Preaching the Gospel in Today’s Terms

Years ago as a teenager I responded to a small magazine ad promising to send me a booklet giving me the secrets to “The Mastery of Life.”

I took the bait, and learned a great deal about numerology, Egyptian pyramids and other fascinating things.  But I probably learned more about “The Mastery of Life” by reading Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” than I did from the Rosicrucians.

And, truth be told, it was only after I started on a journey that led me to become Catholic that I discovered the real pathway to “The Mastery of Life.”

That trip down memory lane was triggered by a new research study from Ohio State University.

The HPV vaccine can prevent both cervical cancer and a nasty sexually transmitted disease in women.  And in trying to sell young women on getting the vaccine, public health marketers have emphasized how it the HPV vaccine can prevent a woman from getting cervical cancer.

Turns out that’s the wrong pitch, at least according to researchers at Ohio State University:  Fewer than 20% of adolescent girls in the United States have received the HPV vaccine.

“Young women don’t respond strongly to the threat of cervical cancer,” says Janice Krieger, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at The Ohio State University.  “They seem to be more worried about getting an STD. That’s the way we should try to encourage them to get the HPV vaccine.”

She conducted a study which appears in the journal Health Communication.

In a study involving 188 female college students (average age of 22) and 115 of their mothers (average age of 50), Krieger found a message emphasizing the vaccine’s effectiveness at preventing genital wars was a clear winner with young women.

It seems to me that this carries over to how we present our moral teachings.  The U.S. has a huge problem with out-of-wedlock pregnancies.  The Obama Administration’s solution to this is to promote birth control pills.  The Catholic Church says (1) sex outside of marriage is a sin, and (2) use of artificial birth control is a mortal sin.

This is one of those cases where two negatives don’t make a positive message.

One worries about sin only if one is a believer, so talking about sin isn’t very effective to nonbelievers.  And for a young person, Hell seems a long way off.

After all, what is sin?  It’s doing something God doesn’t want us to do.  And why doesn’t God want us to do that particular thing?  Because God wants us to be happy.

Wouldn’t we be more effective in explaining that (1) sex outside of marriage often leads to unhappiness in the form of STDs and unwanted pregnancies, and the most effective way to avoid STDs and unwanted pregnancies isn’t The Pill but abstention, and (2) birth control pills are a particularly lousy idea because they don’t prevent STDs and their active ingredient has been labeled a Class I carcinogen by the World Health Organization — just like tobacco and asbestos?



About Joel Whitaker

Joel Whitaker is a long-time professional journalist (Tampa Bay Times, Wall Street Journal, Philadelphia Bulletin, Institutional Investor, executive newsletters) and Catholic convert. He is the RCIA coordinator for his parish.
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