Monday, January 19, 2009

"Christianity Benefits Africa," Declares an Atheist

I will return to the "God and Evil" series in the near future. I found the subject of today's post a fascinating twist on the neo-atheism debates. I invite your comments.


It is popular among today’s secularists to portray Western Christian missionaries as damaging to native populations and their indigenous cultures. No one would argue that missionary activities have at times been misguided. The Western church model, typically inappropriate to other cultures, has too often been forcibly applied together with the gospel of Jesus. This needless exporting of Western cultural trappings has resulted in great harm in many places. But is it fair to paint all missionary efforts with the broad brush of condemnation because of these mistakes of the past? Or to put the question another way, has the net effect of the preaching of the gospel been positive for those populations that embraced Christianity, despite the failings of some missionaries? And is it possible that such positive effects could be noted even by a skeptic, one who doubts the gospel message itself?

Matthew Parris is a British journalist who writes for The Times (aka Times of London). In the December 27, 2008 edition, he penned a column which he titled, “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God”. You can read his full essay here. Below are some excerpts:
“Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset.”

“... I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

... only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it”
Fascinating declarations coming from such a well-known atheist. Of course, he throws a bone to his follow-secularists when he writes, “It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package.” Say what? Salvation is the very heart of the package, not just a “part”. Nevertheless, Parris’s admission that the God of the missionary is just the medicine Africa needs is all the more remarkable in light of his stated aversion to the message of salvation!

Parris is very clear. The missionary message, and the deeds inspired by it, get more mileage than relief funds, secular NGOs, the U.N., education, etc.

I have a Canadian friend who has long maintained that the best thing a Christian can do for Africa is to go there, even if only for a short time.  Wayne leads teams of North Americans into Liberia, and Sierra Leone two and three times a year. The teams sometimes number 20 or 30 or more. The airfare for those teams could feed thousands of orphans, maybe build a school or two, or staff a small hospital for a year. When practical folks like myself point this out, Wayne objects vehemently. Our “ministry of presence” is simply invaluable, he contends, and Matthew Parris offers his own unique “Amen!”

73 comments:

steph said...

Well this has been round the Christian blogs over the last few weeks ... I think he is quite patronising. 'It is good for them but they are needy and I don't need it.' But more importantly I think he misses the main point - it is religions, not just evangelical Christianity, which are good for people - religions which offer hope, a sense of purpose and codes for living well together. But his experience is limited to witnessing Christian missionaries in Africa. In fact Christianity and other religions, can be very bad for people in some more fundamentalist forms. It is a shame he was unable to witness the primal religions of tribal communities that have so far been allowed to survive around the world.

Cliff Martin said...

Steph,

Good points. Still, Parris offers a healthy change from the rhetoric so typical of New Atheists like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, who seem unable to see anything good coming out of any human activity related to any religion.

Psiloiordinary said...

Cliff,

Well even dawkins, crickey - even I - don't claim that religion is entirely bad - if it was, then surely it would have been selected out by now methinks.

Here is an interesting view from another scientist / non believer E O Wilson;

Q. You were brought up Southern Baptist but now consider yourself a secular humanist. Can you explain your religious beliefs, how they evolved, and how they've influenced your work?

E.O. Wilson: It's very simple. The biological evolutionary perception of life and of human qualities is radically different from that of traditional religion, whether it's Southern Baptist or Islam or any religion that believes in a supernatural supervalance over humanity. In the case of fundamentalism, that also includes the view that humanity was specifically designed by God in his own image and that we are here sort of at his service.

The evolutionary viewpoint introduced by Darwin in 1859 was genuinely revolutionary because it contradicted that in every important respect. It showed that organic systems can build – and do build – by themselves through a process of change and natural selection.

Q. And where do you stand personally on the God question?

E.O. Wilson: I tend to believe that religious dogma is a consequence of evolution. Religious belief and the firm adherence to it – and the intense dislike of apostates, people who abandon it – has a very important biologic origin, probably through natural selection, namely the cohesion of the group and the persuasion of people to be more altruistic. So in my view, most dogmas concerning the creation are myths of creation and are not believable. They're just different from one religion to another.

When the question comes up, "If it's not true, why does practically everybody believe in God?" the answer is that it's true in a Darwinian sense. That is, it provides cohesion, it provides personal peace and rites of passage, and it promotes altruism, which are all invaluable and necessary for the survival of human societies.

This is in line with the work of David Sloan Wilson. In fact they recently wrote an article together for New Scientist on Survival of the Selfless (pdf). Back to E.O. Wilson and his beliefs:

Q. And so is it correct that you consider yourself neither atheist nor agnostic?

E.O. Wilson: That's correct. I'm not an atheist, because who am I to say there is no such thing as a supervalance? I just think that most of what we think about God is something we've invented for the benefit of humanity. I'm not agnostic, someone who believes the truth is unknowable. Who am I to say we will never know the truth? I have called myself a provisional deist. That is to say I'm willing to consider the possibility of an ultimate cause. But we haven't really come close to grasping what that might be.

Judging from his above answers, it is not too surprising that he departs from Dawkins on how to approach religion. But he goes a bit further - and wants to forge an alliance with the Evangelicals to save the planet:
Q. You've also said that the only way Earth can be saved is if science and religion join forces. Can you explain what you mean by that?

E.O. Wilson: Unlike some authors who are extremely strident – I call them the military wing – I don't think the way for scientists, for secular humanists like myself, is to approach religion with that spirit. I believe that Dawkins, and those who adhere to what I call the Dawkins school of thought, underestimate the power of religion, the power of its social function.

Even as we may disbelieve the creation myth, it's better to recognize that most of the world is religious, and in fact highly religious, and that people in these religions are by and large wonderful people. That's certainly true in the Evangelical society, which has been the focus of so much controversy. I know so many of those people. I grew up Evangelical. It just seems to me inordinately sloppy and selfish to just assault them and their beliefs frontally. Much better it is to do what I've done, which is the classic step in conflict resolution: finding common ground and putting aside for the moment fundamental disagreements. Put them aside for a while and then ask for help.

Scientists better than anyone have understood what's happening to the Earth. Religious believers in the country, 75 percent of Americans at least, are beginning to understand what's happening, and they're increasingly concerned. So this is a common ground on which we can meet. There have been meetings between scientific leaders and Evangelical leaders. I was invited for a meeting with the leaders of the Mormon church in Salt Lake City.

I've given talks on the whole subject at Sanford University at Birmingham, which is called the Ivy League of the Southern Baptist Conference. I've discovered that these wonderful people mean to do well, they mean to solve the problems as much as scientists and secularists. We can put aside our differences for a while because we do have a crisis situation on our hands.

I think this is important. He doesn't agree with Evangelicals - but he can still work with them for achieving a common goal. It helps that he doesn't insult them or believe that they have an inherently low I.Q. It is possible that his approach is different because he grew up as a Southern Baptist - and he can recognize the myriad of reasons why people cling to religion. But this is a great example of science & religion cooperation without sacrificing any principles of science.


The blog itself is quite interesting;

http://sciencereligionnews.blogspot.com/2009/01/eowilson-on-science-religion-and-ants.html

Steven Carr said...

Rwanda was officially declared a Christian country.

'One of the most jarring aspects of the genocide in Rwanda is the fact that due to the ostensible success of Christian missionary efforts in that country during the 20th century, it had become one of the most thoroughly Christianized countries in Africa. Estimates before the genocide put the number of Christians in Rwanda at almost 90% of the population.'
After Rwanda

Cliff Martin said...

Steven,

... and from the same source, this: "It is obvious that the efforts of the missionaries did not include a catechesis in basic Christian ethics that was effective in precluding the possibility of such massacres."

But how, it is fair to ask, could a nation be so thoroughly "christianized" and not ever get the most fundamental of Christian ethics? I am not well-informed on the missionary efforts in Rwanda. But if there is life-transforming power in the gospel of Jesus (as I have often observed and experienced), then I would be forced to conclude that the "evangelization" of Rwanda fell far short of conveying that gospel.

One of the failings of evangelism is that, due to a sometimes excessive focus on results, it often preaches a soft gospel, and "easy believe" message with a strong emphasis on heaven-or-hell and a weak emphasis on obedience and discipleship. Such a gospel presentation lacks life-transforming dynamic, and I presume that this was the case in some of the Rwandan missions effort.

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

Thank you for the E.O. Wilson comments. Both sides of the theism debates could benefit from the even-handedness he demonstrates.

Psiloiordinary said...

Thanks Cliff,

Just be careful in your comments to Steven or you might fall into the no true scotsman trap.

i.e. Christians aren't supposed to do bad things so anyone who does bad things isn't a christian.

Best,

Psi

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

Yes, the "no true scotsman" defense is, in one sense, no defense at all. However, Jesus was very clear in his teachings about two things:

1) There would be many so-called followers of Christ who would not be genuine, but would look like it, and seemingly do great things for his cause; and
2) We would know them by their fruit.

So, if that is begging the question, so be it. It is the very way Jesus taught us to discern who are true followers, and who are not.

Mike Beidler said...

An amazing admission! One with which I heartily agree, of course. I'm glad there are some atheists out there that can see the benefits of religious experience and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

The one true scotsman defence is in fact the name of a logical fallacy.

It is usually simply referred to as the one true scotsman fallacy.

The fact that Jesus also said it doesn't stop it from being a fallacy does it?

Just proves he was human after all.

(Mind you I'm far from convinced he actually existed)

Cheers,

Mark

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

I do understand "no true Scotsman". But rather than apply (mis-apply?) it to Jesus, please tell me what is wrong, or "human-flawed" with his teaching: "By their fruit you shall know them." Impostors abound everywhere. How else to identify them?

Flew's logical fallacy holds true in philosophy and science. But If a Scot by birth fails to live up to one's chosen standards for "Scotsman", what is wrong in identifying him as "no true Scotsman"? Depending upon one's definition of Scotsman, it is merely a true statement.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Your logic is impecable. It is the working definition of Christian that we appear to differ on.

In the ecample you give ; Just the fact that to be Scottish by the generally accepted definition of the word you should simply be born in Scotland.

To be counted as a Christian in my mind ( and so have your actions counted in with the total of the Christian impact on Africa say) you should simply profess to follow the Christian dogmas.

Otherwise you would "define away" any negative activities and so either ignore or distract from them rather than learning from an open and honest discussion of them.

E. G. Christian does x bad thing in the name of Jesus and following on from years of chridtian missionary activity and your response is to say that because it is bad of nothing to do with the church.

A bit like catholic priests and little boys where a fairly blindingly obvious link between church dogma and suffering is not bring addresssed as effectively as it might, in part because their acts are not Christian and so can't possibly be directly caused by the church - buried head in sand.

So anyway, can we agree that a Christian is someone who claims to follow the Christian dogmas period?

- - -

Let's look at AIDS and condoms. I would argue that Christian dogma has directly led to the deaths of millions of innocents in slow and painful ways.

You could simply deny that it is true Christian dogma if your particular interpretations of the bible says that condoms are ok.

That would be a use of this fallacy that would get us nowhere.

I hope I am explaining myself clearly.

Of course we should judge people by their actions.

My inately evolved morals tells me that without supernatural inspiration.

Whilst I am happy to grant that the impact of religion is not always all bad I feel you need to reciprocate by agreeing not to immediately relabelling bad effects as something other than religious.
Best
Psi
Mark

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

I do see you point. Africa is something of a mixed bag when it comes to Christian missions. A case could, I believe, be made that the net effect has been positive, but not all efforts have been productive.

But suppose we have two farmers. Farmer A, a hard-working and informed farmer, has a beautiful farm, productive fields, and feeds thousands. Farmer B is lazy, ill-informed, and grows mostly weeds, has little yield, and can barely feed his own family. Would we evaluate the profession of farming based upon the average of the two? Or would we say that one farmed properly, and the other did not? Would we say that farming is a mixed bag, and may have not net value? Or would we say that farming is beneficial and farmer A proves it so regardless of the failures of farmer B?

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > Farmer B is lazy, ill-informed, and grows mostly weeds, has little yield, and can barely feed his own family.

Psiloiordinary's worst examples gave negative consequences - your worst example gives neutral to slightly positive consequences.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

My point is that they are both farmers!

Btw I would argue that perhaps the more "enthusiastic" the religious convictions, the more certain the belief that they are correct and have god on their side, the more judgemental, dogmatic and more closed to empirical evidence (eg abstinance education doesn't work and condoms stop aids) then the more bad effects of religion are seen.

This is the polar opposite of your farmer eg.

What do you think?

Psi

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

For arguments sake, I had already conceded the “true scotsman” point ... yes they are both farmers. One a good farmer, and one a bad one. My point was that when farming is done correctly, it is beneficial. The fact that poor farmers exists (some even using chemical approaches that damage soil and watershed thus satisfying Isaac’s quibble), in no way raises an objection to farming. Likewise, Christian missions done correctly (granted, someone must define that!) is beneficial. Always. The fact that misguided missionaries have little effect (as in Rwanda) or deleterious effects (if we accept your premise about condoms, etc.) does not negate the correct application of the Christian message.

And yes, Psi, I might agree with your overlapping continuums, though your claim that this is the polar opposite of the farming analogy is unclear to me. You seem to presume that dogmatism is the opposite of laziness. I find dogmatism is to be the easier path.

Anonymous said...

Psi:

"Let's look at AIDS and condoms. I would argue that Christian dogma has directly led to the deaths of millions of innocents in slow and painful ways."

Huh? Show me how.

I would think the 'dogma' of "Keep it in your pants" would be the most effective way of stopping the spread of AIDS. And condoms seem to me a poor second-best for those incapable or unwilling to follow it (and they're not all that effective, either).

Rich G.

Anonymous said...

Cliff:

One aspect I do not see in this discussion is what has been called by Catholics as "original sin", and by Calvinists as "total depravity".

I think it is clear that no one fully lives up to their ideal standard, and most hide from these doctrines through some form of denial of their truth or applicability. Even 'coming to Christ' does not totally wipe all that out (wish it did). Christians are not better people, just people. With all the potential for success and failure like the rest.

I like Chesterton's phrase "We're all in the same boat, and we're all seasick".

Rich G.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Rich,

The evidence from Africa and elsewhere around the world is that your "obvious" thought that a policy of "keep it in your pants" does not work. This evidence is overwhelmingly one sided and I suggest you spend five minutes on google if you don't believe me.

It had not previously occurred to me that anyone might attempt to deny basic physics and the fact that condoms prevent the spread of aids.

Perhaps you should fill a condom with water and pray for a holy needle?

Regards,

Psi

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

I took your challenge, and Googled "Condoms AIDS Africa Abstinence" and the very first entry was this article claiming that "Abstinence Works". So I suppose it depends on who is doing the studying and what their premises are.

I am no authority on this subject. But I do think it is a bit more nuanced that either you or Rich make it out to be.

Anonymous said...

Psi:

Aw, c'mon...


it is the *non-practice* of abstinence, not its practice that has spread AIDS... Self-control is the single most effective preventive measure.

Condoms are a poor second-best.

Rich G.

Anonymous said...

Psi:

"Consistent and correct use of male latex condoms can reduce (though not eliminate) the risk of STD transmission. To achieve the maximum protective effect, condoms must be used both consistently and correctly. Inconsistent use can lead to STD acquisition because transmission can occur with a single act of intercourse with an infected partner. Similarly, if condoms are not used correctly, the protective effect may be diminished even when they are used consistently. The most reliable ways to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), are to abstain from sexual activity or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. However, many infected persons may be unaware of their infections because STDs are often asymptomatic or unrecognized."

From the CDC Fact Sheet
http://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/latex.htm

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Rich,

This sounds awfully creationist-esque doesn't it.

"Depends on their premises."

OK lets just go for peer reviewed studies then shall we.

Perhaps a nice and robust meta analysis of said studies?

What do you find then?

Hint - the UN has some useful links to stuff like this.

- - -

Or just maybe you think that all truth is relative and you will leave your house by the upper story window rather than the door today when you go out?

- - -

My point is not that abstinence itself is not better than condoms - doh! but that a policy of advocating abstinence doesn't work - people still have sex, and because they don't have the nasty sinful condoms they spread AIDS.

Looking forward to the fruits of your research,

Psi

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > The fact that poor farmers exists (some even using chemical approaches that damage soil and watershed thus satisfying Isaac’s quibble)...

You have reduced it to a quibble, without addressing the point.

For negative consequences you'd need to posit a farmer whose crop damaged the lives of consumers - tobacco farmers.

Of course framing your analogy as better/worse supply of essential sustenance was always going to mislead.

Cliff Martin said...

framing your analogy as better/worse supply of essential sustenance was always going to mislead.

... Only when you assume that spiritual sustenance is non-essential.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > ... Only when you assume that spiritual sustenance is non-essential.

Thank you for uncovering the distortion in your analogy - the assumption that not simply spiritual but Christian spiritual sustenance is essential in the same way that food is essential.

There's no question that food is essential.

You may feel that Christian spiritual sustenance is essential but the majority of the world's population don't agree.

Cliff Martin said...

... distortion in your analogy

It is only distorted if you assume the position that spiritual sustenance is nonessential. Duh.

Rich G. said...

Psi:

I had no intention of hijacking this thread. So I waited a few days to respond. You wrote:

My point is not that abstinence itself is not better than condoms - doh! but that a policy of advocating abstinence doesn't work - people still have sex, and because they don't have the nasty sinful condoms they spread AIDS.

If policy doesn't work, it is because people don't want it to work. So the preferred alternative should be to disparage abstinence and promote condoms instead? So we should ignore an ideal and adopt only the pragmatic? That sounds like not only a concession to [flawed] human nature, but a denial of calling people to rise to a better behavior.

Steph wrote:
it is religions, not just evangelical Christianity, which are good for people - religions which offer hope, a sense of purpose and codes for living well together. But his experience is limited to witnessing Christian missionaries in Africa. In fact Christianity and other religions, can be very bad for people in some more fundamentalist forms. It is a shame he was unable to witness the primal religions of tribal communities that have so far been allowed to survive around the world.

No, I think it is specifically Christianity that calls people up. According to what I have seen and heard (and not from just missionaries), none of the indigenous religions offer any assurance of either a better future, or a reason to work for it.

I have not been overseas much (to Mozambique twice), but from my conversations with the locals (as well as nationals from other countries), it is clear that Parris' conclusion targets Christianity specifically.

Rich G.

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

Can you and I agree that communities and societies benefit from strong families and monogamy? Can we agree that strong families and monogamy are more likely when people learn sexual restraint? Can we agree that indiscriminate sex does not benefit healthy social structures?

On a short-sighted pragmatic level, condoms may prevent more AIDS than encouraging abstinence. But preventing AIDS is just one goal of abstinence.

I have practiced marriage-only sex my whole life, and I have reaped marvelous benefits for making that self-disciplined choice. Your solution to the African AIDS crisis essentially caves into lower human behavior standards (well, these people are going to behave like animals anyway ...) and denies them the message that there is a much better way to live. That is unless you buy into the preposterous notion that we can call people to a higher moral life while we slip them condoms at the same time.

Here is an honest evaluation from my own personal experience, based on the condition of my hormones as a young single man. If there had been social workers handing out condoms on my H.S. campus, I doubt very much that I would have chosen the high road of abstinence.

The strategy of condom distribution in Africa may be laudable in its desire to prevent STDs. But it is shamefully short-sighted.

I am not certain that I disagree with the condom distribution approach. But it makes me incredibly sad if the only way to slow down AIDS propagation is to deny a continent of people the meaningful chance at a far better way to live. And where does it end?

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Rich,

I said this;

My point is not that abstinence itself is not better than condoms - doh! but that a policy of advocating abstinence doesn't work - people still have sex, and because they don't have the nasty sinful condoms they spread AIDS.

You responded with;

If policy doesn't work, it is because people don't want it to work. So the preferred alternative should be to disparage abstinence and promote condoms instead? So we should ignore an ideal and adopt only the pragmatic? That sounds like not only a concession to [flawed] human nature, but a denial of calling people to rise to a better behavior.

Ok Rich, bottom line here;

I think that saving lives is more important that saving souls.

How about you?

I think that saving one life is more important that saving a thousand souls.

How about you?

I think that the ideal of saving life and preventing suffering is more important than refusing to give out condoms because of your moral opinions which place monogamy above the lives of innocents.

How about you?

- - -

I notice that as you take up your morally superior position you ignore my invitations to look at the evidence.

Do you even know how many deaths are regarded as preventable by the free distribution of condoms?

How many lives is a soul worth?

I say none.

After all we have no actual evidence souls exist.

Regards,

Psi

Rich G. said...

Psi:

Who said condoms are sinful? Not me.

You want me to look at raw numbers, as if that tells the whole story. X numbers of people who don't get AIDS by practicing abstinence, Y numbers by using condoms. Simple, cold objective numbers. And wrong. I suggest you get a copy of How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff.

But how do you factor in the other social factors and their consequences? Are stable families better for the innocents? I think we don't need impersonal statistics to determine that.

You wrote:
I think that the ideal of saving life and preventing suffering is more important than refusing to give out condoms because of your moral opinions which place monogamy above the lives of innocents.

I would reword it to "refusing to ONLY give out condoms", and I think monogamy is ESSENTIAL to the lives of innocents.

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

I have never weighed saving souls against saving lives. I don’t think in those terms at all (nor does Rich, I presume), and your parroting those terms back misses the target completely. (Granted, many Christians do think in these terms, but you are mistaken if you think I am one.) I am perhaps weighing saving social order against saving lives. The arguments I am making here have nothing to do with souls or spiritual salvation. I am not even opposed to condom distribution in all circumstances. I am just raising questions. And it should not matter whether you are a Christian or a secular materialist. Is it the best policy to sacrifice the good of society on the alter of disease prevention? Its a lesser of two evils for me. The consequences of free condom distribution: some people live longer, but the social ills resulting from rampant sexual promiscuity increase. When I asked “where does it end?” my point is that if condom distribution encourages increased sexual promiscuity (as I believe), then the need for condom distribution will only increase; we will never approach the social stability of more monogamy and stable families. Instead, 100 years from now we will still have thousands of AIDS orphans and we will still be madly distributing millions of condoms. Where does it end? That’s not rhetorical. I really am interested in knowing if you have an end-game plan.

Am I missing something?

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi guys,

I'll try to keep the wordage down so sorry if this is a bit terse sounding. Please ask if I am not making myself clear.

* rich now again refuses to even acknowledge the evidence whilst repeating an apparently hard line post modernist denial of the possible existence if any such thing as evidence. Rich, I know a thing or two about statistics and evidence so instead of vaguely dismissing it and implying I don't understand then why not engage.
* Your argument that statistics can lie therefore you are not even going to think about the evidence that disagrees with you seems fairly standard religious dogma even though we are talking about healthcare.
* This is a reworded version of your argument to avoid any evidence; " You ought to read a book which shows you that people can lie with words, therefore I am going to ignore any evidence that uses words. ". A breathtaking logical train wreck.

* Cliff, my comments were aimed at Rich. It's not thousands, it's millions. We are not just talking orphans here, we are talking millions of kids dying with aids inherited from their mothers.
* I can only go by what you guys write. If you don't like the implications I draw from your words then please tell mecwhere I misunderstood.

* my plan.

Observe the world. Modern medicine and technology seems to encourage more civilized behaviour - other than in countries dominated by irrational ideologies e.G. Communist states, highly religious states (look at the state of us health care) and dictatorships. Secular democracies seem to me (happy to discuss piles of evidence about this ) to be the peak of our civilisation.

So give out condoms , antibiotics, education etc. Watch the economies flourish and grow.
Stop insisting that such aid is tied to religious conversions and activities. Stop expecting better or different behaviour than we demonstrated ourselves in similiar economic and social situations. At least then the means to prevent such needless deaths did not yet exist, rather than being withheld by moralizing and judgemental people who think they know better.

Stop pontificating about a particular form of marriage and instead try to encourage individual freedoms and protection from abuse of all kinds by the more powerful in society.

In this way people will be monogamous if that makes them happy. Do your remarks implyvthat you guys don't think divorce should be allowed?

Any way. My point was simply the huge mountain of evidence (you need better reasons to ignore it than that some people use numbers to lie Rich) that millions of deaths are resulting from the churchs refusal to distribute condoms in Africa.

What sort of society you get when whole generations of families are being wiped out we are about to find out. :-(

I say it is wrong to put moral judgements about sexual activities above saving lives.

If not then what about gays? Should you refuse them healthcare if you don't like their behaviour?

My goodness me chaps. Babies are dying for want of action and you are talking about the moral standards of behaviour in their society now and in the future. When they are dead they won't have a future.

Fiddling whilst Rome burns.

Never do people refuse to do good more joyfully than when inspired to inaction by religion - Ahmen.

Oh - and still you stick to dogma and judgement rather than open minded appraisal of evidence. Wheel out the same old logical "get out of the argument for free "fallacies.

I wonder what is the single biggest thing that encourages such closed minds?

Ah - we are back to the main topic of the thread.

---

Btw unneccessary deaths is a heavy topic. If my views offend then please bear in mind that all views on such a topic probably offend someone. I know that the catholic faith's do.

So do you agree with their refusal to give out condoms or not? Get off that fence you two!
Regards,

Psi

Wonder what encourages that kind of thinking

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

I take umbrage at some of your remarks.

I am well aware of the immensity of the AIDS devastation in Sub-Saharan Africa. My best friend recently left his comfortable new home in Oregon to care for AIDS orphans in Africa. There are 5,000 to 10,000 new orphans every single day. It is, by far, the worst disaster of our day. I know this. A few weeks ago I sent several thousand dollars to help my friend's effort. I will send more. To my knowledge, my friend is not handing our condoms or preaching abstinence. He is just trying to help clean up the mess left in the wake of AIDS.

I have not opposed condom distribution ... I know that is not enough for you. You want me to get solidly on one side or the other. But, Psi, what appears to you to be a black and white issue is very complex and nuanced to me. I look at Africa 50 or 100 years from now, and I wonder what impact our present actions will have upon that future.

Thank you for giving your long range view. That is helpful. I'm not sure I agree with your optimistic projections ("So give out condoms , antibiotics, education etc. Watch the economies flourish and grow"), but I don't think any of us can say with certainty what the future of Africa is one way or the other.

For me, morality does not trump pragmatism in social and political issues. However, I do believe strongly that high moral standards result in stronger communities, healthier democracies, more robust economies. For me, there really is no dichotomy separating human moral behavior and socioeconomic progress.

One problem is that we rarely have the luxury of a stage to play out our social theories. But if you think my views are simply governed by "dogma and judgment" you really don't understand me.

And please don't jump to conclusions about my views on homosexuality or divorce. Those are topics for another day.

Rich G. said...

Psi:

You're trying to refute a philosophy of life by appealing to mathematics. You are so busy trying to beat numbers into my head that you missed my main point.

I would caution you to be careful of the "one-Sided Statistic", the "Built-in Bias" and the "Post-Hoc Fallacy" when reading *ANY* statistical summary.

But what I believe you are deliberately ignoring are Cliff's (and my) comments that there are more considerations and social implications resulting from value-less (and now you've added 'free') condom distribution. Whether or not there is a reduction in AIDS, there will still be a net increase in destructive behavior, and children dying from other causes.

BTW, just where do you get any authority to say saving lives is a good thing? As an atheist, there is no intrinsic value to life - only an extrinsic, utilitarian view. Only a 'spiritual' worldview confers any sanctity to life. The logical extension to atheism is that we are all only accidents om time and chemistry, and have only the value we ascribe to one another. So just *why* is it important to save lives that will only consume more of the earth's resources?

Cliff Martin said...

Rich and Psi,

While I am interested in Psi's answer to Rich's question about atheists and the value of human life, I will come quickly to Psi's defense:

I applaud Psi's assigning of high value to life! And I grant my atheist friend the right to depart from some of the extreme views of other atheists, just as I ask Psi to grant me room to depart from extreme views of some believers.

Rich G. said...

I'll admit my tone to sound a bit more combative than I intended.

I just want to see how Psi gets to his valuation of life.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Rich,

Don't worry re the tone - it's so hard to achieve with the written word isn't it ;-)

If we didn't feel strongly about things then what would be the point in discussing them ;-)

I am happy to discuss such important things without getting too involved and I hope you take my comments in the same spirit.

(Doesn't always work of course - but there you go ;-))

How do I get to my valuation of life?

By thinking about it.

By being a descendent of survivor's of 4 billion years of evolution in a universe that seems utterly indifferent to life's survival. By being and loving and enjoying and thinking.

Just like you.

I assert that I have as much right to an opinion and a vote in these things as you do.

I say I do.

Now if you want to deny me such rights then tell me how you work that one out.

Exactly how does waving your arms around and claiming that you have authority from on high from someone that we have yet to see any evidence for the existence of, and whose existence poses thoughtful believers some very real logical and evidential problems, would seem to me to be the position that needs explaining.

My position is that I have exactly the same authority as you. I am not claiming any special rights or abilities compared to you.

So, as the one who is claiming an advantage in these things, why don't you give me some evidence to support your implication that your position is somehow more secure or priviledged in this respect?

Any ideas?

Beware - I will be asking for evidence to back up your claims - If you don't have any then I reserve the right to point this out and of course to take the mickey ;-)

My irony meter started smoking when you were on the one hand saying that saving lives is not as important as morality and then challenging my right to even have this opinion.

- - -

Do you also deny the right to a moral opinion of people who happen to have been brought up to believe in a different god? Or is it just atheists you have a problem believing can be responsible people?

Holy smoke - talk about kindergarten arguments against atheists !

- - -

Cliff,

Thanks for expanding on your position.

I am of course referring to the catholic church's position in my comments - that was the topic of the article quoted at the head of the thread.

It was their dogmatism I was referring to (well mostly).

I applaud your charitable acts. I still think that preventing the spread of aids would be the single biggest life saving thing we could do in Africa, and that distribution of condoms would be the biggest contribution to this.

Neither of you has sought to deny this using any form of evidence.

If the position is so nuanced and complicated then fire away with the evidence for this.

I am all ears.

Otherwise it seems to me that after about six comments requesting evidence from you to back up your positions, and so further the discussion, that so far all I have from you is rhetoric.

Now of course you are entitled to have whatever views you wish. And you can base this on as much or as little evidence as you like.

But it seems odd to be so determined not to be prepared to even examine some evidence in a thread established for the very purpose of discussing the truth or otherwise on a position.

Do you see my point?

Regards

Psi

BTW Rich feel free to address any of the other points I made and the questions I asked you later on, once you have decided whether or not I have the ability to say I think human life has value.

BTW 2 - which "other atheists" have the extreme view that human life has no value?

BTW3 - yes I do find that atheists ( I know quite a few ) tend to be optimistic positive people who unanimously value human life very highly and put its' preservation right at the top of their morality charts.

Never met a one who didn't.

Met plenty of fundamentalists who think we are miserable sinners deserving of eternal torture though.

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

Perhaps this notion that atheists devalue life is not so much the position of “extreme atheists” as it is a commonly held Christian caricature of atheists, an unfair characterization. It is analogous to the unfair caricatures of Christians painted in popular atheist literature (i.e. Dawkins). I know you to be a compassionate humanitarian, and false presumptions to the contrary do little to further meaningful dialog.

As for your request for data ... I concede your data. In the immediate, condom distribution prevents more STD transmission and thus saves more lives than telling people to keep their zippers up. But that is not the full story.

I can build an unassailable case for a method to save over 500 lives a year by one simple act: decommissioning all commercial airlines. You might argue for better safety procedures, better education for airline mechanics, improved airports, etc. But the evidence will always favor my position: Your policies will never save as many lives as my proposal of abolishing air travel. Of course, we would all agree that the greater good is served by the approach that saves fewer lives in the short run. And this analogy greatly exaggerates the issues, I know. Nevertheless, it illustrates that while the evidence may all line up favoring your approach to the AIDS crisis, the unintended consequences may come back to haunt us.

“If the position is so nuanced and complicated then fire away with the evidence for this.”

My last comment detailed those complicating factors, and they cannot be quantified with data. The fact is that calling people to live on a higher moral plane is wholly incompatible with the free distribution of condoms. Plain logic tells me that the condom distribution conveys a clear message which is the polar opposite of encouraging abstinence. We cannot do both. At least not in the same place and the same time.

And long term, there is no way I know to quantify the effects of one approach against the other. So, we have competing world-views, and no meaningful data to compare them, and we have to choose.

There are places in Africa where the only compassionate thing to do may be to make condoms available. There may be other places where the greater long-term community good may be served by encouraging abstinence, educating young people about the values of monogamy, using the many studies which show the enlightened self-interest of waiting until marriage. The best path moving forward for Africa may not be a black/white either/or approach. Moralists should recognize the compelling compassionate arguments for condoms. Secularists should recognize that calling people to live on a higher plane can be the most humanitarian thing to do.

Rich G. said...

Psi:

Reminds me of this famous movie exchange:

Slartibartfast: Perhaps I'm old and tired, but I think that the chances of finding out what's actually going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say, "Hang the sense of it," and keep yourself busy. I'd much rather be happy than right any day.
Arthur Dent: And are you?
Slartibartfast: Ah... no.
[laughs, snorts]
Slartibartfast: Well, that's where it all falls down, of course.

Rich G. said...

I do not actually believe that atheists devalue life, for it is too obvious that they live as if life is a remarkable gift not to be squandered. It's just that these seems to be an avoidance to go to the logical conclusion of the preliminary assumptions. Most healthy people must live as though life has some form of transcendence.

I chafe when an atheist calls my logic flawed, whine being either unwilling or unable to chase their own all the way out.

Isaac Gouy said...

... distortion in your analogy

cliff > It is only distorted if you assume the position that spiritual sustenance is nonessential. Duh.

Of course framing your analogy as better/worse supply of essential sustenance was always going to mislead - because people don't drop dead from want of Christian spiritual sustenance.

Cliff Martin said...

And, of course, that depends entirely upon how one defines death, doesn't it.

Psiloiordinary said...

"Kill them all, God will know his own!"

Cliff Martin said...

Actually Psi, my comment has nothing to do with physical death. Isaac believes (as a secularist might) that spiritual sustenance is less important than physical sustenance, because "people don't drop dead from want of Christian spiritual sustenance." My perspective is quite different. The kind of death that can set in from a lack of spiritual sustenance can be as significant as physical death. (And no, I am not talking about hell or eternal death!)

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > Isaac believes (as a secularist might) that spiritual sustenance is less important than physical sustenance...

Please have the courtesy not to speak as though you have any particular knowledge of my beliefs.

That food is essential to life is indisputable.

That Christian spiritual sustenance is essential to life is quite obviously disputed by all other religions.

The distortion in the analogy it to treat that disputable proposition as though it were indisputable.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff February 8 > Plain logic tells me that the condom distribution conveys a clear message which is the polar opposite of encouraging abstinence.

Plain logic wonders why you would wish to encourage abstinence within marriage.

Cliff Martin said...

"Please have the courtesy not to speak as though you have any particular knowledge of my beliefs."

Isaac! You presume to possess particular knowledge of my beliefs constantly! It is your most common source of error. A blatant example is your idea that I favor abstinence in marriage. Where did you get that idea? (If one partner in a marriage had an STD, that would be a most appropriate circumstance for the use of condoms!)

On the other hand, I will stand by my characterization of your beliefs about the relative importance of spiritual and physical sustenance. Your own remarks following your umbrage-taking make it abundantly clear that I was merely rephrasing the obvious.

btw, I have never used the term "Christian spiritual sustenance." in this thread. You have consistently inserted "Christian". Just another example of you putting words in my mouth, and then using those very words against me.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Folks,

I have been repeatedly counting to ten before responding.

But i gave up this morning, so here goes;

Still no attempt here to address any of the points I raised regarding actual evidence. (with the exception of Cliff who cedes the point)

An analogy that equates banning the safest form of transport in the world with the effect of condoms in preventing the spread of aids. Isn't that a reverse analogy or a nonology?

Perhaps you should pick the most dangerous form of transport and look at the analogy as being the proposed introduction of some basic safety standards versus a verbal request for people not to travel?

Doesn't this just make my case for me? Again?

- - -

I think that people and society benefit more from being dead or dying horribly than being married or in monogamous relationships.

So I think that claims (without any evidence to back them up i note again) that it is morally better for both the dying and dead (and your own fine moral positions) to say "don't have sex" - when you know this message does not work, and so to continue to let people die, including thousands who have never had sex anyway and were simply born with AIDS. . .

would be better than it would be to give out free condoms, allowing people to live longer but in your view live without "spiritual sustenance".

Oh and you all heartily deny that this is putting souls above lives!

The quote from the film BTW is from the HitchHikers Guide books - written by yet another of those godless heathens who don't value moral life. Douglas Adams. Just look up his biography for yet another example of the importance and value atheists assign to life.

Talk about ironic!

I can see that whatever we do on this thread we will run screaming away from any hint of a discussion that may accidentally shed any light on any evidence.

Calling for people to live on a higher plain whilst watching them die by the millions and refusing to take action (which Cliff cedes would prevent most of the deaths) seems evil to me.

This is what the official policy of the Catholic church is in Africa and that was the original topic of this thread.

The cynic in me might postulate that if the natural selection of memes has been at work on religions then this hints that the lives of believers truly do seem expendable to most faiths.

Save lives or avoid hypocrisy? Let them die!

I will sign off with this;

Most healthy people must live as though life has some form of transcendence.


Wow - even if you had any form of evidence that this statement was true, do you even realise that this doesn't make any logical difference one way or another as to whether or not this "transcendence" is true?

Adams had a rather nice sub plot about a machine which lets people see and understand the sheer size and majesty of the universe and their size and lifetime in relation to it. Which makes me think that most people need to feel they are much more important than simple observation might suggest is the case - the fact that most people think this doesn't make it true either.

Most people used to think the earth was flat.

I chafe when an atheist calls my logic flawed, whine being either unwilling or unable to chase their own all the way out.

I would be delighted to have any flaws in my logic pointed out.

Feel free.

Give it to me straight.

Don't just say that I don't like it - when you haven't tried it.

I would be delighted to have the evidence against my position pointed out to me.

Fire away.

Oh look - sigh - this is what I have asked for all along.

I actually enjoy changing my mind about things.

I don't expect you to believe me.

But there you go. I think it is one of the joys of being human and being alive - being wrong and learning and improving yourself.

Just try engaging sometime and you might just enjoy it yourselves.

- - -

I feel much better getting that off my chest ;-)

Regards to all,

Psi

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

I'm glad you feel better.

But I think you have been missing my point entirely. It might help if we try to imagine two cultures.

Culture 1) Indiscriminate sex is rampant, and encourage by official governmental policy. Families are weak ... men don't remain constant with just one woman. Something about indiscriminate sex is, well, addicting. Though condoms help, the spread of STDs continues.

Culture 2) Sex is mostly an expression of marital love and commitment. Marriages are strengthened by sexual fidelity (sex, btw, is enjoyed more -- as studies have shown), and healthy families abound.

Which is better?

If you still think I am simply morally pontificating, you are mistaken. The above two cultures presume that there is an important link between morals and societal health, a link you either deny or ignore. I am less interested here in personal morality than in building viable, healthy societies.

You may disagree with the two cultural scenarios (either that one is better than the other, or that the choice of policies we are discussing will have any causal effect leading to one or the other) ... it is you privilege to do so. But my views about condoms are based upon the stark contrast between those two cultures. I am suggesting that a policy of free condom distribution will not only lead to Culture 1, but it will likely preclude the possibility of Culture 2. Again, feel free to disagree with my assumptions. We are not given much of an opportunity to test such assumptions in the laboratory. But I think there is ample evidence from history if you'll consider that.

But if you can understand my assumptions, maybe you can begin to grasp why I am conflicted about what "the most compassionate response" might be. Again I will say it: different approaches may be appropriate for different societies. But to suggest that condom distribution is the only or best solution for the whole continent of Africa seems condescending and short-sighted to me.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > Your own remarks following your umbrage-taking make it abundantly clear that I was merely rephrasing the obvious.

Do you dispute that food is essential to life? Do you claim it is a disputable proposition?

Do you claim that your Christian views on spiritual sustenance are indisputable and not widely disputed?

Noting that the distortion in the analogy is to treat a disputable proposition as though it were indisputable is an exercise in plain logic - not a statement of belief.


cliff > "btw, I have never used the term "Christian spiritual sustenance." in this thread. You have consistently inserted "Christian". Just another example of you putting words in my mouth, and then using those very words against me."

Do you wish to claim that when you talk of spiritual sustenance you are not talking of Christian spiritual sustenance?

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > It might help if we try to imagine two cultures.

It might help more if we try to find two cultures in the world which correspond to those caricatures - we could compare STD rates between young Danes and young evangelicals in the US.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff February 7 > Here is an honest evaluation from my own personal experience, based on the condition of my hormones as a young single man. If there had been social workers handing out condoms on my H.S. campus, I doubt very much that I would have chosen the high road of abstinence.

Because? Because that would have reduced fear of STDs? Because that would have reduced fear of unwanted fatherhood?

Not doing something because we're afraid of the consequences isn't an example of choosing the moral high road.

Isaac Gouy said...

Anonymous February 4 > ... From the CDC Fact Sheet

From the same CDC Fact sheet:

"The body of research on the effectiveness of latex condoms in preventing sexual transmission of HIV is both comprehensive and conclusive. The ability of latex condoms to prevent transmission of HIV has been scientifically established in “real-life” studies of sexually active couples as well as in laboratory studies."

"Laboratory studies have demonstrated that latex condoms provide an essentially impermeable barrier to particles the size of HIV.
...
Epidemiologic studies that are conducted in real-life settings, where one partner is infected with HIV and the other partner is not, demonstrate that the consistent use of latex condoms provides a high degree of protection."

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac> Noting that the distortion in the analogy is to treat a disputable proposition as though it were indisputable is an exercise in plain logic - not a statement of belief.

You are running this into the ground! I was always clear about my own assumptions. The analogy works for me, based on my assumptions, as I have made quite clear. I never expected you or Psi to accept the analogy, nor did I ask you to. Can we lay this to rest please?

Isaac> Do you wish to claim that when you talk of spiritual sustenance you are not talking of Christian spiritual sustenance?

Yes, in the context of this discussion. Why else would I take exception to the words you put into my mouth?

Isaac> Because? Because that would have reduced fear of STDs? Because that would have reduced fear of unwanted fatherhood?



Wrong again. I think I am seeing why so much of this discussion is escaping you. As a teenager, my moral choices were supported by a community which encouraged abstinence, both inside and outside of the church. Societal mores are powerful, and can be very positive! If I had health teachers handing out condoms and training us in the use of same, it would have been interpreted by me and my classmates as a tacit approval of teenage sex, or at least an acknowledgment of its inevitability. It would have amounted to a huge “green light” for me. I thought this was obvious. I guess it needed to be explained.

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

Yes, I know the airline travel analogy was an extreme distortion. That is precisely why I chose it. No one would argue, in the case of airline traffic fatalities, that it is in the best interest of mankind to eliminate all such deaths. Obviously we cannot apply the argument directly to the Africa Aids problem. But it does highlight the fact that society may not always be best served by eliminating every death. Many other examples could be cited. I'm sure you can think of them. Now, please temper this with my own earlier agreement that in many parts of Africa today, condom distribution may be the only compassionate and right thing to do.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Re your two cultures.

I tried to make the point before that the evidence shows you have the cart before the horse.

In other words you have spotted a correlation and you are assuming and claiming causation.

Let's look at the real world and history and see if we can see whether there is causation and whether it works one way or the other or if indeed there is another cause of both.

Two points that I claim in my favour are,first of all, the history of real life culture two types where health care and economic progress came before reductions in murder, rapes, crime family break up and the rest.

Secondly that having huges swathes of families and communities dying horrifically in abject poverty. Mirrors part of the history of said culture two types and changed when the deaths were reduced and the living standards went up and bore no relation to either religiosity or external proselytizing and moralizing.

Anyway - you posed a challenge - this is my attempt at an answer.

Fire away. I am all ears.

Regards,

Psi

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

Here are a couple of interesting articles I found today.

The first is an opinion piece, widely distributed, written by a South African, which suggests that condom distribution correlates with increased teen pregnancy rates in South Africa. It is a few years old.

The second is from an American who went to Uganda. She started out believing that the faith answers to the AIDS epidemic were not effective. Her first hand experience in Uganda persuaded her otherwise, as she notes here.

It is difficult to find original source studies on this question. I’ve tried, and I’ll keep trying. Lots of opinions. Little data. Untainted data may be difficult or impossible to collect, the biases on both sides are so powerful.

But I think you and I have made some progress in actually identifying our difference of opinion. If I understand you correctly, you suggest that developing social structure and elevating standards of life leads to wiser choices, social stability. An outside-in approach. Whereas I would contend that giving people the ability to make wise choices is the only hope of developing social stability which will then lead to healthier social structures and elevated standards of life. An inside-out approach. Is this a fair generalization?

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > You are running this into the ground! I was always clear about my own assumptions.

Claiming that food is not essential to life, or claiming that your views on spiritual sustenance are not disputable could effect whether we should regard the analogy as a distortion - general assumptions about spiritual sustenance do not.


> > Do you wish to claim that when you talk of spiritual sustenance you are not talking of Christian spiritual sustenance?

cliff > Yes, in the context of this discussion. Why else would I take exception to the words you put into my mouth?

Do you claim to speak for Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Animists, Satanists, ... (and me)?


cliff > Wrong again. I think I am seeing why so much of this discussion is escaping you.

There were 3 question marks - they denote questions not assumptions.


cliff > As a teenager, my moral choices were supported by a community which encouraged abstinence, both inside and outside of the church. ... It would have amounted to a huge “green light” for me.

And then you would be faced with a moral choice, and could choose the moral high road.


cliff > I guess it needed to be explained.

Not everyone shares your assumptions.

When you speak without qualification of encouraging abstinence, you may have a particular group of people in mind - but you haven't said what that group of people is.

Isaac Gouy said...

Anonymous February 4 > it is the *non-practice* of abstinence, not its practice that has spread AIDS... Self-control is the single most effective preventive measure.

Condoms are a poor second-best.



"When a Fail-Safe system fails, it fails by failing to fail safe."

When abstinence fails, it fails by failure to abstain.

Abstinence does have a failure rate - the rate at which people fail to abstain.

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac writes, Abstinence does have a failure rate - the rate at which people fail to abstain.

A ridiculous argument. But if you insist upon it, then let's be fair and apply it to condom use. We must add to the 1% failure rate of condoms the very high percentage of sexual contact without condoms. "Condom use does have a failure rate - the rate at which people fail to use a condom."

As you must know, this would push the failure rate of condoms above 50% in some locales, perhaps much higher in others.

Or, we can abandon your argument and agree that condoms have a very low failure rate when used (estimated by some to be as low as 1%) and abstinence has a failure rate of zero when used.

Your choice. Your logic (?) or mine.

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

The debate about condom-use promotion versus abstinence education will not be settled anytime soon. The two sides of the argument are both loaded with hidden agendas and biases. Every study indicating the success of one strategy or the other is ripped to shreds by the other side. And this is an issue for which hard data is extremely difficult to come by.

From what I have read, the politically correct view today is to favor condom distribution. I believe that is driven by underlying philosophies. Nevertheless, the prevalent view, favored by most media, the Hollywood elite, and the academe, is condom promotion. So it is not surprising the abstinence is vilified and lampooned routinely in the press.

Despite this predominate cultural bias, stories of the success of abstinence keep surfacing. Here are a few examples:

Uganda’s success story

Success in Uganda: more about behavior change and community support than condoms.

Zambia success Story

Abstinence Education success in the U.S.

As you know, I have not espoused the position of abstinence education only. I do see many settings in which condom distribution is imperative and the compassionate response. There may even be some ways of carefully crafting condom use into abstinence education, though as I have contended such an approach often sends mixed signals. Still, the judicious and careful use of condom availability mixed in with a predominating message of behavior-change seems the best approach long-term.

I am interested in your response.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Here is a link to an article just this week which is on tangentially relevant.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/feb/27/vatican-un-drugs-policy

I will respond to your comment when I have read the links.

Be prepared for the word anecdote in my answer ;-)

Cheers,

Psi

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

There is some tangental relevance here. Clean needles and condoms are analogous, but there are some significant differences in my mind. I have always supported needle exchange programs with no reservations.

I would suggest that addicts who receive clean needles never take them as tacit approval of their life-risking activity, which remains illegal at all times. There is a clear sense of compassion, perhaps even pity associated with the needle exchange. To a person, those involved in the needle exchange programs disapprove of illegal drug use.

Contrast this with condom distribution. There is no pity involved. The life-risking activity is (in most cases) quite legal. Most people involved in the supply of condoms share no sense of disapproval of an indiscriminate sexually active lifestyle.

I highly doubt that anyone has become a drug addict because some agency offered to give them needles. I have no doubt that condom distribution encourages multi-partner sexual activity.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > Isaac writes, Abstinence does have a failure rate - the rate at which people fail to abstain.

A ridiculous argument. But if you insist upon it, then let's be fair and apply it to condom use. We must add to the 1% failure rate of condoms the very high percentage of sexual contact without condoms.

No, we must add the percentage of sexual activity without condoms when condom use was intended.

In the narrow meaning - as a technique - abstinence never fails, and condom use has a miniscule failure rate.

In the broad meaning - as a social policy - abstinence fails every time abstinence was intended but that intention was not fulfilled, and condom use fails every time condom use was intended but that intention was not fulfilled.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff February 27 > Uganda’s success story
"an aggressive anti-AIDS campaign by encouraging HIV-testing, abstinence and the use of condoms"


cliff February 27 > Success in Uganda: more about behavior change and community support than condoms.
"Ugandans also had high levels of personal contact with individuals with AIDS. By 1995, 91.5% of Ugandan men and 86.4% of Ugandan women said they knew somebody with AIDS. ... This suggests that a credible communication of alarm and advice had taken root in discussions in social networks ..."


cliff February 27 > Zambia success Story
"This campaign promotes HIV/AIDS prevention through messages around abstinence, consistent condom use, and the fact that “you can’t tell by looking” if someone is HIV-positive.
...
Contrary to the argument that advertising prevention messages promotes promiscuity, respondents reported they are more likely to say they chose to abstain than to report condom use."


cliff February 27 > Abstinence Education success in the U.S.
Until we read that "Heritage Foundation Study" and discover that "success" is a very bendable notion - STD rates aren't so bendable:

"After the promise: the STD consequences of adolescent virginity pledges" pdf
"Results: Pledgers are consistently less likely to be exposed to risk factors across a wide range of indicators, but their STD infection rate does not differ from nonpledgers. Possible explanations are that pledgers are less likely than others to use condoms at sexual debut and to be tested and diagnosed with STDs.

Conclusions: Adopting virginity pledges as intervention may not be the optimal approach to preventing STD acquisition among young adults."


Patient Teenagers? A Comparison of the Sexual Behavior of Virginity Pledgers and Matched Nonpledgers
"RESULTS. Five years after the pledge, 82% of pledgers denied having ever pledged. Pledgers and matched nonpledgers did not differ in premarital sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and anal and oral sex variables. ..."

"CONCLUSIONS. The sexual behavior of virginity pledgers does not differ from that of closely matched nonpledgers, and pledgers are less likely to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease before marriage. Virginity pledges may not affect sexual behavior but may decrease the likelihood of taking precautions during sex. Clinicians should provide birth control information to all adolescents, especially virginity pledgers."

Isaac Gouy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Isaac Gouy said...

Cliff February 27 > As you know, I have not espoused the position of abstinence education only.

In the same post you wrote "stories of the success of abstinence keep surfacing" and gave examples that turned out not to be "stories of the success of abstinence".

They turned out to be "stories of the success" of ABC - "Abstain from sex, Be faithful or use a Condom".

"Because of the US, our government now says Abstain and Be faithful only," says Dr Katamba. "So people stop trusting our advice. They think we were lying about how condoms can stop Aids. Confusion is deadly."


While many news stories focus on Uganda we shouldn't forget South Africa where government misinformation has turned a crisis into a disaster which spills over into other countries in Southern Africa.

As a consequence Swaziland, Botswana and Zimbabwe have the bizarre distinction that male life expectancy is higher than female life expectancy - Swaziland 30.8yrs versus 29.2yrs; Botswana 35yrs versus 32.7yrs; Zimbabwe 38.2yrs versus 36.3yrs.

AIDS Estimated deaths per 100,000 population 2005
#1 Swaziland 1,455
#2 Zimbabwe 1,395
#3 Lesotho 1,278
#4 Botswana 1,000
...
#8 S.Africa 708
...
#14 Uganda 341

HIV/AIDS prevalence among population ages 15-49 2005
#1 Swaziland 33.4%
#2 Botswana 24.1%
#3 Lesotho 23.2%
#4 Zimbabwe 20.1%
...
#6 S.Africa 18.8%
...
#13 Uganda 6.7%

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

You misunderstand so many of my points that I don't know where to begin on your laundry list. And in reality, I do not have the time or energy to debate this particular issue with you.

Your greatest misconceptions is that I favor "abstinence only". I do not. I do believe that the long term social health of the African continent will be better served by attempting behavior modification than by merely distributing condoms. Where condoms can be distributed without negatively impacting the message of restraint, and monogamous relationships, than by all means make them available. The AIDS pandemic effects even married couples. (And no, Isaac, I do not mean distribute them to married people only!)

I believe it is pointless and unproductive for the two sides in this debate to insist that the other approach does not work. Both the teaching of abstinence, and the judicious distribution of condoms have their place. And in some places, Abstinence has clearly been shown to have turned the tide of infections.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > And in some places, Abstinence has clearly been shown to have turned the tide of infections.

Instead of complaining about being misunderstood be clear!

You've written "Abstinence" - do you mean "Abstain from sex, Be faithful", or do you mean "Abstain from sex, Be faithful or use a Condom"?

If you mean ""Abstain from sex, Be faithful" "has clearly been shown to have turned the tide of infections" then please show an example which demonstrates your claim - not examples of "Abstain from sex, Be faithful or use a Condom".

"But Aids activists and development officials point to the 130,000 Ugandans infected with HIV last year alone - up from 70,000 in 2002 - and say the recent obsession with abstinence is handicapping the country's once-successful fight against the virus."


cliff > The AIDS pandemic effects even married couples.

"It is 30- to 35-year-old women and 35- to 45-year-old men in marriages, not sexually active teens and twentysomethings who are most likely to be infected."




The one analysis that suggested behavior change was a more important factor for HIV incidence made the point that behavior change took place when 9 out of 10 people personally knew someone dying from AIDS, but did not take place in neighboring countries where 7 out of 10 people personally knew someone dying from AIDS.

Is your notion of the long term social health of the African continent worth that mortality rate?

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > I believe it is pointless and unproductive for the two sides in this debate to insist that the other approach does not work. ... And in some places, Abstinence has clearly been shown to have turned the tide of infections.

In an August 2007 editorial titled "Questioning fondly held assumptions" the British Medical Journal stated the opposite conclusion -

"The debate over abstinence only programmes for preventing HIV should also be dead after this week's systematic review by Kristen Underhill and colleagues. The review shows that they don't seem to affect the risk of HIV infection in the developed world as measured by self reported biological and behavioural outcomes."

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

What does a study of "sexual abstinence only programmes for HIV prevention among participants in high income countries" have to do with this discussion?

And have I not made it clear that I am not a proponent of an "abstinence only" approach? How can I make this any more clear for you?

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > What does a study of "sexual abstinence only programmes for HIV prevention among participants in high income countries" have to do with this discussion?

1) It answers the "Abstinence Education success in the U.S." you put forward on February 27 (What did abstinence in the US have to do with this discussion?)

2) As it says "This review complements a systematic review of abstinence based programmes in developing countries..." - which is why the British Medical Journal says the debate is dead.

"Significant but mostly modest effects were found for knowledge, beliefs and intentions to delay sex or to use condoms if they engaged in sex. Little or no evidence of effect on actual behaviour was found."
Systematic review of the impact of abstinence-only programmes on risk behavior in developing countries (1990-2005)



cliff > And have I not made it clear that I am not a proponent of an "abstinence only" approach? How can I make this any more clear for you?

1) Agreed - you have said you are not a proponent of an "abstinence only" approach.

However, yesterday you seemed to place this condition on the distribution of condoms - "without negatively impacting the message of restraint, and monogamous relationships" 5 March.

And you have been clear that in your opinion "condom distribution conveys a clear message which is the polar opposite of encouraging abstinence. We cannot do both. At least not in the same place and the same time." 8 February.

Given that condition and that opinion, there don't seem to be circumstances in which condom distribution would be acceptable to you - which just leaves an "abstinence only" approach.

2) You could stop saying "Abstinence has clearly been shown to have turned the tide of infections" (5 March) without an example which demonstrates your claim.