mother theresa

http://www.metafilter.com/mefi/29038 and its discussion, which also linked to the following:
an interview with the author of a book (christopher hitchens, the missionary position: mother theresa in theory and practic)and producer of a tv movie documentary criticizing mother theresa: http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/hitchens_16_4.html

brief article on exorcism: http://www.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/south/09/04/mother.theresa.exorcism/

an article criticising mother theresa, mostly citing a book by aroup chatterjee called mother theresa: the final verdict:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_Teresa

i have a few questions for you.
1) are you going to disagree with these arguments against her? are you doing so because you’re catholic?
2) are you going to agree with these arguments against her? are you doing so because you’re not catholic?
inflammatory, yes, but i want to think about it and not have a gut reaction because i feel my personal catholic identity is being made fun of.

this is my opinion: in my usual style i’m going to cut my feet out from under me and say first that i have not read any books or seen any movies (pro or against) about mother theresa, that i only know of her what seems to be “common cultural knowledge,” i have not been to kolkata, i have never worked with the poor, i have never worked in a hospital, i have almost no experience with watching people with a terminal illness.

but why reduce her to a money-grubbing cult leader? etc. i have to go to student dinner for lumpia, i’m already late, i’ll finish this paragraph later

maybe i need to not take everything so beansing personally, you might think. like, in hitchens’ interview-article, i find comments like (about people who called in about his movie) “The logs scrupulously record the calls verbatim, and I noticed that the standard of English and of reasoning in the pro calls was just so much higher as to make one feel that perhaps all was not lost” inflammatory (even though my “questions” above are pretty inflammatory). should i not? what should i do with my perception that people in the world thing religious people are stupid, which i obvoiusly have such a problem with (see earlier posts, bla bla bla)? just not take things seriously? but i do, because Things In The World matter.

10 thoughts on “mother theresa

  1. I don’t know either, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Mother Theresa is a flawed human being. Because, surprise, human beings are flawed. Maybe some people don’t mind the fact that she uses the money people donate to her for building up the Catholic church instead of building hospitals or clinics or buying medicine for the poor. Maybe she believes this is the best thing for the common good. Or maybe she is only concerned with establishing her place in history. Also, Hitchens doesn’t merely reduce her to a money-grubbing cult leader – “although I think there are many fraudulent things about Mother Teresa, I also think there are many authentic things about her.” He simply points out that the way she is seen by many is inaccurate and overly idealistic. He uses the chasm between the way she is willing to forgive and even commend Princess Diana for getting a divorce and the way she works tirelessly to condemn all forms of divorce, even in the most extreme cases of sexual abuse, in order to highlight the difficulty in assessing her singularly.

    One other thing. Is it true that many Christians believe that the suffering of the poor is beautiful and that the nobility of the world is helped by it? While I know that tragedy can bring a sense of greater moral clarity (for instance, after 9/11), I hope that this point was an exaggeration. The idea that God appoints people to a life of poverty in order to serve as an example for the rest of us makes me incredibly angry. I don’t see how anyone could accept a God like that. The only reason that kind of a view would be propagated is a very cynical manipulation by the church. “Go to church, pray, give us your money, and know that you will be rewarded in the next life for your suffering.” To the extent that such a belief exists, I agree 100% that it is evil.

    In fact, I think this might be part of a fundamental difference in values-systems between believers and non-believers. If you believe in an afterlife, then some of the facts Hitchens “exposes” about Mother Theresa don’t seem so bad. She is using her reputation to expand the church as much as possible in order to bring God to the most people possible. After their Christian deaths they will be rewarded in the afterlife. If you do not, it is incredibly wrong-headed. That money could be spent directly on caring for the living, improving their lives as much as possible so their brief time on earth will be as positive and as long as possible.

    1. Actually, I don’t think that’s true, that belief in an afterlife excuses suffering in this one. Judaism, for example, is not in favor of suffering in this life. There’s a strong sentiment of improving your surroundings, friends, family, others, and self in a very material, make-the-best-of-being-alive, sense.

      Conversations with Rabbi Small sort of lays out some of the philosophies I’m talking about
      here.

      I believe there are other religions that have similar outlooks. Belief in an afterlife doesn’t necessitate lack of interest in this life.

      Finally, if Mother Theresa has the means to prevent loss-of-life or pain-and-suffering, and consciously chooses a path that favors conversion over alleviation of suffering.. than I’m not sure I like her so much any more. I can’t argue against her devoutness; she may be doing what she believes best for others. I can, however, argue against her (alleged) basis of comparison. It doesn’t square with my idea of what’s best for the needy.

  2. I think the arguments against her have merit, but i think the slant that hitchens takes against her is hard to swallow because he makes himself sound like such a bigoted ass. He can’t seem to wrap his limited mind around the fact that people can be intelligent and hold a religion. But if you go to a secular humanist web site, don’t expect warm fuzzies towards religion. Also, don’t expect a shrewed interviewer, since he’s unabashedly on hitchens’ side.
    Personally, I disagree with Mother Theresa’s more conservative philosophies, and her apparent anti-technology practices. But honestly, i feel like i’m divorced from this discussion since I’m not Catholic. The underlying question in all these criticisms is “should she be a saint?” (though sometimes unsuccessfully disguised as public regard), but whether she should or not doesn’t strike a chord with me, since i don’t believe in the status of sainthood. She was who she was, and the world only seems to care because of her celebrity status.

    1. You’re right that the interviewer wasn’t “shrewd” because it was more like a chat between two people who share a similar philosophy than a hard-hitting piece of journalism. It was an interview intended for a very specific audience (people who are not only atheists but so committed to that worldview that they subscribe to a magazine called Free Inquiry). Anyway, I just wanted to say that I don’t feel Hitchens came across as either bigoted or an ass. To me, he comes across as someone with a strong opinion who is willing to rigorously defend that position. By making the TV show and writing the book he may have been looking for a donnybrook, but it wasn’t just a knee-jerk attack.
      Also I was curious about the claim about a correlation between religion and education. What I found was somewhat surprising. The following is an abstract from an article from the Harvard Institute of Economic Research published in 2001.
      “In the United States, religious attendance rises sharply with education across individuals, but religious attendance declines sharply with education across denominations. This puzzle is explained if education both increases the returns to social connection and reduces the extent of religious belief. The positive effect of education on sociability explains the positive education-religion relationship. The negative effect of education on religious belief causes more individuals to sort into less fervent religions, which explains the negative relationship between education and religion across denominations. Cross-country differences in the impact of education on religious belief can explain the large cross-country variation in the education-religion connection. These cross-country differences in the education-belief relationship can be explained by political factors (such as communism) which lead some countries to use state-controlled education to discredit religion.”
      So in fact 50% of college graduates born after 1945 attend church more than several times per year, while only 36% of high school dropouts do. The authors write “In many muiltivariate regressions, education is the most statistically important factor explaining church attendance.”
      However, the findings are different across denominations. They note that members of the groups with the least amount of education (such as Mormons, Pentacostalists, and Jehovah’s witnesses) attend church the most frequently, while members of more educated groups attend less frequently. In fact, “the correlation between education and religious attendance across denominations is negative 86%.”
      More at .

      1. well, if he implied the standard of English and reasoning was so much higher in the calls put out by whites, or heterosexuals, or men, like he did with the “non-religious”, i think you’d be less reluctant to agree that he came across as a bigoted ass.

        Also that study you cited was an interesting overview. It’s just limited to the assertion that belief systems and church attendance are causally linked or are synonomous. Attendance doesn’t necessitate belief, and vice versa.

        1. I don’t know if the standard of English was really higher or not. If it was, was it wrong to point that out. Yes and no. Was it inflammatory? Yes. Was it politically correct? No. Bigoted? I don’t think so. Granted, if this had been minorities vs whites and he pointed out that the minorities didn’t speak English as well as the whites it might have been true, but it also would have been unnecessary and extremely provocative (in a bad way). Everyone knows that society discriminates against minorities and that many minority groups do not receive the same opportunities for education as majority groups. To say, “hey all the latinos who called in spoke poor English” would just be rubbing it in). I think the difference between your examples (race, sexual orientation, and gender) is that religion is not pre-determined. You choose what religion to join and whether or not you will be a part of any religion. No one would argue that you can’t choose your religion. I think he just gets a little carried away in the relief he feels that the station got a lot of calls supporting his show. Non-believers really are a small minority of people in America. There was a poll recently that said only a small percentage of people would vote for an atheist for President (far less than would vote for a homosexual, a black person, or many other minorities).

          A Gallup poll in 1999 asked American voters the following question: “If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be an X would you vote for that person?” X took on the following values: Catholic, Jew, Baptist, Mormon, black, homosexual, woman, atheist. Six out of the eight categories secured better than 90 percent approval. But only 59 percent would vote for a homosexual, and just 49 percent would vote for an atheist. Bear in mind that there are 29 million Americans who describe themselves as nonreligious, secular, atheist, or agnostic.

          http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.10/view.html?pg=2

          Also, about the study. The intepretation they suggest is that “education appears to decrease belief in the returns to religious activity.” Their evidence is that “high attendance denominations (e.g. Mormons, Baptists, Catholics) strongly affirm rewards to religious adherence, usually in the afterlife.” On the other hand, “the doctrines of low attendance denominations (e.g. Episcopalians, Reform Jews) often explicitly deny any connection between religiosity and worldly success. These denominations may even deny and explicit connection between religious activity and rewards after death.”

          But of course Angela’s right that this is only an interpretation. The data are that more educated people are more likely to go to church, but that within their specific churches the more educated attend less frequently than the less educated. So what are some alternative explanations?

          Maybe educated people are simply busier with their jobs and have less time to go to church. Maybe educated people have a more personal relationship with God based on private prayer and therefore feel they have less need for attending church in a formal church setting. Maybe people with less education have harder lives and are therefore more reliant on the social network of the church. These are just some things of the top of my head. Long posts.

      2. Preaching to the choir

        This is on your “chat” comment.
        I remember a recording of a speech by a prominent Holocaust-hoax historian to a bunch of his like-minded peers that my AP european history class listened my senior year of high school. As a Jew, even a marginal one, it was sickening to hear their hearty and agreeable laughter as the historian “poked holes” in the reality of the Holocaust. I felt like they were laughing at the deaths of six million people (the Nazis didn’t just kill Jews).
        The teacher cautioned us beforehand that this recording was of a bunch of like-minded collegues, and that we shouldn’t take anything they said as directly derisive. It was hard not to, but I tried to listen to the details of what was said. I have to admit, I haven’t tried ot verify any of it to this day, but it sticks with me. I think I’ll look into it after all.

        I imagine Catholics feel a similar punch to the gut when they read something like this. I think this leads to two important questions. Is he right about the details? What does it mean to you?

  3. …but why reduce her to a money-grubbing cult leader?

    My first reaction exactly.

    + I agree with the above comments as well.

    + I don’t think being Catholic should be part of the issue on Blessed Teresa. She influenced all people, secular or not. I think that’s the key, and Winter (in Chatterjee’s intro) admits it: “The world it seems needs fairy tales.” We all need role models, real or not, to inspire us to become the best that we can/want to be.

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