Saving souls over the infected body

President Bush’s faith-based initiative developed foreseeable political baggage surrounding the allocation of $15 billion to fight HIV/AIDS. Mostly the baggage revolves around the distribution of condoms and the focus, or lack of focus, on abstinence and fidelity. I don’t want to go too in-depth on this because any thinking person could come up with the standard storyline for each side in the argument.

Personally, I don’t care for the religious angle coming from the federal government. That’s realistic more than anything. Just like any other arena where the independent, objective-minded interests of the government become quickly skewed to whatever dominant social theme prevails, this was bound to erupt into chaos. The goal is fighting AIDS and the spread of HIV. That shouldn’t be political, but a faith-based initiative means it will be so. It’s an inefficient waste of resources. That’s the outcome in which government specializes, of course.

Instead of worrying about whether we’re on message for what Jesus would want (hello, First Amendment), we should be practical. People are still dying, HIV is still spreading, and ignorance still permeates policy. Better to understand that human nature will not suddenly change, across cultures, in numbers sufficient to justify the “moral” solution. Essentially, at-risk people will continue to have sex, regardless of education, because that’s what humans do. As for the larger goals (incorrectly) promoted by faith-based initiatives, people will come to religion or they won’t; neither outcome is any government’s business. If government must pursue an international prevention policy, at taxpayer expense, it must approach the task with an aim for the proper results. No religious or moral qualifiers are appropriate.

Unlike this:

For prevention, Bush embraces the “ABC” strategy: abstinence before marriage, being faithful to one partner, and condoms targeted for high-risk activity. The Republican-led Congress mandated that one-third of prevention money be reserved for abstinence and fidelity.

The letters followed a briefing last year by Focus on the Family, run by Christian commentator and Bush ally James Dobson. The group’s sexual health analyst, Linda Klepacki, said even some religious groups emphasize condoms over abstinence.

“We have to be careful that the president’s original intent is being followed where A and B are the emphasized areas of the ABC methodology,” she said.

Focus on the Family would not be my first choice for medical advice on how to stop HIV/AIDS. No matter. Like everyone, I’m forced to pay for it. I only wish this next quote applied to government, in a much broader scope than a funding decision in one individual program:

“The notion that because people have always received aid money that they’ll get money needs to end,” Deputy U.S. global AIDS coordinator Mark Dybul said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The only way to have sustainable programs is to have programs that are wholly owned in terms of management personnel at the local level.”

If only, indeed…