There are two problems with this super-simplistic moral equation of ‘pope + anti-condom propaganda = death’. First, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, since AIDS is most widespread in minority-Catholic African countries, where most people are not in thrall to the men of Rome; and second, it is underpinned by some deep, dark prejudices of its own, prejudices that make the Vatican’s pronouncements seem relatively mild in comparison. The idea that a pope speaks and Africans die – or as one supposedly rationalist writer describes it: ‘the power of ideas to do great evil’ (1) – is based on a view of Africans as fundamentally incapable of judging the moral worth or factual accuracy of ideas, and as being little more than empty vessels waiting to be filled with popish bull. It ironically rehabilitates the old Christian-crusader view of Africans as needing to be saved, only disguised in anti-religion lingo.

As an atheist and a skeptic, I sometimes have trouble challenging my own ideas with the same kind of scrutiny I challenge others'. This article points out some facts that are not consistent with the current "party line" on the Pope and his effects on the fight against AIDS in Africa.

Read it and let me know what you think. Are we overestimating the power of the Catholic Church in Africa?

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Replies to This Discussion

Sorry, I forgot to code in the link. It's fixed now.
The article does come off as anti-Western-cultural-imperialism, at least superficially.

If the statistics he mentioned show that the Pope might not be as influential as some think, then fine. It is good to examine all claims. But the writer was basically saying that if someone thinks the pope is that influential in stopping condom use, that means that person thinks condescendingly of Africans as gullible and believing everything said by religious leaders. Has this guy seen the how popular anti-gay propoganda has been in Africa--propoganda which was furthered by American fundamentalists? Sure they weren't the first people to introduce homophobia, just like the pope wasn't the only influence in not using condoms--but it doesn't help.

In the end paragraph he compared people who condemn the pope's anti-condom message to the Spanish Inquisition. He lost all credibility there. He really thinks that ideas have never killed millions of people? This has happened throughout history!
Yeah. The rest of his shit was bad enough trolling, but to use an example of Catholics *actually being dickheads* to demonise those who think the Catholic church are being dickheads? I have to admit, I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition.
Well, there is such a thing as "the soft bigotry of low expectations." However, I think history shows that snake oil salesmen like the Pope get a lot farther in Africa than they do in more well-developed areas. Desperation, borne of ravaging illness, can cause people to believe most anything.
But it's debatable which view has the soft bigotry of low expectations (and that's usually the case).
I don't know if we're overestimating the fact. I don't know if it even matters. No one said *everyone* in Africa will die of AIDS thanks to the Chief Torturer pope's lies, as far as I'm aware. But there are people in poor areas and/or areas with low educational standards - just like there are in Georgia, for example, or Tennessee (which is possibly the dumbest state in the Union) - who are Catholic enough that their view of the pope's infallibility will have them take that advice seriously, in an area where AIDS can move about *very* freely compared to many other places. It's not that everyone will listen - but enough people will. People are going to die as a direct consequence of that rotten old bastard lying to them. It's that simple, at least for me.
To claim that the pope is solely responsible for the rise of AIDS in Africa is certainly faulty. It is worth noting, however, that part of his argument is misleading. He writes: "First, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, since AIDS is most widespread in minority-Catholic African countries, where most people are not in thrall to the men of Rome." Actually, AIDS is more widespread in Christian Africa than it is in Muslim Africa. A comparison of these two maps is worthwhile:

There are about 160 million Catholics in Africa out of a population of about 1 billion, Just over half of the continent's total Christian population (~300 million) is Catholic. Note also, that when people talk about AIDS in Africa, they do not mean Egypt of Morocco, but Sub-Saharan Africa, so the percentage of Christians rises. In other words, the Pope can dictate religious law to about half the Christians in Africa. Furthermore, churches in Africa are more authoritative than their Western counterparts because the population is more religious. In other words, if the pope makes a pronouncement, Catholics in the Congo are more likely to accept it than Catholics in Italy.
The maps seem to contradict the assertion of the article. The worst part, by a large margin, of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is in Southern, Christian Africa where Catholics are 50% of the Christian population.
There are possibly other factors to consider but it seems that religion is a critical factor in the disease spread. I don't think the article substantiates the author's position – major fail, IMO.
My understanding is that it's not whether Africans believe what the pope says, but whether Catholics and others with the ability to impact aid to Africa believe it. I recall that Bush II changed the U.S. foreign aid policies to prevent distribution of and education regarding birth control in Africa.


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