Hip-Gnosis: November 2007: Archives

November 29, 2007

Devil's In The Details? Not If You Ask Most Americans genre: Hip-Gnosis

Ouija Board

Welcome to the latest American renaissance...a loathsome return to the "dark ages". A new poll tells us that more Americans believe in hell and the devil...literally...than believe in Darwin's Theory of Evolution. The only good news...and I say as much with all available facetiousness...is that nearly two thirds of all Americans believe in miracles. Why is that good news? Because it now appears it's going to take a miracle to get this country tracking on a set of rational rails and not hitching it's wacky wagon to a messianic magic carpet.

More Americans believe in a literal hell and the devil than Darwin's theory of evolution, according to a new Harris poll released on Thursday.

It is the latest survey to highlight America's deep level of religiosity, a cultural trait that sets it apart from much of the developed world.

It also helps explain many of its political battles which Europeans find bewildering, such as efforts to have "Intelligent Design" theory -- which holds life is too complex to have evolved by chance -- taught in schools alongside evolution.

It further found that 79 percent believed in miracles, 75 percent in heaven, while 72 percent believed that Jesus is God or the Son of God. Belief in hell and the devil was expressed by 62 percent.

Darwin's theory of evolution met a far more skeptical audience which might surprise some outsiders as the United States is renowned for its excellence in scientific research.

Only 42 percent of those surveyed said they believed in Darwin's theory which largely informs how biology and related sciences are approached. While often referred to as evolution it is in fact the 19th century British intellectual's theory of "natural selection."

What I find so baffling is that in real life you can't get most of these people to accept hard and fast facts...but when it comes to faith, they're willing to believe in the cookie monster. Global warming...not a chance. No connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11...not on your life.

If the above data isn't enough to convince you we're on the fast train to rampant regression, not to worry...there's more data to report.

More born-again Christians -- a term which usually refers to evangelical Protestants who place great emphasis on the conversion experience -- believed in witches at 37 percent than mainline Protestants or Catholics, both at 32 percent.

OK, it was just a few months back when James Dobson and Focus on the Family released the following statement with regards to Harry Potter.

"We have spoken out strongly against all of the Harry Potter products." His rationale for that statement: Magical characters — witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, poltergeists and so on — fill the Harry Potter stories, and given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture, it's difficult to ignore the effects such stories (albeit imaginary) might have on young, impressionable minds.

At the time, I assumed Dobson was opposed to Harry Potter because it glamorized "witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins [...]" to children...leading young people to embrace irrational notions and engage in irrational fantasies while distracting them from their religious studies. Little did I know that nearly a third of all Americans actually believe that witches exist and probably think the Harry Potter books were written to recruit more witches.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Many of these same people believe that Tinky Winky and Sponge Bob Square Pants are characters created by militant homosexual sympathizers that are intended to indoctrinate children into the gay lifestyle. When did a duck stop being a duck?

I must admit I'm totally flummoxed at the number of foolish and fallacious fixations. Have they become the means by which people disconnect from the harsh realities that permeate their increasingly complex lives? Are average Americans so disconnected from the practice of reason and an understanding of the technology that surrounds them that they seek comfort in the simplicity of these virtual fabrications?

I don't know the answers to my questions...but I do know it's increasingly important for us to find them before we return to the logic that believed witches would float if tossed into a body of water...fully ignoring the fact that the accused was condemned to death either way. If they did float, they would be put to death for being a witch; if they sank and drowned, they weren't a witch...but nonetheless dead? Frankly, we're not that far from the wholesale suspension of cognition.

Makes a person want to dig out the Ouija Board and look into the future...but I'm going to stick with my Tarot Cards...I've found the results are much more to my liking.

Tagged as: Darwin, Devil, Evangelicals, Faith, Focus on the Family, Harris Poll, Harry Potter, Hell, Intelligent Design, James Dobson, Natural Selection, Ouija Board, Religion, Religious Right, Science, Witchcraft

Daniel DiRito | November 29, 2007 | 3:30 PM | link | Comments (1)
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November 28, 2007

Who Put That Gay Man In The You Tube? genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak

In The Tube

I'm sorry but stupid was just brought to a new low. The tubes are abuzz over the fact that CNN allowed a question about "don't ask, don't tell" from a gay man who serves on a committee for Hillary Clinton. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but the YouTube format didn't require a disclosure of party affiliation. Granted, the incident makes CNN's vetting process appear rather careless, but are we to believe that the question is invalid because the questioner isn't a card carrying Republican?

If that's the case, then shouldn't Anderson Cooper be disqualified from moderating a GOP debate since he is gay? Maybe we should only allow Republican moderators at Republican debates and Democratic moderators at Democratic debates? I swear, we're becoming more of a banana republic each day. I suspect the debate process for electing an eighth grade class president may have more substance and credibility...and certainly less whining from the inane partisans.

Speaking of substance, I guess I'm wondering why asking the GOP candidates their position on gays in the military is off limits for a former officer simply because he will apparently vote for a Democrat. Think about it...how many gay people do we expect to vote for a party that routinely opposes most, if not all, measures that would afford gays more rights and greater equality?

Further, after hearing the answers to the question...especially Duncan Hunters diatribe on not wanting to upset the predominantly religious conservative members of the military...why on earth would gays vote for the GOP? His answer is wrong on so many levels such that I refuse to waste any more of my time and energy detailing the reasons. Those who understand the reasons get it...and those who don't, aren't unable to; they simply don't want to.

I just love the argument that we can't consider allowing gays to serve openly because we're at war. Using that same logic, gays ought to be exempt from a draft if America ever determines it needs more troops because they can't attract enough volunteers. Sounds good to me...let the straight people protect us all from harm. We gays will plan the ticker tape parade if and when we ever win one of these wars.

Moving on, if the rank and file of the GOP agree with the answers given, why be afraid to have these candidates spell out their positions? Who are they trying to fool anyway? Should we believe that if the Republican candidates can avoid expressing their positions with regards to gays, no one will be the wiser or attempt to discern where they stand? That's the funny thing about bigotry these days...people know when it exists and they get testy when someone forces them to acknowledge or demonstrate it.

Following the debate and the "exposure" of CNN's duplicity, I went and read comments on a number of right leaning blogs. While the bigotry amazes me, the belief on the part of countless straight men that every gay man is interested in ogling them is mind-boggling. We scorn the Saudi's for their absolutely antiquated treatment of women...highlighted by the recent sentencing of a rape victim to 200 lashes and six months in prison...treatment that is premised on the fear that every women is so vulnerable to her carnal desires that her body must be completely hidden from view and she must be forever forbidden from being in the presence of any unrelated male...unless accompanied by "her man".

Now let's break this down...is it the women they're worried about or isn't it more probable that these men don't trust themselves to act appropriately...so clearly they can't leave their women alone with another man? Truth be told, I'm sure they're lack of trustworthiness is justified...but why in the hell should women be punished because these men are pigs? Last time I checked, it takes a boat load of man-sluts to make a whore. The absurdity is overwhelming!

The same mind set is at play when it comes to gays in the military...most of these men commenting on these sites apply their own sexual habits and thoughts to gay soldiers...totally failing to realize that gays have spent their entire lives demonstrating restraint and appreciating each other for more than just getting off. We have too if we want some semblance of a normal social life. We've learned that it's possible to find friendships with people who could otherwise serve as sexual partners...and therefore we don't have to approach each other and all males as nothing more than sexual objects.

Many of these straight men are unable and unwilling to grasp this concept because they see all women as objects for sexual gratification. It's the cattle mentality...as long as they erect (no pun intended) fences to keep themselves from succumbing to their desires, they (the bulls) won't breed every woman (the heifers) they see. That's why they are so intimidated by the thought of showering with a gay man or sharing the same barracks. They can only visualize what they would do in a similar situation with women. So they see gays in the military as lacking the barriers they're reliant upon to maintain their fragile notions of propriety and fidelity.

Forgive me for generalizing, as I realize the following may be an unfair assessment...but why should women and gays be forced to suffer the inability of these straight men to evolve beyond their noticeably arrested and obviously immature sexual constructs? As I think about it, that may be the best argument for electing a woman or a gay president.

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Anderson Cooper, CNN, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Gays In The Military, GOP, Hillary Clinton, Homophobia, LGBT, Misogyny, Saudi Arabia, YouTube Debate

Daniel DiRito | November 28, 2007 | 10:05 PM | link | Comments (7)
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God Puts The Squeeze On Richard Roberts genre: Hip-Gnosis

The Giving Finger?

I just love watching "fundies" use god to explain and justify their every action...whether it be good or bad. For those who haven't heard, Richard Roberts, the son of Oral Roberts, now reports that he resigned his position as President of Oral Roberts University because god told him he must (on Thanksgiving Day no less).

Apparently god wasn't speaking loud enough or Roberts was ignoring him while he and his family were milking the University to enable their lavish life of excess...or perhaps god was simply too busy at the time to tell him to stop. And by all means we can't have expected Roberts to do the right thing of his own accord. How would a man of god know the difference between right and wrong without proper consultation from the heavenly father? It just goes to show that heaven is understaffed and it's leading to all sorts of improprieties and numerous lost souls here on earth.

Richard Roberts told students at Oral Roberts University Wednesday that he did not want to resign as president of the scandal-plagued evangelical school, but he did so because God insisted.

Roberts told students in the university's chapel that God told him on Thanksgiving that he should resign the next day.

Roberts said he resisted the idea, and that "every ounce of my flesh said 'no,'" but he prayed over the decision with his wife, Lindsay Roberts, and his father, Oral Roberts, and decided to step down.

Roberts has previously said that God told him to deny the allegations. The week the lawsuit was filed, Richard Roberts said that God told: "We live in a litigious society. Anyone can get mad and file a lawsuit against another person whether they have a legitimate case or not. This lawsuit ... is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion."

Apparently god is one savvy attorney as well as an omniscient and all knowing creator. Given sufficient time to review the case against Roberts, god apparently decided Roberts lacked a plausible defense. I can't wait for god to impose a dollar amount to settle the lawsuit...and if past experience holds true, I'm sure god will insist Roberts deliver one of those tearful tell all confessions.

You see, without the oft seen mea culpa, how would Roberts be able to continue to live off of the donations of those who place far too much faith in mere mortals...manipulative mortals who have learned that one can do anything one wants as long as one attributes it to god's will?

Did I mention I'm in training to be a minister? And by the way, don't blame me, it was god's idea.

Tagged as: Hypocrisy, Oral Roberts, Oral Roberts University, Religion, Richard Roberts

Daniel DiRito | November 28, 2007 | 1:22 PM | link | Comments (2)
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November 20, 2007

Faith vs. Fact: No To Science - The Bible Tells Me So? genre: Do Not Resuscitate & Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation

United Nations

I’ve noticed a disquieting trend on a number of important issues with regards to those on the right. In summary form, the trend is to discount scientific evidence while promoting faith based biblical theories in order to advance a narrow ideological agenda.

The most recent example is the response to a report to be issued by the United Nations in which the organization will lower its’ estimates on the size and scope of the AIDS epidemic. Pouncing quickly, many on the right wasted little time in using the revelation to conclude that the UN’s data on global warming must therefore also be inaccurate...or fabricated.

Let me be clear. I’m not suggesting that the United Nations is beyond reproach or that they should be excused if, in fact, they chose to inflate their estimates in order to draw more attention and more funding to the AIDS crisis. Such actions are not justifiable and they only serve to undermine the organization’s credibility and the severity of the problem.

At the same time, the UN’s actions aren’t any more egregious than the efforts of the Bush administration to convince Americans that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Frankly, with the latter, the outcome wasn’t to revise the number of WMD’s found downward…the outcome revealed that the WMD’s didn’t actually exist and new justifications were hastily pulled from thin air.

As such, why would those who doubt the UN’s data, and seek to use one reevaluation of a decades long problem as the means to discredit all of the organization's other opinions, still hold firm and fast to supporting a President and his many policies which have been proven to be blatantly wrong on numerous occasions? My own answer to this question is premised upon the notion that many people of faith would rather defend those amongst us who have been discredited or found to have been deceitful than to admit that their reliance upon faith, and their belief in those who espouse it as fact, may be a suspect construct.

It seems to me that, all too often, people of faith adopt an all or nothing perspective on issues, which simply precludes the possibility of rational debate and reasoned dialogue. While the AIDS crisis and global warming may eventually be determined to be less dire than once thought; why should this action, on the part of the United Nations, to correct a misconception lead us to conclude that we can’t or shouldn’t continue to acknowledge the seriousness and severity that does exist? Should a revision from 40 million infected to 33 million infected lead us to conclude that AIDS isn’t an epidemic in need of immediate and significant attention and funding?

Let’s look at a comparison. We’re currently spending over 10 billion dollars a month on the war in Iraq…a war that was initiated with reliance upon questionable data. On the other hand, the United States just recently committed to spend 15 billion dollars over five years to combat AIDS in Africa. Here’s the issue. AIDS has been a known killer of millions for over twenty years. Now that the UN has concluded its data may be inaccurate, are we also supposed to halt our funding? If so, then why do we continue to support funding for the war in Iraq?

And why the need to use the revised AIDS statistics as the impetus to assail the United Nations warnings about global warming? Is global warming a secular issue? Will rising sea levels only impact the non-believers? Are we to believe that faith will be sufficient to combat our disregard for the planet? Did god give us this domain to do with as we wished without regard for preserving and protecting it? Where in the bible can I find these seemingly inconsistent values?

Sadly, the battle isn’t limited to these two high profile situations. We’ve witnessed the same dynamic with regards to evolution and intelligent design; with regards to abstinence programs and sex education which includes information about contraception and the distribution of condoms; with regards to abortion and the administration of Plan B contraceptives to victims of rape; with regards to teen promiscuity and the new vaccination for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) to prevent cervical cancer; with regards to Terri Schiavo and end of life issues; with regards to stem cell research and the need to treat life threatening diseases and illnesses.

In the end, faith is not fact and while everyone is entitled to the faith of his or her choice; the choices of the citizenry should not be precluded by the faith of the few. Science needn’t be challenged simply because it fails to support one’s faith. In truth, as I understand it, acts of faith, by their nature, are not predicated upon fact…they are acts of belief premised upon religious values which can and should withstand the challenges of our imperfect human condition.

At the same time, because faith cannot be factually infallible, this nation established a separation between church and state, which afforded each individual the right to adopt the faith they preferred while preventing and protecting the individual from the narrow imposition of the precepts of any particular religious ideology. As such, our forefathers chose to establish governance based upon an adherence to that which could be determined factually while being careful to allow the individual to adopt and abide by their elected, and often disparate, religious beliefs.

Until this nation recommits to this formative construct, we will continue to indiscriminately attach ourselves to each news report that affords us the opportunity to advance narrow and nescient belief systems. At some point, faith must again become a bond of belief between the individual and his or her god…one that actually offers the comfort that is promised to come from a true act of faith. If this cannot be achieved, then perhaps its time we admit that we have abandoned true faith for that which can be falsely forced upon others in order to convince us that it must be fact. In the end, if one’s god exists, then putting forth the former while succumbing to the latter will do little more than sever us from the salvation we’re purportedly seeking.

Tagged as: Africa, AIDS, Evangelicals, Faith, George Bush, Global Warming, HIV, Iraq, Religion, Religious Right, UN, United Nations, Weapons Of Mass Destruction, WMD's

Daniel DiRito | November 20, 2007 | 11:14 AM | link | Comments (2)
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November 7, 2007

Did Prosperity Theology Marry Prosperity Politics? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Broken Marriage?

I've long felt that many of those who freely and flamboyantly espouse religion do so to compensate for their lack of scruples with regard to the acquisition of money and power. Nothing can better assuage transgression than a marriage of convenience between sin and scripture. While we're all familiar with the seven deadly sins, I wonder if we're in the process of identifying an eighth...a super sin that has it's origin in the union of prosperity theology and prosperity politics...let's call it the sin of "prosti-peri-tution"...the willingness to sell one's soul in the pursuit of wealth and power.

Three events triggered my thoughts on the subject. First, the recent reports that Richard Roberts, the son of Oral Roberts (the man who founded Oral Roberts University) may have used his position at the university to enrich himself and his family. Second, the report that Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has launched an investigation to determine whether six prominent televangelists have inappropriately used their ministries to fund lives of luxury. The third and final item is the endorsement of Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid by one of the founding fathers of televangelism, Pat Robertson.

Before I jump any further into the topic, let me acknowledge the slippery nature of this issue...making special note of the well-meaning actions of countless religious individuals and organizations. With that said, it seems that the sins of the few often rise to the surface while the sacrifices of the many go without recognition or reward...a fitting reminder of the biblical parable of the widow's mite...the story in which Jesus acknowledges that the donation of two mites by a widow was far more meaningful than the large donations made by men of great wealth due to the fact that her gift was all the money she possessed.

For the last three decades, the religious right has made the vilification of gays and opposition to abortion the crown jewels of their crusade for the implementation of biblical law as the preeminent voice for American morality. If one tracks the progression of this movement, two outcomes have prevailed. One, a number of very powerful and influential leaders have emerged...leaders like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson...men who wield tremendous financial and political clout under the guise of creating a new moral order. Two, the Republican Party has hitched it's political fortunes (monetary support as well as electability) to the voters who comprise this powerful demographic...arguably achieving a period of significant political dominance as well as the creation of iconic evangelical political champions.

Simultaneously, the rights afforded to gays have been advanced and the right to have an abortion has been upheld despite efforts to the contrary. All the while, the Democratic Party has been portrayed as wholly unacceptable due to its permissiveness with regards to these two issues and those politicians who have affiliated with the Democratic Party have been the target of the religious right. For many years, the distinguishing battle cry of evangelicals and the GOP has been to nullify the candidacy of Democrats as allies of the immoral...leaving little, if any, room for their followers to support a Democrat.

This lockstep alliance has been characterized as the politics of principle and an unwavering commitment to long-standing Christian values. Those Democrats who have sought to breech this barrier based upon other voter considerations...including, but not limited to, economic self-interest, health care, the safety net for the elderly and the ill...have been vociferously rebuffed if they indicated or insinuated any remote support for gays or the right to have an abortion.

The equation has been an all or none calculation since the movement emerged...and for years the interests of evangelicals and the GOP were fully aligned to create a seemingly insurmountable mathematical majority. Unfortunately, as with all mirages, eventually the light shifts to illuminate an alternate reality and the house of holiness is exposed as a domicile of deceit to those whose treasure built it but were never actually invited to inhabit it. Such is the nature of manipulation and the power of those who preach purity to the proletariat while partaking of the bounty born of the blood of the beleaguered believers.

Yes, there will be those evangelical leaders who condemn the endorsement of Rudy Giuliani by Pat Robertson...at least for the moment. They will do so for obvious reasons; it undermines the decades of rigid doctrine and runs the risk of alienating the faithful. What will remain to be seen is how many other evangelical emperors will coalesce around morally "inferior" candidates in order to still suckle on the breast of bounty.

I've previously argued that men like James Dobson are in the throes of careful calculation...an effort to weigh the benefits of political power against the continuation of their cash cow coalitions. They face a vexing conundrum. If they are unable to position themselves as king makers, they run the risk of waning donations as the minions grow weary with their inability to deliver the promised land. The problem is amplified by the flawed values of the existing candidates they perceive can win next November as well as the risks of backing a sufficiently sinless second tier candidate and proving they cannot deliver the crown.

Should they abandon the party by either endorsing a second tier candidate (which obviously equates with a rejection of the perceived front runners) or by breaking from the party to endorse a third party candidate, they run the risk that the powers that be in the GOP will expose them as opportunists who have been granted deference in exchange for delivering cash and votes; only to suddenly abandon the party when all of their demands weren't met...regardless of whether that may have insured that the Democrats would gain the upper hand.

In the end, if they cannot deliver victory to the party without compromising the values they demand their followers to blindly embrace nor can they deliver victory to their followers by forcing the party to nominate a purist, their sphere of influence is greatly diminished. What remains to be seen is which potential poison they will choose. If they follow Robertson and back a flawed "winning" candidate, they preserve their influence in the party while damaging their credibility with their followers. If they reject the party's "flawed" candidate and back a third party candidate they preserve their reputations with the faithful while damaging their ability to influence the party.

Both options run the risk of working against these evangelical and political leaders and either path seems apt to eventually lessen their coffers and their power. Perhaps the question asked in the title of this posting needs to be amended. It may well be that prosperity theology and prosperity politics are far closer to a divorce than to a celebration of their long marriage. That can't be a pleasant thought for either party in this marriage of convenience.

Given the nature of the divorce equation...one which is based upon division...not multiplication...I suspect both sides are busy consulting their advisors and hoping to come away with as much of the proverbial pie as possible. I have to admit I'm looking forward to the battle and the bickering. What with gays being such a threat to marriage, they'll surely want to resolve their differences quickly...won't they?

Tagged as: Chuck Grassley, Democratic Party, Evangelicals, GOP, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Religious Right, Richard Roberts, Rudy Giuliani, Televangelism

Daniel DiRito | November 7, 2007 | 11:49 AM | link | Comments (0)
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November 2, 2007

Do Evangelicals See Africa As The Path To Theocracy? genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

Africa

I'll admit that ever since the President and the religious right adopted the AIDS crisis in Africa as one of their causes, I've been skeptical of their motivations. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate their concern for those suffering in Africa and I'm not suggesting that their compassion is insincere. I believe it is genuine and I'm willing to acknowledge the benefits of their efforts...but I can't do so without suspecting it is attached to a larger agenda...one that views the crisis in Africa as a proving ground for the implementation of their moral code.

I still remember the initial reaction of Ronald Reagan and the GOP when AIDS emerged in the United States...and while generalizations are dangerous, it seems to me that much of the response to the AIDS crisis in this country was focused upon accusations of immorality directed towards the gay community. The virus served as evidence that the gay lifestyle was wrong and I remember the many assertions that AIDS was nothing more than god's punishment.

As I try to reconcile the shift in attitude, it would be easy to conclude that time has served to soften hearts and thus the recent embrace of the fight against AIDS in Africa is just the culmination of that process. Unfortunately, I think it would be naive to accept that explanation without further analysis. After all, one cannot ignore the fact that AIDS is predominantly a heterosexual disease in Africa.

A new two part article found at LifeSite piqued my curiosity and led me to the cusp of a newfound theory which I will attempt to explain after presenting an array of background information. I'll start with the rhetoric found at LifeSite...rhetoric which when combined with the other data begins to substantiate my growing concerns that the effort in Africa is part of a larger agenda.

From LifeSite.net (Part One):

November 1, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) - An increasing number of scientists are acknowledging that the AIDS crisis, in Africa and worldwide, is seriously distorted and overblown by international agencies and corporations, who in many cases tend to profit from the confusion. In recent months, more of these researchers have been speaking out against a wealthy and powerful establishment that consistently ignores fundamental facts regarding HIV and AIDS.

The controversy stems from a fundamental disagreement over almost every issue regarding AIDS transmission, prevalence, and prevention. While the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and other international agencies insist that AIDS is a growing global epidemic that must be treated with massive condom distribution, sex education, and drug treatments, several high-profile scientists call the picture a "distortion". They say that AIDS statistics are overblown, and argue that the best means of prevention is abstinence and marital fidelity.

Dr. James Chin was the former head of a World Health Organization Global Programme on Aids unit from 1987-1992 and is currently a public health professor at UC Berkeley. He noted in a recent interview that in reality, the AIDS "pandemic" is not as widespread as it is often portrayed, and not even in large parts of Africa, where rates of infection with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) vary widely.

"In South Africa, close to 20 percent of the adult population is infected with HIV, whereas in Ghana, it is only 2 to 3 percent of the population, and in Senegal, less than one percent is infected," Chin told Cybercast News Service.

In a separate interview with LifeSiteNews, Chin stated that the differences between these nations and countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe, where the rate of HIV infection is as high as 20 percent of the adult population, is at least in part due to behavioral differences, including sexual behavior. "In general, there are lower prevalence of sexual risk behaviors and HIV facilitating factors in West African populations compared to Eastern and Southern African populations," he said.

Chin added that the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), has refused to acknowledge its own studies showing that the epidemic has stabilized or is in decline.

Chin also quoted the report's admission that "changes in behavior" are at the root of the success. "In several countries, favourable trends in incidence are related to changes in behaviour and prevention programs. Changes in incidence along with rising AIDS mortality have caused global HIV prevalence (the proportion of people living with HIV) to level off," the report states.

In reading this article, the primary agenda of these religiously motivated groups jumps out within the first two paragraphs. First and foremost is an effort to document that abstinence programs are working and are responsible for reductions in HIV infections. Secondly, they seek to undermine the assertions by numerous groups that condom distribution and sex education are essentially the fundamental tools in the battle against this deadly virus.

Note how Dr. Chin actually attempts to utilize the UNAIDS studies to support the arguments being made by LifeSite and the many religious groups that have embraced the AIDS crisis in Africa. The fact that the UNAIDS report cites "changes in behavior" is being construed to suggest that abstinence is the fundamental behavioral change. In reality, the UNAIDS statement refers to a variety of behavior changes...one of which is the expanding use of condoms which has been facilitated by a better understanding of the virus and the ability to dispel preexisting beliefs which have hindered the implementation of safe sex practices.

The following excerpts are from the second article at LifeSite.

From LifeSite.net (Part Two):

Nov. 2, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Dr. James Chin has recently published a book detailing his struggles with the UNAIDS establishment. Titled "The AIDS Pandemic: The Collision of Epidemiology with Political Correctness", the book's thesis is that "the story of HIV has been distorted by UNAIDS and AIDS activists in order to support the myth of the high potential risk of HIV epidemics spreading into the general population" according to the publisher.

Chin's criticisms are echoed by two other eminent scientists at Harvard's Center on Population and Development, Dr. Edward Green and Dr. Daniel Halperin, whose research continues to be ignored by the AIDS establishment. Dr. Green has served as team leader on numerous USAID project designs and evaluations. Dr. Halpern is a former Technical Adviser for Prevention/Behaviour Change, USAID Southern Africa Regional HIV/AIDS Program.

The two Harvard scientists have noted that, while abstinence programs in countries like Uganda have proven their effectiveness, AIDS policymakers continue to promote condom use, and ignore the differences in AIDS rates among African nations.

Green has written a book on Uganda's "ABC" approach to HIV transmission: first Abstinence, then Be Faithful, then if the first two fail, use a Condom. Uganda's immediate response to the AIDS threat in the early 1980s reduced the incidence of HIV infection from 15% to less than 4% in the space of a few years. Green's book examines the strange disconnect between the demonstrated effectiveness of abstinence and marital fidelity campaigns and the prevention strategies of international aid agencies.

In an article for the journal The Responsive Community, Green points out the utter failure of the condom-pushing approach of UNAIDS. "How has the Western risk-reduction model fared in Africa? There is no evidence that mass promotion of condoms has paid off with a decline of HIV infection rates at the population level in Africa, according to a new UNAIDS assessment of condom effectiveness. In fact, countries with the highest levels of condom availability (Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Kenya) also have some of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world," he writes.

Green notes that the insistence on promoting failed policies can be explained in part by a cultural bias in favor of sexual promiscuity and permissiveness, but adds that an important factor may also be the economic interests of the global AIDS establishment. "Apart from Western values and biases, there are economic factors to consider. AIDS prevention has become a billion dollar industry" he writes. "Under President Bush's global AIDS initiative, the US will spend $15 billion, partially on prevention. It would be politically naive to expect that those who profit from the lucrative AIDS-prevention industry would not be inclined to protect their interests."

The data presented by Chin and LifeSite is cherry picked to paint the picture they are promoting. Specifically, those in favor of abstinence have pointed to Uganda as an abstinence success story. The problem with that analysis is that they choose to look at a limited period of time to make their argument. Once one looks at the situation in Uganda without ignoring all of the data, the effectiveness of abstinence only is seriously challenged.

The following is from my previous posting on the subject. Newly inserted data is in bold and italicized text.

Abstinence: Uganda HIV Rates Suggest Failure

The latest HIV infection information from Uganda seems to indicate that the abstinence approach may be a disaster in the making. Uganda, long viewed as a model for HIV prevention success in Africa, appears to have taken a wrong turn in promoting the program described as ABC...A: abstinence first...B: be faithful in a committed relationship...C: use condoms if A and B fail. The Bush administration appears to be complicit in these alarming new infection rates by virtue of its push towards programs that emphasize abstinence while moving away from the promotion of condom usage.

From allAfrica.com:

Speaking at the ceremony, the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) Director General, Dr Kihumuro Apuuli, said despite financial support from the donor community, the rate of people acquiring HIV/Aids is still increasing.

He said, in 2005 130,000 Ugandans got infected compared to 70,000 in 2003.

Updated data suggests that new infections were estimated to have increased from 132,000 people in 2005 to 136,000 in 2006.

One must understand a little of the history of Uganda's AIDS prevention efforts in order to draw any conclusions. Uganda was one of the first African nations to openly discuss HIV and to direct energy and money towards awareness. In 1986, President Museveni toured the country with a message that HIV prevention was a patriotic endeavor and basically introduced the above described program that has come to be called the ABC's of AIDS prevention. There is little dispute about these basic facts. However, since that time the interpretation of the resulting data has been widely divergent and controversial.

When the Bush administration announced its five year, 15 billion dollar effort to combat HIV in Africa in early 2003, it immediately embraced the Ugandan ABC program as a model for the rest of Africa. Since that time, two opposing views have emerged with regard to an effective plan to combat HIV in Africa.

The administration and numerous religious groups (most of these groups have limited HIV experience) believe that abstinence should be the primarily prevention message. Those with significant HIV prevention experience caution that abstinence can be an adjunct to condom promotion and distribution, but it is not a method that ought to be singularly embraced and endorsed. They cite abundant research and data to support this contention.

From talk2action.org:

Uganda was once an HIV prevention success story, where an ambitious government-sponsored prevention campaign, including massive condom distribution and messages about delaying sex and reducing numbers of partners, pushed HIV rates down from 15 percent in the early 1990s to 5 percent in 2001. But conservative evangelicals rewrote this history--with the full-throated cooperation of Uganda's evangelical first family, the Musevenis. As one Family Research Council paper put it:

"Both abstinence and monogamy helped to curb the spread of AIDS in Uganda...How did this happen? Shortly after he came into office in 1986, President Museveni of Uganda spearheaded a mass education campaign promoting a three-pronged AIDS prevention message: abstinence from sexual activity until marriage; monogamy within marriage; and condoms as a last resort. The message became commonly known as ABC: Abstain, Be faithful, and use Condoms if A and B fail."

This warped version of the true Uganda story became the mantra in Bush's Washington, with the "C" reduced more and more to an afterthought as time went by. For example, in piling on against a 2002 pro-condom comment by then Secretary of State Colin Powell, Focus on the Family's James Dobson wrote condoms out of the story entirely: "Secretary Powell seems to be ignorant of the fact the Uganda has made great progress against AIDS by emphasizing abstinence, not condoms."

To see more about this shifting Bush administration emphasis on abstinence and faith based programs, please see the prior Thought Theater posting on the topic here. Questions about the Ugandan effort and their reports of successful results began to surface in 2004.

From BBC News:

An organisation helping people living with HIV/Aids in Uganda has questioned the authenticity of the government's statistics on the disease.

Uganda is often held up as a success story and the government lauded for the progress it has made with the official prevalence rate put at only 6%.

But after conducting research in districts across Uganda, an NGO suggests the real picture is far worse.

They found prevalence rates as high as 30% and bad access to anti-retrovirals.

Major Rubaramira Ruranga, the executive director of the National Guidance and Empowerment Network of people living with HIV/Aids in Uganda (NGEN), said he believed the HIV prevalence rate could be more than three times higher than previously thought.

"We have found the prevalence rate at this time is 17%," he told a news conference.

Additional data was reported in early 2005 in the San Francisco Chronicle. Take particular note that researchers seem to be confounded by the information they were gathering when they compared it to the reported declines in infection rates. Not only were they finding that abstinence was waning, they were puzzled that infection rates appeared to be declining. They point out that condom use seemed to be on the increase...possibly providing an explanation to the confusing data.

Research from the heavily studied Rakai district in southern Uganda suggests that increased condom use, coupled with premature death among those infected more than a decade ago with the AIDS virus, are primarily responsible for the steady decline in HIV infections in that area.

Uganda's "ABC" prevention formula -- standing for Abstinence, Be Faithful, and use Condoms -- has been widely credited with lowering that nation's infection rate from 30 percent in the early 1990s to below 10 percent today.

In the Rakai district, however, researchers found that abstinence and fidelity have actually been declining, but the expected rise in HIV infections stemming from such behavior has not occurred.

"Condom use may be offsetting other high-risk behaviors,'' said Maria Wawer, a professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, who presented the study at a session of the 12th Annual Retrovirus Conference in Boston.

The Rakai findings are based on an extensive and continuing process of interviewing 10,000 adults each year --a so-called population-based survey that is considered the gold standard for this kind of epidemiological research.

Reports of consistent condom use by men rose to more than 50 percent by 2002, compared with 10 percent a decade earlier. Among women, reports of condom use rose from virtually zero to 25 percent.

In order to fully understand all the factors that may explain these new infection statistics, one must also realize what was taking place within the Ugandan condom distribution program. In 2004, the Ugandan government suddenly issued a recall for condoms that were being distributed for free at numerous clinics throughout the country. The President of Uganda indicated concerns about the quality of the condoms.

PBS has covered the issue of condoms in Uganda in an article as well as a video which can be found here. The video adds to the body of evidence suggesting that condom use is superior to abstinence in the prevention of HIV infection.

From Avert.org:

In 2004 the Ugandan government issued a nationwide recall of the condoms distributed free in health clinics, due to concerns about their quality. Although tests showed there was nothing at all wrong with the condoms, the government said that public confidence in the brand had been badly dented, so they would not redistribute them. By mid-2005 there was said to be a severe scarcity of condoms in Uganda, made worse by new taxes which made the remaining stocks too expensive for many people to afford.

Some have said the US is largely to blame for the shortages. According to Stephen Lewis, the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, "there is no question that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven and exacerbated by PEPFAR and by the extreme policies that the administration in the United States is now pursuing".

Mr Lewis has also said that PEPFAR's emphasis on abstinence above condom distribution is a "distortion of the preventive apparatus and is resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred".

However, speaking in August 2005, Uganda's coordinator of condom procurement at the Ministry of Health denied there was any shortage of condoms, and said that new stocks would be distributed soon. She also said the government was committed to promoting all three parts of the "ABC" strategy: Abstinence, Faithfulness and Condoms.

From Kaisernetwork.org:

U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis and other AIDS advocates in August said the Bush administration's policy of promoting abstinence prevention programs and cuts in federal funding for condoms have contributed to a condom shortage in Uganda and undermined the country's HIV/AIDS fight. Uganda needs between 120 million and 150 million condoms annually, but since October 2004 only 32 million have been distributed in the country, according to the U.S.-based Center for Health and Gender Equity, also known as CHANGE.

In 2005, Act Up also took up the issue of the reported condom shortage in Uganda and the fears about the shift to abstinence programs that were emerging since the introduction of the Bush administrations efforts to combat the disease in Africa.

From Actupny.org:

(Manhattan) A coalition of AIDS activists held a demonstration in midtown Manhattan outside of the Ugandan Permanent Mission to the United Nations today to bring attention to that nation's severe condom shortage which is putting people at dangerous risk of HIV infection. The crisis has developed over the past ten months as the government of Uganda has stopped its robust program of public sector condom distribution. These condoms previously accounted for 80% of condoms available in the country.

Since May 2004, new shipments--some 30 million quality-approved condoms--have been sitting in government warehouses. Activists are demanding to know why, nearly a year into the shortage, health clinics are still unsupplied and the government is refusing to state when or how they will distribute the condoms. "This crisis could have been averted by the government long ago. The condoms are there, but what is in woeful shortage is the political will of Ugandan leaders to distribute them and promote condom use," said Sharonann Lynch of Health GAP.

Now activists in Uganda say the program has been overtaken by abstinence-until-marriage approaches as President Yoweri Museveni and First Lady Janet Museveni are aligning Uganda's policies with the ideology touted--and financed--by the United States government.

Uganda is a country receiving funds from the President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The program requires a minimum of 33% of its prevention funds to be used for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, and limits the distribution of condoms to specific high-risk groups. "The strident prevention politics tied to the Bush administration's AIDS funding are undermining sound prevention in the name of abstinence-only approaches. Scientific studies have shown the inadequacy of such methods, and President Museveni is neglecting the public health of Ugandans by bowing to Bush's pressure." said Eustacia Smith of ACT UP.

A comprehensive review of this body of information simply illuminates the misguided efforts of the Bush administration with regard to HIV prevention. The data not only show that the abstinence approach is at best suspect (and more likely, wholly insufficient); it clearly demonstrates that condom availability and usage are the essential tool in combating increasing infection rates.

One is left to wonder about the accuracy of the reported data. While the near doubling of infection rates is sufficiently alarming, it is even more frightening to consider the possibility that the information may be inaccurate. I have no way to verify the data and while I question the motivations of the Ugandan government, it may be several years before it can be determined if the numbers may have been deliberately under reported.

Uganda is a snapshot of a confluence of allegiances and events that will ultimately have led to more pain, suffering, and death. History will likely note that the matching ideologies of those in power in both nations directly led to the unnecessary spread of a deadly disease at a time when money and energy were available to enable the opposite. That is an unmitigated and inexcusable tragedy.

End - Abstinence: Uganda HIV Rates Suggest Failure

Returning to this latest reporting from LifeSite and Drs. Chin, Green, and Halperin, we see a continuation of the propaganda which has accompanied the campaign to combat HIV in Africa utilizing the values of the religious right under the auspices of the Bush administration's massive funding commitment.

The effort to distort the facts is enormous and there are other players in the plot. Even worse, there are increasing concerns that the UN, through agencies such as UNICEF, is silently accepting some of the distortions as a matter of political expediency. They may well have good reasons given the strong belief that the 15 billion dollar U.S. funding commitment is beneficial despite its requirement that a third of the spending be earmarked for abstinence programs.

What remains unclear and poorly defined is any analysis of the merits of spending five billion of those dollars on abstinence as opposed to using that same money on more beneficial and proven strategies...including more safe-sex education, access to condoms, and much needed anti-retroviral treatment.

Zimbabwe appears to be the latest focus of this tug of war as well as an example of my lingering concerns.

From UNICEF.org:

HARARE, 31October 2007 – New data shows that Zimbabwe’s HIV rate continues to drop, giving it one of the most significant and rapid declines of any country in the world.

The overall HIV prevalence among antenatal clinic attendees (pregnant women) decreased from 25.7per cent in 2002 to 21.3per cent (2004) and now to 17.7per cent in 2006. Based on this, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and international experts today published the new estimate of the HIV sero-prevalence rate among Zimbabwe’s adult population to be 15.6per cent.

The new data reinforces Zimbabwe’s successes in behaviour change among young people. The biggest falls among pregnant women were recorded among the 15-24 year age group, showing a drop in HIV from 20.8 percent to 13.1 percent in just four years (2002 to 2006).

“Young people are having fewer partners and using more condoms," said UNFPA’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Bruce Campbell. “They have heard the messages, taken action, and are being safer. Now we must continue our combined efforts to ensure national HIV prevention programmes have an even greater reach."

Zimbabwe was one of the first countries to develop a comprehensive epidemiological review which resulted in an evidence-based behaviour change strategy. Promotion of partner reduction and consistent condom use remain at the core of the strategy.

Currently around two-thirds of people who need treatment are not receiving it, and so without a significant additional injection of funds, universal access will not be attained. [...] There are an estimated 98,000 HIV positive pregnant women in need of PMTCT services, far more that the 8500 who received them in 2006.

As we see from this data, infection rates seem to be on the decline...but the explanation offered is notably vague. Let me be clear...I am not suggesting that the information is intentionally deceptive; rather I suspect that it is decidedly broad so as to avoid the obvious conflict that persists with regard to the preferred prevention strategy.

Note that the article speaks of behavioral change but avoids any effort to quantify the success of the various methods (safe-sex education, abstinence, condom usage). I contend that lack of clarity is a function of political calculations...and I'm not the only one offering such speculation.

From The International Herald Tribune:

Others were doubtful of the figures and the assumptions, pointing to Zimbabwe's economic and infrastructural meltdown, lack of medical care and medication, and the difficulties of relying on statistics when as much as a third of the population has abandoned the country.

"I think with the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe, one would be kind of skeptical about statistics, which could also be caused by an undercount, by mass migration ...," said Dr. David Bourne, an epidemiologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

From allAfrica.com:

But experts have questioned the validity of the government's surveys, given that millions of Zimbabweans are fleeing the country due to the ongoing political decay and economic meltdown. An estimated 3 million Zimbabweans have emigrated to neighbouring South Africa in search of employment and better living conditions. Up to 2 million more are scattered around the globe.

Reports in South Africa suggest that HIV/Aids rates in that country are rising, as Zimbabwe's are supposedly dropping.

Brian Nyathi, a Zimbabwean health practitioner in South Africa questioned the reliability of the government's latest figures given that so many people are leaving the country.

He said: "Many people have left Zimbabwe and the ones that are left are so struck down by poverty and the collapse of the health delivery system such that they can not access hospitals. We wonder then if these figures can be trusted."

Health reporter Bertha Shoko said disparities in the figures of people needing anti-retroviral therapy had also raised eyebrows.

Shoko said that the figures were questionable because they seem to have increased when prevalence rate is falling. The survey itself only took place at a few medical institutions.

"Speculation is rife that the UN only accepted the figures for political diplomatic reasons, " she said.

My worry is that the political environment is hindering adequate reporting and may well be subject to manipulation as the various factions jockey to justify their methodology. If Uganda is representative of the past distortions, one must wonder what will be uncovered in the next few years with those other nations which are now being sought out and identified as proof for these suspect strategies.

In my most cynical moments, I find myself wondering if the powers that be on the religious right have decided to make Africa the guinea pig of an ideological struggle to promote the religious values of American evangelicals. Keep in mind that the AIDS crisis isn't unique to Africa yet it garners the bulk of our attention. In fact, if one looks at the world, perhaps Africa is the last logical frontier available for such an ambitious experiment.

Specifically, our influence in Europe has been limited for many years, the Soviet Union and China are off limits for obvious reasons, Latin and South America are moving rapidly to the left with a noticeable rejection of U.S. influence, and the Middle East and most Eastern nations have incompatible religious beliefs and would resist any U.S. effort to instill Western values.

Taking the theory a step further, if the religious right has concluded that fully defeating secularism, "the homosexual agenda", and the separation of church and state in the United States isn't feasible at the moment, then a back door approach might be the preferred path. Suppose the goal is to eventually hold up the African experiment as the rationale for discrediting secularism, condemning the gay lifestyle, and elevating and embracing biblical law over all others. Toss in the standard fare of fear mongering...fear that an HIV ravaged Africa represents what could well happen to America if our existing mores are allowed to continue their purported "decline"...and one begins to imagine a master plan of grandiose proportions...yet one that isn't all that implausible.

I contend it isn't possible to reconcile the abject rejection of the gay lifestyle (mindful of its connection to HIV) with the eagerness to defeat AIDS in Africa without understanding the possible ulterior motives. If the defeat of HIV in Africa can be construed to have resulted from the instilling of "morally acceptable" behavior, it provides a new weapon with which to attack the gay lifestyle as well as other unwanted social and political constructs. Stay with me...I promise I can connect the dots.

If abstinence, and one man with one woman joined together in marriage for life, can be demonstrated to limit the prevalence of HIV (and obviously other STD's), it allows a return to the assailing of the permissive lifestyle (particularly focused upon gays)...the very one which would be argued to have been a significant factor in facilitating the spread of HIV in America. If that focus can be rekindled, the gay lifestyle can once again be vilified to the voting public...the same voting public that has recently been demonstrated to be highly vulnerable to manipulation by fear.

Once that ball is rolling, the natural progression is an outright rejection of the gay lifestyle (it can be called unnatural and unhealthy and therefore it shouldn't be normalized), a recommitment to conventional values (they promote healthy living which is what ought to be taught in schools), a rejection of the laissez faire attitude which accompanies secularism (the seeds of Sodom and Gomorrah), and the opening to begin implementing biblical law (church and state become one and the same under god's law).

Throw in the fact that such an environment would obviously forbid abortion and one begins to imagine the minions salivating at the prospect of a successful societal superfecta. I hope I'm wrong but when I think about the fact that we seem to ignore the millions of Americans living in poverty and the 47 million who lack health insurance, I can't help but recognize the dissonance. My antennae will remain up until I start to hear some different signals.

Unlike with horses, I have this nagging feeling the religious right has concluded that Americans will drink the kool-aid if the powers that be can simply figure out the means to lead them to the trough. Consider this fair warning...I'll have to be dragged kicking and screaming.

Tagged as: ABC, Abstinence, Africa, AIDS, Condom Distribution, Evangelicals, GLBT, Global AIDS Initiative, HIV, Homophobia, LifeSite, Religious Right, Ronald Reagan, Secularism, Uganda, UNAIDS, UNICEF, World Health Organization, Zimbabwe

Daniel DiRito | November 2, 2007 | 11:07 AM | link | Comments (0)
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