Sunday, February 25, 2007


Earlier this month the Governor of Texas, a religious Republican named Rick Perry, issued an executive order requiring the state to immunize girls aged 11 and 12 against HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that is known to be a cause of types of cervical cancer that kills and estimated 3-4000 women each year. This new vaccine has given social conservatives across the country a major case of heartburn - they were responsible for the year long delay by the Bush administration in getting the FDA to approve the drug in the first place. The concern is that by offering protection against an STD it in effect encourages these girls to have sex by eliminating all of the downside of engaging in intercourse.

Once Rick Perry signed the executive order, the shitstorm began. Religious conservatives attacked Governor Perry,saying, 'The mandate makes sex seem permissible.' Allegations have also be swirling that the decision has something to do with the governor's former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, who is a lobbyist for Meurk, the company who developed the vaccine.

Perry, however, has fought back. Pointing out the obvious, that taking anti-malarial medication doesn't increase one's desire to get bitten by mosquitoes, he said:

'...Providing the HPV vaccine doesn't promote sexual promiscuity any more than providing the Hepatitis B vaccine promotes drug use...If the medical community developed a vaccine for lung cancer, would the same critics oppose it claiming it would encourage smoking?...'

Reading that quote about 2 weeks ago, got me to thinking. There exists a clear scriptural base to the sexual concerns of the religious right; sex is mentioned many times in the Bible - according to the New International Version, sex/sexual is used 28 times in the Old Testament and 28 times in the New Testatment - and usually not in a postivie light, which is to be expected for any scripture that advocates transcending the material in favor of the spiritual.

But what about the tobacco comment? Would the religious right go after a cure for lung cancer? Does the Bible mention Tobacco? Not at all, again for obvious reasons - tobacco is a New World plant, unknown to the denizens of Europe and Asia until the time of Columbus. In the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam there are no specific proscriptions against tobacco use. Smoking of course is frowned upon in those three religions, even rejected by some members as immoral. However the scriptural basis for such proscriptions is interpretive, not literal.

For instance, most modern Christian writing on the evils of smoking continually refers to the same passage in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: 'Do you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.' This famous phrase is constantly being used out of context (oddly enough a common occurrence by those who take the Bible literally): it specifically refers to sex (1 Cor. 6:18 - the immediately proceeding verse - 'Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.')

That arguement also ignores the passage in Matthew 15:10-11: 'Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'. This passage is clearly not in the context of smoking but is a reference to the hypocritical nature of the temple Pharisees in Jerusalem. Matthew 15 is one of the many passages in the gospels where Jesus and the disciples violate the laws of Moses (in this case not washing their hands before eating.) thereby earning the wrath of the Temple Pharisees. These passages pretty much consistently lampoon the Pharisees as prisoners of an almost bureaucratic focus on scriptural rules and regulations. In Matthew 15:8-9, Jesus quotes the book of Isaiah:

'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'

So kudos to Governor Perry, fighting the good fight against the Pharisees. It's good to know that not all religious conservatives have read the Bible with their head instead of their heart.