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The Pope and AIDS in Africa May 15, 2009

Posted by earthking in Conservatives, Liberals, Life, Philosophy.
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Every now and then the Pope comes out with seemingly naive statements about issues and the comments create an uproar around the world.  The most recent comments that were covered extensively were in regards the AIDS epidemic in Africa and the use of condoms.  I really think the reaction is due in large part to a fundamental misunderstanding of the Catholic philosophy on human sexuality.  In fact, it is not only a misunderstanding, but sometimes a willfulness to attack a viewpoint without fully understanding it.  Therefore, I am going to give a quick explanation of the Catholic view on human sexuality.

The first concept involves signs.  When I drive down the road and see smoke coming out of a neighborhood, I suspect there is a fire.  The smoke points to another reality- fire.  In human relationships, signs also play an important role.  My girlfriend is extremely happy anytime I buy her flowers.  Flowers are a sign to another reality- my love for her.  When I give her a kiss, it is a sign of my affection for her.  Many physical gestures of the human person are a sign of something deeper, something spiritual and emotional.  This is the background for the philosophy of sexuality in the official teaching of the Catholic Church. 

When it comes to sexuality, it is logical to think that it must be a sign for something, too.  When two people who love each other deeply engage in the sexual act, it is a deep level of communication that surpasses words.  In Catholic tradition, it is a sign of something that goes deeper than just the physical dimension.  It is a sign of the total giving of two people to each other where the gift of pleasure is also exchanged.  There is a physical dimension as well as a much deeper, spiritual dimension of the gift of self.

However, just like other signs that human persons display, the sexual act can become a distorted sign.  For example, a kiss is supposed to be a sign of love and affection.  But Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss.  He distorted the significance of the sign.  Also, on Valentine’s Day, many men send their special someone flowers.  But, many guys have been married for years and only send roses so they won’t get in trouble or because it is what everyone else does.  So, signs can often get distorted.

The sexual act can get distorted in a myriad of ways.  Prostitution is one of the most obvious of ways since the sign is reduced to just a pleasure and is bought and sold like merchandise.  Sexual promiscuity is a distortion because it is impossible to totally give yourself to more than one person.  The total gift of self represented by the sign of sex includes the gift physically, spiritually, and through time. 

This is the background of the Pope’s recent comments.  I will touch directly on his comments in my next post, since it will take much more space.  I want to be able to go into depth about what the Pope said without having to paraphrase.  I am not writing this to necessarily convince anyone of the Catholic view on sexuality.  I am writing this so that those who wish to attach the view can do so intelligently.

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