According to Dr. James Allen, president of the American Social Health Association, “What we know is the right thing isn’t what we often do.”
Dr. Allen’s organization came to that profound conclusion this month after surveying 1,155 adults between the ages of 18 and 35 – the same age group as a young security officer who sat in my office one afternoon.
“They’re talking about me, Chaplain,” she said, blowing into her handkerchief.
I squinted. “Who? Who’s talking about you?”
“My squad. They all know I have genital herpes and none of them talk to me – I feel so alone!”
For the next hour I listened as this young professional told me of a casual acquaintance who’d given her a lifelong disease.
Staring at the floor as she spoke, she explained “If I meet someone and decide to tell them I have a disease, I never hear from them again. But if I wait until I know them a little better, they accuse me of wasting their time and say that I should have told them sooner.”
“When is the ‘right time’ to tell someone you have a sexually transmitted disease?” she agonized.
“I knew I was doing the wrong thing, but I did it anyway. I thought I was smarter than that!”
According to Dr. Allen’s survey, most sexually active Americans do believe that they are “smarter than that.” But while claiming to be smart about sexually transmitted diseases, he says that most are refusing to be distracted by the facts.
Being unable to act responsibly with information about ourselves is not a new problem. The Apostle Paul expressed it in his letter to the Romans when he disclosed that “the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it.”
This Pauline self-sabotage seemed most apparent during the part of Allen’s survey that disclosed that 84 percent of those taking the survey understood the necessity to take steps to prevent STD, and yet 82 percent of the sexually active participants seemed to fall the way of Paul when they admitted to omitting the use of barrier protection for certain sexual acts they considered low risk.
Allen seemed flabbergasted when he said “respondents on the survey said that they thought they had quite a bit of information about sexually transmitted diseases. And yet they did not act as though they knew that information.”
Paul’s words back up Allen’s assertion when he added “I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.”
And Paul confessed, “It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.”
Allen too bemoaned the inconsistency when he said, “Despite the fact that STDs are extremely widespread and have severe consequences, it is troubling that there is such a large portion of people who still feel invincible”
It sounds like Paul and Dr. Allen agree — Life is full of difficult choices, but that doesn’t mean we should quit trying to reconcile them. For after all, this is the month that a good part of the religious population celebrates a passionate effort by God to reconcile the greatest of all contradictions – life and death – a moment in which, according to Paul, God “acted to set things right in this life of contradictions.”
Bible quotes taken from Romans 8:17ff. The Message Navpress © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson