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Harvard Academic: Pope is Right about Condoms

Written by Selwyn Duke on April 06 2009.

Pope ProtestWhile major media characterize Pope Benedict XVI’s prescription for combating HIV infection as “unrealistic and ineffective” and unscientific, an authority on the disease has a different message: “More and more AIDS experts are coming to accept . . .” that “the Pope is correct.”

“We have found no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates, which, 25 years into the pandemic, we should be seeing if this intervention was working.” If not for this statement’s academic style, you might think it was rendered by a Pope or prelate. Yet its author is actually Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, who was quoted by Kathryn Jean Lopez writing at National Review Online.

Such pronouncements may seem counterintuitive. With most people today having been weaned on Kinsey Institute inspired sex-education suppositions, they take as a given that there are no risky sexual behaviors, just risky ways of indulging them. Yet, in an example of the intersection between science and faith, Edward Green affirms the Pope’s recent assertion that condom use won’t solve Africa’s AIDS crisis. Writes Lopez:

‘The pope is correct,’ Green told National Review Online Wednesday . . . . He stresses that ‘condoms have been proven to not be effective at the ‘level of population.’’

‘There is,’ Green adds, ‘a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded ‘Demographic Health Surveys,’ between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction ‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by ‘compensating’ or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology.’

Additionally, Green said that empirical evidence shows the Pope was also correct in saying that the best solution to the African AIDS crisis is monogamy. In other words, the problem is promiscuity, not just how you manage your promiscuity. Ah, could this really mean that the church was right to be opposing the modern world’s “new ideas”? It much reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s profound observation, “Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are really just old mistakes.” Promiscuity is nothing new. The sexual revolution is misnamed – it should more properly be called the sexual regression.

Understanding that promiscuity is the problem places matters in perspective. To truly grasp the effects of advocating condoms as remedy, we have to consider that they’re an element of libertinism’s pseudo-intellectual philosophical arm, sex education, and understand the moral message sent by that arm.

Condoms aren’t billed as simply a method by which married couples may control births; sex education isn’t designed specifically to enlighten the betrothed. On the contrary, their main stated purpose is to combat the consequences of sex outside of marriage, things such as out-of-wedlock pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases.

This brings us to the message inherent in sex education. There’s no such thing as a value-neutral curriculum, and sex education is infused with the notion that sex is merely a matter of taste. Its apologists may bristle at this, saying that sex education says nothing about what you should do, only how you should do it. But this is the point. As Chesterton also observed, “It is the things we forget to teach that are learned best,” meaning that values are caught more than they’re taught. What is assumed is often more influential than what must be stated explicitly, and sex education speaks volumes about what we may do through those things that speak louder than words – actions.

To illustrate this, let’s analogize condom distribution. If there’s a problem with teenagers endangering themselves and others through street racing, the obvious solution is to discourage the behavior. Imagine, though, that we instead simply offered them options, saying, “Well, you could abstain. If you don’t, however, take this protective rubber shield and place it on your car; it reduces the risk of traffic-related fatalities.” Would we be surprised if the incidence of street racing and the deaths caused by it subsequently increased?

Nevertheless, libertines may say that condoms are wanting at the “level of population” only because people aren't using them consistently. If people were more educated in health, condoms would be more effective collectively. But that's always the catch, isn't it? I could just as easily say the problem is that people aren't adhering to God's plan for man's sexuality consistently. If people were more educated in morality, that plan would be more effective and we wouldn't have these problems in the first place. We're both saying the same thing, which is that our ideal isn't being applied ideally. But the question remains, what ideal is ideal?

Man has always found moral imperatives more compelling than health ones. People have died for moral principles but only hope that health ones will help them live longer. I would, for instance, have far more confidence that a man would quit smoking if he believed lighting up violated some transcendent moral law than if he simply believed it might add ten years to his life.

The point is that having a chaste society, a place wherein recognition of moral law, and strong social pressure and stigma keep sexuality within its proper context – not just in church one hour weekly but also at home, school and in entertainment 24/7 – has a track record of working on the population level. Dispassionate appeals to health concerns – of which condoms are a reflection – do not. (Note that the out-of-wedlock birthrate has gone from 5 percent to 40 in 50 years.)

Yet the libertines have a very compelling argument for rejecting the Pope’s proposition: free sex is fun.

Yes, and so is street racing.

At the end of the day, that’s what their argument boils down to: Christians must be wrong because they violate the pleasure principle.

It really has to make you wonder who the unscientific ones are after all.


Selwyn Duke
is a columnist and public speaker whose work has been published widely online and in print, on both the local and national levels. He has been featured on the Rush Limbaugh Show, at WorldNetDaily.com, in American Conservative magazine, is a contributor to AmericanThinker.com and appears regularly as a guest on the award-winning, nationally-syndicated Michael Savage Show. Visit his Website.

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