Friday, March 27, 2009

The Pope, Condoms, and Western Bigotry

As a rule I try to avoid unnecessary controversy.  As St Paul says:

Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. (2 Timothy 2:23)

I have, however, listened to the recent press attacks on the Pope, first with mild amusement at how intolerant liberals can be, and then with increasing anger as they have become more personal, bigoted, and nasty.  What has offended western secularists is that the Pope had the audacity in conversations with the press, as part of his recent visit to Africa, to question whether, in fact, increased condom use actually works in the prevention of HIV.  When his comments were reported, to coin a phrase, all hell broke lose.

Now even the Lancet, who really should know better, have got on the bandwagon.  According to the BBC, it said the Pope's recent comments that condoms exacerbated the problem of HIV/Aids were wildly inaccurate and could have devastating consequences.  The London-based Lancet said the Pope had "publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on this issue".  It said the male latex condom was the single most efficient way to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV/Aids.  "Whether the Pope's error was due to ignorance or a deliberate attempt to manipulate science to support Catholic ideology is unclear," said the journal.

Over the past few years condom use in Africa has increased dramatically.  Bewilderingly, if you take the Lancet's line, so has the rate of HIV.  What the the Lancet failed to say is that the Pope is not alone in his belief.  This is from a report in an African based newspaper:

'A Harvard expert on AIDS prevention, Dr. Edward C. Green, said “the Pope is actually correct”. Dr. Green has written five books and over 250 peer-reviewed articles, and is an agnostic, not a Catholic. Last year, he wrote in the journal First Things that the never-enough-condoms explanation of the AIDS epidemic is driven “not by evidence, but by ideology, stereotypes and false assumptions.”

Dr. Green is not a lone voice. In an article in the leading British medical journal, The Lancet, James Shelton, of the US Agency for International Development, stated openly that one of the 10 damaging myths about the fight against AIDS is that condoms are the answer. “They have limited impact in generalised epidemics,” he wrote.

In 2004, an article in the journal- “Studies in Family Planning” admitted that “no clear examples have emerged yet of a country that has turned back a generalised epidemic primarily by means of condom promotion.” In fact, in Cameroon, precisely where the Pope was flying to when he made his “infamous” remarks, between 1992 and 2001 condom sales increased from 6 to 15 million, while HIV prevalence tripled, from 3 to 9 per cent.'

The Pope has no need for me to defend him, and I am not even saying who I think is right.  I do think the Pope is right, however, to at least raise the issue, and I think the Lancet is wrong to come to the aid of vested interests rather than engage in open, honest, scientific debate.

The Lancet said this:

"When any influential person, be it a religious or political figure, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record," it said.

A modern example of casting a speck out of someone else's eye and missing the beam in your own.

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