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Better Microbes: Nature Abhors Promiscuity

My colleague Eric Metaxas recently told BreakPoint listeners about a new strain of gonorrhea “that is resistant to the only class of drugs that can ‘reliably treat’ the disease.”

What’s true of bacteria like Neisseria gonorrhoeae is also true of virtually every other microbe: They are very adaptable and they change faster than our ability to develop treatments that will kill them.

But in order to adapt, they often need — and get — a helping hand from humans.

Let me explain. As Laurie Garrett chronicled in her book, The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, the four decades between Alexander Flemings’ discovery of penicillin and the mid-1960s were the most optimistic time in the history of medicine.

The development of more-effective antibiotics and breakthroughs in genetics and cancer research led many in the medical profession to look forward to the day when even old killers like cancer would be considered chronic, but not fatal, conditions.

Nowhere was this optimism more keenly felt than in the area of sexually transmitted diseases. The incidence of STDs had dropped precipitously, and cases were easily treated with antibiotics. Resources previously devoted to keeping STDs in check were being shifted elsewhere.

But in less than a decade, this optimism was gone. Why? The Sexual Revolution. As Garrett tells us, changing sexual mores during the 60s and 70s acted as a kind of growth medium for STDs like gonorrhea to evolve into the “superbugs” that have public health officials worried today.

The combination of promiscuity, drug use, and the overuse of antibiotics as a kind of “backup plan” didn’t create the better world some promised: What it created were “better” microbes, or as in the case of HIV/AIDS, the transformation of a previously-unheard of virus into the source of a global pandemic.

The drug-resistant gonorrhea is only the latest chapter in a story that began with the sexual revolution.

The connection between “lifestyle” and adaptable microbes is well-documented. Equally well-documented is the unwillingness on the part of public health officials to admit it.

I’m not talking about “blaming the victim” here. I’m referring to what, in other contexts, has been called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” In virtually every book or article about the emergence of antibiotic-resistant STDs, the inability of people to modify or even moderate their sexual practices, even in the face of life-threatening illnesses, is a given.

Somehow New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s restriction on soft drink sizes is hailed as social justice, but pointing out the dangers to public health posed by promiscuity is a big no-no.

Look, nature is obviously indifferent to our ideas about “freedom.” As the philosopher Joseph John Rickaby wrote a century ago, “nature abhors promiscuity.” He called promiscuity “suicidal” and added that a society where it was acceptable would be plagued by infertility and disease.

Time has proven him right, even if those entrusted with public health refuse to say so.

And it’s not just our physical health that’s at stake. Our mental and societal health is being decimated by the visual promiscuity that is pornography — something I discuss with Josh and Sean McDowell on this weekend’s BreakPoint this Week. This is easily one of the most stunning interviews I’ve ever conducted, and if you’re a parent, you simply must take a look at Josh’s new website: just1clickaway.org. And come to BreakPoint.org to listen to the broadcast.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: October 26, 2012

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