Sex sells, and the pope knows it. He saw the condom media frenzy coming.
In his book-length interview, "Light of the World," (with Peter Seewald) Benedict XVI warns of a "sheer fixation on the condom" that "implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love." He explains that "the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man's being."
Pope Paul VI formulated this healthy view of sexuality in opposition to the sexual revolution's power in his 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae." He saw the pervasive dangers for men, women, children and the institution of marriage that so-called "sexual freedom" represented. He saw the poison that the pill could inflict on society, introducing a false sense of liberation to natural law and human nature.
In a book released the same day as the papal tome, Sarah Palin hits similar notes in a candidly personal way. In "America by Heart," Palin writes, "It was the mid-1960s before divorce and single motherhood really began to take off in the United States. And it was another 20 years before the country really began to feel the effects of the decline of the family in rising crime rates, drug abuse, and long-term welfare dependency."
From here she goes straight to Katrina and the "horrific images" we all saw in New Orleans in the late summer of 2005. It wasn't just bureaucratic bungling to blame for the catastrophe. As Palin writes, "Hurricane Katrina revealed something other than government incompetence. It revealed a population of Americans dependent on government and incapacitated by the destruction of the American family. The victims of Hurricane Katrina we saw huddled at the Superdome were overwhelmingly poor and minority."
Kanye West may have called former president George W. Bush a racist, but, as Palin writes, "that knee-jerk reaction overlooked a few relevant and alarming facts. In a nation in which an astonishing 70 percent of African American babies were being born to single women in 2004, fatherlessness among poor African Americans in New Orleans was estimated at between 60 and 80 percent." She adds that New Orleans' murder rater was quadruple the average for similar-sized cities the year before the hurricane.
These were exactly the issues former vice president Dan Quayle highlighted in his famous "Murphy Brown" speech, as Palin points out, calling his speech, which criticized the protagonist of that television show's unwed motherhood, "prophetic." In her 2007 book, "Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age," Kay Hymowitz focused on exactly what Palin is highlighting. While there was a brief "revived national interest in poverty, particularly black poverty," Hymowitz noted around the time of the release of her book, it was missing a discussion of marriage. "Even the lowest-income couples are better off than their single peers, with fewer spells of hardship and more help from extended family. This is not just because marriage brings the benefits of two incomes and two sets of hands. Saving and making money are in the DNA of American marriage, and have been since the first Englishmen arrived," she told me.
It may have something to do with the genetics of marriage itself. As Paul VI wrote in the summer of '68: "Conjugal love … is total; that is, it is a very special form of personal friendship whereby the spouses generously share everything with each other without undue reservations and without concern for their selfish convenience."
Wisely, Palin slams the tyranny of relativism in the matter of relationships. "When it comes to raising good citizens, all 'lifestyle choices' are not equal," she writes. And she does so with self-awareness, as the mother of an unwed teenage mother herself. Bristol Palin was unfortunate enough to have to live her pregnancy on national TV, but she was also lucky to have a supportive family and rare opportunities. Palin writes: "We've welcomed Bristol's son, Tripp, into our lives with open arms. He is beautiful, and things are working out. But Bristol has paid a price — a high price. Her adolescence ended long before it should have … and she's making sure other girls know it. That's why she's out there, speaking up about her experience and telling other young girls, 'Don't do what I did.'"
Or, translated to the boys of New Orleans, I'll quote Bill Cosby: "We have to make it 'cool' not to become a father until you're ready to become a father."
We live in a fallen world, but one that's never irrevocable severed from the good. Seewald's conversation with Pope Benedict was specifically sparked by the issue of AIDS in Africa. Africans, poor black Big Easy residents and your teenage daughter and son all deserve a chance at the full "humanization of sexuality" — a healthy, holistic view of sex and love. A condom's not a key to true happiness; it can be a barrier. Ditto the government. Education and encouragement and love are true game changers. When we stop ridiculing, dismissing and misrepresenting the prophets, teachers and other voices of common sense, we might just get somewhere.