Sunday, November 14, 2010

Learning through Art: HIV/AIDS in Books - Grant Me Justice! (AIDS and the Bible)

While counting down to this year's World AIDS Day, I was thinking that another timeless subject, when it comes to the pandemic, is the way some people still perceive the connection between AIDS and the Bible. Indeed, even in this day and age, some individuals still believe that AIDS is a curse sent by God to sinners who deserve nothing more, nothing better. This very idea begs for many of us to read or re-read the Bible and interpret it ourselves. There is no surprise--we will end up with various interpretations. But are we going to be brave enough to share our thoughts with the others? Even more, are we willing to defend and explain our understanding of the Bible, no matter how different from the rest it may be?

Doctor Musa W. Dube, Associate Professor of the New Testament at the University of Botswana had the courage to actually look at what the Bible says in regards to AIDS and filter its message through today's time--the time of AIDS in which we all live. The result was a book, Grant Me Justice! -- HIV/AIDS & Gender Readings of the Bible.

I had the honor to interview Doctor Dube for A&U Magazine--America's AIDS Magazine. The article, "Bible Aides," is posted below, as timely a topic today, as it was a few years ago. Hope you'll enjoy the read.

Thanks for stopping by,
Alina Oswald

Bible Aides
by Alina Oswald

There’s no secret that many Bible readers interpret the existence of HIV/AIDS as being a curse sent by God to those who have sinned.  But the Bible should not be blamed for how some interpret it.

A book title that may suggest positive references to HIV/AIDS in readings of the Bible may sparkle arguments and controversies, because too often church-related terms and HIV/AIDS mentioned in close vicinity may spell disaster and controversy…  But not after reading the work of Dr. Musa W. Dube, Associate Professor of the New Testament at the University of Botswana, Grant Me Justice! HIV/AIDS & Gender Readings of the Bible.

The book came to life as a result of Dr. Dube’s “personal crisis about [her] teaching vocation and its meaning in the light of HIV infection,” the author explains during our phone interview.  As she mentions, the HIV/AIDS infection rate in Botswana in the late nineties was high [see numbers].  At the time, Dr. Dube—who’s a scholar but also a committed AIDS activist—was teaching her New Testament course to about two hundred students, as usual. 

“With the infection so high, especially among the young, forty percent of my students were gonna be positive and may not be alive in ten years.  And I thought, what was the meaning of my teaching, especially when I cannot save the lives of these undergraduate students?”

And so, Dube personally started to research how she could become part of the answer, of the solution to the AIDS crisis.  That’s how the book project started. 

But there were a few problems: the Biblical interpretation of the pandemic—that AIDS is a curse—that induces stigma and punishment of those infected; the second question Dube had to face was how to reread the Bible so that it positively contributed to the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS.  She was in particular interested in issue of gender, because by that time, the epidemic already had a very gendered face.

But, handpicked from both the Old and New Testament, the stories of Grant Me Justice! do not stop at only one aspect of pandemic related injustices.  The book creates a multi-faceted image of AIDS, emphasizing the associated suffering, poverty, stigma and discrimination, and hopelessness. 

“HIV/AIDS is utter hopelessness,” Dr. Dube comments.  “And hopelessness becomes an epidemic on its own.  It is an issue of losing hope in the future.  It is not a physical death, but a death of hope.  And the book shows how to regain hope for life.”

Why would one be interested in such a read? 

First, because AIDS is not an African crisis, but a global one.  “[AIDS] penetrated everywhere and it’s technically a global crisis, and we need to capture that,” Musa Dube comments.  “Because just about every country everywhere has a problem with HIV/AIDS.”  She hopes that the book will stimulate and keep the AIDS communication going.  “I think that none of us think are through [fighting the pandemic].”

Second, the read enlightens and teaches and broadens our intellectual horizons.  It offers the possibility to talk about issues otherwise considered “taboo” for some.  It makes a resourceful supplementary reading material for a variety of courses related to feminine studies, Bible studies, and also HIV/AIDS issues.  The book intersects several topics of discussion and fields, from people living with HIV/AIDS to various biblical perspectives.

For example, Grant Me Justice!—the name of the collection and also of the opening story—portraits women not as helpless creatures, but persistent enough to make their cry for justice heard.  “John 9: Deconstructing the HIV/AIDS Stigma” offers an answer to the question: “how should we respond to suffering?” while “Talitha Cum!” (“Little girl, get up!”) tries to capture the economy of hope.

A common element that traverses the entire read is the image of God as a justice seeker that comes to life through each and every story.  “A just God.”  That’s how Dr. Dube sees God, too. 

And if, say, we could contribute to the writing of the Bible in today’s HIV light, Dr. Dube would see a Bible including a lot of controversial voices.  As for herself, she would imagine “a God who didn’t send a deadly virus upon the Earth to anyone, who wouldn’t kill or punish a person with HIV, who wouldn’t encourage any of us to stigmatize or reject or isolate those who are infected but rather to be one with [us], to suffer with [us], to seek answers with [us].  I would imagine a God who would give justice to all of us.  That’s what I would want to write if I ever have the wonderful privilege of writing the Bible.”

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