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Condoms and Religion

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Condoms and their place in modern religionsIt is without a doubt that the condom is the most affordable and effective means of preventing pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases around the world. It is for this reason that numerous groups concerned about the practice of safe sex and contraception are encouraging the use of condoms among sexually active teenagers and adults. For many years now, this campaign on contraceptive use has been intensely and widely promoted in countries with bloated human population and increasing cases of HIV infection.

It is unfortunate, though, that not all people agree on the use of this contraceptive due to their different religious beliefs. Various religions exist in the world today and each has its own set of practices and ideologies. When it concerns the use of condoms as contraception in family planning programs and as a method of preventing the spread of sexually infectious diseases, the views of each religion also differ. This issue has been hotly debated among the conservative religious groups and the liberated cause oriented organizations.

Organizations worldwide advocating condom use to avert the spread of HIV/AIDS have put the blame on religious groups that totally object to the use of contraception for failing to help save the lives of millions of infected people. For many years now, they continue to appeal to religious leaders to consider condom use, in particular, as a vital approach in preventing the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV.

AIDS has stricken millions of people around the world today and the number of HIV infected people is on the rise. Health experts believe the condom is one effective way of preventing its spread to people not yet infected especially when used on a consistent basis.

It is important to note that apart from government leaders in countries with a high rate of HIV cases, religious leaders also have a big role to play in the prevention and reduction of HIV infections. They are vital educators and counselors in the various aspects of people’s lives including the HIV/AIDS issue.

Here, we will share with you the different religions of the world and their stance on condom use in this modern age.

Catholicism

The Catholic Church founded in Jerusalem is considered the oldest religious institution being the original branch of Christianity. It promotes the teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth based on the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, John and Luke.

To the Catholic Church, marriage is a sacred relationship. Both husband and wife are urged to remain faithful towards each other throughout their lifetime and avoid extramarital relationships at all cost. It is also necessary among Catholics not to engage in sex before marriage as a sign of respect for their religion. The church’s catechism is that all sex acts must be done only to unite a couple and allow them to have children.

But since the olden days, the church’s position on the use of condom and other contraception as a form of family planning and even as a way to prevent the transmission of disease has always been a big no. The Catholic Church’s stand has always been unbending despite claims by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S. that condom usage lowers the risk of HIV/AIDS infection by 10,000 times against not using any protection at all. But to the church, it is a sin to use such contraceptive and based on official teaching, unless users confess their sin of using condoms and do penance, they won’t achieve salvation. For the Roman Catholic Church, only the natural family planning method and abstinence is acceptable.

Many Catholics remain conservative in their views on condoms even until today. They believe that the condom prevents the conception of life which is very sacred. To them, only God can end life.

The Roman Catholic Church’s traditional ban on birth control was stated in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae of Pope Paul VI. The late Pope John Paul II, for his part, was also known for his strong opposition on the use of condoms as a form of contraception and method of preventing disease. He was highly criticized for his stance but he stood by it until the end.

But then again, many people who have high hopes and strong faith believe things can change for the better. And the change they have been longing for has somehow become a reality when the new Pope Benedict XVI, after his election, expressed interest in looking into the possibility of allowing the use of condoms as a means of averting the spread of disease notably HIV/AIDS. The Pope’s health minister is said to be instrumental in this change of position.

The National Catholic Reporter pointed out that the Vatican document will allow the use of condoms in an effort to prevent the spread of HIV only inside marriage and the family and not outside of it. Specifically, condom use will be sanctioned in a marriage where one spouse is infected with HIV/AIDS and the other is not.

Earlier, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI asked his office to prepare a document on this issue. The document was approved by the consultors of the Council for Health Pastoral Care and reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Cause oriented groups supporting the worldwide drive to prevent AIDS have long been urging the Vatican to modify its stand on condoms. They partly blame the Catholic hierarchy for blocking attempts to save millions of lives because of the condom ban. Even the head of the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS program had personally talked with the Vatican people to find out if any change could be carried out regarding the issue.

In Latin America, which is dominated by the Catholic faith, not all countries follow the ideology of Catholicism. One example is Brazil which is 85 percent Catholic. The country actively promotes and distributes condoms in an effort to help curb the rate of HIV infection.

Protestantism

Protestants number about 800 million spread in many parts of the world. They are among the approximately 1.9 billion Christians. Protestants and Christians are more open to the use of artificial birth control which is a big contrast to the belief of the Roman Catholic Church.

Before the coming of the 20th century, practically all branches of Christianity were opposed to contraception. However, many have changed their positions on this highly sensitive issue. It was the Anglican Communion in 1930 that first issued a Protestant statement allowing birth control among people who consider it their a moral obligation to limit their children or avoid parenthood. The statement issued at the Seventh Lambert Conference also permitted the use of contraceptives if people have a moral and valid reason to avoid complete abstinence.

In the Philippines, the Council of Christian Bishops of the Philippines (CCBP) is an example of protestant groups approving the use of condom and other birth control devices in family planning and combating the spread of infectious diseases. The group is comprised of protestant religious leaders and has 20,000 churches around the country. CCBP president Bishop Fred Magbanua said they are prolife and they support any policy that will allow couples to plan well for their family. He pointed out that no life is taken away here as no fertilization actually takes place when condoms are used. Contraceptives, according to this protestant group, do not stop life at all.

Other Protestant denominations have made statements on their position concerning contraceptives. The Church of England believes contraception is not a sin and does not go against God’s purpose. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also allows its followers to use contraceptives if a married couple does not intend to have children.

As for the United Methodist Church, it respects a couple’s right to control conception based on their situations. It has issued a Resolution on Responsible Parenthood urging parents and the community to make sure that every child is delivered into the world with good health.

The Presbyterian Church in the U.S. also backs the use of contraceptives which it considers a part of basic health care. In fact, it has come out with a resolution that endorses insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Orthodox Church in its early days was against contraceptives. Today, though, it accepts contraception when used within a Christian marriage, with the blessing of a spiritual father and when the marriage does not exclude children.

Hinduism

Hinduism is one of the oldest major religions in the world and the third largest after Christianity and Islam having an estimated one billion followers. Majority of Hindu followers are in India and Nepal numbering about 905 million. Other Hindu devotees are spread in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Fiji, Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom and Canada.

In Hinduism, marriage is a sacred relationship that extends beyond life on earth. It is believed that this relationship continues through seven or more lives during which the couple help each other progress spiritually. This martial bond is considered a relationship of the souls and is both a duty or dharma and a sacrament or samskara. Although polygamy was normal in the ancient Hindu society, Hindus today are required to be strictly monogamous.

Hinduism, as in other religions, does not totally approve of condom usage. Hinduism is the dominant religion in India practiced by more than 80 percent of the population. Religion is said to be a way of life in this Asian country. However, with a high rate of HIV cases in India today, the use of condoms has been intensely promoted to prevent disease transmission. Many Indians, despite their strong religious beliefs, have accepted the contraceptive being an important tool in fighting HIV infection.

Around 650 million condoms are sold each year in India making it among the three biggest markets together with China and Japan. Today, India has the highest number of HIV-infected people, about 3.86 million and remains among the countries with the biggest population worldwide. This is the reason why 80 percent of the country’s five-year HIV/AIDS prevention program is focused on the widespread promotion of condom use.

Reports confirm that the HIV epidemic in India mostly covers sex workers and drug users. By the middle of 1990s, more than 25 percent of sex workers in many Indian cities had been found HIV positive. Surveys have actually shown that despite widespread public information dissemination, many women learned about the vital role of condoms only after they were infected. Many women especially in the rural areas are uneducated about condom use as a way of protecting themselves against sexually transmitted diseases notably HIV.

Buddhism

Buddhism is the world’s fourth largest religion with an estimated 350 million followers. Known as Buddha Dharma, it spans more than just religion but the total existence of Buddhists. It focuses on the teachings of Gautama Buddha on spiritual enlightenment in the form of religious practices and meditation.

Like in other religions, Buddhism believes in the sanctity of life, marriage and family. It differs only in the concept of marriage not being a religious obligation but rather a social convention aimed at promoting the well being and happiness of humans.

There exist no specific regulations concerning marriage in Buddhism. However, Buddha puts emphasis on fidelity and loyalty as crucial in keeping a happy marriage. Another important advice for a married person is to refrain from sexual misconduct and extramarital relationships.

Life, according to the Buddhist scriptures, starts at the time of conception. But with the use of family planning methods, no life is being taken away as conception or pregnancy is actually prevented. The use of contraceptives in Buddhism, therefore, is based on moral grounds and should not be misinterpreted as an approval to be promiscuous or engage in any form of sexual misconduct. Buddhism values life, human beings and moral judgment.

Buddhists are conservative people, especially the monks but they are very considerate of their followers who are suffering from sickness or any type of crisis. Condom use to them is actually frowned upon but religious leaders who understand the importance of preventing the epidemic of HIV have accepted the role of the condom.

An example is the head of the Buddhist Monks Network in Northern Thailand who supports the use of condoms if only to prevent the spread of HIV. Thailand is a prominent Buddhist country in Southeast Asia with 95 percent of its population believers of Buddhism.

Venerable Phrakru Wichian understands the sufferings of people infected with HIV/AIDS in his community and he urges HIV positive people to use condoms to avoid re-infection. Undaunted by a negative reaction from other religious leaders, he believes that it’s vital to use condoms on certain occasions because modern life carries a lot of risk. In fact, the Thai monk began a program on this subject back in 1995 that aims to encourage people to apply spiritual knowledge through contemplation in order to better respond to the disease.

Hundreds of Buddhist temples and thousands of monks abound in Thailand. Chiang Mai City alone is already home to 300 temples and 7,000 monks who serve as teachers, healers and counselors providing emotional support to people. Wichian, however, pointed out the importance of meditative practices to cope with HIV.

Islam

Islam literally means submission or total submission to God or Allah. With nearly two billion Muslims in the world, Islam is considered the second largest religion. It focuses on the practice of the five pillars or duties of Islam which every Muslim should follow all his life.

Islam follows strictly the teachings of Allah based on their holy book the Qur’an. The Qur’an puts emphasis on self-discipline in all aspects of life including sexuality and marriage. While married couples should remain faithful, unmarried people should remain chaste, according to Islamic teachings.

But since HIV/AIDS has become so widespread these days, many Islamic religious groups have accepted the use of condoms notably in preventing the transmission of diseases. A unique example is the Islamic Medical Association of Uganda (IMAU) which played a vital role in convincing the country’s Muslim religious leaders on the importance of condoms to avert the spread of the AIDS epidemic. It started a program incorporating condom education and distribution. Uganda in South Africa has achieved great progress in its battle against HIV/AIDS and one important factor attributed to this is condom use but only to infected persons.

The group integrates the main Islam principles into its program including prayer to teach infected Muslims that a strong faith in Allah will guide and help them avoid temptations and the dreaded AIDS disease. It also believes that condoms when used in legal marriage do not go against the teachings of Islam. Using them outside of marriage is, however, unacceptable.

Earlier, the imams or the Muslim religious teachers had condemned condom use as it was against their faith. They were not open in discussing it and were even involved in campaigns banning the advertisements of condoms.

Not all Islamic religious leaders, however, have accepted the use of condoms. Some believe that condoms, when used in family planning especially in spacing children and as a protection against infectious diseases, are acceptable. This position, though, should not be misinterpreted as a go signal for other Muslims to engage in casual or illicit sex.

In Indonesia, home of the world’s biggest Muslim population, Islamic religious leaders are divided in their stand on the fight against HIV. The Indonesian Mujahiddin Council is totally against the condom campaign of the government stressing that the disease should rather be dealt with by strictly adhering to the Islamic sharia law and punishing the violators including the infidels and those who engage in premarital sex.

For its part, the Islamic Defenders Front, a group engaged in morality drives against nightclubs and bars during the holy month of Ramadan, neither opposes or supports the condom drive.

An Islamic studies lecturer at the Muhammadiyah University in Surabaya, East Java, favors the campaign if only to battle the HIV/AIDS problem. He pointed out that there are verses in the Qu’ran calling for humans to take good care of their health. Other religious organizations have committed to actively take part in Indonesia’s anti-AIDS drive.

An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 Indonesians are infected with HIV and some 90 million of condoms are sold annually in the country. Reports say that half of all new HIV cases are aged between 15 and 24.

Conclusion

In summary, it is worth noting that religion could be an effective way of battling the AIDS problem of the world. This is apart from the extensive information dissemination programs being initiated by many cause oriented groups worldwide.

Various studies have shown that campaigns toward the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS notably among the younger generation could reap positive results if religious beliefs and practices are incorporated. Religion is believed to have a strong influence on the behavior of people including their sexual activities.

A specific example is a study done in Guyana, a country in the Caribbean with the second highest rate of HIV infection in the world and the third highest occurrence of HIV/AIDS in the region. The UNICEF-sponsored research in Guyana looked into the knowledge and attitudes of young people towards HIV/AIDS and sexual behavior and found that educating young people about religion lessened the likelihood of them engaging in sexual intercourse. The authors of the study stated in the March 2007 issue of the International Journal of STD and AIDS that spiritual inspiration could truly address some of society’s great problems especially in a country with strong faith-based beliefs.

With all these views considered, it remains uncertain if all religions will favor the use of condoms in the future. But if they only open up to the reality that millions of people are dying from sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS in many parts of the world, there’s still some hope that they could bend their stand a bit and help save lives. Let’s pray then that this will take place.

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