Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Truth Matters!

This past Sunday, I preached on the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist incorporating some of the themes from the USCCB's "Fortnight For Freedom". In the context of the homily, I chose to use some stories.
Dr Jonas Salk administers a polio vaccine to a very brave kid.
One story concerned something I'd heard about Dr. Jonas Salk, the founder of the polio vaccine.

The other story concerned the Holy Father being asked about the AIDS crisis in Africa and his response that condoms do not help the problem but can make it worse.

The last story was one of a girl who was upset that her mother made her take a birth control shot when she turned 18 because she, who at the time was a virgin and not sexually active, was going to "have sex anyway" when she got to college according to her mother.

Of the three stories, one is false.
The pope story is true. Click here for more on that story.

The story about the girl is true. Although I won't give you her link, here's more about the shot.

The story about Jonas Salk, an atheist as I noted to not make this a "Christian people do great things" moment, concerns the young palsied Jonas, aged 3, going for a jug of milk from the refrigerator and drops it. His mother instead of correcting him, challenges him to pick up the jug. She didn't give in to his disability. He learns to manipulate his weakened fingers to hold the jug and balance it with the other hand while he finally pours the milk into a glass successfully.

What? He didn't? Well, there goes my Faith.
The point of the telling of that story was to illustrate that the Church is positive in her outlook on the human person. We don't give up on each other. To the point of contraception, we do not, as Catholics, throw condoms or abortion at the problem because "people are going to do it anyway" but rather we say that people are better. People can respond with dignity and self-control when it comes to issues of sex and family life.

But the story was false. I didn't know until I Wikki'd it and Googled it and Yahoo'd it and'd it and found nothing.

Setting the record straight:
1. Jonas Salk was born into a Jewish family. There is no real mention of atheism as his belief system. However, he did conceptualize a belief called "biophilosophy". His definition of a biophilosopher is: "Someone who draws upon the scriptures of nature, recognizing that we are the product of the process of evolution, and understands that we have become the process itself, through the emergence and evolution of our consciousness, our awareness, our capacity to imagine and anticipate the future, and to choose from among alternatives."
Salk may be associated with atheism because of his philosophy. The Jonas Salk Institute in California hosted (and may host) gatherings of atheist scientists that include atheist-pope, Richard Dawkins.
2. Jonas Salk was not palsied nor born with any defects of note.
3. As I was telling the story, I was concerned that maybe it didn't register right. First, when Salk was 3, the year was 1917. Plastic milk jugs weren't used until 1966. So young Jonas either had a glass jug to grab and drop or a ceramic or glass milk pitcher. And if it hit the floor, it may well have broken or shattered. Unless it was pewter. Or silver. Which is unlikely.
4. He probably didn't have a refrigerator (they didn't appear until 1927) and relied on the "milk man" who delivered milk daily.

Milk Man in the Milk Mobile!
That's what I get for telling something I heard without fact checking. When I heard the story, it was from a very intelligent person who started by saying, "I heard this podcast about overcoming difficulties. Jonas Salk....."
So, I apologize and can't promise I'll get everything right in the future but I'll at least be more careful with checking my sources.

The internet sure can set things straight as much as it can mess things up!
It also is bad for a preacher to use false stories to illustrate a point. I actually could have done without telling it at all.
I remember a very able preacher telling a story about Walt Disney and said "Disney was Catholic". Well, he wasn't and although the homilist is a good one, I still have some concern over his veracity. Because of that.

Hopefully, this post cures any doubts.

Haha..cure. Because it started about Salk. Haha....

I told my friend that the Salk story he told me wasn't true. He said, "It wasn't? Hm." Then he went to his Google and came up with this:
A story is told of Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine. When asked where he got the resilience to persevere through multiple scientific failures, he referred to his mother. He remembered a time as a child when he was eating cookies and milk while zooming a toy car around the table. His mother warned him repeatedly to move his milk away from the edge of the table so he wouldn’t spill it, but he ignored her. Predictably, he knocked the milk to the floor. He looked up, chagrined. Most parents would have scolded a child for ignoring warnings. Salk remembers his mother simply asking, “So, what did you learn?” The importance of learning from failures stuck. 
I said that it wasn't quite like he told it and he said, "Oh, maybe not" and then smiled and said, "The thing starts with 'a story is told' so it may not be true even there". He reminded me that we are Southerners and truth never should get in the way of a good story, even for a preacher.