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HIV: What's God Got to Do With It?

July 15, 2013

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Gradually, the main religions we know today came to prominence, usually achieved by subjugation and killing. If you didn't believe in our gods, you were heretics and deserved to die. Did any of those gods step in and stop the inherent unfairness of all that? Never, because man had been given a free hand.

In the case of Christianity, one of many so-called prophets caught the public's imagination and the stories around his birth, life and death became the basis of the most popular religion the world has ever seen. The fact that his teachings bore little relation to the manner in which religion in his name was imposed on others seems to have been overlooked.

What would have happened if the Romans had succeeded in eliminating Christianity? They came within a whisker of doing exactly that. Would we still be worshipping Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto (god of death, not the planet or the dog!) today? The popularity of religions were accidents in history, determined by power struggles and conquest and each religion justified its actions by claiming to be the one true faith. The main religions fought brutal wars against each other and still do and the struggle for dominance goes on.

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So why did people put up with it all? Let's take the case of Christianity. The Catholic church of Rome established its power base during the centuries when European man was at a very low ebb. Later, other branches of Christianity broke away but always accompanied by vicious struggle, death and destruction. The point was that in the so-called Dark Ages, (after the fall of the Roman Empire and the decline of pagan religions like the Norse (Viking) and Germanic gods), a vacuum appeared which Christianity was perfectly placed to fill. Life in those centuries was short and often brutal. Wars raged across the continent, starvation and subsistence living was normal and various plague outbreaks decimated European populations. Life was unbelievably tough and often terrifying. It was into this sort of social anarchy that the Church brought both order and fear. Its Popes were often power-hungry politicians with few moral scruples and the Vatican and Rome was a political super-state determined to dominate the world.

The Catholic Church sent out its priests to literally put the fear of God into the people. Heretics were tortured and burned and the KGB, Stasi and FBI could learn nothing from the Inquisition, who imposed the word of God and the church's rules for living with brutal efficiency. It was a win/win situation for the church. Threats of eternal hellfire and being torn to pieces by demons and the Devil were enough to intimidate an already terrified people. Life was hard enough but if you weren't going to get respite in the afterlife, it wasn't worth living at all. Worshipping God according to the rules of the church became a no-brainer -- the alternative was everlasting damnation.

If you didn't follow the rules you knew where you would end up, either in this life or the next but as with all human organizations, corruption ensured you could buy your way out of trouble by purchasing Indulgences from the ever-present priests and monks. Guilt and fear became the currency of the church's teachings and it was exploited for power.

By the time the age of enlightenment arrived, the church, although by now somewhat more fragmented, was so entrenched in people's lives that any ideas that maybe all the mumbo-jumbo was actually little more than fairy tales, was regarded (and still is) with horror. Furthermore, the 18th and 19th centuries saw the rise of the missionary movement and the urge to convert all other believers to Christianity. Nations warred with nations; papists warred with Protestants and meanwhile the native peoples were subjugated, robbed and converted, all in the name of God and colonization. That's the reason why Christianity is such a widespread religion across the world; not because it's the one true faith but because it was imposed on the weak by the strong. This is not damning Christianity to the exclusion of other religions. They've all done it at various stages in their history and the rise of Islam was also founded on war and conquest and despite having many basic concepts in common, it could be argued that the most important struggle of the 21st century is that between Islam and Christianity -- it's been that way since the Crusades.

So that brings us to the present day. Personally, I cannot understand why any LGBT person can be a person of faith, if that faith condemns him or her for even existing. But I have to accept that many LGBT people are religious and are sincere in their beliefs. I hope that's not because of fear of offending God, priest or family, or fear of not going to heaven. I am, however, perfectly willing to believe that LGBT people are religious because they sincerely believe in the inherent and theoretical tenets of love, goodness and doing unto others as you would be done by.

I was brought up in the 50's and went to church, joined the choir, was confirmed etc., and I did all that because my parents thought it was what you had to do even though they rarely showed their faces in church themselves. To be fair, when I started questioning, they told me that I should wait and make up my own mind when the time was right.

I wasn't Catholic but even in the 21st century, I know Catholic LGBT men and women who are still racked with guilt and fearful of consequences if confession isn't adhered to, or their sexual behavior disregards the norm. Is that what religion is meant to be; adherence based on guilt and fear? For many gay people, that's exactly what it is.

Then we have the added complication of being HIV positive. How has religion reacted to the virus?

Well, condemning condom use as a preventative measure for a start. How can the Catholic Church sentence so many adults and unborn children to death, or a life with disease because their parents aren't allowed to wear condoms!

Thanks in part to evangelist extremists in Africa, we're seeing the modern phenomenon of African countries imposing draconian laws in an attempt to stamp out homosexuality, all in the name of Christianity.

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