Accountable to God alone? : theologising with a hammer : the HIV/AIDS crisis, condoms and Catholicism

Nicholls, Gordon Charles (2003)

Thesis (MPhil) -- Stellenbosch University, 2003.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Theological positions are usually considered as coterminous with ethical considerations. That which the Church has earnestly considered in the light of what is believed to be God's will, as elucidated in religious texts and through prayerful contemplation, are considered to be ethical without contradiction. Recently the Roman Catholic Church adopted a position forbidding the use of condoms as protection from contracting HIV/AIDS. Instead, the Church has declared that the way to controlling the AIDS pandemic is via sexual abstinence for the unmarried and sexual faithfulness within marriage. It is acknowledged that it is not possible for all the church's theological positions to be driven by pragmatic concerns within society. Nor can a church easily be seen to be promoting sex outside of marriage by recommending the indiscriminate use of condoms. However, the Roman Catholic Church, by forbidding the use of contraception, puts itself in an ethically questionable light relative to other Christian churches. The Catholic Church needs to reconsider its stance on contraception from first principles, divorced from dogmatic beliefs and practices which were derived by men and which have endured beyond their usefulness or theological veracity. It is evident that a church should not adhere to dogmas that are ungodly in their impact and ethically questionable in their import. If a church needs to revise its dogmatic stance on such issues, it should have the courage to do so. This research considers whether the stance of the Catholic Church on condoms can be considered ethical. The position of the Catholic Church is considered critically from a variety of philosophical, empirical and ethical viewpoints. In so doing, it highlights the principled and practical problems of resolving differing moral positions that cross the religious and secular divide. The approach adopted is one of an applied ethical nature, given the probable effects of participating in unprotected sex. Pregnancy and contracting HIV/AIDS are the likely outcomes of not using condoms, and these conditions will create enormous problems for the individual concerned, her, or his, family, as well as for the greater society. The position taken in this research is that the Catholic Church's stand on abstinence before marriage and faithfulness in marriage, as the answer to the HIV/AIDS crisis, would be a realistic ethical position, if, and only if, it was at all feasible and realisable in practice. However, it is the contention of the author, based on empirical considerations, that the idealistic stance taken by the Catholic Church is out of touch with the realities in our contemporary South African society and is doomed to failure. Given this perspective, the Catholic stance is morally questionable, as, if sexual relationships continue to occur outside of marriage, and if condoms are not used, the result will be unwanted pregnancies, HIV infections of both mothers and their babies, crises for families and society at large, and ultimately widespread death from AIDS. Given the pandemic facing South Africa, the Catholic position in banning the use of condoms, is ethically questionable and morally suspect. The Church needs to be called to account for the implications of its dogmatic stance. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is simply too serious for a public institution, such as the Catholic Church, to be involved in perpetuating theological niceties and holding idealised positions. The Church is not divorced from the society it exists in and a realistic, responsible and accountable response is needed in the current context of hundreds of thousands of persons facing death from AIDS and its related diseases.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Teologiese standpunte word gewoonlik beskou as gelyktermig met etiese oorwegings. Dit wat die Kerk met erns beskou het word sonder weerspreking as eties aanvaar in die geloof dat dit die wil van God is wat belig word in religieuse geskrifte en deur gebedsoordenking. Onlangs het die Rooms-Katolieke Kerk 'n standpunt aanvaar wat die gebruik van kondome verbied as beskermingsmiddel teen MIV/VIGS-besmetting. Daarteenoor het die Kerk verklaar dat die VIGS-pandemie beheer moet word via seksuele weerhouding vir ongetroudes en seksuele getrouheid binne die huwelik. Daar word toe gegee dat dit nie moontlik is om al die die kerk se teologiese standpunte aan pragmatiese kwellinge binne die gemeenskap te onderwerp nie. Daarmee saam kan die kerk ook nie buite-huwelikse seks aanmoedig deur aan te beveel dat kondome onoordeelkundig benut word nie. Relatief tot ander Christelike kerke plaas die Rooms- Katolieke Kerk homself egter in 'n etiese bevraagtekenbare posisie deur die gebruik van voorbehoedmiddels te verbied. Die Katolieke Kerk behoort sy standpunt oor geboortebeperking te heroorweeg in die lig van primêre prinsiepe - geskei van dogmatiese oortuigings en bedrywe wat deur mense bedink is en wat hulle bestaansreg as nuttigheid of teologiese waarheid oorskrei. Dit is duidelik dat 'n kerk nie dogmas behoort aan te hang wat onverantwoord in haar impak en eties bevraagtekenbaar in hulle belangrikheid is nie. Indien 'n kerk sy dogmatiese standpunte oor sulke sake moet hersien, behoort dit die moed te hê om dit te doen. Hierdie navorsing skenk oorweging aan die vraag of die Katolieke Kerk se standpunt oor kondome as eties beskou kan word. Die posisie van die Katolieke Kerk word krities beskou vanuit 'n verskeidenheid filosofiese, empiriese en etiese standpunte. Dit verlig die beginsels en praktiese probleme wat verband hou met die resolusie van die verskillende morele posisies wat die kloof tussen die religieuse en sekulêre moet oorbrug. Die benadering wat benut word is van 'n toegepas etiese aard, gegewe die waarskynlike gevolge van deelname aan onbeskermde seks. Swangerskap en besmetting met MIV /VIGS is die waarskynlike resultate indien kondome nie benut word nie. Dit lei gevolglik tot enorme probleme vir die betrokke individu, familie en die breër samelewing. Die aanspraak van hierdie navorsing is dat die Katolieke Kerk se standpunt - dat weerhouding van seks voor die huwelik en getrouheid binne die huwelik as antwoord dien vir die MIV /VIGS krisis - 'n realistiese etiese posisie verteenwoordig indien, en slegs indien, dit toepasbaar en haalbaar binne die praktyk is. Dit is egter die bewering van hierdie skrywer, gebaseer op empiriese oorwegings, dat die idealisriese standpunt van die Katolieke Kerk uit voeling is met die realiteite van ons kontemporêre Suid-Afrikaanse samelewing en dat dit gedoem is tot mislukking. Gege hierdie perspektief, word dit duidelik dat die Katolieke standpunt moreel verdag is, veral as in gedagte gehou word dat - indien seksuele verhoudings buite huweliksverband voortduur en kondome nie gebruik word nie - die resultaat onbeplande swangerskap, MIV besmetting van beide moeders en babas, krisisse vir families en die samelewing en uiteindelik wydverspreide sterftes as gevolg van VIGS sal wees. Gegewe die pandemie wat Suid-Afrika in die gesig staar word die Katolieke standpunt waarin die gebruik van kondome verbied word eties bevraagtekenbaar asook moreel verdag. Die Kerk moet tot verantwoording geroep word vir die implikasies van sy dogmatiese standpunt. Die MIV /VIGS'pandemie is eenvoudig te ernstig vir 'n openbare instansie soos die Katolieke Kerk om betrokke te bly in die voorsetting van teologiese kieskeurigheid en die verkondiging van geïdealiseerde standpunte. Die Kerk is nie los van die samelewing waarbinne dit bestaan nie en 'n realistiese, verantwoordelike en toerekenbare respons word benodig binne die huidige konteks waarbinne honderde duisende mense dood as gevolg van VIGS in die gesig staar.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/53230
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