn’t been realised yet (the common complaint is that believers somehow have exceptional priviledges although I fail to notice which ones). Their definition of a secular state seems to be that of a state where officials and politicians do not involve themselves in religion in any way (religious officials must ‘suspend’ their religiosity). The ‘secular ideal’ also seems to include a secular society in which religion is forced out of the public sphere and to be locked up in churches and believers’ homes. The careful readers will now notice that this concept isn’t much different from the concept of the publically enforced state religion I outlined in the first paragraph. Both systems are rooted in totalitarianism and that is why I (and most religious people I think) reject secularism. The examples of a secular state I am familiar with are those of the Communist Eastern Bloc, which were highly totalitarian. Granted, other aspects of communism get to share the blame, but secularism (or ‘state atheism’ in their jargon) and ‘scientism’ were important and ubiquitous elements of Communist ideology. I think it makes for a convincing argument that the secular state as envisaged by the modern secularist is by no means a guarantee that (religious) dissidents will be treated well.

    I take issue with you somehow implying that Catholics deserved to be tortured and murdered because the Pope and Henry/Elizabeth clashed on the extent of Papal temporal authority. Disagree with papal authority if you like, but Catholic priests were hunted down, tortured and murdered for being Catholic whether they were involved in political conspiracies or not (the most famous of the English Martyrs, Edmund Campion, acknowledged Elizabeth Queen when she questioned him). Most Catholics simply wanted to hold on to cherished traditions such as the real presence. By the way I am Dutch, and I think a comparison with the treatment of Catholics in the Dutch Republic is warranted. Catholics there were severely limited in the exercise of their religion (they had to worship in concealed churches and could not acceed to office or be part of the town militia). Though still miles away from true religious freedom, these nuisances and discomforts were nothing compared with the vigour the English government displayed when persecuting lay Catholics and executing Catholic clerics. Of course ‘Bloody’ Mary’s (secular) government visited the same on the Protestants, but two wrongs do not make a right.

  • badjumbly

    l accept your definition of aggressive secularism and believe that all should have the right to express their beliefs in public, including politicians. In fact, if I am going to vote for someone, I very much want to know what his or her beliefs are, including any religious ones. What I don’t agree with is the granting of special legal priveleges and exceptions based on religious or any other beliefs. If an atheist nurse cannot wear on her work uniform a badge proclaiming her atheism, a Christian colleague in the same uniform should not be able to display a cross while on duty. If I cannot have my head covered in a passport photo, others should not be able to claim that right on religious grounds (which presently, in the UK, they can).

    I agree also that the secular state should not deny God, but neither should it affirm God. If it is to serve everyone impartially, the state should not have an official policy on God’s existence, though that would not stop individual members of government from expressing their views on the matter.

    I do not agree that “if human rights don’t derive from God, then they are merely a privilege granted by the state”. The word “rights” has two meanings which sometimes get confused in discourse. In a strictly 
    legalistic sense, our “rights” are precisely what the law decides them to be, and that is why legal rights are so fiercely fought for. But often, as in the phrase “basic human rights” we use the word to mean “the rights we feel we SHOULD have”, and this feeling of fair entitlement exists as much in the atheist as in the Christian. The women campaigning in Saudi Arabia for the right to drive cars feel that driving is their right in this second sense of the word, though at present it is not their right in the legalistic sense. I don’t know how many of them believe that a driving license is a right granted by God, but it seems reasonable to suppose that they are primarily motivated by a desire to drive and have a little more independence and equality with men. In attributing rights to either God or the law, what you have not considered is the force of human desire. We say that freedom, work, food, equality before the law, etc, are, or should be, our rights because we WANT them. We want to be happy. (Of course we might want many other things which we do not claim as our rights because we have to draw a line somewhere, and if we’re sensible, we distinguish between what is essential for happiness and what isn’t.) So, regardless of how religious a nation is, their rights are never just going to be a purely legal gift from the state. If the government doesn’t give the people the rights they crave, they will vote it out, in a democracy, or seek to overthrow it, in a dictatorship.

  • David Homoney

    We have tried the ways you have prescribed Weary Convert, they have been abject failures. As contraception has gone up so have abortions. Not to mention stuff like the pill and IUDs are killing babies as well. They are not the resolution they are part of the problem. They continue to promote the culture of death and of seeing each other as objects for our own personal sexual gratification. Chastity is the only method that works.

    The Catholic Church has right to make proclamations on faith and morals and sex falls into that. You may not like it, due to your will being ruled by concupiscence, but that doesn’t change objective truth, nor does your disagreement make the Church wrong. 

  • Anonymous

    Meanwhile you are quite free to suck the dummy of atheism. Also you say that Roman Catholics and Protestants stopped killing each other because religion “wasn’t worth killing over” but you seem to forget that the single biggest killer of its time and the perpetual enemy of humanity was the atheistic states of Eastern Europe – if you must criticize religion then at least be less of a hypocrite and one statistic should give you an idea of how brutal atheism was: in 300 years of the Spanish Inquisition 2000 people were killed in the name of the Church; in 3 years of Pal Pot’s regime in Indo-China (which was fairly mild by standards of men like Stalin and Mao) 2,000,000 people were killied in the name of atheism. It seeems “spitting the dummy out may not have been such a wonderful emancipation after all.

  • Anonymous

    Atheism is the disbelief in gods: the disbelief that there is some great cosmic force that cares about you or will reward your devotion after death. Unlike a dummy, or a religion, it is unlikely to bring comfort.

    Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were communists and megalomaniacs, and they were led to commit atrocities by their fanatical belief in misguided political and economic theories; not by their atheism. They targeted anyone they thought opposed to them, regardless of whether they were religious believers. I would never equate Catholicism with the Spanish inquisition or propose that Catholicism is inherently brutal, and I wish that some religious commentators, such as yourself, could understand that atheism, per se, does not produce brutality either.  

    You charge me with hypocrisy because I mentioned inter-religious persecutions without also mentioning persecutions by atheist leaders. That charge would be justified IF I were claiming that atheists were morally superior to Christians and less likely to oppress and kill people, but I have not claimed any such thing and never would, because I don’t believe it. I support secularism because I do not believe that states should be ruled according to the dictates of a particular religion. It does not follow that I believe secularism by itself will produce a good state or that leaders who support the secularist principle will necessarily be good leaders.

  • Anonymous

    You say that atheism is unlikely to bring comfort but actually it seems more likely to do so than religion; after all by religion’s terms you may be rewarded or you may be punished but justice will always be done and so if you do evil there is no escape; here atheism offers a magnificent comfort in that it denies that justice will be done and so shows to fanatical atheists, the three I mentioned included, that anything is permissible as they will, ultimately, get away with it. After all if there is no God then who is to say that either the three atheists I mentioned or the Spanish inquisitors were in any way evil? To make this clear I am not saying that atheists cannot be moral; they can and often are, what I am saying is that one cannot objectively justify what is and is not moral without reference to some higher standard, in our case God; in your case God knows.

    As for my mention of the atheist leaders I should clarify that point; whether one’s ideology is religious or secular there is always a path to brutality and evil and in response to you saying that the massacres were not in the name of atheism not all of them were, I admit, but there were massacres and oppressions commited by atheists across the world done solely because of atheism; one example being the dynamiting of the Russian Churches and another the oppressions of the Catholic clergy during the revolution. The reason for that is trying, as secularism does, to remove God from the system and the result is, as I heard said by a Russian novelist of the Russian Revolution which was, in effect, accelerated secularisation, “we thought we could destroy God and retain a value for man, but we found that we could not; we destroyed man as well.”

    With regard to your last point you are right that not all secularism means communism but my point is that it was inspired entirely by atheism (read Karl Marx’s comments on religion) and still both communism and secularism leave us with the value problem. That is to say that, if one sidelines religion in the way of the modern West, then why obey the laws and why make laws that truly value morals or ethics and we see that problem ever more. Look at abortion, look at marriage and look at faith itself. In the modern West none of these are understood and all of them are either dismissed and undervalued as a direct result of the marginalisition of religion; that is why I support a country inspired by religion. Firstly religion itself is understood and secondly we are shown that humans are not the highest authority; which is a lesson I think that many could do with learning today as we humans have consistantly shown our own incapacity to banish God; from France to modern China both of which were born of the ideas that you advocate.

  • Ratbag

    Get you!

  • Anonymous

    I think in some ways you
    have misunderstood my position, so I’d like to clarify a few points.

    1. I have not claimed that
    the Enlightenment singlehandedly stopped the Wars of Religion or magically
    turned everyone into atheists and secularists. (I don’t believe in magic.) The
    movement towards secularism in Europe has been gradual and complex, but I think
    I am right to claim that religious strife was one of the major factors. To say
    that B is a product of A does not imply an absence of other factors, and when
    blogging you haven’t always the space to paint the full, detailed picture.

    2. I wrote that “The
    end product of all the persecutions of Catholics by Protestants, and of
    Protestants by Catholics, and of non-Christians by both, is the secular state,
    where no-one need fear legal persecution because they follow, or do not follow,
    a particular religion”. You are right to point out that communist states
    are also secular regimes and have acted oppressively towards religions, so I’d
    like to make it clear that “the secular state” to which I referred
    here was the type that eventually evolved in western countries previously
    troubled by the Catholic-Protestant schism, such as Britain, France and your
    own Netherlands. I thought the context would make that clear, but I can see how
    my sentence might be detached from that western context and misinterpreted. Because
    of the brutalities of communism I obviously cannot claim that ALL secular
    states tolerate ideological diversity, but I believe that the states which do
    tolerate ideological diversity are overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, secular.           

    3. As a secularist, I do
    not believe that religious beliefs should have to be kept private, since I
    support freedom of public expression. I merely believe that religious beliefs
    should not be granted legal privileges and exceptions by the state. If you
    cannot see any such cases of favouritism in Britain, that, to me, is good news.
    A few still do exist, however. The rule that passport photos must not show the
    head covered is waived for people who cover their heads for religious reasons,
    even though they present no less of a security risk than others. Publically
    funded “faith schools” are allowed to make the religion of a child’s
    parents a factor when offering places, but there are no publically funded
    atheist schools. A more pressing problem is that religious rights are a
    battleground in the UK, and secular legal principles have to be constantly
    maintained in the face of pressure from some religious believers. Recently the
    wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is a magistrate, opted not to
    send a man to prison for breaking someone’s jaw on the grounds that the
    convicted man was religious and therefore could be expected to tell right from
    wrong. A registrar in London wanted to write her own job description to exempt
    her from serving gay couples, even though she was a public servant. When the
    Council dismissed her for not doing her job, she took them to court and
    initially won. To oppose this sort of presumption is not the same as seeking to
    push religion into a closet. Anyone can stand for election on their religious
    principles, and that is their democratic right, but parties with specific
    religious affiliations will not succeed in Britain because the majority of
    voters are rightly suspicious of the mixing of politics and religion. Given the
    trouble that this combination has caused in British history, their aversion is

    4. I have in no way
    whatsoever implied that Catholics deserved to be murdered and tortured because
    Henry VIII broke with Rome, and all persecution on purely ideological grounds
    is abhorrent to me. It might seem callous to describe the break with Rome as a
    happy accident of history, but it should be remembered that this event was not
    the beginning of religious persecution in England. During Henry’s reign,
    Protestants were arrested, tortured and burned for heresy both before and after
    the break, and Thomas More showed his less saintly side by supporting these
    practices. After the break, Catholics were granted equal access to the glories
    of martyrdom, but to earn it they usually had to deny the supremacy of Henry,
    who was still sympathetic towards many Catholic tenets and practices and continued
    to have Protestants executed for challenging them. While Catholicism reigned
    unchallenged in England, Protestants could confidently be persecuted without
    fear of reprisal for as long as they were up for it, which is why I believe the
    break was on the whole a Good Thing. It knocked a permanent hole in the
    supposed absolutism of the Pope’s spiritual authority in Europe, and supported
    the questioning anti-authoritarian spirit that eventually delivered western secularism.
    This was certainly not Henry’s intention, which is why I call it a happy


    P.S. I would not define Mary
    Tudor’s government as secular. The adherents of one religion are not legally
    allowed to persecute those of another under a truly secular government.

  • dutchcatholic

    1. You are quite right that not every point can be covered whilst blogging.

    2. Much again hinges on the definition of secular state. Your definition comes close to my own, but both in the Netherlands and in the UK there are secularists whose definition of secular state is different from ours. These secularists seem to think that a secular state is a state that needs to create a secular society where religion is eradicated or at least stopped from ‘interfering’ because it’s supposedly is inherently evil. The secularism espoused by communism is of this form. If we abide by your definition of secularism then we already have enough of it, so why need campaigns from the National Secular Society?

    3. I can understand your discomfort with these exceptions from a philosophical point of view, but on the other hand I think some of these exceptions tie in with the freedom to follow one’s conscience (just as important to me as the freedom of expression, if not more important).

    For example Sikhs or Orthodox Jews has consciential objections to removing their headgear and I can see that to an atheist the reasoning seems to flawed, illogical and irrational but it still is against an Orthodox Jew’s convictions to remove his headgear. You make a good point, namely that these people are no less of a security risk than others, but against that I can say that generally they are also not more of a risk than others. In this concrete example I would only disallow people to wear headgear for passport photos if this risk were to become considerably higher.

    For me it’s difficult to form an opinion on faith schools, because I am not familiar with the (exact) situation in the UK. In the Netherlands the battle of religious people to obtain faith schools was the major divide in Dutch politics until 1917 and I for one am glad that these schools have established and receive equal funding in the Netherlands along with the public schools. Faith schools in the Netherlands are allowed to have their own denominational identity and can conduct hiring and admission policies in accordance with it. If a non-Catholic child wants to attend a Catholic school one is allowed to attend if the child or the parents do not have objections to school identity. In practice this means that it is not unheard of to encounter Muslim children in Catholic schools. If parents do not want to put their child in a faith school, they can enroll the child in a public school (religiously neutral) or a Montessori/Dalton/Jenaplan/Steiner/Freynet school (legally it classifies as a faith school as well and yes I know of a Catholic Dalton school). Perhaps I’ve got it wrong, but I have heard that in the UK parents start to attend church every Sunday and similar things to get their children enrolled into faith schools (I guess that their quality levels are generally better, as they are in the Netherlands). In the Netherlands no such antics are required.

    Cherie Blair’s argument is quite frankly ludicrous. My sentiment is similar to that of Penda, the pagan king of the Mercians, who said the following about Christians in breach with their own ideas: “They were contemptible and wretched who did not obey their God, in whom they

    Your case about job descriptions is interesting and it makes me think about some of the fallout of legalising same-sex marriage in the Netherlands. When it was legalised there where civil servants who refused to marry gay couples on religious grounds. Although undesirable from a long term point of view I did consider it reasonable to grant an exemption to those civil servants who were in the service before the law changed (they could not have known that they would become obliged to marry same sex couples, so they couldn’t have chosen a different job). To make a long story short I think the call the follow one’s conscience should not automatically make someone lose their job. Of course the exceptions mustn’t infringe anyone else’s rights, but not allowing exceptions because they may offend some else’s sensibilities is not the right way to go. Upholding rights is difficult and one human right can never trump other human rights, it is a process of give and take.

    I am a Dutch Christian Democrat myself, and until recently my party polled higher than the LibDems. Dutch people are somewhat suspicious towards mixing up religion and politics, but on the other hand political Christianity has historically been the strongest in the Netherlands in any country (my party is a merger of two Protestant parties and the Catholic party, and even today we still have no less than 3 ‘confessional’ political parties in Parliament!).

    4. I agree wholeheartedly that Protestants had it rough too, I never denied that, but then I don’t think killing was the right solution at all for any group. Denying Henry’s temporal authority would be high treason and due punishment would have been in order (although not death in my opinion). What I do not accept is that Catholics were also put to death for not accepting Henry’s spiritual authority. He had no right to ask for his subject’s spiritual and ecclesiastical loyalty. With secular regarding Mary Tudor’s government I mean temporal as opposed to ecclesiastical and I was (not clearly) referring to the practice of the Catholic Inquisition whose task was to ‘locate rotten branches on the Church tree’ whereas it was the task of the temporal authorities to cut these branches off. The fault of the Inquisition was thus not that it killed people, but that it could command the secular authorities to violently suppress heresy (the Inquisition still exists, but is now simply restricted to defining what is or is not Catholic).

    P.S.:  Are you a disestablishmentarian?

  • Anonymous

    You claim that evil people might find a “magnificent comfort” in believing there’s no God either to oppose their actions or punish them after death, but it must be an oddly negative kind of comfort that is derived from believing in the non-existence of things you might fear if you thought they existed. It is unlikely that many New York bank-robbers and muggers spend a great deal of time thinking how lucky they are that Spider-Man is only a fictional character, and you would think someone a bit strange if they daily counted among their blessings the non-existence of malevolent aliens bent on destroying Earth. I would call such comforts desperate rather than magnificent, and any comfort based on the idea that you won’t be punished after death because you won’t exist doesn’t begin to compete with the beautiful paradisal consolations that Christianity puts in its shop window. 
    The word “comfort” has a positive and a negative meaning. When we talk of  a baby being comforted by a dummy, or a martyr-to-be being comforted by a vision of Heaven, we are applying the positive sense of the word. The dummy is a physical object, and the martyr believes in the heaven as something even more “real” than earthly existence.
    “Comfort” in this positive sense cannot be an attribute of atheism, which is a negative belief. When you claim that atheism can bring comfort to evil people, you are applying the negative meaning. What you are really saying is that it doesn’t bring DIScomfort. I will take as my example the evil atheist dicatator Stalin.It is completely correct to say that his murder of countless people was unhampered by any discomfort about the possibility of divine retribution. It is equally correct to say that his murder of countless people was unhampered by any fear of a pink Czarist dragon emerging from a mountain and eating him as an act of revenge. I doubt that, when committing his murders, he gave much thought to either, but if he ever did think about the first, that is only because the ancient Hebrew god Yahweh was part of the culture in which he’d grown up, whereas pink Czarist dragons were not. It was not that atheism brought comfort to Stalin; it merely didn”t bring DIScomfort.
    To this you might reply that if belief in a judicial deity CAN bring discomfort to evil people, then it is worth fostering. The problem with that argument is that history is full of terrible acts committed by religious people who thought they were doing good and had God’s blessing. What is so horrendously sad about Queen Mary Tudor’s career is that she was not by nature a cruel person, and when she sentenced Jane Gray and many others to death, she was comforted by the belief that she was serving the will of God. The gang who smashed airplanes into the World Trade Centre probably felt similarly comforted. Believing in a deity can discomfort wrongdoers only if they recognise that they are doing wrong according to the morality of that deity, and, unfortunately, people tend to believe in deities who share their own moralities. Osama Bin Laden did.

    You claim that “one cannot objectively justify what is and is not moral without reference to some higher standard, in our case God”. For me, morality is a feeling, and therefore cannot ever be objective, which I appreciate might seem an alarming position to some, though I would call it a realistic one. Please can you tell me why you believe that human morality needs a higher standard than human judgement, and where is such a higher standard to be indisputably found? If there is a deity to judge us, he does not seem to deliver His judgements as directly and unequivocally as He might, so even Catholics have to rely on human judgements as to what God wants, whether their own or the Pope’s.

    I’d like to reply to the rest of your posting right now but it’s past my bed-time. Thanks for your reply, as I think it can be interesting and beneficial to talk to people with whom I don’t agree. 

  • Chjklnps

    The politically correct dogma that opposes common sense morality is the modern version of what the false prophets served up to the policy makers of their day. They tell politicians in government what they want to hear, in order to win their favour. What they want to hear is that the policy they are pursuing is the right one. Of course, what is right for the politician is not what is right for the people. The politician wants popular policies that will win votes. These “policies-U-like” result in the tail wagging the dog. The people are not being governed, but groomed – or more accurately “spoilt,” by those charged with protecting them.

  • Anonymous

    I could not agree with you more on the last point (why else do you think I carry on the arguments?) but I fear that is where the agreements end. Firstly the point you make on atheism merely removing the discomfort that religion imposes by invoking a deity may be true in some cases but the belief in a negative does have positive entailments and it was these that have fostered brutality just as much as religion in the case of Mary Tudor. The main example of this is the French Revolution; the ideals of the Revolution sounded wonderful to many people of the time that humanity could build it’s own perfect society without a God (which is a very positive belief and an awe-inspiring notion) eventually led to both the terror and the wars of Napoleon which stemmed from the positive belief of humanity’s infinite potential fostered by the Revolution. This is not to say that atheism necessarily leads to brutality but rather that the positive ideals aspired to by many atheists (in this case liberty, equality and fraternity) have caused as much death and violence as the idea of doing God’s will in a far shorter space of time.

    Your answer to my second point, if you’ll pardon my saying so, is a case of the moral vacuum we are left with by atheism. The reason for this is that you say that people say that Stalin and Mao and others were evil (and I should probably reassure you that I agree entirely that they were) but the problem is what makes the view of these people who believed these men to be evil any more valid than the view of those who believed it was right? In the abscence of a higher standard there is no distinction; it is simply one belief against another with people advocating both.

    As for your point you say that God’s judgements are not as direct as one may desire and ask why I believe that there must be a higher standard. The reason I believe that there must be a higher standard comes from the New Atheists arguments which, if atheism is indeed the truth, I cannot fault on a scientific level (at least in this field.) Their argument is that morality is simply a biological aid; a system of ethics that is devised by humans over their evolutionary development and is simply contained within our genes. Donning my atheist hat I cannot think of anything scientifically wrong with this view apart from the fact that it self-destructs. If it is true then the very logic that led us to it is merely a product of evolution and so is geared for reproduction and survival (not truth) and so why should we trust it on matters of either science or ethics? Both are merely products of evolution and have no inclination towards finding the truth. This is why I believe that either there is a higher standard of morality (God) or there is simply no such thing as morality. What we consider moral is as much a genetic trait as hair or eye colur and does not really mean anything other than the fact that we inherited it from somewhere. As to the question of God’s judgements I cannot provide a rationale for why he does not intervene because I am not him (and I would advise you not to consider religion vacuuous because of this because science cannot explain what energy is and that is a fairly simple thing compared to God; I should also say that this is the view of the Nobel Prize-winner Richard Feynmann and is not simply me wanting to limit science.) You are right that we largely have to rely on human judgements but they remain inspired by God’s word. and so th ehigher standard remains. I hope that clears things up.

  • Josephsoleary

    What a childish tantrum — if you can’t play the game of logical argument, at least do not ask readers of this good thread to indulge your hurt narcissism. I hope your moniker, Teach, does not indicate you are a teacher.

  • Josephsoleary

    Neither sic was needed.

  • Josephsoleary

    ABC was supposed to be the best strategy. C on its own may have failed. AB on its own has not been tried and is more likely to fail.

  • Josephsoleary

    Fine as personal policy, useless as public policy.

  • Josephsoleary

     Was the issue not the efficacy of promoting condom use as a plank in the public health policy against Aids?
    Birth control pills have  nothing to do with that.

  • Josephsoleary

    Those who wrongly dismiss overpopulation as a myth are now perpetrating a crazy myth of their own — the demographic winter. They called those who urged population control racists. Now they cannot rejoice that non-white races are growing in population so rapidly. The case of Japan has as little to do with this as the case of Switzerland.

  • Rich

    Depends – if you have a vision.

  • Teach

    “Game” of logical argument – hmmm!

  • Josephsoleary

    I hasten to clarify that I do not subscribe to any postmodern idea that logic is just a game. But the metaphor of learn to play the game, instead of asking that the rules be changed, holds good; don’t be just a griping “hurler on the ditch”. Go down there and present your arguments like a man! I hasten to clarify that I do not subscribe to any sexist idea that logic is a male specialty. If you are a women, go for it with just the same courage. Otherwise you will be written off as what is called a “troll”.

  • Josephsoleary

    “The Rock is not at all at sea” — I love that line!

  • Josephsoleary

    Jumbly — for once your logic slips. I am not at all a drinker does not mean that I take a drink from time to time.

  • Josephsoleary

    Oopsidoops — I see he did say “not all at sea” —

  • Teach

    Josephsoleary, thanks for the advice but I’m not interested on playing your game. And if you are the Father Joseph O’Leary, you will have something better to do with your time too – such as attend to your priestly duties. I’m sure its been said before. You are, by the way, offensive.

  • Josephsoleary

    I merely ask you to engage in civilized debate instead of acting the Thersites. Everyone else here seems to know how to debate.

  • Josephsoleary

    Everyone — not quite —

  • Anonymous

    You suggest that atheism can act as a remover of discomfort for wrongdoers, as though it’s a kind of philosophical Savlon for the wicked soul. But if you don’t believe in an avenging deity or punishment after death, there is no related discomfort that needs to be removed. I’m no expert on Stalin, and for all I know he might have capered with joy every evening at the thought of there being no God to punish all the crimes he’d committed during the day, but such a thought could have entered his mind only as a result of other people believing in such a God. The existence of atheism as a consciously recognised outlook depends entirely on the existence of theism. If the idea of God had never entered the human mind, nobody would think of proclaiming himself an atheist.
    Because atheism is the negation of a belief, it has no particular moral values attached to it. Belief in a cosmically originating deity would likewise have no moral values attached if that deity were conceived simply as a originating force without any moral particularisation. As depicted in the Bible, the Judeo-Christian God has a very high degree of moral particularisation, so if you believe in that God, you come under pressure to accept and follow the moral system ascribed to Him, or, if you cannot accept the whole of it, to find a rationale for omitting those parts you cannot accept. Christians do not just believe in a deity: they believe in a PARTICULAR deity with particular moral views, even if these vary from Christian to Christian. Gods are particularised but godlessness is not.

    You cite the French Revolution as an example of atheism having positive entailments which led to brutality, but this is to put the tumbril before the horse. Like its Russian counterpart, the French Revolution was essentially a revolt against an undemocratic social order which was perceived as having failed to ensure the satisfaction of basic human wants. In both countries God was not the main target but got dragged in because the Church supported the existing social order and did not adequately deal with the injustices perpetuated by it. If your social revolution demands the deposition of a king, you inevitably come to blows with any influential establishment which preaches that king’s divine right to rule. Even so, if the overwhelming majority of the populace has been brought up to believe in God, and you want their support, any anti-religious element in your revolutionary agenda has to be carefully marketed, which is why the rallying cry was not “Down with God”, but “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”. You write about these last three values as “positive ideals aspired to by many atheists”, but there is nothing atheistic about them; they are just as likely to be embraced by bread-starved Catholics; and it is hard to believe that such a popular movement as the French Revolution was supported only by the country’s atheists. Once the revolution had succeeded, it was easier for its leaders to reveal their secularising intentions more overtly, but their embrace of the idea that “humanity could build its own perfect society without a God” still does not argue the case that atheism has positive entailments. The positive (though hopelessly unrealistic) aim here was to build a perfect society. Your phrase “without a God” still refers to a negative: to an absence of necessity.

    Atheism is morally neutral. It does not make you good. It does not make you bad. An atheist might be a selfless aid worker, or a genocidal sociopath like Stalin, or any number of things in-between, and the same can be said for a theist. The fact that atheism has no moral attachments, however, does not make it a moral vacuum. A disbelief in God does not encourage moral values, but it doesn’t impede them either, just as a disbelief in ghosts has no effect either way. The fact that believers have ascribed moral values to God but not to ghosts does not mean that rejecting God must have moral implications, since it is possible to believe in all the moral values without believing in the God. (There are even atheists, like Oscar Wilde’s nemesis, the Marquess of Queensbury, who despise homosexual relations.) When people lose or abandon their faith, they do not, as a rule, become amoral. They usually retain all or most of the same moral values they had before but they have a different idea of what those values are. You and I would both agree that mugging is wrong, but, unlike you, I see no need to ascribe this view to any viewpoint higher than humanity. To me, mugging seems obviously wrong because I would hate to be mugged and cannot imagine others enjoying it, and I do not need any further instruction on the matter from a deity or a holy book or a priest. On the other hand, we might disagree about contraception or homosexual relationships, and in such cases it IS, as you put it, “simply one belief against another”. That the social moral codification we call law is a battlefield can be seen from opening any newspaper. 

  • Anonymous

    You still miss the point. I understand that you hate to be mugged but just because most people don’t like having it done to them does not mean that it is morally wrong. I know that atheists can be moral and can recognise morality and the majority of atheists do but the point is that there is no standard above humanity that can be referred to as good or evil in the absence of God; it remains an opinion of one group of people against another. You are right that we agree that mugging is wrong but the fact that you cannot attribute it to a higher standard than yourself leaves the statement vacuuous. To you mugging somebody “seems” obviously wrong but if the mugger comes along thinking that mugging you is right then most people would disagree with them, however it may be similar to the time when most people thought that the world was flat; no matter how many people think that something is right or wrong one cannot objectively say “this is right” or “this is wrong.” After all you say that you would hate to be mugged and I might say that I would hate to be killed; to the killer or mugger or the atheists’ Universe none of these judgements makes any difference as to what is right and what is wrong.

    As you say it is possible to believe in all conceivable moral values without the need for a God and most humans do accept the general moral standard (it is, after all, my own faith that tells me that they will) but the fact that most people believe in something does not justify it. I have to leave on that note.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not that I “miss the point”: it’s that I don’t agree with most of your argument.

    I do agree that if people don’t believe in God, moral discourse is a dispute between one group’s opinions and another’s, but when people DO believe in God, it’s a dispute between the opinions attributed to God by one group and those attributed to Him by another. Belief in God does not bring moral unity, even within such a strongly centred organisation as the Catholic Church. There are plenty of Islamist terrorists who share your belief in a deity, but the fact that their conception of that deity is vastly different from your own means that you probably have more to argue about with them, morally, than you have with a non-murdering atheist like me.

    A statement is not vacuous because you do not attribute it to a higher standard than yourself. Whenever I’ve heard the relatives of murder victims express their emotions before a news camera, I have never found their statements to be vacuous, though often they are doing no more than describing their suffering, without any reference to God or to objective higher standards. It is the suffering caused by certain actions, such as murder or mugging, that makes them immoral. It is because humans are capable of suffering, or of empathising with it, that human morality exists. Without the desire to avoid causing unhappiness to others, morality would be nothing more than behavioural conditioning, akin to training a dog.

    This is why I agree with your comment that “no matter how many people think that something is right or wrong one cannot objectively say “this is right” or “this is wrong””. Moral statements can’t be objective, because statements about suffering can’t be objective. Morality cannot be separated from emotion. By contrast, a statement such as “The earth is flat” can ONLY be objective, because it is a physical testable fact involving no emotion or personal viewpoint. I also totally agree that “the fact that most people believe in something does not justify it”. Since I believe that morality can reside only within the individual mind, whatever the various external influences on it, the popularity of a moral view is no more an objective higher standard to me than the attribution of a view to God.

  • Anonymous

    If morality can only reside in the induvidual mind then it remains only a induvidual view. The fact that you agree that the fact that most people agree with a proposition does not make it right destroys your entire argument. You accept that morality remains an individual judgement and so that means that any one view is as good as another. From that point of view the psychopath who murders and rapes children is simply contradicting the norm and so does nothing worse than a person who’s mobile phone goes off in the theater; we know this to be abhorrent and you know it as well as I do but the question remains on what grounds we condemn it; you have yet to give a satisfactory answer.

  • Chloe Fearn

    I think you’ll find they add up perfectly – your one word answers imply an extremely close-minded position on your part. Something you seem to accuse the secular West of frequently!

  • Anonymous

    My belief that the rightness of a proposition is not proved by majority support does not destroy my argument but is in fact consistent with it. It is precisely because I believe that morality is subjective that I regard populism as no more authoritative than scripture. When I say that an action is right or wrong, I am stating my personal view, knowing that others might disagree and that there is no ultimate cosmic authority to support me against them. This does not mean that in my eyes one moral view is as good as another that contradicts it. It just means that the two are equally subjective and equally unsupported by divine opinion. You ask on what grounds we condemn the rape and murder of children, and my answer is that we condemn it on the basis of our feelings about children. It all comes down to feelings in the end. If someone swatted a fly to death in front of you, you might think nothing of it, but you’d probably feel differently if they did the same to a robin, or a child. The fly, the robin and the child are all living things and one does not objectively have any more “right” to life than the others, but they don’t arouse the same feelings in human minds. I expect you’ll find my answer to your question just as unsatisfactory as any other part of my argument, but that’s because you feel the need to believe in some ultimate cosmic authority, whereas I don’t. I also don’t need to ask myself the question “On what grounds do I condemn rape and murder?”. It is enough, for me, that I do. I think I’ll make this my last addition to this column, as it’s getting ever more spindly.