Pope Francis: Challenge Your Feelings of Contentment

His Holiness Pope Francis wants to see the end of two things in this world: red sauces at diplomatic dinners, and arrogance.

Mark Shriver: You know, in this book that I wrote called Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis I talked to not just Catholics, because Pope Francis has a slew of different friends in Argentina, in Rome and around of the world of all of different faiths. I talked to a couple of the rabbis in Buenos Aires, a father who had lost his daughter in the bombing of the Jewish community center. I've talked to atheists and to Christians of other denominations. And what he really does, what Pope Francis does I think beautifully is challenge us all. You can be an atheist or you can not believe in organized religion and just try to develop your own relationship with God. You can be in a more formal relationship with God through the Catholic Church or protestantism. It doesn't matter. What he's really trying to do is to challenge us from a place of joy, it's not fill it with Catholic or Jewish guilt, it's from a place of joy to want to develop a better relationship with God and to develop a better relationship with your fellow human beings.

He tells this great story about giving food to a woman who had to prostitute herself at times to feed her three young kids. The husband had a left her and she came around Christmas time to talk to at that point Father Bergoglio, Pope Francis, and she said, "Thank you for the food." And he said, "I'm glad you got it." And she said, "But what I really want to thank you for is you always called me señora." And when you think about that, you know, he treated her with her dignity and respect. And too often in America, you know, just speaking on my own behalf, when you see a homeless person I try to avoid them. I don't give them the money all the time; I don't make eye contact with them; I surely don't ask him his name or call him Sir or Misses. And what he's teaching us through that gesture is that you have to treat each other with respect and with dignity. You have to enter the chaos and the confusion but also the joys of other people's lives. And that takes getting out of your comfort zone, right.

And you don't have to be a Catholic or a Christian or of any religion to believe that really it's beautiful to try to enter into an intimate relationship with other people to understand their pains and their joys. And that's what he's challenging us to do. So I don't really care whether you're a secular or a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew or a Hindu, and I don't think he does because he really wants you to develop a better relationship with God through whatever ways you can. And that's what he so challenging about.
I think he is, when he talks about things that upset him he talks about arrogance, he talks about a lack of humility. Those are I think the big sins that he talks about. He talks about building these walls of seclusion. He's a Jesuit, which means he's a member of an order that was started in the 15th century when the church was really looking interior was filled with monks and other religious orders that were inside closed walls. And Saint Ignatius wanted the church, or at least the Jesuits to be out in the community, to be on the frontier, to be listening to poor people, to be working with them, to be inclusive in that regard. And I think Pope Francis really is focused on that as well to going to the frontiers, to not to be arrogant and to not be self-focused and to put that aside. So these sins of arrogance, sins of contentment, I mean that's a pretty crazy idea right? It's the sin of being content and he's talking about put your contentment aside, put your comfort aside and live life fully. And that's a real challenge because I like my routine. I like my comforts. And he saying put that outside and go out to the frontier. And the frontier doesn't have to be halfway around the world, it can be in your neighborhood. You can go talk to the neighbor down the street that you don't really like or you don't know and you don't want to take the time to get to know. So that challenge to go to the frontiers is a pretty challenging one.

I think the pope gets troubled by anybody that is arrogant, that is not trying to reach out to the poor and the powerless to listen to them, not trying to reach out to your own neighbor. And I think he's always stood up against powerful interests, whether it was in Argentina or his time as a pope saying that what we need is a more merciful society, what we need is to show more forgiveness and more love and humility. And I think that message if you're fighting back against that you don't have to be in powered in America or power in Argentina, if you're in power and you're pulling that power internally and you're not reaching out to others and you're not including the poor and the powerless in your policies, you're going to hear about it from the pope. And that's a great thing about him. He'll challenge you whether you're a Democrat or a Republican in this country and he'll challenge you and he did in Argentina as cardinal, whether you're a part of the parentist government, which was running the government at that point in time, or whether you're a challenger to the political power. He's pushing us all from a place of joy to reach out to the frontier to include the poor and powerless. And if you're not doing that you're going to hear from him. But that's what great prophets do. They challenge you. Often times they end up getting killed because they challenge you in your comfort, they challenge the powerful and the rich and that's what makes him I think a great prophet and a great leader.

After much research and many interviews with religious leaders of all faiths and denominations, writer and social justice advocate Mark Shriver has come to the conclusion that the pope is restoring the "soul" of the Catholic church through his commitment to core principles of humility and charity. According to Shriver, Pope Francis understands power and uses it effectively on behalf of the disadvantaged. He invites everyone – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or atheist – to challenge two things: contentment and arrogance. Many of the social divides we experience are a result of a cognitive dissonance between ourselves and other people. The distance could be lessened if we were all out on the frontiers of life, outside of our comfort zone, connecting to those who need it most and showing them that we acknowledge their dignity and humanity as something separate to their current circumstances. "The frontier doesn't have to be halfway around the world, it can be in your neighborhood," says Shriver. "You can go talk to the neighbor down the street that you don't really like or you don't know, and you don't want to take the time to get to know. So that challenge to go to the frontiers is a pretty challenging one." Shriver's new book is Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis.


Mark Shriver's most recent book is Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis.

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This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

Last year, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier became the first all-woman team to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work developing CRISPR-Cas9, the gene-editing technology. The technology was invented in 2012 — and nine years later, it's truly revolutionizing how we treat genetic diseases and even how we produce food.

CRISPR allows scientists to alter DNA by using proteins that are naturally found in bacteria. They use these proteins, called Cas9, to naturally fend off viruses, destroying the virus' DNA and cutting it out of their genes. CRISPR allows scientists to co-opt this function, redirecting the proteins toward disease-causing mutations in our DNA.

So far, gene-editing technology is showing promise in treating sickle cell disease and genetic blindness — and it could eventually be used to treat all sorts of genetic diseases, from cancer to Huntington's Disease.

The biotech revolution is just getting started — and CRISPR is leading the charge. We talked with Doudna about what we can expect from genetic engineering in the future.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Freethink: You've said that your journey to becoming a scientist had humble beginnings — in your teenage bedroom when you discovered The Double Helix by Jim Watson. Back then, there weren't a lot of women scientists — what was your breakthrough moment in realizing you could pursue this as a career?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There is a moment that I often think back to from high school in Hilo, Hawaii, when I first heard the word "biochemistry." A researcher from the UH Cancer Center on Oahu came and gave a talk on her work studying cancer cells.

I didn't understand much of her talk, but it still made a huge impact on me. You didn't see professional women scientists in popular culture at the time, and it really opened my eyes to new possibilities. She was very impressive.

I remember thinking right then that I wanted to do what she does, and that's what set me off on the journey that became my career in science.

Freethink: The term "CRISPR" is everywhere in the media these days but it's a really complicated tool to describe. What is the one thing that you wish people understood about CRISPR that they usually get wrong?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: People should know that CRISPR technology has revolutionized scientific research and will make a positive difference to their lives.

Researchers are gaining incredible new understanding of the nature of disease, evolution, and are developing CRISPR-based strategies to tackle our greatest health, food, and sustainability challenges.

Freethink: You previously wrote in Wired that this year, 2021, is going to be a big year for CRISPR. What exciting new developments should we be on the lookout for?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were multiple teams around the world, including my lab and colleagues at the Innovative Genomics Institute, working on developing CRISPR-based diagnostics.

Traits that we could select for using traditional breeding methods, that might take decades, we can now engineer precisely in a much shorter time. — DR. JENNIFER DOUDNA

When the pandemic hit, we pivoted our work to focus these tools on SARS-CoV-2. The benefit of these new diagnostics is that they're fast, cheap, can be done anywhere without the need for a lab, and they can be quickly modified to detect different pathogens. I'm excited about the future of diagnostics, and not just for pandemics.

We'll also be seeing more CRISPR applications in agriculture to help combat hunger, reduce the need for toxic pesticides and fertilizers, fight plant diseases and help crops adapt to a changing climate.

Traits that we could select for using traditional breeding methods, that might take decades, we can now engineer precisely in a much shorter time.

Freethink: Curing genetic diseases isn't a pipedream anymore, but there are still some hurdles to cross before we're able to say for certain that we can do this. What are those hurdles and how close do you think we are to crossing them?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There are people today, like Victoria Gray, who have been successfully treated for sickle cell disease. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are absolutely still many hurdles. We don't currently have ways to deliver genome-editing enzymes to all types of tissues, but delivery is a hot area of research for this very reason.

We also need to continue improving on the first wave of CRISPR therapies, as well as making them more affordable and accessible.

Freethink: Another big challenge is making this technology widely available to everyone and not just the really wealthy. You've previously said that this challenge starts with the scientists.

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: A sickle cell disease cure that is 100 percent effective but can't be accessed by most of the people in need is not really a full cure.

This is one of the insights that led me to found the Innovative Genomics Institute back in 2014. It's not enough to develop a therapy, prove that it works, and move on. You have to develop a therapy that actually meets the real-world need.

Too often, scientists don't fully incorporate issues of equity and accessibility into their research, and the incentives of the pharmaceutical industry tend to run in the opposite direction. If the world needs affordable therapy, you have to work toward that goal from the beginning.

Freethink: You've expressed some concern about the ethics of using CRISPR. Do you think there is a meaningful difference between enhancing human abilities — for example, using gene therapy to become stronger or more intelligent — versus correcting deficiencies, like Type 1 diabetes or Huntington's?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There is a meaningful distinction between enhancement and treatment, but that doesn't mean that the line is always clear. It isn't.

There's always a gray area when it comes to complex ethical issues like this, and our thinking on this is undoubtedly going to evolve over time.

What we need is to find an appropriate balance between preventing misuse and promoting beneficial innovation.

Freethink: What if it turns out that being physically stronger helps you live a longer life — if that's the case, are there some ways of improving health that we should simply rule out?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: The concept of improving the "healthspan" of individuals is an area of considerable interest. Eliminating neurodegenerative disease will not only massively reduce suffering around the world, but it will also meaningfully increase the healthy years for millions of individuals.

There is a meaningful distinction between enhancement and treatment, but that doesn't mean that the line is always clear. It isn't. — DR. JENNIFER DOUDNA

There will also be knock-on effects, such as increased economic output, but also increased impact on the planet.

When you think about increasing lifespans just so certain people can live longer, then not only do those knock-on effects become more central, you also have to ask who is benefiting and who isn't? Is it possible to develop this technology so the benefits are shared equitably? Is it environmentally sustainable to go down this road?

Freethink: Where do you see it going from here?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: The bio revolution will allow us to create breakthroughs in treating not just a few but whole classes of previously unaddressed genetic diseases.

We're also likely to see genome editing play a role not just in climate adaptation, but in climate change solutions as well. There will be challenges along the way both expected and unexpected, but also great leaps in progress and benefits that will move society forward. It's an exciting time to be a scientist.

Freethink: If you had to guess, what is the first disease you think we are most likely to cure, in the real world, with CRISPR?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: Because of the progress that has already been made, sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia are likely to be the first diseases with a CRISPR cure, but we're closely following the developments of other CRISPR clinical trials for types of cancer, a form of congenital blindness, chronic infection, and some rare genetic disorders.

The pace of clinical trials is picking up, and the list will be longer next year.

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