Sunday, 25 October 2015



And they came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimae'us, a blind beggar, the son of Timae'us, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" And Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; rise, he is calling you." And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" And the blind man said to him, "Master, let me receive my sight." And Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well." And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10: 46-52)

In Jesus day, the blind, the deformed, and the leper were considered unclean, and excluded from society, hence the blind beggar being outside the city gates.

We don’t have quite those taboos today, although as the States demonstrated with voting down free bus passes for those disabled, we can still easily exclude members of our society who are vulnerable and on the margins. But we have others.

I was watching a TV programme about the 1980s, and the way in which public information films and popular culture instilled a climate of fear in all manner of things.

One of the most extraordinary public information advertisements, by today’s standards, is the one in which AIDs is dealt with. It tells people they cannot catch it from sitting on a toilet seat, shaking hands, using the same communion cup, using the same spoon for stirring tea, etc.

And in 1987, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that people also believe that AIDS can be contracted through kissing, being sneezed on, donating blood, using the same drinking glass, and sitting on a toilet seat.

A clip from Eastenders illustrated the same paranoid fear when Dot Cotton, learning that an acquantaince of hers is gay, refuses to drink a cup of tea he has made for her, because of a fear of infection.

The book “Sexual Behavior and HIV/AIDS in Europe: Comparisons of National Surveys” compiled in 1998 called these “False Transmission Routes”. It noted that:

“Depending on the survey, the respondents were asked how they perceived the risk of HIV transmission through such everyday activities and situations as kissing (on the mouth, on the cheek), drinking from someone else’s glass or eating off someone else’s plate, eating food prepared by a person with HIV/AIDS, sitting on a toilet seat, shaking someone’s hand or touching someone, playing with a child with HIV, using someone’s razor blade or electric shaver, using public toilets, being bitten by a mosquito or other insect, being bitten by someone, and so on.”

In particular it notes that:

“Kissing and drinking from someone else’s glass bring two fearful HIV vectors into play, namely, saliva and, via sores in the mouth, blood. The problem of using toilets is related primarily to the body fluids that may be found on the toilet seat, that is, blood, semen, and urine”

It notes that:

“It may be difficult for a part of the public to understand the subtleties of scientific discourse which suggest that while HIV antibodies can be found in the blood, saliva, and urine cannot be transmitted this way.”

Older readers may remember Princess Diana's commitment and dedication to raising the profile of HIV which helped challenge the stigma of the virus.

She often publically wore a red ribbon and was the first prominent public figure in the UK to be pictured holding the hand of a person with AIDS in his hospital bed. This iconic image was seen by millions all over the world and had an amazing effect in challenging attitudes towards people living with HIV and breaking down stigma and misconceptions.

This was in the late 1980s, when many people believed it could be contracted through casual contact. She also visited a leprosy hospital in Indonesia and touched the bandaged wounds of patients. Both brave acts challenging taboos.

What is I suppose frightening is how such ignorance persists even today.

In 2013, Scotland on Sunday had an article entitled “HIV Awareness Gap Leads to Unfounded Fears of Infection.”

It notes that:

“The poll from the charity Waverley Care found that more than one in ten people wrongly believe the disease can be spread by kissing and spitting while a small proportion of respondents thought that sharing a glass, touching a toilet seat and coughing or sneezing posed a risk of passing on the illness.”

Whereas in fact:

“The virus can be spread only through unprotected sexual intercourse, the transfusion of contaminated blood, sharing of contaminated needles, and potentially between a mother and child during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.”

It seems we still inhabit a culture of fear and ignorance where those we designate as unclean are shunned.

1 comment:

James said...

In Jesus day, the blind, the deformed, and the leper were considered unclean, and excluded from society, hence the blind beggar being outside the city gates.

We don’t have quite those taboos today.

10,000-odd Jersey residents who only have Registered status might beg to differ...

...and while you make good points about AIDS paranoia in the 1980s, it is only six years since we had Edward Trevor on BBC Jersey saying, as I recall, that AIDS was a self-inflicted gay plague.