The narrator in Woody Allen’s underrated 2010 film “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” comes out with a brilliant gem toward the end of the story: “Sometimes the illusions work better than the medicine.”
While this doesn’t apply to HIV as a biological entity, evidence abounds in our world as to how it fits incredibly well with HIV as a psychological one. As a friend told me recently, “there is no pill to get people to treat you the way they did when you were negative.”
Cut to Zimbabwe, where an evangelical pastor has been causing waves for suggesting that Jesus was HIV positive.
Goodness. Was he shooting up with dirty needles in a Jerusalem back alley? Barebacking with Lazarus? Heavens, is that how Lazarus died?
Nothing so exciting, I’m afraid.
Pastor Xola Skosana’s poz-Jesus gospel fits in well with existing Christian mythology about the son of God bearing the “curses, sicknesses, and punishment of all humanity”.
“Wherever you open the scriptures Jesus puts himself in the shoes of people who experience brokenness. Isaiah 53, for example, clearly paints a picture of Jesus who takes upon himself the infirmities and the brokenness of humanity.”
Evangelical Christians love that word “broken”. Homosexuals are often spoken of in this manner, whether HIV positive or not – it’s an insidious term that suggests there’s something wrong with us that needs fixing.
In a biological sense, having HIV is something that we’d all like to fix, but so are cancer and diabetes. You never hear people living with those illnesses referred to with such patronising fervour.
But we could forgive being a little patronised if the dialogue ended there. Skosana, who has lost two sisters to AIDS, was attempting to communicate to religious people in their language to combat stigma.
And judging by the response of some of his colleagues, we can see what he is up against. This from Pastor Mike Bele at Nomzamo Baptist Church:
“The subject of my Jesus being HIV-positive is a scathing matter. I believe no anointed leader with a sound mind about the scriptures and the role of Christ in our lives would deliberately drag the name of Christ to the ground.
“The pastor needs to explain how it came about for him to bring Christ to our level, when Christ is supreme and is God. There is a concern that non-believers would mock Christ and try to generalise Christ as opposed to the powerful force we believe him to be.”
This is really the point where one has to say enough is enough.
Decades of this kind of learned shame around sexual behaviour and the realities of being human have fanned the flames of untold misery and premature death, particularly in Africa, where the rise of Christianity surely has to come first on the list of destructive forces wrought by colonisation.
One could argue that religious dogma has done far more damage in Africa, and indeed the rest of the world, than HIV ever could hope to. A virus can kill people. Prejudice, ignorance and stigma breaks spirits.
Religious leaders are constantly being urged, from inside and outside the faith, to do more to prevent the transmission of HIV and support those living with it.
The place to start is not by reaching back into ambiguous ancient scribblings but by dealing with the human beings that are in front of you.
People infected with a virus are just that – people infected with a virus. The virus does not know or care about your codes of morality, it has no sentience it all. Its only function is to replicate. Death is just a side effect.
I understand what Pastor Skosana and people like him are trying to do. Many Christians draw strength from the idea of Jesus and their own personal construct of him, based on bits of scripture that they like.
But this is most definitely a case where the illusions do not work better than the medicine.
If you want to speak to your congregation about their health and taking care of each other, remove the supernatural from the equation altogether. Speak to them as one human being to another.
And if you’re going to quote anything philosophical to back up your argument, you need look no further than the Golden Rule – an eternally robust ethic that did not originate with Jesus but was most certainly repeated by him: treat others as you would like to be treated.