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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.

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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Matthew (Pittsburgh, PA) Thu., Aug. 1, 2013 at 7:24 pm EDT
Please let's not bring religion into this!! I have recently rediscovered my relationship with God and let me just say that having faith in something is extremely comforting and personal! I'm a gay man living with HIV for over 6 years now, and I am very open about my status and the need to inform and educate people so we can as a world community, end this epidemic. Whatever name you call your god is your choice, and if that doesn't suit you then do what you need to to feel secure and strong to make it through life as healthfully and happily as possible!! And please, when referring to God, keep in mind not all Christians are Catholics!! My God, Jesus Christ, is very loving, merciful, and non-judgemental. As my youngest sister said to me just over a year ago when I asked her, "How can I have Faith in a God that condemns me for being true to myself and everyone I encounter?? I'm a gay man with HIV!!" Her response, "Matthew, in God's eyes there isn't one sin that out ranks another sin, there aren't different levels of sin, sin is sin!!" And with that said, my life has become so much easier, less stressful, and I am extremely thankful that my life took this awesome change!! It works for me and it might or might not be right for others, let's not dwell on religion, let's focus our efforts to educate others so we can, as a World Community, stop the spread of HIV!! Sure I'm a gay man but I didn't get infected by being promiscuous, or an IV drug user, or even from blood transfusions, I got mine from my ex of 8 years, who I truly adored and was totally faithful to, and well, obviously, he was neither of those things to me. But such is life, I've embraced my diagnosis, stick to my daily meds regimen, and do my best to be the "healthy" face of HIV, and that no one can catch it by touching me or whatever other phobias they may have!! The main point I'm trying to make is: Please be honest about your
status!! And love yourself and be thankful for all you have!! Peace!!
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Comment by: Dale (Las Cruces NM) Wed., Jul. 31, 2013 at 5:30 pm EDT
I really like this post because finally someone's come out and said what we all think but daren't say out loud sometimes. You blasted open the hypocricy of it all and I also can't understand why anyone HIV positive or even gay could possibly believe in god and religion. It just don't make any sense at all. Thanks for this I'm going to send it around my friends
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Comment by: Rayven (Houston Tx) Wed., Jul. 31, 2013 at 5:14 pm EDT
I get so sick of you people who think you're bigger than God. How dare you imagine you can say such things when we all know God has his reasons for everything that happens and who are we to argue with Him. Maybe you should look at the reasons why you have HIV and stop putting the blame on God.
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Comment by: Charles L. Fox (SD Cal) Fri., Jul. 26, 2013 at 10:16 am EDT
Good piece. This article really made me think. I'd like to think I was a good Christian and you won't stop me believing in God but there's no doubt God's representatives on Earth sometimes leave a lot to be desired. You don't mention abuse of children by Catholic priests but that whole scandal certainly shook my faith in the church.
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Comment by: Afrikan Soul (North-West, SA) Fri., Jul. 26, 2013 at 4:12 am EDT
Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Dave R has spoken his. I was brought up to believe that marriage was ordained by God. I became a pentecostal Christian in the quest for peace in this world and in the hereafter. I set out to live as a one-woman husband only to find out that I married an extremist Christian woman who won't raise her legs during love-making; who felt we must have calendar markings for days of sex and Sundays excluded for sex because it is a holy day. A fully grown young man that I was, what would have been the outcome? Needless to mention the marriage is practically dead since I tested positive. Thank goodness, I was living a continent away from my religious wife when it happened. Let each person cast judgment and aspersion as they freely choose to. I have got only one life to live and no one, not even the Pope will assist God in writing His judgment on me. The church failed me and I feel disappointed in myself that despite all my critical worldview, I fell into the trap of a woman who had no love for me.
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Comment by: Andrew (Sacramento) Fri., Jul. 26, 2013 at 12:32 am EDT
Well, with due respect to the author, that was a painful and incomplete rant that we've all heard before.

Religion is not God - it is purely a construct of man. I am not and have never been a member of any religion. I've never even been to church unless weddings and barmitzvahs count. But I find value in spirituality. But that is strictly my personal relationship with a vague idea of god, or spirit, or energy that, when I seek it, has a profound and tangible effect upon my life and the world around me.

Groups of scientists around the world have set out to prove God exists & of course they failed. What they did find is that when a human has what they call a spiritual experience, their brains, bodies, and by extension, their souls are positively affected.

So what is to argue about?
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Comment by: Dave R (Amsterdam) Tue., Jul. 30, 2013 at 10:56 am EDT
"...So what is to argue about?"
What's to argue about is the fact that religions and a significant proportion of their representatives and spokespeople want to do me and people like me harm. I think that's something to argue about.


Comment by: John-Manuel Andriote (Norwich, CT) Thu., Jul. 25, 2013 at 4:29 pm EDT
I guess it depends on what your view of "god" or "God" is. If you can only imagine a god/God that is the projection of people's mother/father/grandfather-in-the-white-robes, then I see why all the other projections of the evils that humans commit against one another onto this "god/God." If, though, you believe--as I do--that what we call god/God is simply the beginning of all life, the source of the electricity that sparked life into existence, that sparks each of our heart to begin beating, that is the mathematical source of all symmetry that manifests at every level of nature, then you don't see god/God as responsible for humans' actions. This god/God simply "is," though I believe he/she/it is benevolent and that harmony and what we call love are characteristics of this god/God. Religion, on the other hand, is simply humans' way to try to explain and understand god/God/what can't be explained. Accept that there are mysteries, and a central mystery at the core of all that is, and you don't feel the need to have morally troubling situations--humans dropping napalm bombs on other humans--explained in terms that make god/God culpable for not "miraculously" intervening.
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Comment by: Rita (Johannesburg, South Africa) Fri., Jul. 19, 2013 at 7:48 am EDT
Yes, your arguments are solid and sound. Except - what about hetrosexuals living with HIV - like myself? How can I blame God for what I chose to do? All through history, as you so aptly describe, man's lust for control has brought about death and carnage. For a Christian like myself, it is illustrated right from day 1, at creation, when man wanted to be equal to God. God's biggest gift to man - a will to decide - was at the root of all we are suffering. I wonder how many times God has regretted not making us just mere puppets....but then I guess somebody would have blamed Him for doing that as well. The injustices we are all suffering (not only gay people, as gay people would love to believe)is of our own doing. And by the way, God does not hate Gay people. He loves everybody. It is people, pretending to know the Mind of God, who want to attribute this attitude to Him, but instead it is only illustrating their own petty little minds. In the end, religion and worship is a very, very personal thing, between the worshipper and his Maker. Stop being blinded by people's attitudes and see a loving God who has made provision for an eternity of love, peace, harmony and no more suffering for everybody, yes even Gay people, after this imperfect, silly, short little bitter interlude we call "our life"
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Dave R (Amsterdam) Sat., Jul. 20, 2013 at 5:17 am EDT
Hi Rita,
Thanks for taking the time to respond to this post. You're quite right, LGBT people are not the only victims of HIV and we are guilty sometimes of thinking it's all about us when of course millions of heterosexuals are also infected and stigmatised. I do apologise if I gave the impression that we're an exclusive club, that wasn't my intention.
My problem with a god or gods is that although he, she, or they, may have slipped up in giving us free choice; he or she is supposedly omnipotent and an all powerful god of love and could have changed his or her mind countless times through history to save millions of innocents and good people. After all, it must have been obvious that 'free will' for mankind doesn't work! In your part of the world where so many unborn babies and young children carry the virus, how can they be said to have had the 'will to decide' as you put it? The church got round that one by claiming that we're all born with original sin...does that make any sense to you?
I do agree with you though that God doesn't hate LGBT people; people hate LGBT people (and many others who are different) and use their gods and their bibles to justify it. Everybody with HIV has reason to feel hard done by; it's how you live your life with it that counts but discrimination from your own faith doesn't help.


Comment by: Maria Perez (Mexico City) Thu., Jul. 18, 2013 at 6:21 am EDT
Lets hope God doesn't judge you harshly for your words. We all have to account for our lives when judgement day comes around.
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Comment by: Cerise (Austin Tx) Tue., Jul. 16, 2013 at 3:31 pm EDT
I completely agree. I dont understand how anybody can believe in God anymore. God has let gays down in so many ways.
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