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Calling for modernity in religion

by Savanna Craig October 18, 2016
Calling for modernity in religion

Concordia student writes letter to archbishop who condemns the use of condoms

Concordia student Jorge Briceno, an activist fighting against HIV/AIDS, promotes safe sex as a means to prevent infection. However, Briceno is frustrated with the public condemning of condoms by religious figures, which he sees as a great risk factor to infection.

Recently Briceno, who studies sociology and human relations, was angered by the Catholic Archbishop Hector Aguer of La Plata, Argentina—who publicly condemned the use of condoms. Aguer published his opinions in a column, titled “La Fornicación,” in the La Plata daily newspaper, El Día. In his article, Aguer characterized casual sex as animal-like, stating fornication as a sign of dehumanization. He condemned the use of condoms, and made particular references to their use by athletes at the 2016 Olympic games.

Sociology and human relations student Jorge Bricenor captured in Concordia’s greenhouse. Photo by Savanna Craig.

Sociology and human relations student Jorge Briceno captured in Concordia’s greenhouse. Photo by Savanna Craig.

The Guardian estimated a use of 42 condoms per athlete during the Rio Olympics. Briceno said Arguer was furious that the Brazilian government was handing out condoms to athletes upon their arrival in Rio, claiming it was promoting promiscuity. Briceno added that Aguer said using condoms is a promiscuous act.

Briceno said Aguer’s condemnation of condoms is very dangerous and can compromise the safety of anyone who follows the archbishop’s words. As a sociologist, Briceno believes a lot of people end up following the words of those of who they look up to—whether it’s a religious figure or a politician.

Part-time Concordia faculty member and religion professor Steven Lapidus from the Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies said religious figures have a direct influence on their followers, and they can influence societies through the government and educational systems.

He said abstinence has proven not to work, those in abstinence programs and pledges may still have sex, but are not learning the proper education to reduce sexually transmitted infections. “Simply banishing condoms is never proven to be helpful or successful in the abstinence program,” said Lapidus. “They’re advocating something that is not working from a medical standpoint—clearly it’s dangerous.”

Briceno said, for him, Aguer’s column is a matter of life and death. “I’ve had enough of religious leaders who impose on others their ways of thinking,” said Briceno. This motivated him to write a letter to Aguer, opposing and discussing the flaws in “La Fornication.” He said people who have the privilege to address the crowds do not measure the amount of damage that can be done.

Concordia religion professor Alexander Nachaj said the archbishop’s comments towards condemning condoms are not what he would call radical, as he is towing the party line of where the Catholic Church stands on reproductive rights and sexual health—which Nachaj said is outdated and not modern at all.

Nachaj drew on the example in recent Catholic history of the second vatican council, which was a major council in the 1970s where they tried to modernize the church. “They essentially had this great opportunity to embrace contraceptives and put more emphasis on women’s health, even HIV—but the way the council unfolded, they had all these modern ideas but reproductive rights and sexual safety just fell to the wayside.”

He although added not a lot of bishops and archbishops may comment as Aguer has, this is the official stance of the Catholic Church. “Just as a human standpoint I think it’s a major issue to be discouraging the use of contraceptives” he said.

“Until the Pope himself changes things, no Catholic [figure] is officially going to be [promoting contraceptives],” he said, adding that many Catholics use contraception regardless of the Church’s stance. However, he said due to it being the official stance this is why we see practices such as condemning the use and distribution of condoms. “It most likely does lead to the spread of HIV, unwanted pregnancies and other complications.”

Briceno believes condoms are one of the great barriers against infection. According to Aidsmap, if condoms are used 100 per cent of the time, with the typical rates of slippage and breakage taken into account, condoms provide protection against HIV/AIDS up to 80 to 85 per cent of the time.

Instances where religious figures preach against homosexuality and condemn the use of birth control, is not limited to South America—it can be seen in our own community.

On Oct. 7, a religious activist was preaching anti-gayness, anti-abortion and anti-sex statements on Concordia’s Sir George Williams campus. He was accompanied by two others who were holding signs depicting acts that will send people to hell, such as homosexuality and premarital sex.

Activist Jaggi Singh (photographed on the right) describes he was protesting against to bigotry of this preachers speech, however not against Christians. Photo by Savanna Craig.

Activist Jaggi Singh (photographed on the right) describes he was protesting against to bigotry of this preachers speech, however not against Christians. Photo by Savanna Craig.

While the preacher chanted about actions he deemed unholy into a microphone, a crowd of Concordia students gathered around him. A few students obtained a megaphone and chanted back “don’t hate, masturbate,” to protest the religious activist’s stance against masturbation.

A crowd of approximately 35 students emerged to watch some Concordia students and the religious activists on campus clashing with one another, as students were not in protest of their religion, but against preaching discrimination toward sexual freedom and homophobia. Along with continuous chanting, one student began handing out condoms to promote safe sexual freedom. After just over an hour, the protest diffused and the religious activists left campus.

“Morals are not defined, morals are biased, morals are not inclusive,” said Briceno. “Therefore, when arguments emerge from religious standpoints, there is conflict and not everyone feels welcome.” He said radical religious beliefs undermine the ability for followers to think for themselves.

Briceno said education is essential for knowing how to reduce risk of HIV/AIDS. He drew on two organizations in Montreal that inform people about sexual practices, being REZO-Santé and for Ready for Action. You can visit both of their websites online and find more information regarding safe sex and contact information for more help.

If you want to read Briceno’s letter to Archbishop Aguer—click here.

Graphic by Florence Yee

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