Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bathing in Your Brother's Bathwater

from Southern Comfort, "Bathing in Your Brother's Bathwater"

It wasn't just the bathwater this nun considered dangerous. It was also the towels men dried themselves on.

I was thinking about the role of religion in sex education because my daughter works for a Catholic aid organization, and she was telling me about the NGOs that are dedicated to global population and reproductive issues, NGOs like PSI, Population Services International, and DKT International, which were both started by Phil Harvey, a businessman who began a mail-order condom business and a sex toy industry. Profits from his business help fund his work with AIDS, reproductive heath, malaria, and more.


Suzanne said...

And let's not forget Mechai Viravaida, the condom king of Thailand and founder of Cabbages and Condoms restaurant and the Birds and the Bees Resort. Any guess what they use in place of dinner mints?

My personal favorites: the cops and rubbers program, where cops hand out condoms to stopped traffic and the 'condoms are a girls best friend' slogan.

Between 1974 and 2000, family size in Thailand has declined from 7 to 1.5, and the HIV/AIDS infection rate has dropped 90%.

Easily the most inspiring lecturer I heard in my two years at Fletcher. If only we could get the pope behind this...

Suzanne said...

Also: Mechai has Buhddist monks publicly blessing condoms, so the connection between religion and socially accepted behavior is not ignored.

TC said...

Sister Mary is absolutely correct.

And if you MUST bathe in dirty male bathwater, it's MUCH wiser to pick a very old male (they have fewer little sperms to exude, it has been reported), and preferably not your Father, or Uncle, or Grandfather, as the product of such an involuntary "union" would be... unthinkable.

I once had the occasion of plunging, in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, off an iced road down a mountain cliff over humongous boulders into a raging icy creek, in the company of a devout Catholic lady, mother of I believe it was fourteen, though the actual number may have been twelve... and as we bounced down that steep mountainside into the waiting arms of probable death, what did she have to say?

"Jesus Mary and Joseph, Hail Mary, Hallowed Be Thy Name," & c., all the way down. We ended up with the creek roaring over the hood. She was paralyzed at the wheel, broken back, had to be choppered out. I, who had long since forgotten the rarefied magic of prayer, ended up with a relatively better deal, couple of cracked ribs, no bother.

I have devout Buddhist and Muslim friends whose practise I respect and admire.

But as to the Christian, especially the Magic Christian/Catholic deal -- "the bunk" as I think it used to be called.

Suzanne said...

But I think it's important to remember that there are so many good people of every religion. I say that as an agnostic. It's hard to make blanket statements. I am in favor of religions when they inspires the best in people. I witness this in my work here, and have seen it in Central America, where a deeply religious households took me in as family.

I've met too many inspiring Catholics to doubt its powerful role in people's lives, and the tenants of Catholic Social Teaching seem to be virtually indistinguishable from the tenants of Islam or Buhddism, or liberal morality, where right relationships and solidarity with the world inspire service. I stayed in a convent near the Somali border with nuns from Peru, Ethiopia, the other side of Kenya, providing boarding education for young girls from the surrounding nomadic clans. In these settings, the Church doesn't bother with conversion, though it hosts masses for the 4-5 Catholics from other parts of the country, instead it provides education, hospital services and support.

And priests and nuns do distribute condoms as part of their health work throughout Africa and Central America, their focus on saving lives rather than on imposed morality. We just can't support them, what with US politics and religion, being as it is.

I think sadly it's the politicization and manipulation of Christianity/Catholicism, Buhddism and Islam that is hideous. In the US, a Christian country, where power politics and Christianity are intertwined, we are more exposed to its twisted side of Christianity, and the grating obsession over reproductive health and morality. It took just one extremist 'moral scholar' to discover information on condom use on page 58 of a 100-page AIDS prevention manual produced by the Zambian government to advocate to shut down the entire agency. But that's politics, not religion and It's critical to separate the two, especially now.

It's the same story in some Muslim countries. Combine a power vaccuum, political ambition and disenfranchisement, and religion becomes a uniquely effective vehicle for garnering support. Its most effective among young men, who can rally behind the religious call to arms, exerting control over women's bodies through mandated burkas and fgm, empowered by their 'morality', when jobs and traditional opportunities are non-existent.

I find it challenging to disentangle religion from the less appealing side of human nature. The generous acts, the day-to-day guidance, support and sense of meaning religion inspires are so quiet by contrast...

As an agnostic, I can't speak for any religion, but I am grateful for whatever inspires good works and an open heart.

TC said...

Sorry about that, Suzanne. I was raised Catholic. That religion didn't do my family any particular good, for all the massive time and trust put in on it. But of course that's just my own American urban 1940s/1950s upbringing, one ought not generalize, as you say.

All I know about Islam comes, naturally, from Muslims. I have a good friend who is Somalian, and whose faith encompasses great generosity and good works and acts of kindness.

I have another friend who is a Chinese Christian, a vendor of Bibles. He is also a good, decent, thoughtful, compassionate, ethical person. His father was an evangelical missionary. This friend has travelled all over the world, and is curious about everything. One year (on my birthday!) we had coffee in a cafe run by a Palestinian friend. The Somalian friend was also present. The Chinese Christian man asked to be introduced to the Somalian. The introduction was painful. My Somalian friend at first refused to meet him -- "He sells THAT book? No, that's the wrong book!"

The Chinese Christian man bravely pressed the issue. Here here two men of faith. I felt like a child, receding.

"I would like to ask you about things in Somalia," said the Chinese Christian man.

"What things?"

"I would like to ask you... if you see any hope."


"But... why not?"

"Do you have thirty-six hours to spend?" the Somalian asked. "If you do, pull up a chair and I will begin to tell you what you want to know."

I suppose it might take you even longer than that to begin to explain the things you know, Suzanne. More power to you, in your good work.

(By the way, in that particular cafe, there are always at least as many Muslim women as men present; and I must say, they are, if anything, more proud and confident and even in many ways "powerful", than the men, if you can fathom that.)

TC said...

In case it's of interest -- this is that place:

A Meditation Outside the Fertile Grounds Cafe

Nin Andrews said...

I am reminded of one of my trips to El Salvador. On the way home, I met this nun who was in full habit, and we struck up a conversation. Oh, she said, I just love the Salvadorians, but there is so much poverty. What they need is family planning.
Of course I asked her what the pope had to say about that, and she just pointed to the sky, and said she served the people, not the pope.
As to religion, I think the shadows follow the light , and sometimes it's hard to separate the two. I have always envied those with great faith, but I suppose we are stuck with the minds we have. At least until, as Bunuel puts it, the final amnesia comes.

TC said...

And alas, like the city buses around here, the final amnesia rarely comes on schedule.

Shadows and light, light and shade, grey areas all about us, wherein, perhaps, "the truth" doth lie.

(But can the truth lie? I guess I ought to have have said "rest".)

About finding gods in the sky, that would require, as the Staples Singers had it in maybe the loveliest of gospel tunes, a rare Uncloudy Day. (Or Night.)

And about are a few of my all-time favourites.

ACravan said...

This one really floors me. I've led a really sheltered life, I think. Curtis