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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

The Guilt Myth

By Aless Piper

August 4, 2011

My very Christian friend won't pray for my friend with AIDS who is currently going through a rough time medically. Yes, I am pissed off. This is a person who will pray -- without hesitation -- for a man with lung cancer who smoked a pack a day (or more) since the age of 12 and is now sixty-odd. But because to my Christian friend's mind anyway, my friend had to have done something to get AIDS, s/he will not pray for him/her. Where's the logic in that one?

Now I'm not too sure if this person would appreciate prayers in the first place. S/he is an atheist, as are most of the people I know with HIV/AIDS. But that's not the point. The point is, my very Christian friend won't even offer to pray for him/her, or even to keep him/her in their thoughts.

I could continue to talk to a wall, but I want to talk it out here instead. Why is that love the sinner hate the sin mentality, which so many Christians boast, oddly absent when it comes to HIV/AIDS in America?

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Subscribing to the school of thought that you shouldn't ask a question unless you have a half decent idea of the answer, I have a theory and it all comes down to this: guilt and innocence.

Edward explained it to me in 2005: "Some people use it [the knowledge of how someone was infected] to see if they can (morally/based on their value system) accept you. People who were infected through the blood system and secondarily infected are thought to be 'victims' while gay men are thought to be 'deserving' of it. No one deserves HIV. How we become infected is irrelevant."

Would you ask someone with lung cancer how they got it? More important, would it matter?

Somebody very familiar with the guilt myth is the Toronto politician who said that "... I personally think it's a preventable disease. From what I know, if you're not gay and you're not an IV drug user, you probably won't get AIDS." He's now the mayor of Toronto and back in 2006 he continued to say that "I hear 90 per cent of the cases are if you're gay or you're doing needles to do drugs, then you're going to get AIDS. Now that's what I wanted to clarify because we're spending $1.5 million and when I read through this it's extremely frustrating because in the course of these groups it looks like drugs or gays."

Personally I have an issue with anyone getting HIV. I think it's undeniably tragic regardless of what they may have done. Nobody deserves HIV, the same way nobody deserves cancer ... even if they have smoked a pack a day for several decades. And maybe, just maybe, although I don't know the particulars of this case, that $1.5 million actually did something. Radical idea, right?

(Side note: while Ford was running for mayor, one of the members of his campaign retweeted this: "Smitherman should spend less time attacking Ford for telling truth about AIDS, more time coming up with actual policies." The campaign member was fired, but if the campaign member actually thinks Ford was telling the "truth" about AIDS, how frightening is that?? Also, in 2010 in the course of his campaign he apologized to a gay man for his 2006 comments, saying "I apologize if I offended you or your husband in any way -- that's not my style." A few months later, he had a bit of an issue with the guy he famously apologized to.)

But here's the thing: I could be sitting on the bombshell that s/he is a hemophiliac and got it through tainted Factor 8, or that s/he was born with it. Would that then make him/her innocent in the eyes of the Christians, and of politicians more or less everywhere? Isn't that kind of hypocritical?

Personally, I choose to live by Mother Theresa's words that if you judge people, you have no time to love them. There are some far more qualified than I, or my oh-so-Christian friends, to determine guilt or innocence. I can tell you one thing: It cannot be divined from knowing how one contracted HIV/AIDS or any other disease.

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See Also
More on Interfaith Responses to HIV/AIDS

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Harvett (East Cleveland, OH) Tue., Aug. 16, 2011 at 1:52 pm EDT

Aless Piper, I have noticed that people who passed the most judgment are those who did everything under the sun and then when they escape danger or a horrific disease, they want to try to preach to people who wouldn't even dream of doing what they did in the past. When human beings stop passing judgment and TRULY look inside themselves, the world will become a better place.
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Comment by: Gurlzone (New York) Thu., Aug. 11, 2011 at 3:43 pm EDT
I observed this ugly business of dividing the "deserving" from the "innocent" PWLHA during the first years of the pandemic. HIV/AIDS as a disease continues to be stigmatized because so many people in our society judge and devalue the behaviors that can lead to HIV acquisition. Medical providers who try to persuade us that if we treat HIV as "just another disease," people will treat it that way. No. It is when the behaviors are de-stigmatized that HIV will be de-stigmatized. And "innocent" PWLHA who resent being grouped with the "deserving" because they "did nothing wrong" only serve to perpetuate the stigma. NO ONE DESERVES TO BE INFECTED WITH HIV.
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Comment by: Aless Piper (Canada) Fri., Aug. 12, 2011 at 8:42 pm EDT
"And "innocent" PWLHA who resent being grouped with the "deserving" because they "did nothing wrong" only serve to perpetuate the stigma. NO ONE DESERVES TO BE INFECTED WITH HIV."

Couldn't agree more. Thanks for your comment!


Comment by: Mary (Indiana) Tue., Aug. 9, 2011 at 4:18 pm EDT
I wish all people could understand what it is like to have a disease that everyone associates with deviant behavior when you got it from being a faithful wife and mother without any deviance at all! Or to be a baby like my daughter and to have gotten it from your mother before anyone knew there was a problem. Walk a day in other people's shoes. Feel what it is like to have to pretend that you are deviant (have a alcohol problem) or have a more ACCEPTABLE medical problem because you have no other reason to explain why you vomit and have diareah all the time because of your meds. By the way - being deviant isn't wrong - it's how our culture and society is built. Otherwise we would all be the perfect and the same AND BORING!
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Comment by: Aless Piper (Canada) Wed., Aug. 10, 2011 at 11:05 am EDT
Thank you so much for your comment.


Comment by: Lyn van Rooyen (Johannesburg , South Africa) Fri., Aug. 5, 2011 at 12:02 pm EDT
Aless, Christians are not all the same - and definitely will not all react this way!

CABSA - the Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa - guides and support faith communities to understand the epidemic, the drivers and what we believe the Biblical response to be. And this response can never include judgement!

Although I do not know your friend, I send her my prayers with all my heart! And I also thank God that she has you as a friend: some one that cares enough to get upset about judgmentalism and a lack of love.

I hope that your blog challenges people - Christians, people of other faiths and people of no faith - to think about the pain their response to HIV still cause.

(If you are interested, we believe that there are a number of guiding principles for the Christian response. You can read these here http://www.cabsa.org.za/content/guiding-principles)
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Comment by: Aless Piper (Canada) Fri., Aug. 5, 2011 at 1:47 pm EDT
Thank you so much for your comment; I will definitely check out your link!


Comment by: Darcy Zwier (Janesville, WI) Thu., Aug. 4, 2011 at 8:04 pm EDT
Thank you for saying what needed to be said. As a member of the hemophilia community I am familiar with the shunning of people with HIV/AIDS. Does it matter how one is infected? No, of course not. No-one "deserves" AIDS.
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Comment by: Aless Piper (Canada) Fri., Aug. 5, 2011 at 11:16 am EDT
Thank you so much for your comment, I couldn't agree more. :)


Comment by: Larry Estrada (Wichita, Ks) Thu., Aug. 4, 2011 at 1:25 pm EDT
screw the idiots that wont Pray I dont know your friends name but I stand Here Right now ready to pray for you your friend and all the people who are stupid enough not to pray because they seriously need help I will personally burn sage and lay down tobacco as is my tradtional way I will call my Pipe Carrier and we will load the Chanumpa and smoke it for your friend and all the rest of the people in this world suffering from HIV & AIDS The native people have a philosophy as to why HIV is here and it is not that anyone deserves it because of sexuality or lifestyle or anything else but to make people take care of eachother and to take care of our earth mother the creator loves us all no matter our afflicitons our ailments our sexual orientation or even our addictions we are imperfect beings the only thing in all of creation that is not imperfect is the creator himself and to not understand this is folly God jehova gizhig manidoo what ever name you call him by he loves you no matter who you are what you have and I know for a fact he will answere prayers and no you dont have to belive in the crator because he believes in you and every person out there suffiring I ma praying for you as someone living with the virus for thirteen years now I pity closed minded people because I love everyone and I am a great person so I will pray for your friends health to improve I will pray your christian freinds mind opens up and I will pray for the rest of the people out there like her/him with closed minds and all the people suffering today with the virus or any other ailment Mitakye Oyasin we are all related in lakhota
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Comment by: Aless Piper (Canada) Fri., Aug. 5, 2011 at 11:18 am EDT
Thank you so much for your lovely comment!


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Aless Piper

Aless Piper

Aless Piper is a 20-something office assistant by day, world-changer by night. She is a voracious reader, and addicted to iced caramel correttos from her favorite coffee shop. She has been reading TheBody.com for more than half her life.

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