Catholic Views on Contraception

I follow a variety of blogs, not all of them are on subject matter that I agree with the blogger, I typically follow them because I want to learn; either to expand my knowledge or to gain understanding on specific worldviews.

The risk with following blogs that are on a worldview is that there will be the occasional WTF! moment. Over the weekend there was one such post and it’s a major WTF! (http://redcardigan.blogspot.com/2012/02/contraception-extreme-analogy.html)

Full Disclosure

I’m not a catholic fan. Even in my Christian days I struggled with elements of the Catholic Church and its teaching. My difficulty went so far that at times I struggled even to accept that Catholics were Christians because if they were Christians they’d follow everything in the bible and not distort stuff horribly. In my years as an active Christian I crossed paths with other Christians from other churches and denominations and never were there divisive issues as there were with the Catholics. In fact, I can only think of one catholic I encountered in all those where theological differences never got in the way of friendship. I think any chance the Catholic Church had of gaining respect from me died when a friend married a catholic and the overtly catholic wedding felt even more unchristian and emotionless as a secular wedding held in a registry office. The communion was rushed and us non-Catholics were not permitted to take part, Christian or not. I left the wedding service trying hard to be happy for my friend but ultimately feeling unloved and rejected. So much for the family of God!

So why the WTF! ?

I am familiar with the claims that the Catholic Church is anti-contraception and I am aware that there is much criticism of it, especially with regards the effect that has on the spread of Aids in countries where Catholicism has great influence.

Aids isn’t the only disease that sexually active people should worry about. Chlamydia is a disease that is of concern in the UK, especially among teens and 20-somethings. One especially nasty side effect is the potential for girls to be made sterile.

What made the post I referenced stand out was the insane justification given to the no contraception rule. Calling the post an “extreme analogy” is not a defence against spouting idiocy, especially when its abundantly clear that the interpretation is held to.

The Potential for Life

From what I can gather elsewhere, and is repeated in the post I reference, the basic objection to contraception is that it interrupts the potential for life from the act of intercourse. There is so much wrong with this stance it’s hard to know where to start.

The most obvious objection is that it’s a blanket edict that takes no account whatsoever for the circumstances of the couple. There are genuine and valid reasons why a couple would not want to have child children and yet still enjoy a loving sex life. Mandating that they should not control that through contraception is not a blessing to the couple but a hindrance. It reminds me of this related and equally unhelpful attitude encountered by Christians; https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/a-christian%E2%80%99s-duty-is-to-procreate/

Much damage is done by the well-meaning zealot who holds so tightly to a perceived aspect of Godliness that they fail to see the wider context. For this type of person, the desire to dictate behaviour overrides the command to love and the result is that the religion of choice is seen by the outsider as a controlling and manipulative entity rather than a loving pathway to heaven.

Even if we ignore those objections for a moment, the potential for life argument is still flawed because it is arbitrary. Surely for a man ejaculate more than a single sperm is a sin because typically only one of the sperm gets a chance of life. Or maybe the menstrual cycle is a sin because of all those eggs that get flushed away. The obvious retort is that these are both naturally evolved and contraception is not. However, the catholic church approves of some methods of fertility assistance. If it’s okay to artificially assist in getting pregnant why is it not okay to artificially avoid it as well. Surely to reluctantly bring a life into the world because of what the church says is more of a sin than to responsibly avoid it.

Sex is primarily for procreation

Really?!

The teaching that sex as a pleasure is only a side benefit from God leaves me genuinely open mouthed in astonishment. The only possible reason the Catholic Church can uphold that is because to not teach it seriously undermines its contraception stance. It’s a message of necessity and not one of spirituality.

Evolutionarily speaking, if sex wasn’t something we did for the sheer pleasure of it, we’d have gone extinct by now. Way to go God!

Extreme Analogies

In her blog posting, Red Cardigan likens using contraception to partners withholding from each other and, worse, calls it the “language of hate and rejection”. I say it’s exactly the opposite; the use of contraception frees them both to fully enjoy intimacy and love without the need to be concerned about unplanned offspring. She also manages, bizarrely, to somehow draw a comparison between contraceptive use and bulimia as a method of weight loss. Let’s skim over the not so insignificant issue that bulimia is a state of mental imbalance and not a trendy method of radical weight loss.

This dieting comparison goes way beyond extreme and into the realm of obscene. I can see why this particular analogy was used; it’s to imply that forcing yourself to vomit after a meal is the same as stopping the man’s sperm get to the place where God intended it. The two are not the same. A more reasonable dieting analogy would be to compare contraception to having a stomach band fitted or just eating less of the stuff that makes you fat.

I’d like to propose my own extreme analogy, next time you have a headache, don’t take anything for it, let it enjoy its full potential, after all its God given and natural. What do you mean that’s a stupid thing to say?

HIV and AIDS are Proof of Evolution

Last month marked the 30th anniversary of the publishing of details of a new disease, one that the world now knows as AIDS.

The history of HIV and AIDS is scarily fascinating. Its spread across the world was rapid and catching it pretty much condemns you to a prolonged death as your body gets weaker and weaker.

I boarded at secondary school in theUKin the early 80’s and I remember some of the news reports about this new disease. One thing that I especially remember is that it seemed to be a disease that targeted homosexuals, at least that’s the impression that the news reports left me with. It was no surprise that I and my fellow school friends considered it just deserts for those who dared to live such a disgusting and unnatural lifestyle. Of course, none of us knew, or had actually met an AIDS suffer, so it was easy to be prejudiced from a distance.

For me, it wouldn’t be long for that to change. My mother worked as an Occupational Therapist at the Hospital inLusaka,Zambiaand would encounter a few AIDS patients during her years there. SO on holidays back toZambia, there were a few people that we would encounter socially who suffered the disease. I remember one lady in particular who was always a pleasure to see as she was always cheerful and bright she was a Zambian and had AIDS, I have no idea how she became infected, but that isn’t the point. She was a wonderful person, as far as I can remember, given I was a young teenager when I knew her, my mother always spoke well of her, even long after we leftZambia. I don’t know when she died, I just know that there came a time when she was no longer a part of our lives.

Enough of That, What About the Evolution?

To most people HIV and AIDS burst on to the scene in the 1980s. The disease was at first unknown and a bit of a mystery and as several cases started to be linked and a pattern emerged, the disease was given a name. At the time it was being identified the disease was mainly inAmericaand some parts ofAfrica, but of course it was already spreading about the world.

This was the time when it became a well known disease because it was very effective at spreading and it seemed to be sticking to certain people types, homosexuals and haemophiliacs appeared to be the most affected groups. This was of course a big clue in identifying how it spreads.

Once you have a major disease like AIDS that spreads through sexual intercourse, you’ve got a disease that is going to be extremely hard to stop.

The story doesn’t start with the 1980s though. Scientists have a record from 1959 of a man who died in the Congoof a mystery disease that, thanks to a kept sample, has now been identified as AIDS (http://www.aegis.com/news/sfe/1998/se980201.html).

The Origin

HIV appears to have crossed the species barrier from Chimpanzees to Humans. There are two strains of HIV in humans, HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is also found in Chimpanzees, though they do not suffer in the same way as Humans do, possibly because they have developed a resistance of some description (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/269306.stm)

HIV-2 came to humans from Monkeys, thought it is also believed that HIV-1 got to Chimpanzees from Monkeys originally (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/0612_030612_hivvirusjump.html)

Exactly how HIV came into humans is not known, eating of bushmeat or getting infected blood into a cut or sore seems to be the most common hypothesis and it certainly seems a plausible explanation of how the infection crossed the species barrier into Humans. As someone who has lived in remote parts of Africa and seen and heard of some of the things that happen, I certainly have no difficulty imagining this scenario occurring, the science of how that allows a virus to cross infect a species is a separate issue.

There is some controversy over the origins of HIV though, with some people linking it to the Polio vaccines of the 1950s. These vaccines (which were oral) where created using Chimpanzee tissue. There are also a few slightly more wacky suggestions too. As far as I can tell, these alternative ideas stem from an idea that it was either some form of human mistake or, more cynically, part of a greater conspiracy. Proof is the missing factor in all these other ideas.

Species Jumping

Regardless of what one chooses to believe about how HIV first appeared in Humans, there is the issue of cross species infection. First there is from Monkeys to Chimpanzees and then there is from Chimpanzees to Humans. Whether it is through ingestion of infected blood, a laboratory mistake or a mad scientist trying to kill the world, the issue that can not be ignored is the relationship between the HIV virus and that found in Monkeys and Chimpanzees. The virus trail leads to that point no matter how you follow it. Somehow HIV, a virus that is staggeringly similar to the SIV virus in our tree swinging cousins, appeared in Humans. The only conclusion one can come to is that SIV is the parent of HIV. HIV appears in Humans as the result of Human tissue or blood coming into contact with the SIV virus from a Monkey or Chimpanzee.

The only way to avoid the conclusions that HIV is the result of a cross species infection is to invoke special creation. Either it spontaneously appeared, or God created it; the former is silly and the latter brings up so many questions about the character of God that it would take a very brave creationist to try it on. Such a person would also have to explain measles, influenza A, Ebola, SARS and dengue; all of which have come to Humans from another species.

There is another challenge to overcome if the following page is correct (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/aids/virus/tree.html); that is the implication that the HIV virus crossed into Humans multiple times.

Evolution of HIV and AIDS

HIV in Humans is not pleasant (http://www.everydayhealth.com/hiv-aids/effects-of-hiv-on-body.aspx) and will likely lead to AIDS (http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/HIVAIDS/Understanding/howHIVCausesAIDS/Pages/HIVcausesAIDS.aspx).

The HIV virus has changed and mutated over the past 30 years to the point that there are different identifiable strains of the virus, this is how evolution works, separated populations develop their own mutations and characteristics and if they remain isolated long enough, will eventually become separate species. HIV’s mutations and can be tracked to several sub categories of the original (http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/medicine_04).

HIV is a very changeable virus and is very quick to become resistance to the drugs used against it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HIV_Drug_Resistance). This is evolution in action, without it, the virus would be much more stable and therefore easier to treat and kill off.

However, all is not lost, we Humans are fighting back too and there are mutations that are giving resistance to help the fight (http://www.thetech.org/genetics/news.php?id=13).

FIV

As if all of the above is not enough, we now have FIV (http://jvi.asm.org/cgi/reprint/68/4/2230.pdf), a Feline equivalent to HIV-1.

Summary

HIV / AIDS is nasty, you don’t want it and you don’t want anyone you love to get sick that way either. The wonders of nature do not favour anything, not even us Humans.

Viruses are good at adaptation. HIV / AIDS is an especially good example of a virus that mutates rapidly. Rapidly enough to not only cross the species barrier multiple times and to multiple species, but also to resist our attempts at controlling it by rapidly mutating defences against our attacks.

You can’t look at the way HIV / AIDS has spread and changed and not be impressed by its effectiveness. Effectiveness that demonstrates the science behind evolution. HIV / AIDS was not created and it has not remained constant.