This reader, J.E. Park, doesn’t have HIV himself, but the way he saw many religious leaders talk about the afflicted—including someone very close to him—made him deeply cynical of organized religion:
When I was young, 12 or 13 or so, the U.S. was reaching the zenith of AIDS hysteria. Back then, an HIV diagnosis was a virtual death sentence, as there were few ways of treating it. And to complicate the situation, there was a huge stigma that went along with the discovery that one was carrying the virus. We had a very young child in our family who had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion, so we were all too aware of the horrible social consequences of this affliction: isolation, harassment, rejection, being forced out of school, and, in extreme cases, assault.
Obviously we were very sensitive to the fear and ignorance surrounding HIV, so we kept this child’s condition a secret, constantly listening to people pass judgement upon an afflicted, powerless segment of the population because they knew no better. I soon discovered that those most vocal and zealous in their condemnation of HIV victims were the very religious.