Upon Whom the Tower in Siloam Fell

1 December 2012 was my third World AIDS Day in a serodiscordant relationship, and I think it has been my busiest. As I write this, I have just got home from collecting for Positive Life at the Grand Opera House in Belfast, which was a surprisingly extrovert thing for me to be doing.

If you are living with HIV there are still people who judge you. “I don’t know what you were doing when you caught it,” people say,”but it must have been something very stupid.” I’ve even encountered Christians who take that attitude, perhaps with the explicit assumption that if you are HIV positive it must be because of something dreadfully sinful that you did. What sayeth the scriptures?

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13.1-5, NIV)

Do you think that these people were worse sinners than other people because they suffered this way? Christ told us no. As it was for the Galileans whose blood was mingled with their sacrifices, as it was for those who the tower in Siloam fell, so for those living with HIV.

Because HIV can be sexually transmitted, there is a tendency for Christians to look down on people who are living with HIV, almost as though the HIV is a punishment for immorality. Someone who is HIV negative can then look down on someone who is HIV positive. Again, what sayeth the scriptures?

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”–Luke 18.13

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18.9-14, NIV)

When a Christian judges someone because they are living with HIV they are behaving exactly as the Pharisee did in this parable. ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—like those living with HIV’.

Living with HIV is not evidence of a sinful life. Just because one group of the population is more likely to be HIV positive than another group does not mean that it is morally inferior. If you think that it is, then you are behaving exactly like the Pharisee. As Christians, our attitude to those who are HIV positive should be exactly the same as our attitude to those with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or any other long-term illness. We should treat everyone with the same Christ-like love.

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One thought on “Upon Whom the Tower in Siloam Fell

  1. The very idea that there is somehow a “moral” dimension to HIV infection is reprehensibly obscurantist and reeks of faux-Puritanism. Lets compare HIV with HPV. Both are transmitted by a variety of interactions, some of which are sexual. Both can have profound, even fatal, consequences on health. So there’s a mantle of shame cast around HPV? Er…no. Women who are HPV-positive are guilted into celibacy? Er…no. Even being HPV tested is a trauma/disgrace? Well, as you mention it…no. It’s a major new public health initiative. Young girls need to be ashamed of protecting themselves against the highest-risk HPV strains by being vaccinated? Well..yet again…no. They promote it in schools, and they even do so in the Irish language to circumvent the faux-Puritanism of the Catholic Hierarchy.
    Oh, suddenly jumping to the opposite pole, but one can do that when dealing with fallacy, there IS a major moral dimension to HIV infection in the human population. HIV first passed (in its original SIV form) into the human population between 1880 and 1920. Where? Probably in Kinshasa, the capital of the then Belgian Congo. Why? Because of the eating of bushmeat, i.e. primates. That practice was made necessary by the huge influx of Congolese from the bush into the city, largely because the paramilitary National Police would cut off your hand if you failed to make your rubber quota for the Belgian planters who had seized your homeland. Starvation in Kinshasa drove many to go out hunting for primates. Primates are our closest relatives, we differ from some by only a handful of genes. So their pathogens have the best chance of colonising us. And did. So HIV really DID emerge from immorality. Not the immorality of a young, coked-off-his-tits twink in a 1970s NYC bathhouse, but the immorality of the King of Belgium (Queen Vic’s favourite relative, just to underscore the theme of Victorian moral hypocrisy), who owned the Congo outright as a crown possession and ran it as a giant slave labour camp the size of Western Europe, using methods that give barbarism a good name.
    And, on the subject of HIV and Africa, once the virus naturalised itself in a human-transmissible form, it spread from West Africa to Haiti because of…rampant promiscuity? Er..again…no. For that we can leave the moral parcel again at the door of Imperialism. The poverty and brutality of early-20th C. Colonial Africa prompted many Africans to seek employment in the Caribbean, where conditions for Black workers were slightly more tolerable than those in their homelands. So, the virus travelled with its human hosts to Haiti, from which it is believed to have jumped into the male gay population of North America. So here we have yet another moral issue. Not the one about the filthy Sodomites, I think we can just assume a gay man will always be gay, both in bed and in the queue at the Opera House box office. The one about the (to this day) viciously homophobe Carribbean culture which drove many young black gay men out of Haiti to places like the American South, where, even with the evils of segregation, proscriptive anti-gay laws and consummate racism, they had better, safer lives than those possible on the Caribbean Islands.
    So, indeed, again, HIV, like much disease, did emerge from immorality. Not the immorality of – forgive bluntness, but if we are to fight bigotry we need to fight with its own weapons – the penis and the anus, bit the immorality of greed, Imperialism, exploitation, and, indeed, bigotry. Which brings us, as usual, back full-circle to the beginning. Why do the faux-Puritans need to throw dirt at others? So we don’t notice the dirt on the underside of their oh-so-“clean” sheet.

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