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The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice – Christopher Hitchens

November 25, 2013

M TeresaI once designed a scheme of work for Year Nine religious Education aimed at critically evaluating the cult of personality. I entitled it ‘Mother Teresa: Saint of Bitch?’ This attracted a lot of flak, though I stand by what I had written and the graphic terms that I had used.

Mother Teresa is revered by millions who, if they knew what was really going on in this woman’s life, would be shocked. Hitchens has delivered the shock but most people are in denial.

Hitchens lays much of the blame on the book and film ‘Something beautiful for God by Malcolm Muggeridge. He hints that Muggeridge whitewashed Mother Teresa as a saint because of his Catholicism. The reality is the other way round. Muggeridge was so impressed by what he saw that he converted to Catholicism afterwards. However, this does not undermine what Hitchens write.

‘Saints, it seems, are immune from audit,’ wrote Hitchens. Millions of dollars of charitable giving poured in to the coffers on Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity but it just sits in a bank account until such time as there is a media opportunity for the ‘saint’ to open a new refuge.

One donation ‘for her work’ was spent on a ciborium and chalice fore the chapel.

Meanwhile, the homes run by the sisters resemble the workhouse more than the hospice… No drugs are given: a fifteen-year-old had a kidney infection which could be treated fairly cheaply at a hospital but this wasn’t allowed ‘because all the others will want it’. So he is left to die without painkillers, like all the rest. There is no triage to decide who could benefit most from the limited (virtually nil available – because all the money is in the bank) resources. Needles are washed, not sterilised. What’s the point if they catch an infection, they seem to argue? They will all die anyway. Suffering is Gods will for them. It is a way in which they share in the suffering of Jesus, whether they want to or not. (So they weren’t allowed to watch the Olympics. This would detract from their suffering.)

This didn’t stop Mother Teresa, who had heart problems, frequently checking in to expensive, state of the (Western) art, private hospitals herself.

For all that she was supposedly above politics, she was happy to have photo opportunities with some of the world’s most corrupt dictators.

She wrote a letter to a judge, pleading for clemency, for a fraudster who’d wrecked the lives of many poor families. The letter is full of pious clichés and it was good to read the reply, which quoted scripture against her, on the lines of it always being good to ‘love mercy’ but the prophet also stressed that it was important to ‘do justice’.

When asked what was an appropriate response to genocide and disasters, her words usually were ‘Forgive. Forgive.’ This sounds like a mature spirituality but it’s easy to mouth such words. Has anyone asked for forgiveness? What about contrition and resolve to amend?

There a few rants against the Roman church’s opposition to abortion and birth control. Fair enough, but I would have liked more about the work of the sisters. Then again, the work was underpinned by these beliefs.

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