I wrote "When, Why ... If" almost a decade ago. Since then, I've learned a lot of things, both about the world and about myself.
If I could, I would like to add a few things to that book; but I'm afraid that's not financially possible. So I thought I'd post them here, until I am able to do a revision.
First, and most importantly, when I was speaking about dealing responsibly with HIV on page 134 I suggested that perhaps if you are HIV Positive, you should consider choosing partners only among others who also tested positive.
At the time, I didn't know about Superinfections. I was unaware that there were different strains of AIDS, let alone that people could become infected with more then one strain.
As it turns out, it's estimated there are some 14 mixed strains of the virus as of July 2003, and superinfection is a serious and growing problem. People who have been doing well on drugs can become infected with a second strain of the virus, and become very sick.
The two viruses can also mix, and produce a hybrid that is more virulent than either of the original strains, as found by Dr. Harold Burger of Albany Medical College in Albany, NY in the blood of one superinfected woman.
All of this will make it harder to produce a vaccine, and also harder to treat people who have HIV. So the upshot is;
Whether you are aware of your serio-status or not, it's vitally important not to have unprotected sex with anyone. Even if you aren't concerned with your own life or death, a mixed strain of the virus could kill many others. So, please, be very careful.
Secondly, in Chapter 6 - Harm, on page 111, I touched on a very important topic, but not in depth; and I've had lots of questions about it since.
I call it "throwing yourself on the bomb."
At times you may find yourself in a position to stop someone from harming others, but not without the risk of harming that person. So what should you do?
As always, the answer depends on the circumstances. But, in no case, should you assume that you will get off scott-free because your actions are righteous. There may be a price you will have to pay, both from the three-fold law, and in the more mundane world.
To illustrate what I mean, say you are at the bank when an armed man attempts a robbery. He's threatening the lives of innocent people, and you realize that you can stop him, because you are legally carrying a loaded gun and he's not looking your way. Shooting him will definitely harm him, but it may save the lives of innocents.
Whether or not you decide to shoot will depend on several things. How good a shot are you? If you miss, you'll probably make things much worse. How serious is the threat? Is he mostly bluffing, or does he look like he's really intending to commit murder? Are there other people with him, or is he operating alone?
You may decide that he's deadly serious, he's alone, you can't miss at this range, and if you don't do something at least one innocent, and possibly all of you, will certainly die.
So you shoot.
That saves the lives of others, but what are the consequences for you? The police aren't likely to come in, pat you on the back, and let you go without any questions; and who knows where that will lead. You will have to deal with the psychological implications of taking a human life if the guy dies. You may find that his whole family or gang is now going to hunt you down. That family may sue you in civil court for wrongful death, claiming that you used more force than was necessary, and may even win, forcing you into financial ruin. You may also face a criminal trial, depending on a whole bunch of things.
You may even turn out to have been wrong about your skill, his desperation, or the assumption that his gun was loaded, which will just make everything worse.
Yes, your actions were righteous. But if you expect them to be without consequences, you are just fooling yourself.
It's possible that it will turn out that he was a known criminal wanted in six states for murder and armed robbery, and you may be hailed as a hero for saving the lives of everyone in the bank. But you can't count on that when you make the decision.
And that's the point.
At the moment when you decide what to do, you have to be willing to take the hit to save the others in the bank.
This is true of all situations when you decide to harm someone to save yourself or others.
Do it, if you feel that it's necessary. But realize as you do that you might have to pay a steep price for your actions.
When you throw yourself on the bomb, you may find out that it's really a dud, and you aren't harmed. But it may be a real bomb, and you may find yourself blown all over the landscape.
I strongly suggest that you not do this, unless you can't find any other way to save the others. But, if you need to, then do what you must.
Remember, we don't have rules. We have ethics. We are expected to act in a manner that is consistent with our ethics, and to accept responsibility for all of our actions. That gives us more flexibility, but also more accountability. Just remember that, and act accordingly.
Finally, in the introduction, I mention some things about Christianity. I've been told by people who were raised in various branches that I'm wrong about some of the things I've said, and I'm sure, from their points of view, that I am.
You see, I've noticed since I wrote the book that when most people use the term "Christian" they really mean "the Christian denomination I was raised in or worship with currently," even though the differences between the theology and practices of the various denominations can be enormous.
I'm no exception to that general rule. So, for the record, when I mention Christians or Christianity, I really mean "Plymouth Brethren," which is the denomination of Christianity I was raised in; and more specifically, the way that my family practiced the tenants of that sect.
My own blindness in this matter was exacerbated by the fact that Plymouth Brethren prefer to call themselves simply "Christians," and think that denominationalism divides the Body of Christ, and is against the teachings of scripture. Of course, since there are many who practice things that we didn't believe in at all, my family simply classified them as "not really Christians." Since I left the religion in my early twenties, I never thought much about the implications of that.
So, for all those whose definition of "Christians" is significantly different than mine was, I apologize. My references were specific, and I should have said so.
Depending on the denomination you think of when you think of the term "Christian," your milage may vary considerably.