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

July 15, 2013

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Modern day Islam also takes a dim view of homosexuality and certainly HIV associated with homosexuality. LGBT men and women are being killed as we speak in secret in Islamic states, again in the name of Allah. HIV in Islam is seen through the so-called "prism of sin" (along with prostitution and promiscuity) and HIV is by definition the result of sinful behavior, with death or life imprisonment as an accepted punishment.

Judaism takes a more pragmatic view in general but orthodox Judaism sees homosexuality, and as a result HIV, as a consequence of immoral behavior. However, there is an important distinction in that HIV is not seen as a punishment from God but a consequence of immorality. In the case of HIV, condoms are approved but being HIV+ is still regarded as a disgrace. Luckily, the basic tenet of Judaism is caring for the sick and is seen as an obligation.

Buddhism may be the most pragmatic religion when it comes to HIV. In Thailand, some Buddhist monks actively encourage the use of condoms for HIV prevention. As part of an enlightened campaign by Mechai Viravaidya, Buddhist monks have offered condom blessings for couples. Similarly, Buddhism provides an enlightened view of homosexuality in general. Several Buddhist scriptures tell stories of same sex relationships, even between monks but generally, it is frowned on if openly displayed within the priesthood itself. For lay people, Buddhism condemns "sexual misconduct" but leaves any definition wide open. Again, LGBT people may find life more comfortable under Buddhism than in most other religions.

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Hinduism is much more complex, due to the various types of Hinduism under the general umbrella. Furthermore, religious texts don't specifically mention homosexuality and therefore fail to give guidelines. It's certainly a controversial issue in modern Hindu lands, the results of which remain to be seen. As far as HIV is concerned, the issue is also very complex according to which branch of Hinduism you follow. Compassion is fundamental in all forms of Hinduism but HIV can still carry a stigma, especially in rural areas and within families. LGBT issues have certainly found a new voice in modern India and Hindu south-east Asia and there are signs that much wider acceptance is on the way. Also thanks to the fact that HIV is a largely heterosexual problem, attitudes also become more pragmatic as time goes on. The heterosexual majority in African HIV cases should also moderate attitudes to LGBT-related HIV but unfortunately evangelist Christianity is far less tolerant than its Hindu or Buddhist counterparts.

It could be argued, then, that the two most outspoken opponents of HIV inside LGBT circles are Christianity and Islam. Both religions influence and are influenced by politics and thus the people in power both in the state and the religious hierarchy have a direct role to play in attitudes to both LGBT and HIV issues. Islam and the fundamentalist Sharia laws speak for themselves regarding homosexuality and HIV as a result of homosexuality. The attitude is consistent and unrelenting and we have to hope that moderate and pragmatic Muslims will gain the decisive voice in the future.

The last U.S. election was fought by one side, along not so subtle Christian lines based on perceived norms and values, with the emphasis on the family underpinning society. That sort of ideology is diametrically opposed to tolerance of gay rights and sympathy for people living with HIV. We've all heard the crackpot Republicans who use the debating arena and the media as forums for their hate-filled rhetoric and it would be easy to write them off as extremists who shouldn't be taken seriously. But there are millions of decent, normal Americans who believe that we have sinned against God and that we deserve everything that's thrown at us. They believe that we are in some way destroying society by subverting God's laws, especially regarding family and marriage and the political and religious leaders are feeding those beliefs with carefully selected sound bites stemming from Christian texts. How often is the Bible quoted as being proof that being gay is sinful and that HIV is a natural consequence? What's worrying is that these far right movements are growing rather than diminishing and America seems to split right down the middle both politically and socially. For the moment, LGBT Americans have a sympathetic president but a divided law-making system: who knows what the future will bring? At least enlightened thinkers at the top can put things in perspective. As ex-president Jimmy Carter said:

"Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things -- he never said that gay people should be condemned. I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies."

There may be people who feel personally attacked by things I've said but this article is not aimed at individuals; it's just a reflection of my own personal opinions, nothing more. I firmly believe that history shows us why people found religion or faith necessary as a support in difficult times but history also demonstrates that religion is more often than not imposed on people and frequently with undue force. It's been going on for thousands of years and it's still going on today.

Show me a war in the last thousand years and I'll almost guarantee you that religion lies at the base of it. It has been used as an excuse for some of the most horrific massacres of innocents in history, and in conflict areas across the globe in 2013, nothing has changed.

So why do people still cling on to it as a foundation for their beliefs and values? I don't know; maybe the alternative is a vacuum and nature abhors a vacuum. It has been tried in the recent past, with Communism but that failed because human nature overcame the theory. Men just aren't born equal and the strongest will always rise to the top, which is why LGBT people living with HIV should always be open-minded and alert to societal trends. God won't save us if it all goes politically wrong ... he doesn't intervene remember!

I'm sure that many will say that I've approached this much too simplistically but in the end, we can only be responsible for what we believe as individuals and in this case, I have to stand by mine. My own personal view, therefore, is that religion can be equated to myths, legends and fairy tales: I don't believe in them either but admit they are all darned good stories bearing moral messages.

I'm a gay man living with HIV and looking back, religion has let people like me down and continues to do so, preferring persecution to reconciliation and damnation to compassion. That sort of belief system is just not for me.

Send Dave an e-mail.

Read Dave's blog, HIV, Neuropathy and More: Avoiding Becoming a Nervous Wreck.

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