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Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? By Lambert Mbom.

Christmas at the Vatican


For Catholics, Christmas is not just a day but also a season, which lasts until the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. Hence, the Christmas season this time around runs from December 25, 2010 – Sunday January 9, 2011.

Even though this reflection would have been more meaningful on Christmas day, it is still very relevant given that we are still within the Christmas season. Therefore, those who are in such haste to see it over and now wish a belated Happy Christmas or Happy Christmas in arrears have an abbreviated understanding of Christmas. In fact, this is an indication of the systematic erosion and evisceration of the true meaning of Christmas, which is what, this article sets out to address.

One of the many paradoxes this season has engendered is a certain denial of the true meaning of Christmas and a certain celebration, which pretends to be neutral. This is the clear fruit of what Pope Benedict XVI eloquently describes as the “dictatorship of secularism”. We live in an age where there is increasing hostility towards anything religious and a daily attempt to subvert traditional religious ideas and institutions. This ongoing process of secularization with its stranglehold grip on society deserves urgent attention before the bells for the requiem start chiming.

In diagnosing the whys and wherefores of this project, I do not pretend to provide a chronological exposition or even a sociological analysis. Rather, this is a personal reflection of a system that has slowly but surely eaten up the fabric of our religious ethos. Moreover, like peeling off onions all we have left when we get off the last layer is tears in our ears.

First, there was the abbreviation of Christmas to Xmas. How often have we heard or said, Happy Xmas without pausing to think what this otherwise benign phrase actually means. The replacement of Christ with an X, I contend was not just an arbitrary move but also a calculated step towards the complete evisceration of Christ from the Mas.

One gets a clue of this when one turns to that arcane science of Mathematics. In mathematical jargon, “x” is an unknown quantity. X can stand for anything and so this algebraic recasting of Christmas means x can stand for anything but even more so it could and in fact does stand for nothing.

Even the argument that this shortening ensues from the fact that the first letter in the Greek word for Christ is “Chi” which is represented in the Greek alphabet by the symbol similar to the “X” in the modern Roman alphabet is a spin or better still a stretch. (http//:www.snopes.com/holidays/Christmas/xmasabbr.asp)

Even the traditional greeting merry Christmas has given yet another twist as the response, merry, merry points to merriment as the essence of Christmas. Christmas has become a season for merriment. It sure is a joyful season and deserving as such. It is a time for festivities; a time for excesses. Yet we must understand the true context of these excesses. As Reno rightly affirms in his December 23 2010 posting on First Things’ blog The Square:
We need to keep in mind the scandal of particularity during our Christmas celebrations. Don’t shun the spirit of excess at Christmas. It’s fitting in its way…. All the presents, the good times, and the good meals—think of them concentrated into one single and particular gift: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

It is this excess that feeds the commercialization of Christmas. Christ, the one whose birthday anniversary we celebrate is completely ignored and left out. Paradoxically, the businesses that make a boom out of this season insist on annoying neutrality shamelessly proclaiming loudly, happy holiday. Truly, modern man has a very short memory or pretends to have one.

A third level on this onward march towards the secular is in the political where for the sake of political correctness, it is safe simply to say happy holiday. Out of respect for the Jews, Muslims, atheists and other Christians opposed to Christmas, Christians must succumb to the rather flat proposition happy holiday. After all, Christmas is insulting to the Jews who still await the messiah, an aberration to Muslims for whom Christ is only a prophet not even as great as Mohammed and to Jehovah’s witnesses a monstrous solemnization of a pagan festival.

Mbachu in her blog entry of Christmas 2007 captured this neatly when she wrote:
Thinking and believing that the use of “Happy Christmas” in public discourse and within the public square could easily translate into the unintended dangling of the fearful sword of Damocles over the heads of frightened Jews afraid of Christian domiance(sic), the already browbeaten Muslims or aggressive atheists opposed to anything religious many Christians in America now conveniently take the safe way out in their use of holiday instead of Christmas.

This is a sad reality. This despicable kowtow by Christians is a clear indication of the spinelessness wont of some. Christians must remember to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Political expediency should not trump Religious attachments.

This desperate attempt at creating a “naked public square” is an exercise in futility. In and by itself, it conveys a certain presupposition and philosophy while attempting with the same breath to be neutral.

Another lap in this secularization project is the unfortunate characterization or rather the mischaracterization of Christmas as a children’s thing. The portrayal of Christmas as a celebration for children instead of childlikeness is naiveté at its best. It is a smokescreen. The perniciousness of this paradox is in the fact that excesses wont of this day are those that adults indulge in. Christmas is not just a children’s celebration. It is a celebration of childlikeness. It is above all, a family celebration.

If we step aside for one second and ask this fundamental question, why the hustle and bustle at this time and not otherwise, we can only miss the warp and woof of Christmas if we choose to be revisionist.
Christians celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Christ on Christmas. It is pagan in its origin and Christian in essence.
In Northern Europe, Christmas was originally a pagan feast celebrating the winter solstice, a time when ancient peoples built great bonfires to give the winter sun god strength and to receive him. The early church fathers wisely chose a day near the winter solstice as the date to celebrate Christ’s birth, the return of light becoming associated with the hope of the world in the birth of the savior.

Christ’s birth certificate might be an issue here. Yet the basic fact worth celebrating is this: Christ at a certain point in time was born; he walked this earth, died and rose again from the death. Christ broke the cycle of human existence by rising from the dead. Birth, life and death were the main tenors of human life. Christ introduced a new element – resurrection.

Christ’s birth then became important only after this death, mutatis mutandis. This explains why for the Christian, Easter is the central mystery for it celebrates the death and resurrection of Christ. Only in the light of Easter, does Christmas take its true meaning. St Paul expresses this succinctly when he says: if Christ had not died and risen from the dead, then our faith would be in vain. To paraphrase this: if Christ had not been born, then he would not have died and risen. Talk about the date of Christ’s birth not recorded in the bible is idle prattle.

It is an indubitable fact that It is because of this holy day that there is a holiday. Yet in a certain peculiar reversal, the latter has taken precedence and prominence over the former. One could explain the significance in terms of the switch from the consonant “y”, to the vowel “I”.

By no means, is this just a mere linguistic tweak. There is loaded within this otherwise simple act, a fundamental mindset that is much in vogue.

CNN’s regular feature BIG I – Ideas, Imagination and Innovation encapsulates wittingly or unwittingly the mindset of the modern society.

In a world that celebrates the unfettered capacity of imagination generating an inundation of ideas and concretizing these in innovation, one can understand the current malaise. A market of ideas with all equally important and no hierarchical classification, an avalanche of technological advancements stretching the imagination to its limits and beyond are the hallmarks of this age.

The switch from the holyday to holiday is a celebrated innovation and the two at least in modern society are equally as important. Put simply, this substitution epitomizes the decrepitude and continuous descent of contemporary society into the dungeon.

We must again rediscover the meaning of the Y – the Yes of Mary foundational in the Christmas celebration. Christmas is both a holyday and a holiday and not either or. Yet given that, the holiday comes because of the holyday, it is appropriate to stress this accent and so merry Christmas is fitting.

On this seventh day of the Christmas octave, may I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. See you next year.

Virtual conference via Skype with Young African Leaders – Thursday November 18th 2010 – US Summit For Global Citizen Diplomacy. By Lambert Mbom

Yet another highlight of the US summit & Initiative For Global Citizen Diplomacy was a virtual session on Skype under the distinguished aegis of technology guru David Nassar of Hot Spot Digital between 11 of the 21 scheduled members of the President Obama’s Forum on Young African Leaders representing 11 countries and some American Companies with representatives from IBM, Google, Whitaker group, and CDC Development Solutions.

One of the first interventions from the African side painted in broad strokes the challenges young African entrepreneurs face daily namely, inaccessibility to financial resources, lack of basic skills training in such areas as writing business plans, lack of mentorship. This caller appealed for the creation of internship opportunities to meet this yawning gap.

In response, Tim Docking from IBM, acknowledged the challenges and pointed to an incredible tool, which could help meet some of the challenges. This is the small business tool kit accessible on http://www.smetoolkit.org. This is an incredible resource tool put together by IBM in partnership with the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation. This resource kit is properly tailored to meet the needs of different regions of the world.

Then, from Ethiopia, the cry was for help with women entrepreneurs and the complaints here ranged from lack of access to markets especially US markets, mentoring and coaching, product accessibility to the famed problem of lack of access to financial credit due to the banking policies generally unfavorable to young people who lack the needed collateral securities for loan guarantees

This contributor then shared the example of a Dutch company in Ethiopia that sends experts from Holland to help mentor women and access international markets. She called on the US companies to emulate this example, send business experts to Africa, and help facilitate access to US markets.

Aubrey Hruby, Managing Director of the Whitaker group poked the minds of many with her very incisive and though provoking comments. How is this network of Young African leaders going to change the way business is done in Africa, she quizzed? How is it going to be useful? The network needs to be provocative. Unfortunately, Aubrey opined, the network hasn’t many entrepreneurs and so is hampered ab initio. It needs to expand to bring in more entrepreneurs.

One of the African participants chimed in to say that the problem is not the dearth of entrepreneurs. The network has a vast talent pool laced with incredible potential but like many other things in Africa, many of these entrepreneurs are killed before they are born.

From Gambia, there was an appeal for contacts and potential sources of funding. For this group to become effective, it must coalesce around a common agenda and get the State department to help. This conference is a call to action for the group to come together and set forth a gripping agenda.

Yet another participant pointed to the problem of lack of access to information; Niall with Google Kenya, intimated that two major ways of accessing information in Africa are either through mobile phones or through the web. There is the need to build a tech environment with links to different events for example. Google provides trainings for such projects and he then circulated a link on training opportunities provided by Google to those on the web.

David interjected at this point to sum up that this far the most acute need is for a convening power for the group around a focused agenda and asked who the right conveners for this forum are.

Aubrey once again harped on the flaws of the African Leadership summit saying she was not sure what came out of it. She asked if the group had become an effective partnership.

Discussions now turned on why the enthusiasm that greeted the African Young Leaders forum in DC had waned. One participant pointed to the great problem of distances as many are far apart but quickly added that one should not lose sight of the fact that this is work in progress.

Another said they came back from DC to a different reality back home and back to a different environment. She revealed that at a country level, they are engaged but not at the macro level.

Aubrey chimed in once more to say we know what the issues are lack of mentorship, training etc. She noted rather blandly and bluntly that from its genesis, this group was never founded on strategic grounds; given that the State Department had fixed deadline to get a group together, there wasn’t enough time to scrutinize and get the group organically formed and so the current problems are not surprising.

However, there is an enormous opportunity now to transform the group with a real agenda and measurable outcome(s). The group must seek its value proposition and advance its agenda concluded Aubrey.

Other proposals included a call for members to start meeting at a national level before convening successfully at a continental level. The Gambian experience was set forth as an example to emulate. There is already in place a network of Gambian professionals, which serves as a platform for progressive ideas. As the African proverb has it, we must first dance at home before we can dance abroad.

In conclusion, the question that had dominated the discussions was: is the network really a network and how can the strengths be harnessed to strengthen the network?

Deirdre of CDC Development solutions promised to help relay the concerns brought forth and the fruitful conversations to the State Department.

David rounded up the conference by reminding all that change will not happen organically except participants start figuring out things strategically.

Interview with Ann Olsen Schodde and Dr David Roe by Lambert Mbom.

In an interview with Anne Olsen Schodde, President and CEO of USCCD she defined Citizen Diplomacy as “the engagement of individual American citizens in primarily voluntary, private sector programs and activities that increase cross-cultural understanding and knowledge between Americans and people from other countries, leading to greater mutual understanding and respect”.

She distinguished it from Public Diplomacy which is conducted through specific activities and programs under the auspices of the federal government that promote positive and credible perceptions of the U.S. generally, and of U.S. foreign policy specifically.

In today’s global society, the two are interconnected. The U.S. Department of State supports some citizen-to-citizen exchanges that involve artists, scholars, professionals, government officials, and youth. Those programs are largely dependent on private sectors partners to carry them out. Non-governmental actors – business, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and individual citizens – play major roles in shaping the attitudes of foreign publics toward the United States.

The major success of this event according to Ann and David is in the fact that:
a) It had energized and excited many people already engaged in citizen diplomacy especially in k-12 and higher education

b) There was the renewal of the importance of the concept of citizen diplomacy and the crucial kick of the campaign to “double the number of Americans engaged in international activities that address global challenges of the 21st century to 120 million Americans by 2020”.

When asked if he thought the conference was racially inclusive enough, Dr David Roe pointed to the plenary session on International Corporate Social Responsibility led by the indefatigable Ingrid Saunders Jones who had moved from Detroit to Atlanta for a student exchange program and had remained there. She brought along with her a group of black youngsters to this conference.

He did not hesitate to remind me also that the current President of the Peace Corps is a priceless jewel brought in from Board of USCCD.

He also pointed to the fact that there were many black faces in attendance from all over the world.

Dr David then addressed the question of the perennial issue of fragmentation within International Aid and development agencies. He noted that some agencies had revealed that they never knew USCCD was involved with partnerships. Part of the primary focus of USCCD, Dr Roe went on, is to facilitate interconnections with and between businesses, NGOs etc. Currently, he went on, the US Center for Citizen Diplomacy boasts of 1100 US organizations connected on a central web portal focused on getting these organizations to work together and function properly.

On the question of difficulties and challenges besetting the organization, Dr. Roe pointed to the hydra headed monster of lack of financial resources. He lamented the fact that the organization had four underpaid staffers.

When challenged on how they were going to measure the success of their campaign, Dr Roe indicated that achieving those numbers is crucial but beyond and above this, getting dedicated organizations to address these global issues is cardinal and critical to their mission.

U.S. Summit & Initiative for Global Citizen Diplomacy November 16th – November 19th 2010: A Bird’s Eyeview by Lambert Mbom

Three days of strategic planning, systematic sharing, coordinated networking and intelligent brainstorming marked the summit on citizen diplomacy organized by the Iowa based US Center for Citizen Diplomacy (USCCD).

If one indicator of the magnitude of an event is the grandeur of the site hosting the event, then the summit etched its mark in excellence, by sheer dint of the humongous Grand Hyatt Hotel, where it lodged.

Over 600 people from 41 states and 39 countries gathered in the federal city at the Grand Hyatt to brainstorm on the theme: America’s greatest asset: American citizens partnering with the world to address global challenges of the 21st century. Such global challenges as the Environment, Poverty and Disease, Human Rights, Cultural engagement, Security (food, US and Global finance) were the major talking points.
The conference format was first a plenary session then break up sessions, which were either roundtables or task force. In all, there were 5 plenary sessions, 11 Task forces and 7 Roundtables.

In a sense, it was at the Closing Plenary that things came together as the seeming different and cacophonic asymmetries carefully pieced into a beautiful mosaic.

Prefatory remarks by Ann Schodde President & CEO USCCD set the tone for the ensuing discussions. She described the conference report just about to be released as “reflections of the work of outstanding leaders”. Coming at the end of the first decade of the second millennium, USCCD set forth a new challenge for the next decade namely: Double the number of Citizen Diplomats. The ultimate goal is to ignite a fundamental mindset change in the way we think of selves as American citizens. Drawing from an anecdotal paternal age-old admonition, she had received and kept jealously which advised that, we must make our home the center but never the boundary, Ann gave a distinct context to the work and mission of citizen diplomacy. We must begin to think globally and not only as citizens of the most democratic country. We have an earth to protect and not just a country.

To flesh out the recommendations of the conference were two seasoned erstwhile career diplomats, namely Honorable Ambassador Mark Johnson, founder, World Affairs Council of Montana and Honorable John Menzies, Dean, Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University. Honorable Menzeis availed of one of Churchill’s famous lines: Where we are today is certainly not the end but the end of the beginning. In a dialogal exchange, they delineated the following recommendations:
– Call for a global summit for citizen diplomacy in 2012 and US Center for Citizen Diplomacy should convene its stakeholders to make this happen;
– Explore and exploit opportunities for partnership by approaching and drawing in to the forum multilateral bodies like the UN, the EU, OECD, North Atlantic Council;
– Create outreach opportunities with faith-based organizations, youth, women and local states;
a) Outreach to the muslim world is particularly crucial and may be if given a similar opportunity like was given to Europe in the post World War II era especially given that in some of these countries citizen diplomacy is the only available diplomacy and should be vigorously exploited;
b) Engage the young people and encourage every young person going to college to take a check book and a passport;
c) A major stakeholder in this venture is the different states with whom partnerships must be established;

– Given “technology is the ontology of the culture” and holds an incredible opportunity, citizen diplomacy must be incorporate these new social media to stay connected and on the issues. The creation of digital communities is crucial.

– On development assistance – There was the recognition of the incredible role of NGOs and myriad of opportunities in the private sector. Participatory development with respectful involvement of recipients is a key principle to enhance.

– Entrepreneurial skills – businesses should do more in training, mentoring, leveraging business skills and best practices to promote global engagement.

– There was the dicey issue of immigration as a key component to the challenges facing citizen diplomacy. First the US must become culturally sensitive especially at Ports of Entry with its treatment of citizens of other countries coming to the US; then in its issuance of visas, even though progress had been made, a lot still needs to be done. If American citizens need to be safe abroad, Americans must show the example here. There was a clarion call for major immigration reform and not just anecdotal changes. There is the acute need for profound policy change.

– On Education, the stress was on the need for education reforms. There was an outcry that Americans are not being trained to be global citizens. The foundation of this must be laid in K – 12. Participants decried the lack of global competitiveness within classrooms, the sad expungement of social Studies and foreign language programs in many schools especially poor performing and/or cash-strapped schools. There was the tall call for the globalization of school outcomes.

Hon. Johnson ended with these sagacious words: There will be no foreign relations without any individual relations of trust. There individual relations of trust carry the weight of all relations; while Hon Menzies concluded with these words:There is only reason for doing something. All the rest are for doing nothing. The one reason to be involved then in this project is because it is the one thing to do. The greatest enemy to progress is inertia and not the lack of resources. Never take no as a given. Dare to try. Resist the inertia to do nothing.

George Atallah, Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs, NFL Players Association then took to the rostrum. In his prefatory remarks, he emphasized that Sports in general has a global outreach as well as invaluable lessons for citizen diplomats. Such indispensable attitudes as team work, dedication, sacrifice and hard work stand out . NFL players are global citizens too and go beyond the pitch. The famed New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees beyond the quarterbacking has a foundation Brees Dream foundation which is adorably an example of citizen diplomacy at work. Oakland raiders cornerback American born Nigerian Nnamdi Asomugha’s foundation Asomugha’s foundation impacting youth in the US and underprivileged orphans and widows in Africa through education and empowerment is yet another example. Most people identity NFL players by their names and numbers but now they need to be identified as persons, Mr. Atallah continued; USCCD provides this platform and hence going forward, NFL would collaborate with USCCD to have players as citizen diplomats.

Martin Davidson, CEO of the British Council, piggybacking on the sports analogy intimated that Sports is one of the most extraordinary forms of communication. The British Council, he revealed, engaged with USCCD 18 months ago in order to understand better, what is happening in the US and to bring an international perspective to the game – on laced with British Council’s global presence. With the USCCD, the British Council has a shared vision and a shared endeavor, Martin noted.

He reemphasized the need for a world forum for citizen diplomacy in 2012 and not just a vague and vain hope for cooperation.

Such a forum will share best practices and showcase best experiences, ways of funding, how to cooperate with multilateral and bilateral partners, how to use new media and engage young people.

For this to come through there is the necessity for active support of governments and also must encompass all around the world, be real and foster genuine interaction.

Above all else, such a forum must be committed to be a global reassertion of people – people engagement of the world’s issues.

To this end, he announced the commitment of Hon John Menzies – Dean of Seton Hall School of Diplomacy and International Relations, who had generously offered the campus of Seton Hall University for strategic planning meetings. They will coordinate an International think-tank to bring to fruition this conference.

The AIDS Dilemma and the Condom Conundrum. By Lambert Mbom

Every year we celebrate December 1st as World Aids day. In the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent comments on condoms, it is just appropriate to venture a few comments on such a hot potato.

It would be presumptuous on my part how ever to make any claim on being an authentic interpreter of the Pope especially of such a refined intellectual as Benedict XVI and on such an abstruse subject. Neither do I seek to broach this subject with the brashness of “a self-appointed guardian of orthodoxy.”

Rather, I come to it as a pilgrim with the Roman Catholic Church as my preferred compass. I hold and cherish the teachings of Holy Mother the Church not in any cafeteria-like manner cherry picking what suits my idiosyncrasies but rather guided by the Augustinian model: I believe in order to understand or better still the Anselmian mode: I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe so that I may understand.

Bigoted and brainwashed, are obvious charges many are tempted to fire at me. So be it. Yet, I must say this is not a vain exercise in disputation seeking to convince any; rather, it is an account of my faith that I seek to provide here.

The urgency of this task also ensues from my pro-life ministration modulated by the defense of life from its precious moment of natural conception to natural consummation. It became clear to me quite early on that abortion is the result of a process that begins with sex. Therefore, abortion and contraception are two sides of the same coin.

Stones must be in the air flying towards me as many shout out: There comes the Pharisee. Hypocrite!

My personal weaknesses and I must confess they are many and my frequent relapses are not an indication in any way of a disagreement with the teachings of the Church but rather of that weakness of the flesh, which we all have the burden of carrying through life.

Thank God for St Paul to whom I must flee and avail of the practical safety valve when he says: For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (Romans 7:19). It is important to note here that St Paul does not talk of the good I know but the good I want. Later on, this shall be useful with the Socratic paradox where Socrates claims that when we do evil, it is because we conceive of this evil to be something good.

In the first instance, it is incumbent on us to present the full text of the Pope’s comments. The truth is many people can only give sound bites summary of the Pope’s recent utterance on condoms. It suffices to mention that this was part of an interview with Peter Seewald published in a book entitled Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and The Signs Of The Times.

Herewith the precise words of the Pope:
On the occasion of your trip to Africa in March 2009, the Vatican’s policy on Aids once again became the target of media criticism. Twenty-five percent of all Aids victims around the world today are treated in Catholic facilities. In some countries, such as Lesotho, for example, the statistic is 40 percent. In Africa you stated that the Church’s traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.

The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on Aids. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim. Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many Aids victims, especially children with Aids.

I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering. In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

My Personal Reflections
Drumbeaters immediately and with a rare dexterous feat beat the leather to a rousing “kumbaya.” There was breaking news on major cable news networks headlining the fact that there had been a volte-face with respect to the Church’s teaching on condoms. There is no denying it that the Pope has been widely misinterpreted as permitting or advocating the use of condoms.

The Pope’s statement opened a Pandora’s Box. Clearly, enormous confusion is the unintended result. The ambiguity is so vacuous especially when viewed in the light of his lucidity and conciseness on other issues. The genius of the Pope’s confusion lies in the fact that attempts at clarifying what he meant have engendered more confusion.

It would appear as though this Pope thrives in controversy. His initial comments on this topic 21 months ago on his pastoral visit to Cameroon, caused a furor and put a damper on this visit. His famous comments at the 2006 Regensburg lecture that sparked a firestorm is yet another case in point.

A common thread in all these controversies is that when taken out of contexts, the Pope’s remarks always look outlandish and ludicrous. It is instructive to note here that the Pope was not speaking ex cathedra where in matters of faith and morals he is infallible.

In this instance, the Pope does not seek to solve the moral quandary of condoms in a private conversation with a journalist. Maybe it is easier to say that the Pope was not attempting a moral response but rather a pastoral one. Yet the problem persists. This kind of Gnostic dualism whereby it is wrong within moral theology and permissible pastorally is a worthy critique against such a stance.

It is fascinating however to note in passing, that the Pope seems to take the liberty to address this question through informal sessions with journalists. At best, one can describe the Church’s position on condoms as work in progress. The Pope seems with each opportunity to be putting together building blocks towards a fuller authoritative teaching on this.

First, in 2009 he clearly stated that condoms are a part of the problem rather than the solution. Here the Pope was addressing the issue of how safe condoms are? Precisely, because they are not safe and yet leave people with a false sense of security, the attending risks are enormous. Some people have used condoms and still been infected and in this case, one is one too many.
Then now, two cardinal points he stresses which have unfortunately received scant attention are the fact that condoms banalize sex and that a coherent approach to this question lies in the humanization of sexuality. It all boils down to responsibility. We shall return to these soon.
Having set forth these grand markers, the Pope now addresses an exceptional case of prostitutes and condoms. It might be useful to note here that the Pope seems to move from the “cerebral” as it were to the heart. God’s Rottweiler shows himself a “pastor”.

In so doing, I find a biblical parallel only in Christ’s teaching on divorce when after laying the doctrine, Christ was then asked: They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss (her)?” To which he replied, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” It is therefore an aberration to claim that this is a positive first step towards a fundamental change in the Church’s teaching.
Let us ponder anew the Pope’s words. The usage of a condom by a prostitute is a first step towards conversion; a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. It would appear as though there is a move from a hardliner zero tolerance to an inch overture for a limited circumstance.

The question that remains is, does the Pope make an exception for prostitutes only? Or, was this just an anecdotal example against which we can measure other extenuating circumstances ad libitum?

First, the presumption here is in the case where one is already infected. It appears to me that there is a journey here from condom usage to abstinence. The pope seems to be suggesting here that the individual using a condom is indicating that he seeks the partner’s good and would not want to infect the person. Rather than remain at this level, the person should come full circle and realize that given his/her predicament, it is preferable to abstain from sex. It is a first step on this journey of abstinence.

To be able to understand the problem at hand, we must make a distinction of the condom as a contraceptive and the condom as a prophylactic. The traditional line of thinking has been that following the publication in 1968 of Humanae Vitae, the Church ruled against contraception because “every sexual act must be open to procreation” and contraception clearly contravenes this. The Church’s prohibition against the condom’s original use to prevent pregnancy is a settled question.
Then with the case of disease like AIDS, the question of the condom resurfaced under the guise of a prophylactic. As a preventive measure, the intention when using a condom is not to contracept or so some argue; but one can argue that even if one’s intention is prevention, lurking at the same time is its capacity to contracept.

Yet there are instances such as with homosexuals where contraception is out of the question. Or old couples with no possibility of bearing forth children, and likewise barren couples. Will the use of condoms in these circumstances not be licit given that even if they wanted to, they cannot procreate together? The answer is unfortunately still no.

To stretch the point even further, one could ask – How about two persons infected already? Granted even if just for the sake of this argument that further infection is not possible, will their use of condoms still be wrong? The answer remains an emphatic – YES.
It is instructive to add here that the Church is not opposed to condoms because they have a less than 100% success rate. This is just a functionalistic approach. Even if the condom were 300% safe, the Church will still be opposed to its use both as a contraceptive and as a prophylactic.

In this light, it behooves me to point out here that clearly the use of condoms enunciates a formal strand of modernity succinctly expressed as efficiency trumps the good. Too often, many people measure the goodness of a thing in terms of how efficient it is. The slippery slope of mechanistic hubris – if it works then it is good is a much liked argument in favor of condoms. This betrays the dictatorship of instrumentalization that has captured many. We have become so inured to gadgets and the charm of technological advancements that what dictates the pace and holds sway is, that which answers in the affirmative to the question, does it work?

The perniciousness of the condom is seen not only in the fact that it is safe only in a quasi fashion (it is worth calculating the multiplier effect of one condom slippage per hundreds, per thousands and per millions etc) but even more fundamentally because of the anthropology undergirding it. Simply put, the condom is a lie.

Hanley and Dr. Irala are right on point when they say in November 2010 edition of Ethics and Medics that at the heart of the condom hype/propaganda is a utilitarian philosophy which asserts that the worth or value of an act is determined solely by its consequences. More pointedly it celebrates the minimalization of pain and the maximization of pleasure and enjoyment. As it applies to HIV prevention policy, the objective becomes seeking to maximize the good of sexual pleasure while minimizing the pain of AIDS.

This is the ethos of contemporary culture. Modern man painfully seeks to avoid pain of any sort. Man wants comfort at all cost. The guiding standard then becomes pleasure. Many define the Good then in terms of whatever brings the greatest pleasure to the highest number of people. This philosophy feeds the contemporary condom craze.

Implicit in the use of condoms is a certain presupposition of what the human body is. Within the ambient of the foregoing, the human body in Dr. Schindler’s terms “is seen as dumb stuff apt for manipulation and thus construction.” Since it is pleasure that man seeks, such an individual views the body as empty and naked ready to be manipulated to produce the desired results. The human body is not seen as an order of love, as having an intrinsic order and interiority and not just matter or stuff.

In fact, there is sadly a rude form of instrumentalization of the human person at the heart of this condom culture. The other is used as a thing and becomes an instrument to avail of to satisfy one’s end of pleasure. John Paul II rightly characterized this as “a civilization of things and not of persons.” The condom treats the other as what and not as who.

The “I love you” communicated in the communion not only of bodies but also of persons during sex is downgraded to “I need you…I want you”. This is what Pope Benedict rightly describes as a banalization of sex. There is no intimacy or mutuality except in the exploitation of the one by the other or both. One uses the other to serve one’s needs or at best both use each other for personal gratification. Through this condomistic sex, both partners become sex toys for each other’s pleasure.
Once again, this clearly reveals the myopia at the heart of the ethos of condoms as sex becomes recreational instead of procreational. This sheds off responsibility of any sort. The claim that by using the condom one is in fact acting responsibly rings hollow. As the English expression has it, you cannot have your cake and eat it. If you are so unsure of yourself or of each other, the most responsible thing to do is to abstain. Going on within this framework is at best mutual deception and at worst irresponsibility.

One question worth posing at this time is: holding everything constant, if one were given a condom and shown someone with HIV, would one still go to have sex with this individual?
(To be continued)

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