AIDS crisis is not time to blame victims
"Unclean! Unclean!" the leper in biblical times was required to shout as he made his way on a public thoroughfare. And here in Hawaii we packed them off to Molokai.
The Hansen's disease patients merely horrified us. AIDS has called forth an even less flattering human response: moral self-righteousness.
Like the military draft that didn't get changed until the sons of the senators and CEOs got caught in the lottery, some have suggested that we didn't begin to takes AIDS seriously until the same group began to get caught up in a similar lottery. And in so very many ways we are still not taking it seriously.
The bird flu has produced long lines for regular flu shots, even though:
» They are not effective against bird flu which ...
» ... hasn't mutated to be easily caught person to person ... yet.
But HIV has, and it continues to mutate prolifically. Our president talks of the coming pandemic. It is here! It has been for almost 30 years.
Too many people still think of it as the gay disease, but I have known as many AIDS sufferers who caught it other ways. When I was in Thailand a few years ago, we stayed in Chaing Mai in an orphanage for the children of sex trade workers. The orphanage was built with money from a consulate whose businessmen frequented the trade. And what does one say to the wife with AIDS who has never been with anyone but her husband, or to the person who trusted the blood supply when a transfusion was needed?
But it is a sexually transmitted disease (STD)! Yes, and heartbreakingly, many of our gay men were but our canaries in the coal mine. HIV/AIDS is a human disease.
The threat of death might get your undivided attention, but it apparently does not improve rational thinking or increase empathy. Sex is somehow naughty. So providing condoms encourages naughtiness. So I won't encourage naughtiness to save your life!
Nor, of course, must it be permitted to get in the way of pharmaceutical company profits or the "Just Say No" DEA. Make the expensive AIDS drugs available to those who cannot afford them? Let those suffering from the wasting syndrome that so often accompanies AIDS have access to medical marijuana?
No, no! That might encourage naughtiness.
What shall we do when our own presumed righteousness gets in the way of right behavior? How can religious people respond when the rational, caring response requires us to appear to approve of naughtiness?
Coming across a person shot with an arrow, we examine the bird feathers.
Was it raised and killed humanely? Is the wood of the shaft from sustainable yield logging? Did the maker of the point take care that it was sold only to a responsible hunter? Ah, and the moral status of the shooter -- what of him?
And, as we pause to be sure that we do not participate in any immorality, or even the appearance of approval of it, the person we might have saved dies.
Yet, there is an evangelical minister and his wife in the South who minister to AIDS patients, whoever they are and however they caught it.
There is a Catholic priest in Africa who passes out church disapproved-of condoms.
"Need is need, and my self-righteousness can wait until the far more immediate need is past," they say. And they, at least, get it!
Our heritages teach us each is a child of God, and "As you have done it (or withheld it!) unto the least of these, you have done it unto me."
They say, "Each has a Buddha Nature, whether you have awakened to it yet or not."
They say, "The deepest self of each is Brahma."
Tat Tuam Asi. They say each of us is star stuff, and we are one at the most intimate molecular level.
Take your pick. We really are all in this together.
World AIDS Day is Thursday. The events will take place in downtown Honolulu: Fort Street Mall, the Catholic Cathedral, Bank of Hawaii Plaza, etc.
The afternoon and evening events include a display of AIDS quilts, an art show, information tables, a candle lighting memorial service, civic awards and the showing of a locally produced, award-winning film on Father Damien and Hansen's disease.
It is relevant to the stigma and shame associated with having HIV/AIDS as it was with Hansen's disease. The local theme this year is "No Shame," an anti-stigma and anti-fear message.
The Rev. Mike Young is minister of the First Unitarian Church of Tampa.