Shattering the Myth of Mother Teresa

In all the universe of religious experience, few figures are so beloved as the Catholic nun known to the world as Mother Teresa. The official biography holds that she selflessly devoted her life to ministering to the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta, suffering through poverty and deprivation nearly as great as that of her patients without complaint, and asking no reward except the knowledge of doing God’s will. She was a beloved figure to millions and a trusted counselor to powerful leaders and celebrities worldwide, was showered with rewards and honors during her life, and attracted huge crowds as she lay in state after her death.

As I said, that is the official story. But atheists and freethinkers, more than any other group, should recognize how pious words are so often used to conceal ugly acts of inhumanity, and to gloss over the disreputable elements of stories presented as inspirational and noble. Teresa’s story is perhaps the supreme example of this. In this post, I intend to look past all the uncritical praise and point out some unsettling facts about her life and her mission that devotional biographies tend to avoid.

Teresa was a friend to vicious dictators, criminals and con men. As Christopher Hitchens documents in his book The Missionary Position, Teresa was acquainted with a startling number of unsavory characters. Two such were the Duvaliers, Jean-Claude and Michelle, who ruled Haiti as a police state from 1971 until they were overthrown in a popular uprising in 1986. (They looted the country of most of its national treasury when they fled.) Teresa visited them in person in 1981 and praised the Duvaliers and their regime as “friends” of the poor, and her testimony on their behalf was shown on state-owned television for weeks. Bizarrely, she also visited the grave of brutal Communist dictator Enver Hoxha in 1990, laying a wreath of flowers on the tomb of a man who had viciously suppressed religion in Teresa’s native Albania. The list also includes the Nicaraguan contras, a Catholic terrorist group who unleashed death squads on the civilian population in their bid to conquer the country.

Teresa was also a friend to Charles Keating, a conservative Catholic fundamentalist who served on an anti-pornography commission under President Nixon. Keating would later become infamous for his role in the Savings & Loan scandal, where he was convicted of fraud, racketeering and conspiracy for his involvement in a scam where customers were deceived into buying worthless junk bonds, resulting in many of them losing their life savings. Keating had donated $1.25 million to Mother Teresa in the 1980s, and as he was awaiting sentencing, she wrote a letter to the court on his behalf asking for clemency.

The prosecuting attorney, Paul Turley, wrote a reply to this letter. In his reply, he explained what Keating had been convicted of, and observed, “No church… should allow itself to be used as salve for the conscience of the criminal.” He also pointed out that the $1.25 million Keating had donated to her was stolen money, and suggested that the appropriate course of action would be for her to give it back: “You have been given money by Mr. Keating that he has been convicted of stealing by fraud. Do not permit him the ‘indulgence’ he desires. Do not keep the money. Return it to those who worked for it and earned it!”

Teresa never replied to this letter.

Teresa cloaked a reactionary right-wing political outlook in false protestations of innocence and naivete. Although she insisted on several occasions that her mission was resolutely apolitical, Teresa’s true interests were anything but. Like the right-wing conservative Catholic she was, she traveled the world to lobby against the legality of abortion, contraception, and even divorce.

When the International Health Organization honored Teresa in 1989, she spoke at length against abortion and contraception and called AIDS a “just retribution for improper sexual conduct”. Similarly, when Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she proclaimed in her acceptance speech that abortion was the greatest threat to peace in the world. (Hitchens cuttingly notes that when the award was announced, “few people had the poor taste to ask what she had ever done, or even claimed to do, for the cause of peace”). In 1992, she appeared at an open-air Mass in Ireland and said, “Let us promise Our Lady who loves Ireland so much that we will never allow in this country a single abortion. And no contraceptives.” She also campaigned in Ireland to oppose the successful 1995 referendum to legalize divorce in that predominantly Catholic country.

The connection between overpopulation and poverty seemed never to occur to Teresa, who said on another occasion that she was not concerned about it because “God always provides”. (The very existence of her mission would seem to cast doubt on that.) In upholding the irrational dogmas of Catholicism, she failed to recognize – or perhaps chose to disregard – the obvious conclusion that inadequate access to family planning services was and is one of the greatest causes of human destitution.

Teresa’s free clinics provided care that was at best rudimentary and haphazard and at worst unsanitary and dangerous, despite the enormous amounts of donations she received. Multiple volunteers at Teresa’s clinics, such as Mary Loudon and Susan Shields, have testified to the inadequate care provided to the dying. Despite routinely receiving millions of dollars in donations, Teresa deliberately kept her clinics barren and austere, lacking all but the most rudimentary and haphazard care.

Volunteers such as Loudon, and Western doctors such as Robin Fox of the Lancet, wrote with shock of what they found in Teresa’s clinics. No tests were performed to determine the patients’ ailments. No modern medical equipment was available. Even people dying of cancer, suffering terrible agony, were given no painkillers other than aspirin. Needles were rinsed and reused, without proper sterilization. No one was ever sent to the hospital, even people in clear need of emergency surgery or other treatment.

Again, it is important to note that these conditions were not the unavoidable result of triage. Teresa’s organization routinely received multimillion-dollar donations which were squirreled away in bank accounts, while volunteers were told to beg donors for more money and plead extreme poverty and desperate need. The money she received could easily have built half a dozen fully equipped modern hospitals and clinics, but was never used for that purpose. No, this negligent and rudimentary care was deliberate – about which, see the next point. However, despite her praise for poverty, Teresa hypocritically sought out the most advanced care possible in the Western world when she herself was in need of it.

Teresa considered converting the sick and the poor to be a higher priority than providing for their actual needs, and believed that human suffering was beneficial and even “beautiful”. The following quote from Teresa says it all:

“I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.”

On another occasion, Teresa told a terminal cancer patient, who was dying in extreme pain, that he should consider himself fortunate: “You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you.” (She freely related his reply, which she seemed not to realize was meant as a putdown: “Then please tell him to stop kissing me.”)

Despite the widespread perception that Teresa sought to relieve the suffering of the poor, the truth was anything but. As Hitchens documents, she actually considered suffering to be beneficial. This is why she kept her clinics so rudimentary – not so that sick people could be cured, but so they could get closer to God through their suffering. As critics like Michael Hakeem put it: “Mother Teresa is thoroughly saturated with a primitive fundamentalist religious worldview that sees pain, hardship, and suffering as ennobling experiences and a beautiful expression of affiliation with Jesus Christ and his ordeal on the cross.” To her mind, they were not evils to be relieved, but blessings to be glorified.

But, of course, suffering like Christ was of no benefit if the sufferer did not actually accept Christ. To this end, Teresa’s clinics were run as conversion factories. Ex-volunteers have testified that Teresa taught her followers to secretly baptize the dying – people who could not resist, or were not aware of what was happening to them – without their consent. As ex-volunteer Susan Shields wrote, “Material aid was a means of reaching their souls, of showing the poor that God loved them… Secrecy was important so that it would not come to be known that Mother Teresa’s sisters were baptizing Hindus and Moslems”.

It seems that Teresa’s true ambition was to found a Catholic religious order on a par with the Franciscans and the Benedictines. (Her Nobel prize money was used to this end.) She may well get her wish; her Missionaries of Charity organization numbers as many as 4,000 nuns and 40,000 lay workers. If she wished to create a convent whose mission is to glorify human suffering, then it is for Catholics to decide whether they want to support that mission. Secularists and humanists, however, should rethink whether we want to support an effort that is so manifestly at odds with all that we stand for.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • TJ

    I’m familiar with Hitchens’ opinion of Teresa, and I’ve also seen the Penn & Teller BS episode about her. I’m convinced she was disturbed and took it out on the poor and sick. So, the question is this: how do you convince believers and other fans that she was not a saint? “Facts” these days have become pretty squishy. Any fact you don’t like can be disregarded as propaganda (as so often seen with the evolution/creation debate and whether the US was founded as a “Christian nation”). When I was growing up, I had heard of Mother Teresa, and I thought she was a pretty good person, based on what I heard and saw on TV. While I believe what I’ve heard from this blog, Hitchens, and P&T, it is very easy to see why attacking (or being seen to attack) Teresa would be interpreted as character assassination by “those damn atheists”. Maybe the right question is this: when (if ever) is a good time to even try to convince believers and fans that Teresa was not a saint, nor even very motherly?

  • prase

    One of the best posts recently. I’m disturbed a bit always when I hear the praise of Teresa, especially when her deeds are acknowledged by otherwise secular people or even atheists (even in my country, where atheists constitute a majority, mother Teresa is generally viewed as one of the greatests personalities of the 20th century).

    TJ, I think the answer to your question is unfortunately never. People need idols and find it annoying when somebody else criticises them. Teresa’s case is comparable with the worldwide popularity of princess Diana, who was in fact a totally insignificant (and indeed not much clever) member of the British royal family, but the media turned her into one of the most beloved celebrities even in countries she has never visited (and maybe even didn’t know about their existence).

  • http://www.dangerousintersection.org Erich Vieth

    This succinct post is a potent counter-balance to all the Mother Teresa hype.

    My biggest concern with Mother Teresa is her destructive approach to family planning. How is it possible that she didn’t see the connection between the out-of-control birth rate and the resulting poverty? I suspect that she did see the connection, but was unwilling to speak the obvious. It would have caused people to stop adoring her. Further, she was too enamored with the rich and famous and she was unwilling to give up that limelight.

    Mother Teresa’s behavior regarding (the lack of) family planning is on a continuum with all of those politicians who kiss all those babies and then rip away their health care coverage.

    To cap it all off, Mother Teresa was intellectually dishonest,living a closeted a life as an agnostic while publicly proclaiming her alleged great faith. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/08/23/eveningnews/main3199062.shtml

    There’s not much work for saints to do when we all start living responsibly and honestly, focusing on the root causes of problems.

  • 2-D Man

    There’s not much work for saints to do when we all start living responsibly and honestly, focusing on the root causes of problems.

    Well put, Erich.

  • HairTonic

    Bravo, Ebonmuse. I knew Mother Teresa wasn’t the saint she pretended to be, but this post really opened my eyes to her dirty side.

    I’m afraid many peoples’ mindset are too set to ever change their mindset on Mother Teresa. My own teachers occasionally talk to us about how good she was (to drill in some values), and if you say anything to portray her in bad light, even legitimate points, you get chided and your morals get questioned. I think people accord an unwarranted amount of respect when discussing about Mother Teresa, not unlike the unwarranted amount of respect people accord to religions when discussing them.

    So no, I don’t think much mindset is going to be changed any time soon.

  • http://www.yunshui.wordpress.com yunshui

    Well said. And thank you for inspiring me to read yet another Hitchens book…

    Does anyone know how Mother T’s canonization process is going? We’ve had a change of Popes since the idea kicked off, and I haven’t heard anything new on it for years.

  • Dennis

    Best post in a while. Keep up the good work. I know they rushed her beatification, and I think she’s just about guaranteed sainthood.

  • Polly

    I believe she was a repressed sadist. OK, maybe not that repressed. Thank you for this.

    If you take requests :) Do Gandhi next. He has some similar personality quirks.

  • James B

    Erm, this seems kind of familiar – have you posted on this recently?

  • Christopher

    Is it any wonder why the traditionalists hail people like her as “saints?” After all, tradition says that the many should suffer for the sake of a “higher cause” (read: benefit of the social elite) – so fo course it makes sense to glorify an individual who promoted this type of chronic helplessness and dependence on foreign powers to sustain them.

    Without “saints” like her, the social elite will find themselves stuggling to justify their existence to the rest of us…

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommy

    Ebon, on the Penn & Teller show, Catholica bloviator Bill Donahoue defended Mother Teresa taking money from Duvalier, Keating etc. by arguing “Isn’t it great that she took money from bad people and used it for a good cause?”

    Of course, the response to that is “Was she really using the money for a good cause?”

  • http://www.xanga.com/andrea_thatonegirl TheNerd

    I am afraid Mother Theresa has become something more than what she was, a symbol of personal sacrifice, that has elevated her above what she did or did not actually do in her life. (Kind of in line with the “Batman Begins” philosophy, actually: more symbol than human.)

    People don’t even want to know what she really did, and in a few generations won’t care. They’ll address their saintly prayers to her as they do to many other mere mortals long gone.

  • http://www.theinfinityprogram.com Kevin

    I first became familiar about this view of Mother Teresa through the posts of a Michael Wong submitted under the alias “Darth Wong” on his forum, StarDestroyer.net, for example, at the URL provided below.

    +http://bbs.stardestroyer.net/viewtopic.php?p=58793#58793

    Most of the money she took was spent on proselytizing, not medical care. Her “clinics” had almost no medical equipment; they were full of nuns and people who would “attend” to the dying by trying to make them convert before the end. She took 3 million dollars of S&L money in return for making an entreaty to the President of the US for a pardon and refused to give it back when the California District Attorney informed her that it was stolen. The people under her “care” died in squalor but when she had health problems herself, she jetted off to the finest medical facilities in the world. The “Mother Theresa is a saint” myth is nothing more than pop culture bullshit and lemminglike, uncritical celebrity adoration.

    Mr. Lee’s “Shattering the Myth of Mother Teresa” adds much more detail and is an interesting read. I might check out Mr. Hitchen’s book on the matter.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Hear, hear.

    Mother Teresa’s vision of life seems to have been one of a gigantic pain factory: a world in which as many people as possible are born into poverty, suffer horribly, and die… all to somehow please God. The god she believed in seems to have been an unspeakable sadist. (And I don’t mean “sadist” in the good, fun way.)

    The only mitigating factor I know of is that she herself suffered horribly throughout most of her life due to her own loss of faith. I believe (sorry for the self-linkage, but it really is relevant) that her obsession with the beauty of suffering, her belief that it was a necessary part of spiritual salvation, a form of identification with Christ… all of this was the way she transformed her own deep suffering over her loss of the presence of God in her life, a way she could experience it as an identification for Christ instead of a repudiation of him. And so of course she saw other people’s suffering the same way.

    But it’s still absolutely no excuse. In a way, it’s creepier: she was suffering, and her way of dealing with that suffering was essentially to take it out on thousands of poor, sick, helpless people. And she lied about it, letting contributors believe they were donating money for hospitals and hospices when they were really donating to conversion factories.

    Erich:

    How is it possible that she didn’t see the connection between the out-of-control birth rate and the resulting poverty?

    I think she saw the connection. She saw it crystal clear. She just didn’t care. She may have even seen it as a plus. She thought that ” the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.” Why would she want to reduce that poverty?

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    Greta Christina beat me to it. Of course she saw it. But why would you think she would find it a bad connection? Her whole life’s work was founded on bringing Jesus to the poor – and “the poor you shall always have with you”, right? You don’t want to alleviate poverty and suffering on earth: you want to use it to bring glory to God.

    Yuck.

  • exrelayman

    If it is possible in this information age for the ‘Teresa myth’ to prosper in spite of known adverse facts, how much easier for the ‘Jesus myth’ to develop in an age without media scrutiny?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    In response to the “Isn’t it great that she took money from bad people and used it for a good cause?” argument I would also point out that by doing so she lent them credibility in their actions thus helping them in their evil. I’d also ask why someone so godly and pious would need to take money from them at all.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    It really pisses me off that Christians always avoid criticism from us by saying “those aren’t real Christians” or “with as many Christians as there are, there’s bound to be some bad ones…” or whatever permutation they come up with. Then they turn around and worship the likes of Mother Theresa as the greatest example of their ilk. This kind of shit is the last straw when it comes to me having even an ounce of respect for the Christian religion. I can’t even entertain a single positive thought about this insane religion anymore.

  • Sam L.

    This is just one example of appearances conquering all. It’s a shame, this is one perspective that will probably never penetrate the massively successful branding of Teresa as a saint. Great post.

  • Ex Partiate

    Just another myth from a organization that has fostered a myth for the past 2000 years or more

  • Steve Bowen

    I’d never even thought to question the intentions of this woman. Thanks for opening my eyes Ebon

  • Christopher

    I think that you folks are missing the point here: Teresa was just a symtom of a much larger disease – one of chronic dependence upon powers outside one’s self for a sense of purpose or meaning, and it’s not limited to the Christian faith (or religion alone, for that matter). This desease has been exploitd by the social elite for millenia and the promotion of Mother Teresa is just the latest publicity stunt capitalized on to ensure that the disease continues to spread to the next generation.

    If people realized that they don’t need any external source for meaning or purpose in their lives, the existing social order would fall flat on its face due to the lack of support from the (formerly) ignorant masses – ensuring that they can’t create any more sick individuals like Teresa to do their dirty work.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    Sam L. said:

    this is one perspective that will probably never penetrate the massively successful branding of Teresa as a saint.

    You got that right, Sam. The myth of Mother Teresa is now more real than the reality of Mother Teresa ever was.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “The connection between overpopulation and poverty seemed never to occur to Teresa, who said on another occasion that she was not concerned about it because “God always provides”. (The very existence of her mission would seem to cast doubt on that.)” — Ebonmuse

    Your parenthetical phrase, while apt, may also have a deeper level to it: might not M.T. have taken the view that she is the tool by which god provides? While this is solely speculation, it is consonant with the monstrous egoism of a religion which postulates an omnimax deity who concerns himself with our dietary patterns and sexual foibles.

  • Karen

    I love how someone who is (presumably) celibate can so blithely dismiss contraception and abortion as sinful. And in Ireland, of all places!?

    Apparently it’s easy for a woman to applaud the suffering of millions of women who are pregnant every year, and caring for 10 or 12 needy children, when you don’t have the possibility of getting caught in that trap yourself.

    How selfish and arrogant!

  • nfpendleton

    Munchausens by proxy went global with this one…

  • Janos Palotai

    I’m convinced that Teresa nun was a cynical usurper of her whole situation, a PR attache of the Vatican. I remember well hearing it on the news couple of times that she was flown to the American Embassy’s hospital for treatment. Obviously, even she knew her misery clinics weren’t worth crap.

    And, according to U.S. News & World Report, when she was visiting in Manhattan, Rudy Giuliani then-mayor asked her to make a wish. Her wish was to give more free, designated parking spaces for nuns’ cars. Rudy’s answer was, “If M. Teresa wants more parking spaces, she will get them!”

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    “Misery clinics” – I like it. Definitely an apt description of Teresa’s clinics. Their purpose was not to heal the sick, but to be a place where the sick could come to suffer, be converted, and die.

    This post doesn’t even exhaust the depths of Teresa’s unsavory side. There’s much more I could have mentioned but didn’t. For instance, after the Union Carbide disaster – a horrendous tragedy, caused by negligence and lax safety standards, in which a toxic leak from a chemical plant killed thousands of people – Teresa’s sole statement on the matter was “Forgive, forgive, forgive.” In her defense, it was in keeping with her position that human misery is to be welcomed.

    I also want to mention this column by Susan Jacoby from a few months ago, after the announcement of Teresa’s lifelong crisis of faith. Jacoby notes that someone who witnessed as much pain and suffering as Mother Teresa would have had an unimpeachable reason for doubting God’s goodness – but that’s not what Teresa’s crisis of faith was about. It was about her and how she felt God had withdrawn his presence from her. The evils she witnessed were irrelevant to her conscience, except – as Greta Christina said – insofar as she ultimately came to think of them as blessings, the terrible logical conclusion of her process of reinterpreting her own misery through the fractured lens of faith.

  • Arch

    As is often taking place on this site, the post against Mother Teresa includes plenty of manipulation, incomplete explanations, and an obviously negative agenda. For anyone who would like to know what Mother Teresa was truly like, I would recommend the documentary “Mother Teresa” by Jeanette Petrie. It was filmed over several years in many countries. It documents the order Mother Teresa founded, the Missionaries of Charity, which is dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor throughout the world. The ministry of the order began in Calcutta when they started picking up people who were dying in the streets, with no one to care for them. Their mission is one of love for all people regardless of who they are, and the actions of the sisters speak much louder than any words you or I can say. If one truly sees the work they do, the manipulation and falsehood of the original post here will be witnessed. The order has thousands of sisters all across the world, and their founding constitution states that they must labor of behalf of the poor. Any attack one makes on Mother Teresa or the order is mere straw and water because their actions are far more powerful than words.

  • Crotch

    Any attack one makes on Mother Teresa or the order is mere… water because their actions are far more powerful than words

    Unintentional though it was, I think you may have just complimented Ebon.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Arch,

    How many people have Mother Teres pulled out of poverty, and how many of these clinics have actually helped people build a better life? I just find it odd how there aren’t volumes speaking to that of irrefutable evidence, yet nuns who worked in this organization came out against it, many because they actually wanted to help people and no merely allow them to suffer and die.

    But yes, actions speak louder than words, and it seems her actions speak louder than all the love and compassion she talked about, showing instead that her main interest was keeping people suffering, not removing them from it.

  • Alex Weaver

    Actions speak louder than words…but apparently not louder than wishful thinking.

    Arch, would you care to provide a single substantive challenge to any facts Ebon has presented?

  • Mrnaglfar

    Also,

    Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love — and now become as the most hated one — the one — You have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One. — Alone … Where is my Faith — even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness — My God — how painful is this unknown pain — I have no Faith — I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart — & make me suffer untold agony.

    So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them — because of the blasphemy — If there be God — please forgive me — When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. — I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?

    Huh, sounds like she thought this whole religion thing was a crock too…

    That hardly sounds like the words of someone selflessly devoting themselves to a cause because they want to do good either

  • http://badnewsbible.blogspot.com XanderG

    You can watch Christopher Hitchen’s Channel 4 documentary Hell’s Angel here on youtube. He gives the evil woman what’s due.

  • velkyn

    I find it unfortunate that the facts that ebon shows are simply ignored by willfully ignorant Christians such as Arch. You say that the facts offered are “wrong” Arch, but you don’t do a thing to prove your accusations which makes them simply more lies. This is unforunately typical of Christians, they lie to support their God even though their holy book says not to (see Romans 3).

    “”I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.”-MT

    Being that Christians have often thought suffering was good or “God’s will” this is no suprise that Mother Theresa thought the same. Painkillers for pregnancy was once thought to be sinful since how dare humans remove some of the pain God damned women to.

  • Polly

    If I were even more cynical, I’d say that all those poor people they were picking up off the streets were mere props to be used for photo ops and documentaries (like that mentioned by Arch) so that MT could shill more effectively for the Catholic Church.

  • goyo

    As is often taking place on this site,

    What takes place on this site are sensible, logical discussions of issues that argue against the bullshit that religionists put forth to substantiate their ridiculous opinions.
    Along with “suffering is good”, what about, “Hitler was used by god to bring the Jews to salvation”, or whatever Hagee said yesterday.
    I drive by a church sign everyday that has great inspirational messages like:
    god is good, man is evil.

  • Jeff T.

    I am sure that Mother Teresa saw a great deal of suffering during the course of her life and this combined with the christian belief that suffering somehow pleases god probably caused her to become somewhat of a masochist. However I am no psychologist so I refrain from passing judgment on her. Like most of us, she probably did good things and bad things during the course of her life.

    I would rather see an attack upon the system that creates false idols rather than see us hammer at a deceased woman who from what I can tell was strictly following the tenets of christianity. Even the parts of her that are quoted here as saying that she didn’t believe in god are only thoughts of doubt and despair that most of us have at some point in our life. I have been to third world countries and I have seen poverty that many Americans could not imagine and to even think that one person could make a difference is rather idiotic in my opinion.

    I did notice some critics ridiculing her for her words of ‘forgive, forgive’ when she went to some disaster site. Well, as atheists what do we expect one mortal person to do? She obviously wasn’t superwoman. Since I did nothing to help in any of those disasters, I will not criticize her.

    I find the world’s idolization of her no more troubling than the fascination this country seems to have with American Idol.

  • Christopher

    Jeff T.

    “I find the world’s idolization of her no more troubling than the fascination this country seems to have with American Idol.”

    Persoanlly, I find the whole fascination with “American Idol” (as well as “reality” TV in general) to be very disturbing – these people are more inclined to care about who wins some damn musical competition more than issues that are pertenent to their lives: this nation’s failed war on drugs, congressional “pork handouts” (read: bribes) to special interest groups, the ridiculous notion of “social security” (perhaps the government’s biggest joke on the people they tax…) and the axes accompanying this program and other entitlement programs, etc…

    The mainstream media is just providing distractions – be it with idolized “saints” or pop idols – so that the common man won’t suddenly ask why so many of his resources are being wasted on buying votes for the political class.

  • Paul A

    Jeff T.

    “I did notice some critics ridiculing her for her words of ‘forgive, forgive’ when she went to some disaster site. Well, as atheists what do we expect one mortal person to do? She obviously wasn’t superwoman.”

    Well for starters how about instead of saying essentially “Let them get away with it, doesn’t matter if it happens again because suffering is just marvellous” she could have said “Take those responsible to court and extract the necessary reparations to ensure the survivors have the best medical care available. Oh and while we’re at it let’s re-examine the laws to make sure this never happens again”. You see that’s what a truly good person would have done in her position. She just shrugged her shoulders and waved it off, an utterly despicable reaction.

  • Nurse Ingrid

    Well said, Paul A.

    My personal favorite Mother Teresa moment was when she was asked how she felt about her friend Princess Diana getting divorced and she said “It is a good thing that it is over. Nobody was happy anyhow.”

    This from the woman who campaigned so hard against the legalization of divorce in Ireland.

    (thanks to Hitchens for the direct quote.)

  • http://www.amazon.com/Mother-Teresa-Cause-Calcutta-Saint/dp/1583852247/ref=pd_bbs_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1212080023&sr=8-3 Mark M Zima

    If you are interested in learning more about the real Mother Teresa, I have written a book, Mother Teresa: The Case for The Cause. My book is an intensively researched book exploring the faith and morals of Mother Teresa as compared to Catholic and Christian standards. My book is unique in that there is no book currently in print that explores the faith Mother Teresa practiced in light of the faith she professed. My book fills in the gaps of facts and issues Mr. Hitchens only alludes to in his book.

  • Samuel Skinner

    Mark, people are interested in her actions, NOT her beliefs.

  • Brock

    Anyone who wants to take Mr. Zima up on his offer, be warned. I checked out his book on Amazon.com, and read as much of the excerpt as I could stomach. He is trying to discredit the sainthood for The Hag of Calcutta on the grounds that she was somehow not a good Catholic, like Mr Zima apparently is. Who cares?

  • http://www.jodianderson.com so NOT cool

    This is so well said, so articulate. Now, PLEASE, update her Wikipedia entry!! Someone? Anyone? I can’t believe that no one has added a controversey section to her article on Wiki. I would but I am not nearly as good of a writer. Obviously.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Re: Mark Zima’s book: I have to say I’ve never seen Teresa attacked from the right before. Apparently, his argument is that she’s not deserving of sainthood because she was not conservative enough in upholding Catholic dogma.

  • Laura

    I have a good friend who spent a great deal of time with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, and she paints a different picture. Mother Teresa lived in the trenches of sickness and death, not because she had to, but because she felt called to do so. She cared for everyone, and shared the gospel with as many people as she could, no matter whether they were contagious, crippled, or people that our society would shun. She lived what she taught and inspired many people to do the same.

    There will always be varying opinions on anyone in the public eye. There are people who hated people who did great things…Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. (With the exception of Jesus, none of these people were perfect, and they were only human, but many people would say they were corrupted in some way and that whatever they did should not be considered…which is a ridiculous perspective and philosophy). And there are people who loved people who did terrible things…Hitler, Sadam Hussein, Osama bin Laden.

    If you read and study the Bible, it might provide an indication for some things she did. The Bible teaches us to forgive…”And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25. The Bible also teaches us to “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44. The fact that Mother Teresa visited the grave of someone she could have hated is an amazing gesture of forgiveness and mercy.

    There are two Biblical reasons for divorce. One is adultery, which was the basis for the divorce with Prince Charles and Princess Diana. I am not sure whether Mother Teresa commented further on this divorce, but the limited info we have on her comment provided here is not enough to assume that people should get divorced because they are unhappy. I am sure she did not think this, since she was opposed to the legalization of divorce everywhere but vocalized it in the context of Ireland, which was dealing with this issue during that time.

    Her ultimate mission to share the gospel with people and make disciples of all nations. Her mission was not political. If you knew how much time she was in the trenches surrounded by sickness and death, you would realize that this was part of her “true intention”. She spoke out on the teachings from the Bible, which included abortion and divorce. She was asked by national leaders and others for her opinion about these things, and she gave it.

    Do you really think that Mother Teresa was the CEO and CFO of her organization? She probably wasn’t in the board room making any major decisions, and she was definitely not using any of the donation money for herself…except perhaps to travel to the places she was serving. She showed the same poverty as those she served.

    I have been on mission trips and have friends who have been on medical mission trips, and there are many limitations on what you can bring into certain countries and how much and what you can do for and to people. It would cost millions of dollars just to transport the the food, water and medical equipment to the 123 countries where her ministry was serving people.

    Mother Teresa provided something to people who had nothing, and people are still saying she didn’t do enough.

    What are you doing with what you have?

  • http://evansnf.wordpress.com Evans

    How easy it is to overlook the positive work done and focus on anything that seems even the slightest negative from the sidelines. Even if one person gained from her presence, she is a saint; it’s that simple. Likewise, this applies for anyone else. Negativity in the form of skepticism and denial is overpowering. Either way, enjoy your daily gossip and finger pointing.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Evans,

    Even if one person gained from her presence, she is a saint; it’s that simple.

    If only one did? Then the world certainly has a lot of saints; I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wasn’t a saint at some point.

    I also noticed you didn’t actually refute anything or attempt to raise some evidence to the contrary. Care to expand on that?

  • http://evansnf.wordpress.com Evans

    MrNaglfar:
    Sure,
    And yes, there would be a lot of saints, maybe not named, glorified or idolized but saints nonetheless and that in my opinion the thought is absolutely beautiful.

    It is correct that I did not refute or raise any evidence. It is not my job to judge others but its definitely my job to judge “myself” instead. I am not Mother Teresa and there is NO WAY I would clearly know the intent of her tasks, whether those intents were good or bad. The only one that does know perfectly well is “her”, anything less is pure speculation. The only thing I positively care to see is the results of the good deeds done. That’s all that matters. If there is bad, everyone is capable of making mistakes, she is human too. No one is perfect, even if she claimed to be that. There might have been moments in her life where she doubted her faith, but there are clearly so many more moments that her faith motivated her to do what she did beyond her doubt. The final point is, one can only speculate her intent but the reality remains with her. The results of her outcome do not accurately equate to her intent, even the good ones; but they are very inspiring.
    Thanks for asking.
    - Evans

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Evans,
    By your definition, even the worst tyrants could be considered saints, which leaves the word completely devoid of meaning. It’s not that there would simply be lots of saints, but that everyone would be a saint.

    I am not Mother Teresa and there is NO WAY I would clearly know the intent of her tasks, whether those intents were good or bad. The only one that does know perfectly well is “her”, anything less is pure speculation.

    Not true, we can know perfectly well her actions and her hypocrisy.

    The only thing I positively care to see is the results of the good deeds done.

    And you get to read about her bad deeds as well when people like Ebon point them out, like he did in the OP.

    That’s all that matters. If there is bad, everyone is capable of making mistakes, she is human too.

    “Saint” in the context of someone cannonized by the Catholic Church refers to someone who is holy and above reproach. It’s not enough to simply say, “Oh, she was human too,” because the implicit claim being made is that she was somewhat super-human and on a moral plane higher than others.

    There might have been moments in her life where she doubted her faith, but there are clearly so many more moments that her faith motivated her to do what she did beyond her doubt.

    OK, so when her faith motivated her to by hypocritical or not to give actual aid and comfort to people, opting instead to believe that suffering is good – what then? Faith is not necessarily a good thing.

    The results of her outcome do not accurately equate to her intent, even the good ones; but they are very inspiring.

    And, what specifically is inspiring about her intent? What do you think her intent was?

  • http://evansnf.wordpress.com Evans

    OMGF,

    By your definition, even the worst tyrants could be considered saints, which leaves the word completely devoid of meaning. It’s not that there would simply be lots of saints, but that everyone would be a saint.

    Yes. We label people based on their past. But going forward we decide to leave those labels on no matter what good they do. “Once a tyrant, always a tyrant!” I don’t see it this way but that’s just me.

    Not true, we can know perfectly well her actions and her hypocrisy.

    Her actions and her intent are 2 different things. All actions may not have the same emotion as that of the intent. An example: He didn’t intend to hurt them but it happened. But since it happened, he must have truly intended to hurt them; or else how would it have happened! Absolutely Flawed Logic here. Label it what you like.

    And you get to read about her bad deeds as well when people like Ebon point them out, like he did in the OP.

    Yes. Of course, the greatest people have bad deeds and even the not so greatest. What I love about the after effects of bad deeds is the fact that it is an opportunity to learn and grow out of; if one is willing to take up on it.

    “Saint” in the context of someone cannonized by the Catholic Church refers to someone who is holy and above reproach. It’s not enough to simply say, “Oh, she was human too,” because the implicit claim being made is that she was somewhat super-human and on a moral plane higher than others.

    Let me go with the definition you proposed. She is human period, just like all of us. “Super human” is still a logical subset of human, that’s why the word “human” still exists within that term. It doesn’t mean anything that is not human or else it would also physically show. I’m sure you agree here. “Saints” in that definition still belongs to the logical set of humans. There is nothing that even the Church can say that will change this obvious fact. To recognize someone’s morals that are on a plane higher than others does not mean “everyone else sucks”. It only means that there is opportunity to grow more than one is at this moment in time and if that is the choice one wishes to make. The church can label her whatever they like and that’s their choice but that doesn’t make us any less capable of greatness either.

    OK, so when her faith motivated her to by hypocritical or not to give actual aid and comfort to people, opting instead to believe that suffering is good – what then? Faith is not necessarily a good thing.

    Does she comfort people? It seemed like she did coz some people felt it.
    Did she say suffering is good? Yes.
    Very few can see beauty in suffering, even fewer see beauty in everything even death. We fear death, we fear suffering, we “fear” in general. Fear is what we battle and as long as we fear we don’t see any beauty in what we actually fear. Faith is having ‘no fear’ period. But I don’t expect most to understand this. This is considered insensitive or gibberish to the majority. You have to experience who you truly are to come out of this fear and without this experience one will remain sensitive to their own fear. Suffering is just an early opportunity to experience this true self ( I speak from personal experience). Physical Death is the final and fool proof opportunity to see it. But again,I have proof to offer only to myself.
    It was a please talking.
    - Evans

  • http://evansnf.wordpress.com Evans

    OMGF:
    :) I mean pleasure talking. lol!

  • Mrnaglfar

    Evans,

    It is not my job to judge others but its definitely my job to judge “myself” instead.

    Is it your job to judge others as positive? Because you seem to be doing that. Is it your job to judge is for our view that her impact wasn’t positive? Because you seem to be doing that too. Everyone judges the role of other peoples work; it’s part of being a human. To only focus on the good and avoid the bad makes the concept of a “good person” completely meaningless, because everyone would viewed as a “good person”, being that:

    The only thing I positively care to see is the results of the good deeds done. That’s all that matters. If there is bad, everyone is capable of making mistakes, she is human too. No one is perfect, even if she claimed to be that.

    You can’t just ignore the bad that people do and claim that they’re good people. It takes the meaning out of the word good

  • http://evansnf.wordpress.com Evans

    Mrnaglfar,
    I saw that coming. :) You are right. I did judge her by calling it “positive” and that I apologize for. She did what she did and as long as she was happy doing what she did, that’s all the matters. In this way, I don’t see good or bad. There is just self and self wanting to be at peace through the many roads self may take, label it positive or negative. But as she did walk her path, she did things to make herself happy. In effect, she also had affected so many others. That effect (good or bad) causes change in mental thought or physical action. Some see this effect and take a different route to finding happiness and some are happy instantaneously.
    Now I’m not focussing on the good and bad (and I have to remind myself to avoid articulating it this way), but using those terms of judgement, I’m saying that even bad is good, and hence there is only good. My notion of bad is a subset of time (patience & self evolution) but it exists within the boundaries of good itself. Anything within that boundary is “good” period.
    When I decide to see good or bad, i.e. judge, I rather judge myself. When I judge others, there is a good side of me that sees the good and the bad side of me that sees the bad. That’s how I see it.

    You can’t just ignore the bad that people do and claim that they’re good people. It takes the meaning out of the word good.

    But I do it! Somewhere I see beyond what they see themselves as. I see somewhere someone only wanting to be happy at any cost, someone who is in fear at this point in time and also acting out of fear. I see it because I walked this path myself.

    Thoughts?
    - Evans

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Evans
    Maybe this is a case of hate the sin, love the sinner. Possibly MT was totally sincere in her belief and subsequent treatment of the suffering in her care. However if she saw virtue in suffering, she was deluded. Belief in a God, particularly the Abrahamic god of xianity, judaism and Islam is liable to lead people into perverse and inhumane actions as he is a perverse and inhumane deity. Perhaps MT should not be vilified, but she should be pitied for the mental state that led her to believe she was helping.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Evans,

    Let me go with the definition you proposed. She is human period, just like all of us. “Super human” is still a logical subset of human, that’s why the word “human” still exists within that term.

    That’s like saying that extraterrestrials are really just from Earth, because the meta word has “terrestrial” in it. No, in this sense, a “saint” is said to be someone who surpasses human abilities and is not bound by human limitations. Mother Teresa was certainly no saint.

    To recognize someone’s morals that are on a plane higher than others does not mean “everyone else sucks”.

    Nor did I say that it did. It does mean that that person’s morals really should be higher than others if we are going to claim as much. What’s the point in saying that Mother Teresa was a good, moral person if it simply wasn’t so?

    Very few can see beauty in suffering, even fewer see beauty in everything even death.

    I’m sorry, but there is nothing beautiful about suffering. I think to test this thought of yours, you should go to the poorest nations and watch people suffering from starvation and tell them how beautiful you think their suffering is.

  • http://evansnf.wordpress.com Evans

    OMGF,

    That’s like saying that extraterrestrials are really just from Earth, because the meta word has “terrestrial” in it.

    I agree that the definitions are not well formed. If terra refers to Earth, then yes. If terra can refer to land on any planet then no.

    a “saint” is said to be someone who surpasses human abilities and is not bound by human limitations

    In other words a human that is not really human. Is this logically accurate? All humans have the ability to surpass the human limitation they set for themselves (usually short of their potential max limit) but they cannot surpass their own max limit. They will always remain within the range of human. Its just logical. Mother Teresa may have touched her max limit; usually known as unconditional love and acceptance for all, which is quite tough to reach. She maybe no saint to you, but to those who have experienced her ways, they might disagree but then again some might agree.

    What’s the point in saying that Mother Teresa was a good, moral person if it simply wasn’t so?

    In terms of time, from what age should one be morally good and remain good to achieve this level of recognition? What’s your acceptable grading criterion?

    I’m sorry, but there is nothing beautiful about suffering. I think to test this thought of yours, you should go to the poorest nations and watch people suffering from starvation and tell them how beautiful you think their suffering is.

    I lived in a slum area for a year and for 7 years I traveled with slum dwellers by trains and buses. I’ve talked to them, eaten at their home, learned from them and appreciated their survival skills. That’s the closest I’ve gotten to living among some of them. I have family surviving and succumbed to cancer & surviving heart diseases. My wife suffered neurological breakdowns and her right side paralyzed for a short while. I broke my shoulder, suffered from jaundice, malaria, pox and more while living in a nation just like you mentioned. I’m not an American. But after all this, I see beauty in it. You cannot appreciate the light unless you’ve been in the dark. Why don’t you try it and I don’t mean it sarcastically. There are always opportunities to learn.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Evans,
    Stop trying to play semantic games. People are cannonized as saints because they surpass human morality, and are thought to be holy in some way. You can’t escape this, and making arguments based on relative morality aren’t going to cut it either. It doesn’t matter if some people think she’s a saint when the reality of it is that her actions would not be considered saintly by anyone who hasn’t stuck their head in the sand and put their fingers in their ears while yelling, “I can’t hear you.”

    In terms of time, from what age should one be morally good and remain good to achieve this level of recognition? What’s your acceptable grading criterion?

    I would think that at the very least one should not align oneself with ruthless dictators, provide sub-standard care for people while simultaneously getting the best care available to anyone with the money that was donated for helping the people that she was not helping. How can you possibly look at the list of things she has done and shrug your shoulders and say, “Yeah, she was good.”

    I lived in a slum area for a year and for 7 years I traveled with slum dwellers by trains and buses. I’ve talked to them, eaten at their home, learned from them and appreciated their survival skills.

    And how often have you told them how great it is that they suffer and scrape to survive?

    You cannot appreciate the light unless you’ve been in the dark.

    Which is the same apologetic that people use to excuse god’s violent behavior against us, and it doesn’t work then either. Do you have to eat rocks in order to enjoy a steak? I reject your line of argumentation that one must need to suffer in order to enjoy anything, because it’s simply not true.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Evans,
    Since you are not an American, English might not be your first language. The prefix “super” means beyond, so a “superhuman” is not a human, but beyond human.

  • Arch

    If anyone would like to see a significant amount of footage about Mother Teresa which will expose truth about her, contrary to those who would attack her as an unloving woman, watch the documentary “Mother Teresa” by Jeanette Petrie.

    http://www.amazon.com/Mother-Teresa-Narration-Richard-Attenborough/dp/B000WOYRUI

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Arch,
    You’ve come back to shill for your documentary again, but still no answers to the facts presented above? I’m utterly shocked, shocked I say.

  • Arch

    I hope you all make the effort to watch the film.
    :0)

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Since no one who objects to my post appears to be interested in discussing the substance of it, I think it’s safe to say…


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X