Saturday, December 01, 2007

World AIDS Day-- "Fiddling whilst our Rome was burning"

Today is another World AIDS Day. Admittedly, I forget about this sort of thing-- I get so focused on my research, the basic functioning and evolution of the HIV virus itself, all biochemistry and genetics, that I forget that my samples come from real people. Real children. Real mothers. With real relatives and friends who really need help. Real help. Whether it comes from more real scientific research or real food/water/juice donations or real counseling from people who really mean it, it needs to be real.

We might be desperate, but this is not the time for magic. This is time for reality. But The Usual Suspects are fighting reality, tooth and nail:

"Faith-based groups like these are the foot soldiers in the armies of compassion," he said. "They are helping to defeat this epidemic one soul at a time."
There are no words to this. You know how I feel. You know the venom I would spit in this idiots face, should he say such words in my presence. This is a disgusting sentiment that should make any person of faith vomit.

But it doesnt.

The filthy vultures that feed on the rotting guts of crumbling societies care nothing for real people and their real needs. They care about propagating their brand of magic, at any cost. Some of these vultures are 'starting' to feel a bit guilty:
Desmond Tutu is a South African cleric, activist and Nobel laureate who has often spoken out on AIDS in Africa. He has called for the Catholic church to adopt a "more reasonable position with regards to condoms and HIV/AIDS."


Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who took on South Africa's apartheid government as the country's first black bishop and won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, said the battle was far from won.

"We face a monumental crisis, one that was horribly exacerbated when we wasted valuable time in futile academic discussions and debates about the causes of AIDS," he said in a speech to diplomats on Friday.

"We were fiddling whilst our Rome was burning. People who would have been alive today, died needlessly."

Oh really. How nice. So... how long is Tutu going to remain part of a system that exacerbates this epidemic? How many more people are these loving people of sophisticated faith going to let die for their magic? How far will they let Rome burn? What do they even care, if Rome is burning?

As long as souls are saved, as long as souls arent burning.

Thats the goal of the foot solders of faith.

Im sorry, I now remember why I dont think of these things much. Why I stay locked up in my lab, safe with the cell lines and plasmids and acrylamide. I simply cant stand the stench of faith-based vultures, the sound of them feeding off suffering and death... I cant understand it. Im going to go be sick.

Edited 12:45 am-- Some folks are thinking that Im being too hard on Tutu. Theyre right. I want him to say to the missionaries "Help, or get the hell out of my country." I want him to say "Pope, youre a disgrace to Christianity, promoting these killer rules." But thats not going to happen. It is unfair to lash out at Tutu who is trying to help, when others are obviously causing harm.


Art said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Art said...

Wow! Great post!

I'd written this last night on SFN:

* * *

While modern medical science struggles to defeat AIDS, the President of the United States is pushing his faith-based, abstinence-only program for "combating" HIV in Africa.

[Begin CNN quote]

MOUNT AIRY, Maryland (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday stressed the role of faith-based groups in the fight against AIDS, calling the struggle one of conscience and morals on the eve of World AIDS Day.

Bush was speaking at Calvary United Methodist Church in Maryland after meeting with representatives of religious and community groups.

"Faith-based groups like these are the foot soldiers in the armies of compassion," he said. "They are helping to defeat this epidemic one soul at a time."

More than 33 million people worldwide have HIV -- the virus that can lead to AIDS -- according to the United Nations. That includes 2.5 million children younger than 15.

[End CNN quote]

Friggin' theocratic moron. The real "foot soldiers" of the struggle against HIV are the doctors, nurses, volunteers, and researchers who are working round the clock and round the world to defeat this dreadful plague -- a plague that Bush's allies even deny has its ability to mutate and evolve to counter the best science has so far thrown at it.

It may be a long struggle before AIDS is defeated, but science, not criminally incompetent fundamentalist missionaries getting tax dollars for useless abstinence-only programs, will be the victor, if victory is possible at all.

I truly believe that the fundies want Africans to continue dying, especially if they can get tax dollars and a front-row seat while watching the spectacle."

* * *

Millions dying. Abstinence only. Fundies getting government tax money to let them watch people of color die like flies, as the real foot soldier heroes of the fight against HIV work on in underfunded labs and hospitals, ignored by their President.

Thank you for posting, Abbie!

-- HalfMooner

Ian said...

In his defence Tutu is an Anglican, not a Catholic.

Jacob Wintersmith said...

Yeah, as Ian pointed out, Tutu is an Anglican; Anglicans (I used to be one) don't oppose birth control. Tutu is on the side of good in the war against AIDS -- in those quotes he's attacking the Catholic church's absurd and harmful stance on condoms.

Look before you leap, ERV.

Bob O'Hara said...

Hey, don't go dissing Tutu!

As Jacob has pointed out, he's Anglican, a religion with such a broad church you don't have to believe in God to become a bishop(*).

The problem in South Africa is their president. If you want to make your hair curl, read about the Virodene affair.

I don't see why faith-based organisations are necessarily bad - it's only when they put conversion before compassion that there's a problem.

(*) Sorry, obscure bishop of Durham reference

ERV said...

Thanks for the clarification, Ian, but Im afraid I have no idea what the differences are between Angelicans and Catholics and Baptists and Lutherans.

Jacob-- I agree Tutu is being reasonable. Im glad someone in Tutus position has expressed the ability to be pro-reality on some topics (HIV, homosexuality, etc), but I find his words weak considering the damage that is being done. I dont understand how he can tolerate the death perpetuated in the name of his God. "I wish the Pope would be more reasonable" is an entirely inappropriate response.

*shrug* I dont get it.

ERV said...

Bob-- There are a lot of magic problems in Africa, getting in the way of stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, and they all can make you ill. I just wanted to focus on Bush's asinine comment :)

Fred Ross said...

I find the "World X Day" to be rather disturbing in its own right. I have this vision of a bubbly camp counselor saying, "Alright everyone! One day of thinking about everyone suffering from X! Done? Good, no we can go roast marshmallows and sink back into apathy."

Che said...


I agree that there are some religious nuts are absolutely divorced from the reality that is HIV, but painting Desmond Tutu with the same brush as George Bush is absurd. Do you really think that Desmond Tutu is a "vulture"? Do you know anything about him, his ideals, or his contribution before and after the end of apartheid in South Africa?

" I want him to say to the missionaries "Help, or get the hell out of my country." I want him to say "Pope, youre a disgrace to Christianity, promoting these killer rules."

Who the hell are you to make demands on him? Is South Africa awash with missionaries?

In addition, I don't believe that a major driving force for the HIV epidemic in South Africa is because of the Catholic church or any other religion’s stance on condom use. I think that the Catholic church could OK condom use tomorrow, and it would not dent the spread of HIV in Southern Africa one bit. A bigger driving force for the epidemic is the massive social problems that the country faces: the migrant worker system, the collapse of community structures, poverty, the power relationships between men and women and as pointed out by Bob, political leaders that have some highly stupid ideas about HIV.

Further, whilst I may disagree with their ideologies, there is no denying that Anglican and Catholic churches are making positive contributions in fight against HIV in South Africa (as they did in the fight against apartheid). As a result they, together with other NGO’s, are putting pressure on the SA govt to get more people treated. It is often the smaller cults/sects that are worried about “saving souls”.

Just my 2 cents. I hope that I have not misunderstood your post.

Maggie Rosethorn said...

ERV...can't help you out entirely, but think of the Anglicans/Episcopalians (same tribe, essentially) as "Catholic lite" as my Episcopalian husband says. They love all the fun stuff from the Catholic church...the sacraments, the incense, the "mass", but ignore the birth control, confession, 7 deadly sins stuff. Lutherans are further out than that (my former religion). Only 2 sacraments, no birth control or confessional issues. However, they are divided into several "Synods" and some are wackier than others (the Missouri synod will shun or excommunicate a member who attends a church from a different synod).

Can't help you on the Baptists. Sorry. (grin)

Keep up the good fight! Although many of your technical posts are way over my head, like PZ's, I enjoy reading and learning.

John said...

Fred Ross:

I completely agree. The other thing that bothers me about days like "World AIDS Day" is that they're recognized in most places by a *completely symbolic* show of support/awareness, rather than actual, concrete support to help AIDS/HIV research or outreach or the like.

ERV said...

Che-- Im sorry. I dont buy it. And I think your arguments are similar to the justifications for Islamic violence (ie, "Religion isnt why there is a problem!!"). The presence of religious groups in Africa with bizarre sexual rules is hurting the war against HIV/AIDS. Refusing to recognize that doesnt encourage me to put away my paintbrush.

Why can a secular HIV/AIDS treatment group, founded by an atheist who won the FIRST Tutu award come out and say the Catholic church has a "stupid message", but people of faith, who should be writhing in anger at Bush/missionaries actions can only say "Wish the Pope would change his mind, hmm. Wish missionaries would teach something other than abstinence, hmm."

I repeat, I find 'reasonable' religions response to this issue grossly inappropriate.

Dr. Matthew said...

I'm currently digging for a decently funded position to continue behavioral research into the epidemic. You'd be appalled (though unsurprised) at how many individuals in modern nations, with access to the best ART regimen, develop resistence and hasten their death through sporadic medication aimed at keeping their status secret from friends, loved ones, employers, or unknowing sexual partners.

I have to comisserate, it puts me into a rage whenever I hear that the GOP is pushing for more funding, as it's so likely to be yoked to empirically invalidated abstinence-focused programs. No added commentary, just keep up your phenomenal work.

ERV said...

Dr. M-- At this point, my opinion is if the 'AIDS' relief money is going to be for abstinence only organizations, let the damn missionaries do it with 'faith based initiative' money. Give the $30B to the NIH so we can do more damn research and put the missionaries out of jobs.

Dont read this.

alloy said...

I'm sorry ERV, Desmond Tutu is one of the good guys. A man whose moral compass is unfailing.

Please also remember he's retired, the only means remaining at his disposal is moral persuasion.

The real villians of the SA story are Thabo Mbeki and Manto (Dr. Beatroot)Msimang

Dr. Matthew said...

Blah... as disgusting as it was to read, thanks for the link, ERV. I actually still hold a grudge against Hilary for a passing comment in a speech 4 years ago that abstinence is still the best method for preventing the spread.

As for Tutu, I agree - when he accuses the Catholic Church of murder, blood on its hands, a gory African crusade.... well, then he'll be speaking at a level more appropriate to the actions of the Church.

It could be worse, there could be another onslaught of ads for "red" iPods and such that better allow corporations to profit off of "empathy" while donating pennies.

Tyler DiPietro said...

"I'm sorry ERV, Desmond Tutu is one of the good guys. A man whose moral compass is unfailing."

If you're definition of "unfailing" encompasses unwarranted deference to undeniably maleficent superstitions. The Catholic Church's policy is nothing short of genocidal stupidity, when he uses those words instead of his above quoted mealy mouthed whine I'll be happy to reevaluate his "moral compass".

alloy said...

Tyler DiPietro

Your venom toward the Archbishop is entirely unwarranted.

The man's record over four decades stands for itself.

Tyler DiPietro said...

"The man's record over four decades stands for itself."

Not in this case.

Anonymous said...

It gets worse when the HIV denialists get involved in this mess.

If anyone has been deluded into thinking HIV/AIDS denialism isn't dangerous or deadly, all one has to do is look at the fruits of their labor on the AIDS myth exposed message boards. Their latest monstrosity is to convince an HIV positive mother to refuse medical care and testing for her and her child. Momma2girls82 writes on their message board about becoming a denialist and asking for help from the denialist community:

It just gets worse. Since those jagoffs are looking for evidence that HIV causes AIDS, maybe if her kid gets HIV and consequently dies of it, they'll have the proof they're looking for?

Remember Philip Johnson of ID fame? Well, as I'm sure you all know, he's one of the members of that VirusMyth group.

How in hell's name they can sit and deny something that biochemists have pretty much proven is beyond me. What in hell would those people think that ERV does in the lab all day then?

Also, why don't people like Behe who clearly does believe that HIV causes AIDS have a little talk with fellow Discover member Philip Johnson about this? Surely Johnson would listen to an actual "scientist" who otherwise shares his bullshit agenda?

(yes, I'm using the word "scientist" very loosely there).

What I also don't get is why? I don't see any religious right agenda for HIV-denial.

Anyone have any ideas?

ERV said...

Reynold-- Denialism is addictive. You never meet someone who is completely normal, but happen to not believe in AIDS.

Theyre always a Denier and a Global Warming Skeptic.

Theyre always a Denier and anti-vaxers.

Theyre always a Denier and a Creationist.

You can find any number of combinations. Denialism has nothing to do with the religious right, but other topics do, and bring HIV Denialism along for the ride.

Though talk to AmusedMuse. She has some interesting hypotheses on the Right and HIV.

Anonymous said...

Well, speaking of Johnson:

Dr. Phillip Johnson, Senior Professor of Law, University of California at Berkeley:

"That establishment continue to doctor statistics and misrepresent the situation to keep the public convinced that a major viral pandemic is under way when the facts are otherwise." (Sunday Times (London) 3 April 1994)

"One does not need to be a scientific specialist to recognise a botched research job and a scientific establishment that is distorting the facts to maximise its funding. That establishment continues to doctor statistics and misrepresent the situation to keep the public convinced that a major viral pandemic is underway when the facts are otherwise."

Any of that rhetoric sound familiar?

Anonymous said...

Whoops. Sorry, ERV. I missed your reply to me:

You can find any number of combinations. Denialism has nothing to do with the religious right, but other topics do, and bring HIV Denialism along for the ride.

Though talk to AmusedMuse. She has some interesting hypotheses on the Right and HIV.

I think I'll do that. Thanks.