The Theology of STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease): Is It God’s Punishment for Sin?

Earlier this week, the World Health Association announced that the world should get ready for the global spread of a crazier, antibiotic-resistant form of the notorious STD, gonorrhea. This one is not ordinary gonorrhea: it’s some sort of superbug, something like sci-fi movie stuff. The news has sent shivers down everybody’s spine as online chat rooms have started buzzing with suggestions on how best to confront this emerging surge. One of the things that have been suggested is less promiscuity. Moralistic preaching has taken over as so many people keep expressing the same old opinion of ‘STD is better prevented by sexual discipline’. In as much as I don’t advise people to be sexually promiscuous for other reasons, I do not support the whole idea of telling people to zip up in the name of preventing an STD.

But there’s more. The theology doesn’t stop at telling people to zip up because God doesn’t like promiscuity. It goes further to say that God strikes humanity with such a disease because of our sins. In fact to be specific, the proponents of this theory proclaim that anybody that contracts STD should count it as a punishment from God for their sins. This is all in a bid to scare people into a life of repentance and piety by these shenanigans. It is nothing new. They did it when the much-dreaded human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was climbing to fame in the 80’s and 90’s. Even our own amiable Pastor E. A. Adeboye made STD the headline of the 2016 edition of his yearly prophecies. According to him, God decided to strike humanity with a new STD because governments across the world were enacting ungodly laws. Basically, Adeboye hates gays. So he thought the Zika virus which made news few days before his prophecy was the STD punishment for America’s decision to uphold gay rights.

Sex is about the most regulated entity in all religions. So it is not a surprise that terrible illnesses are theologically associated with whatever is deemed as sexual sin. In the Ten Commandments, every other sin has only one commandment forbidding it except sexual sin and disrespecting God that have two and three commandments respectively. What was the sin that allegedly caused Noah’s flood? Sexual sin (Genesis 6: 1 – 4). Why was Sodom and Gomorrah allegedly destroyed? Sexual sin. Why will you be stoned to death in Sharia law? Sexual sin. Why will you backflip seven times and crow like a cock before you die in the Yoruba tradition? Sexual sin. Everywhere you turn, in every culture and religion, sexual sin is not taken lightly and thus the most dreaded punishments are reserved for offenders. So it is not out of place that we wish the worst of illnesses on those who we accuse of sexual sin.

However it is erroneous to think that God, the devil, spirits, and sin are the things that strike people with illnesses. This belief belongs to our primitive past when we didn’t know how diseases came about. In 1546, Girolamo Fracastoro propounded a theory which over several centuries became upgraded to the germ theory of disease. The germ theory changed our understanding forever. The theory is a little complex but in summary, it states that infectious diseases (e.g., STD) spread from one living thing to another and this spread can only occur by the transfer of a physical agent. This physical agent is called a germ.

Today we know that STD’s are not transmitted by spirits or God but by germs. That is why today, if you have an STD and you decide to seek a spiritual cure because someone convinces you that it is due to your sins or God’s anger, you’re only being terribly ignorant. What remains to be understood is how someone still prophesies in the 21st century that an STD which has a cure or doesn’t even a cure now but will one day have a cure is a result of God’s anger. Now you see how antiquated the reasoning of our religious leaders are?

Now let’s go back to those who claim that not being promiscuous is the best way to prevent STD. It is very clear that this opinion is tied to the theological position which I have just proven to be erroneous. ‘God doesn’t want you to be promiscuous. You were promiscuous. God got angry with you and now you have STD’. How wrong! One major problem with this is that it stigmatizes those who have the disease. The stigma makes them hide their statuses and not seek treatment while they keep spreading the disease. The theological view of STD which is plainly judgmental is bad for our society.

Looking at the two major religions, I’m wondering where this judgmental attitude came from. If STD was God’s punishment for promiscuity, how many of the holy people of old would’ve been struck with STD? How many wives did Prophet Mohammad have? In those days, if you went to war and conquered, the women became your slaves and you could have sex with them as you wished. Prophet Mohammad and his followers won wars and took so many women as sex slaves. Who traced the sexual contacts of such women before and after they were taken as slaves?

The Old Testament is similarly filled with such stories. Numbers 31 for instance narrates the story of Jehovah commanding the Israelites to take women of the conquered enemy nation and share them among themselves. In that story, the non-virgin women were killed and only the virgins were shared but how did the Israelite men reliably carry out the virginity tests? David the King of Israel and apple of God’s own eye shagged another person’s wife. God killed the resultant child but didn’t strike David with STD. Solomon had 400 wives and 300 concubines: how many times did God strike him with syphilis, chlamydia, herpes, and gonorrhea?

Sexually transmitted disease (STD) is better prevented by scientific knowledge and open-mindedness, not by theological moralistic reasoning.

Sexually transmitted disease (STD) is better prevented by scientific knowledge and open-mindedness, not by theological moralistic reasoning.

Perhaps these holy men of old actually contracted STD from these indiscriminate sexual activities but we don’t know. It’s either the authors of the holy books couldn’t receive the knowledge of STD from God or they did but just didn’t want to expose the secret to humanity. But if they had the information, I know they would have furnished us with it. They and the spirits and angels that revealed the scriptures to them hadn’t known about STD. We just began to know about germs in 1546, remember? That is the advantage people like Pastor Adeboye, unlike his ancient counterparts, have. He is living in the post-germ theory era. However he should have let that advantage count by not spiritualizing STD unlike his disadvantaged ancient colleagues.

The theological view of STD is a modern conscripted effort that has failed on many grounds. Now we know that unprotected sex is as important as promiscuity in STD causation. Now we know that extremely promiscuous people who always practise protected sex will not contract STD. Therefore I personally feel that ‘Thou shalt not practise unprotected sex’ should have been somewhere in the holy books but somehow God omitted that. So we are left with ‘Thou shalt not be sexually promiscuous’ which we have now known to be insufficient. Even though it is missing from the texts, this is the kind of advice religious leaders should be giving to their followers instead of dishing out useless information like saying that a new STD is due to God’s anger.

Another argument against the theological view of STD is that innocent people can contract these infections unknowingly. Some types of STD can be contracted via other means beside sex. HIV is an STD that can be contracted through blood transfusion and sharing of sharps. Even Zika, the dreaded STD that Pastor Adeboye’s followers see as the fulfillment of his prophecy, can be transmitted via mosquito bites. In fact, it is primarily transmitted via mosquito bites and only secondarily transmitted sexually. Gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, and even Zika can pass from the mother to the baby during pregnancy and childbirth. So if you think it is God that strikes sinners with STD, who then will you say strikes innocent people and babies with the same STD?

Prominent on the list of the innocent people that can innocently contract STD are the spouses of the sufferers. Everyday we hear the stories of people who are not promiscuous themselves but contract STD from their promiscuous spouses. So telling people to obey God’s commandment is alright but it is not sufficient. You can only control your own action not that of your partner. That you are not promiscuous yourself doesn’t necessarily protect you from STD.

Meanwhile some of the most terrible diseases are not STD’s. There are many more diseases that are not STD’s. If it is God that strikes people with STD because of their sins, who then strikes people with cancer, asthma, hepatitis B, and Ebola? An ignorant Nigerian governor once said that the children who were dying of meningitis in his state were struck with the disease because of the sins of Nigerians. The question he failed to answer was why it was the children that were dying of meningitis and not the adults that did the sinning and whether the deaths were restricted to the children of the adults that sinned or not. The theological view of STD and even that of diseases generally simply insults reasoning.

For STD, we can not vilify sexual promiscuity. Airborne diseases can be deadlier than STD and we can’t tell people to stop breathing in other to avoid contracting a disease. Similarly we can’t tell people to not have sex in order to prevent STD. We know it will not work. Human beings can’t do without having sex whether within the socially acceptable context or otherwise.

Therefore it is imperative that we are realistic in our approach. The stigma that emanates from the theological view has to be done away with. This will create a more open atmosphere where people can freely get tested for STD, declare their STD statuses to their partners, and then feely access treatment without fear of judgment or condemnation. This will also enable people to be more comfortable with the idea of using condoms and other protective measures. The nations with the lowest prevalence of STD are not those with moralistic beliefs but those with pragmatic and realistic approach to prevention. The bedrock of STD prevention is not theological morality but scientific knowledge and open-mindedness.

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