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The Social Impact of Aids in the United States
of the epidemic and then in more recent years. The chapter relates the responses of some of the larger denominations to the epidemic and reports what can be reliably ascertained about the responses of individuals and groups that express their views in religious terms.
The chapter is about responses to the epidemic by religious institutions and individuals. Those responses have not taken the form of changes in doctrines, beliefs, or adherents. However, the responses of religious institutions affect their activities, which in turn influence health policy, public education, care of the sick, and attitudes toward HIV-infected people. In this way, religious institutions are an important factor in the social response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States.
The influence of religions and religious belief on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States is difficult to fully discern. Official statements, media reports, and other published accounts provide one source of information. Another source, perhaps a more important one, is beyond the easy reach of researchers: the history of personal attitudes and actions of individuals who are informed and motivated by religious beliefs. Certainly, such individuals have expressed both compassion and discrimination, reception and rejection, involvement and indifference. Many stories have been told of such reactions, but the stories are ephemeral. Similarly, collective reactions of communities of religious people at the level of parishes, synagogues, and other local organizations have also spanned the range of responses. This form of religious response, embodied in the private attitudes and actions of individuals and in isolated activities of small communities, is often hidden from or lost to scientific inquiry. This loss is distressing. The institutions of organized religion can take positions, issue statements, and influence the consciences of their adherent. But it is through individuals, with and without public disclosure, that religion finds expression and evolves in response to changing conditions.
It is also difficult to sort out a "religious" response from the myriad of other attitudes and motivations that surround any human reaction. Even official pronouncements of religious bodies, written in the idiom of religion and invoking its traditions and beliefs, may be influenced by secular and political concerns. The words and actions of individuals who present themselves as religiously affiliated or as representatives of religion may also reflect other interests. None but the most naive observer will accept every word and action by religious organizations and individuals as a pure reflection only of creeds and canons; none but the most skeptical will scorn all religious affirmations as disguised self-serving.
The chapter does not attempt to capture the entire response of American religious denominations to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It is limited to selected Jewish and Christian groups because of their size or perceived influence within American culture. Buddhism and Islam in the United States