More

What we can learn from what Kim Davis and the Pope did this week

Here are the do's and don'ts of faith, ripped from the headlines.

What we can learn from what Kim Davis and the Pope did this week

This week was a pretty big week for God in the news.

Well, OK. Maybe God wasn't the hot topic. But religion certainly was. There were two very big stories that seemed to have little in common, but both can teach us some important lessons about religion if we look closely enough.

The first was the saga of Kim Davis. The Kentucky clerk refused to do her job and sign marriage certificates for same-sex couples in the name of "conscience" and in doing so, she became a national symbol for anyone who opposes marriage equality on religious grounds.




Kim Davis at her church service, er, I mean, rally. Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images.

According to Davis — who spent five days in jail and was greeted at her release by presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and hundreds of cheering, cross-waving supporters — it was her faith and her religious conviction that made her do it.

Contrast that with the second time that religion took center stage this week: Pope Francis encouraged every single Catholic parish in Europe to "take in one migrant family." The call to the region's approximately 120,000 parishes was made in response to the continent's ongoing refugee crisis, which has hit record levels and finally shocked the world into paying attention.



Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/Getty Images.

“In front of the tragedy of the tens of thousands of refugees escaping death by war or hunger, on the path towards the hope of life, the Gospel calls us, asks us to be 'neighbors' of the smallest and most abandoned." — Pope Francis

Why should we look at those two stories together? For sure, there are plenty of legal, political, and theological debates that can be had about both Kim Davis and Pope Francis.

But to me, the most interesting part of these two stories — and what connects them — is what they both can teach us about faith.

Strong faith can be a tremendous force for good in the world. It has helped provide education and basic needs for millions of people and has been a foundational component of civil and human rights efforts all around the world, the most famous of which is the 1960s American civil rights movement.

Photo via the Abernathy family/Wikimedia Commons.

But we also know that faith can be very dangerous. It has been used to justify things like slavery, the oppression of women, and most recently, the killing of gays all over the world.

How can something so good do such bad? Or, if you're not a person of faith, maybe you're wondering how something so bad can do such good.

Here's my theory.

I think of faith as the ideas and beliefs that people have about God. But religion is the tricky part — the rules and practices that humans created to figure out how to actually connect with their god.

In all the major world religions, the practices and rules were created in a very specific cultural context (like, for example, 2,000 years ago in "Bible times"). But when cultures change, which they're guaranteed to do, things get tough for religion.

The subtle signs of anti-gay protesters. Photo by Jenny Mealing/Wikimedia Commons.

The kind of faith that relies most heavily on religious rules often focuses on what I call the don'ts:

Don't legalize alcohol. Don't teach sex education. Don't legalize abortions. Don't be gay. Don't legalize marijuana. Don't let people get married. Don't [fill-in-the-blank].

When people of faith make their primary agenda item a don't in order to maintain the cultural status quo, it can:

  • Oppress people and violate rights.
  • Cause very real pain and harm in people's lives.
  • Repel millions of people away from the idea of faith and God altogether.

Faith used in this way ultimately always loses. (See again slavery, prohibition, oppression of women, legalizing abortion, gay marriage, etc.)

That is the kind of faith we saw on display in Kentucky this week.

But when faith focuses on the do's — working to solve problems, meet needs, and serve others — it ultimately wins.

Yes, that is Mother Teresa. Because ... of course. Photo by Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images.

The do's are actions and principles like these:

Do love your neighbor. Do feed the hungry. Do heal the sick. (Free health care anyone?) Do seek justice. Do practice humility. Do give more than you receive. Do take in thousands of refugee families.

Faith used in this way can:

  • Remind us of the simple truths hiding beneath complex issues.
  • Empower us to take concrete action in response to pain and injustice.
  • Connect and draw people together across all divides.

The do's are where the magic happens. The do's are what we saw from the Pope this week. It's the do's that are currently behind the Moral Mondays movement for economic justice and the religious leadership in the Black Lives Matter movement, not to mention the thousands of organizations working to take care of the earth, provide for the homeless, and support women and families.

Kim Davis didn't save a life this week. The Pope just may have helped save thousands.

This tale of two acts of faith teaches an important lesson, not just for those of us who identify as Christian or religious, but for anyone looking for ways to use what they believe to make a difference. The world becomes measurably, tangibly, and practically better with the do's of faith. That, to me, sounds like a major win that all people — religious and not — can get behind.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less