HIV/AIDS: Friend or foe? : searching for meaning in the face of HIV/ AIDS among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Cape Town, South Africa
Thesis (MTh)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.
ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This research paper set out to discover whether a Christian Spiritual perspective (within a framework of a theology of affirmation and a psychological strengths perspective of fortigenesis) on basic threatening existential issues, such as HIV/AIDS Stigma, Homophobia, etc. can help MSM to reformulate the quest for meaning and be integrated in a holistic approach to spiritual healing in order to overcome the schism in HIV/AIDS: Friend or Foe? Setting the stage for exploring the world‟s worst global challenge within the health sector, and how it relates to the South African context for MSM. The research uncovered that MSM face the greatest challenge and burden of HIV/AIDS in many countries, however little research has focused on MSM and HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Literature links this to the fact that throughout Africa, the predominant view of same sex relationships as being un-African, sinful and an abomination. Pointing out that for MSM, the development of God-images usually occurs during the process of growth and maturation as an individual, where a multitude of experiences are based primarily through the filter of belonging to a minority, which are seen predominantly from society as being sinful. The possible multitude of traumatic and often fearful life experiences, including the potentially highly stressful and difficult process of informing their parents and families of their sexuality, may influence their emotional experience and ultimately their God-image. The God-image of parental love, acceptance and caring may be impacted on by fear of rejection and the lack of acceptance. The development of ambivalence may strongly impact on MSM God-images, resulting in conflicted experiences and understanding of God, where the God-image could become distant and judgmental (Hoffman, 2009:15-18). Something that is exacerbated by the stance of some belief systems promote the concept of “love the sinner, hate the sin”, which only results in MSM being ignored or having their partners/relationships rejected, thus isolating them within their own faith community. This impacts their spiritual/religious development and their participation in a non-affirming faith community can result in levels of increased internalized homonegativity (this is defined as negative attitudes to one‟s own homosexuality), causing poorer psychological health and lower self-regard. The dignity, identity and meaning of MSM are further impacted on by their minority existence within the context of South Africa, which places various traumatic stresses on MSM. These traumatic stresses are amplified by the constant negotiation of fear regarding the contracting of HIV/AIDS or even being diagnosed with the life threatening disease. Despite all these external and the resultant internal stressors, Graham and Kiguwa (2005) found that religion and spirituality is important to MSM-youth as it provides possible supportive structures and environments. Many of the MSM-youth believe in the Bible or ancestors (or even both), yet have chosen to adapt their beliefs by taking what was important for them from the Bible and ancestral belief systems. This they have done as the traditional view of religion and the Bible held by most people, where the scriptures are taken literally, is that homosexuality is a sin (Graham and Kiguwa, 2005:7-8). Within this research, the interviewees experienced all this; however the results also showed that all the participants found some beneficial aspects out of contracting HIV/AIDS, with various levels of meanings relating to a sense of growth for each interviewee, while 4 out of 5 indicated that spirituality played an important role in assisting them in improving their lives. It aided in helping them to develop a sense of connection to themselves and others, something that many felt was missing within their lives. They felt that if it hadn‟t been for HIV, they would not have increased their levels of spirituality. This is an important empirical finding with respect to the research question and hypothesis, which hypothesized that HIV/AIDS promoted changes within MSM that results in spiritual growth and the development of internal strengths that allow them to transcend above the stressor of HIV/AIDS. The idea that MSM experience spirituality as something helpful and essential, makes it important to note that comments in the empirical research indicated that they tended to believe that if a Higher Power is involved, that it is unconditionally loving, kind and friendly. This is an important description of a God image within Christian Spirituality, a possible God-image of a Partner for Life or Friend. Thus, for Christian Spirituality to play a role within the healing of MSM and to better enhance spirituality and lay a better spiritual foundation, and develop better internal strengths and existential states, it thus becomes important to explore how Christian Spirituality will be able to address these needs of MSM, within a theological framework of affirmation.