Western man believes in technology. For every problem there is a technical solution. Agriculture uses artificial fertilisers. Water is purified with chemicals.
Meat is produced in chicken factories.
For every ill there is a pill. For every pain there is a killer, for every discomfort there is a comforter. Instead of asking: why do I suffer from chronic headache?
what is wrong with my lifestyle? human relations?
stress? overwork ?, I pop a pill mindlessly.
But people are beginning to come back to the ancient truth that mind and body are closely related and interact. What troubles the soul finds ( painful) expression in the body.
While sheer joy is a refreshing elixir for the body.
Traditional medicine still knows that in order to heal the body one needs to reconcile wounded hearts.
Food is not prepared in mother’s kitchen any more, but is mass-produced, canned, labelled and marketed. From the supermarket it goes straight into the micro-wave and onto the table.
Food used to bring people together, was a sign of friendship, of a life shared and of togetherness. Now it is gulped down merely as a calorie-intake.
Even sexuality has become mere consumption, like lighting a cigarette or downing a beer.
For unintended “side-effects” like falling pregnant, there are again pills available which the woman pops so as not to inconvenience the man.
There is of course also a technical device to stop HIV from spreading, a little rubber hose called condom.
People who have reservations about manipulating their sexuality with technical tricks insist that the whole person must be involved.
That the sexual encounter is an expression of love between two persons, man and woman. It is a mutual self-giving for good. Not just mutually making use of one another’s body for momentary enjoyment and excitement.
If sexuality has this very limited purpose in people’s minds — constant excitement — then the use of condoms is the obvious choice.
And if people insist on “consuming sex”, rather than expressing faithful love, the condom may indeed help prevent major damage. But love and commitment have gone out of the window.
In this context it is perhaps not unimportant to point out that the Church in her teaching on sexual relations and marriage does not say: if you indulge in uncontrolled sexuality do not use condoms.
In fact the moral advice is: do not indulge in loveless, promiscuous sexual relations, period.
Recently Pope Benedict hit the headlines when he said what most church people active in the struggle against HIV and Aids knew all along : there may be a case for condoms if it prevents greater damage and saves human life in morally dubious relationships.
Saving life is also the issue in the following, very common case: if a wife suspects her husband to be HIV-positive one cannot deny her the right to self-defence; if she can persuade her husband to use a condom (or she uses the female variety herself), she must not be called promiscuous (as some unreasonable husbands do).
It is after all married women who are most in danger of being infected with the virus.
This is of course far from being an ideal or absolutely “safe” situation. Condoms have some effect if used correctly, regularly, and are of good quality. That is a lot of “ifs”. The risk remains.
Abstaining before marriage and being faithful within marriage (both man and woman!) is still by far the better solution, and that has not changed even after Pope Benedict’s little aside on condom use (which just shows his feeling for human weakness). He called it a first step towards responsibility.
Faithfulness is not just the technically “cleaner” solution; it is above all what man and woman, husband and wife, are meant to be in their mutual relationship: not merely “consumables” for each other, but one body, one loving union, and that once and for all.
Fr Oskar Wermter SJ is a social commentator