A Load of Bright
An atheist's views on religion and the supernatural

The Champions of AIDS


I’ve stumbled across this news story in a couple of places over the last few days. Apparently, a study issued by the RAND Corporation claims that AIDS and HIV sufferers with religious beliefs are less like to spread the disease than non-believing carriers. I was careful to check the exact time and date it was published and no, it was not an April Fool.

“Moral beliefs may indicate an underlying altruism and a desire to make sure no one else is infected with HIV,” behavioral scientist David Kanouse said in a release. “Promoting these feelings could then be used as a component of HIV prevention programs.”

The horrendous implication here is that atheists or agnostics suffering from AIDS or HIV will not care about spreading the disease to other people, due to their either absent or flawed “moral beliefs”. This is a ludicrous accusation. Numerous studies have shown that there is almost no correlation between religiosity and morality, and there is no reason to think this case should provide an exception. The article summarises:

“HIV-positive people who say religion is an important part of their lives are less likely to have many sexual partners and are less likely to engage in high risk sexual behavior than other people with the AIDS virus”

This seems naïve and unlikely to me. One thing the article doesn’t say, and I’d be interested to know if the study did, is how much more or less likely a religious person is to get AIDS or HIV in the first place. If the findings of this study are consistent, you would expect to find that fewer religious people contract the disease, for the same reasons that they apparently are less likely to spread it to other people. I would be willing to bet that the actual figures would show an almost equal chance of believers and non-believers acquiring the disease.

Unbelievably, the report doesn’t just present its findings, but makes an incredibly rash and confusing suggestion based on them.

Frank H. Galvan, lead author of the study and professor with the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, says the study suggest that there is a role for religion in the fight to stop the spread of HIV.

“They have these core belief systems that do have a positive impact on the lives of people who are HIV-positive and who are sexually active,” said Galvan. “Religiosity is an untapped resource in the whole struggle against HIV and AIDS, and should be looked at more thoroughly.”

This is bemusing to say the least. What exactly, is the role religion is to play? Is he suggesting that more religious people should contract the disease so they can be better at not spreading it?! Surely not. What I fear is the actual plan he is presenting, is to tell atheists and agnostics who contract AIDS or HIV to become religious, in order to make them less likely to spread the disease to other people.

Can you imagine it? “I’m sorry to tell you, Mr. Atheist, that you have AIDS and will be dead within a few years. I’m afraid your children will just have to grow up without their father. Oh, by the way, there is one other thing. Have you considered changing your religious beliefs? It’s just we don’t want you infecting anyone else through your complete lack of religious morals!”. This is a disgraceful and sickening line of thought to pursue.

The irony of suggesting that religion can help in “the struggle against HIV and AIDS” deepens when you consider this.

“Catholics were the least likely to report unprotected sex. Catholics were also less likely to report high-risk sexual activity than other Christians, and reported fewer partners than non-Christians.”

So, apparently Catholicism is the champion we need to hold high in the battle against AIDS. The very institution that still condemns the use of condoms, particularly in Africa, an entire continent ravaged by the disease, is the religion that is least likely to cause its followers to spread the infection.

The suggestion is that we should promote religion so that people don’t want to have sex with as many people, and will therefore be less likely to contract AIDS if they don’t have it, and less likely to spread it if they do. This is simply religion extorting a crisis for its own ends, trying to satisfy its unquenchable thirst for interfering with peoples’ sex lives.

The course of action to take is not to discourage people from having sex, be it promiscuous or within a relationship. The best course of action is to promote the use of condoms as widely as possible. Sex doesn’t spread disease, unprotected sex spreads disease. Condoms don’t offer complete protection or immunity, but if every single sexual encounter that was not intended to produce off spring used protection, we could make dramatic inroads on the entire STI problem, as well as unwanted pregnancies, within a relatively short space of time, regardless of the levels of promiscuity within society. We should not be focusing on recycled claims of moral superiority through religion.

To say that I’m extremely sceptical of this study and its findings is an understatement. I will be following the story closely to see how it is received by the scientific community.

7 Responses to “The Champions of AIDS”

  1. There isn’t much I can say except “brilliant”. You were far more reserved and cool-headed than I might have been critiqueing this subject.

    Very-well constructed demolition of this ridiculous religion = morality nonsense.

  2. “What exactly, is the role religion is to play? Is he suggesting that more religious people should contract the disease so they can be better at not spreading it?!”

    Well, as Mother Teresa said, people dying in horrible pain should count themselves lucky because it means Jesus is kissing them. Perhaps Dr. Galvan shares those beliefs and just wants as many people to feel Jesus’ loving kisses as possible.

  3. Maybe the only thing the study proves is that religious people are far more likely to lie to pollsters than atheists are.

  4. The results of the study actually make a lot of sense when one realizes that they said things like “Catholics were the least likely to report unprotected sex,” and not “Catholics were the least likely to have unprotected sex.” Apparently, they feel that the spread of HIV is linked to one’s willingness to talk freely about one’s sexual habits rather than what those habits actually are.

  5. If anything, more religious people spread AIDS or HIV for 2 simple reasons:

    1) There are way more religious than non-religious people in the world. The implication is if atheists and agnostics were spreading AIDS, then eventually AIDS would be contained as soon as the chain reached a religious person. 2) Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t condoms banned by the Pope? If So many Catholics aren’t using condoms, wouldn’t it make more sense that, if anything, and I’m not saying this is true but rather it’s a plausible possibility, that a majority who doesn’t use condoms would be spreading the disease faster than a minority who are allowed to use protection?

    This whole article makes no sense to me. Good critique of it though.

  6. Thank you to Miko and the Exterminator for pointing out the flaws that religious beliefs could have on the accuracy of the data collected for the survey. For Catholics, faunication would be something to be ashamed of, something they might not want to admit. For non-believers with healthy attitudes towards sex, they could be quite open.

    I hadn’t noticed that the article subtly betrays this in its phrasing.

  7. The study sounds very plausible. What is now, 760,000 dead young men in the US alone from indiscriminate sex. And that’s without even mentioning the basic biological differences. It is SO obvious, that there isn’t really much more basic for a human mind to start with.


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