Surely the man can read.
I have a like/hate relationship with Andrew Sullivan. Not a love/hate relationship as I've never liked his stuff that much. He's too self-absorbed for me, I'm not really interested in all the details about his life, his mother, his lover, his dogs, his friends, etc. And when he goes religious he goes incoherent. What ability he has to think (and he has some) disappears completely once he brings in the spiritual. He actually makes less sense than the fundamentalists he despises (and with good reason). He uses what I call god-talk, which is something that sounds theological but which, when you try to figure out what he saying, is devoid of content or meaning.
Apparently when he has his God-goggles on he can't read either. In a post today he claims, regarding HIV, "If you believe, you're less likely to catch it." The problem is that it's bullshit. He then quotes something to prove his case and the sentence he quotes doesn't say that believers are less likely to catch HIV at all. Sullivan is a Christian of his own making and is HIV positive. What he quotes says nothing about religion preventing you from catching HIV at all. It says:
HIV-positive people who say religion is an important part of their lives are likely to have fewer sexual partners and engage in high-risk sexual behavior less frequently than other people with the virus that causes AIDS, according to a study issued today by the RAND Corporation. As a result, people with HIV who have stronger religious ties are less likely to spread the virus...Since these people already have HIV how does Sullivan read this as saying they are less likely to catch it? "If you believe, you are less likely to catch it." How can one be "less likely" to catch something that one has already caught? The chance of these people having HIV is 100% because they already have it.
What the report does say, as opposed to the fanciful interpretation of Sullivan, is that these people have less sex than other HIV positive individuals and thus are less likely to spread it. The "study" in question is a survey more than a study. It is based on what people say they do and not about what they actually do. And I have argued that when it comes to these "morality' surveys the religious have an incentive to lie and claim they are more moral than they actually are. One indication of this is the authors of the survey note that Africans-Americans "report high levels of both attendance at religious services and prayer" yet "have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS." In other words they are the most religious group in the US and yet have some of the highest HIV infection rates in the US.
To put in Sullivanesque terms: They are more likely to believe and more likely to catch it.
And apparently Mr. Sullivan's very public religiousity had no impact on how he played around sexually as he was caught looking for multiple sexual partners for unprotected sex himself. When that came out he was livid claiming it was an invasion of his privacy, but as one critic noted " he is one of the most self-referential journalists working today." Amen, to that. A story just isn't a story unless Sullivan can talk about himself. It's the least attractive aspect to his writing. He inundates his readers with personal information and cries privacy when certain aspects of his life become public. Sullivan's secondary defense was that the men he sought out as sexual partners for unprotected sex were already HIV positive themselves. And he dismisses the evidence that continued and repeated exposure to the virus increases the dangers. He calls the evidence for that "weak and hypothetical." Of course he ignores the fact that there are different strains of HIV with some worse than others. But apparently his constant parade of religiousity had little impact on what he was doing.
The key factor, however, about this survey, is how reliable is it? The participants were asked to describe their religious practices and beliefs as well as their sexual habits. If, as I contend, religiously prone individuals are more likely to be deceitful about their sexual life then the study is relatively worthless. It is worthless because we only have the self-reported claims of the religious on which to rely and nothing indicating actual activity.
For instance we have see that religious teenagers are more prone to lie about their sexual activity. And worse, their religiousity compels many of them to avoid condoms. So when they do have sex the studies all show that they are more likely to have unprotected sex. That is confirmed by looking at the most Bible-belt states and their teen pregnancy rates. The "godless" states have much lower teen pregnancy rates while the Bible-belt states have the highest.
The survey admitted that a large number of the participants were fundamentalists -- who already are HIV positive indicating something about their sexual activity of the past. And the side chasm between what they claim they do and what they actually do is famously wide. Surely I don't have to list the numbers of famous fundamentalist figures who have been caught in one sleazy scandal or another to prove my point.
People who don't hold strict religious moral beliefs are not more likely to "sin". We can see that by noting that atheists are underrepresented in prison while fundamentalists are over represented. Atheists are less likely to divorce than fundamentalists. But I suspect atheists are more likely to admit the truth about their sexual activities than fundamentalists. We have plenty of cases showing that to be the case. And as long as the survey is based on what the religious say they do it has to be taken with a large grain of salt.