Rewire Exclusive: This is the 3rd in a series of posts being written this wee by SIECUS’s
opposition researcher, providing ongoing coverage of the World
Congress of Families in Amsterdam on topics
such as "the natural family," "traditional values," marriage and family
configurations, demographic shifts, pre-determined sex-specific roles,
HIV/AIDS, and family-related policies at the national and international
The conflict between a faithful or religiously fundamentalist way of
life and secularism has emerged as an underlying theme of this year’s
World Congress of Families (WCF) being held this week in Amsterdam,
Netherlands. Several speakers have characterized secularism as the
primary threat to family stability as well as their ability to lead a
moral life in an increasingly secular world and, as a result,
increasingly take the view of a fundamental divide between these two
"worlds." At its most basic, it’s a perpetuation of an "us" and "them"
mentality, with an accompanying moral hierarchy. Secularism
(inextricably connected with capitalism and the sexual revolution in
the minds of the Right) is charged with bringing about our own moral
failings – selfishness, sexual desire, vanity, greed, laziness etc – that
are claimed to be the root of all social ills. According to many of the
speakers at the second day of the WCF, everything from the so-called
"demographic winter" to HIV/AIDS can be attributed to secularism and
the associated lack of morality.
Don Feder, Communications Director for the World Congress of
Families, believes that secularism paved the way towards the sexual
revolution, and the notion that "nothing should be allowed to interfere
with your happiness including children." Feder argued that individuals
became fixated in their own desires, and no longer felt an obligation
to marry, have children and contribute to "population replacement."
According to him, this behavior caused additional ills including the
availability of contraception, a shift toward cohabitation instead of
marriage, delayed and decreased child bearing and rearing, and the
development of policies and programs to support these shifts. He argued
that dividing sex from marriage leads to earlier sexual debut, which in
turn leads to sex outside of marriage and "serial polyamory."
In a sensational leap, Feder then claimed that the culmination of
these factors is a "demographic winter" in which the levels of
population replacement fall, and societies are unable to meet the needs
of caring for an aging population, ultimately undermining the stability
of civilizations. John Mueller of the Ethics and Public Policy Center
in Washington also spoke on day two and added his own two cents on how
to fix all this: both the rate of abortion and crime decrease with
church attendance. In other words, the ills caused by secularism in
our society can be solved if people just get back to church.
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According to these people, HIV/AIDS can also be solved by simply
turning to the faithful life. Moira Chimombo, Executive Director of the
Malawi-based organization SAFE, discussed her work in HIV prevention
and in providing HIV and AIDS related services. She outlined the
approach that SAFE uses which is an alternative to what she called the
"technical" ABC model of Abstinence, Be faithful and Condom use,
explaining instead that the "C" in the SAFE program represents the
development of "Christ-like character" which she described as the
necessity of instilling good moral character as a guaranteed protection
against the evils of the world, including HIV transmission. The "A" in
the ABC model she describes is not just about the behavior of
abstaining from sex, but of preserving one’s virginity until marriage.
She argues that fundamental to promoting this "state" is instilling
self-control. However, the implicit accusation within these arguments
is that those who do not lead faithful lives have only themselves to
blame should they become HIV positive.
While trumpeting the religious life as a way to a better world is
hardly new, at the WCF it seeks to take on the veil of legitimacy when
the organizers set it alongside more mainstream speakers who soften the
call of these missionaries. And while the WCF claims to be an
interfaith body, the consistent missionary rhetoric is overwhelmingly
No one can take exception to the right of every individual to live
their life according to the tenets of their faith, but the WCF seeks to
breakdown the walls that allow tolerance to exist by pushing their
moral and religious vision as the only true and correct one. However,
the public sphere demands there be room for all believers and
non-believers alike, and that approaches to humankind’s problems must
be based on evidence and values that are held in common. Secularism
and a faith-based life can co-exist, but in order to do so, we must
acknowledge that neither can claim to be the one right path. The
organizers of the WCF disagree and proclaim that it is their way or a
straight path to doom.
Tomorrow is the final day of Amsterdam’s WCF…stay tuned…
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