Mother Teresa’s Lack of Faith

An article in tomorrow’s Time magazine talks about Mother Teresa’scrisis of faith.”

… [I]n a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, [Mother Teresa] wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. “Jesus has a very special love for you,” she assured Van der Peet. “[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak … I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand.”

This is one of the letters featured in Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, a new book “consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years…”

The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book’s compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, “neither in her heart or in the eucharist.”

The book is written (and the letters compiled) by Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, a senior Missionaries of Charity member. He is also the man “responsible for petitioning for her sainthood.”

And we can’t talk about Mother Teresa without mentioning the obligatory Christopher Hitchens reference:

Not all atheists and doubters will agree. Both Kolodiejchuk and Martin assume that Teresa’s inability to perceive Christ in her life did not mean he wasn’t there. In fact, they see his absence as part of the divine gift that enabled her to do great work. But to the U.S.’s increasingly assertive cadre of atheists, that argument will seem absurd. They will see the book’s Teresa more like the woman in the archetypal country-and-western song who holds a torch for her husband 30 years after he left to buy a pack of cigarettes and never returned. Says Christopher Hitchens, author of The Missionary Position, a scathing polemic on Teresa, and more recently of the atheist manifesto God Is Not Great: “She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself.”

You can read more excerpts of Mother Teresa’s letters in the full article.

(Thanks to InfidelJoe for the link!)


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://unorthodoxatheism.blogspot.com Reed Braden
  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    I’ve seen Hitchen’s little polemic against Mother Theresa. I was not very impressed. His reasons for disliking her are rather weak IMHO.

    As for her spiritual experiences, it’s not surprising in the slightest. It’s a well known spiritual principle within Christianity that the closer you get to God, the more distant he will often feel. (C.S. Lewis writes about this extensively.) After all, Jesus Christ himself, at the moment when he was most obedient to God, cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

    If that was Christ’s experience, and Christians are striving to be Christlike, then I think we have to expect that we too will experience these feelings of forsakeness, even when we are serving God’s will.

    In fact, there’s a whole vein of Christian thought known as apophatic theology (or the Via Negativa) that seeks to know God through his absence as much as through his presence. A great recent book on this is Peter Rollins’ “How (Not) to Speak of God”. In his words, “Christian faith, it could be said, is born in the aftermath of God.”

    Of course, I realize that to most of you atheists, all of this is entirely irrelevant. No worries. :)

  • The Unbrainwashed

    Mike C –
    Your inane explanation above is not “irrelevant”; it’s simply inane.

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    It’s my policy that whenever Christopher Hitchens isn’t mentioned in an article to mention him anyway, and point out he once slept with a Nazi.

    Or something like that.

    Ebay Atheist will have my post on this subject this morning.

  • Maria

    well, I met her as a child, so I guess maybe I’m a little biased b/c I remember her fondly. all I know is a huge crowd of people turned out to mourn her at her funeral (willingly), so she obviously did something right. I don’t deny she probably did some wrong stuff too-just like everyone else in the world, she was mixed. Overall though, I tend to believe a huge crowd more over one man (Christopher Hitchens), especially when I find him so distasteful and often just as hypocritical as those he criticizes (I’d take Ghandi, Mother Theresa, and the Dali Lami over Hitchens any day). I am interested to learn about these letters though. I wonder why if she lost her faith, why she didn’t just focus on helping the poor more without the whole faith thing-it’s what I would have done. Guess she had her reasons, but it is rather odd.

    Mike C -
    Your inane explanation above is not “irrelevant”; it’s simply inane.

    It’s his opinion and he’s entitled to have it

    I’ve seen Hitchen’s little polemic against Mother Theresa. I was not very impressed. His reasons for disliking her are rather weak IMHO.

    I have to wonder why Christopher Hitchens is the only one who says it and everyone else just references him. You’d think other people would want to do their own “investigating” of her instead of just relying on him.

  • Crystal

    I wrote a response on UA: I politely disagree with Mr. Mehta about what we should be focussing on.

    so basically instead of talking about the issue, which is the letters, you think friendlyatheist should have spent his time bashing her and quoting Christopher Hitchens. oh yeah, that would be really “rational”…….

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    As I noted, the Time article seems to gloss over the problem that it makes no sense to praise, in general, unwavering conviction in the face of doubts: different people believe different contradictory things, all passionately. Logically, the doubts of some (or of all) must be justified.

    Overall though, I tend to believe a huge crowd more over one man (Christopher Hitchens)

    The problem is, of course, is that the huge crowd is just going on her public image, while Hitchens cites actual information about how her charities operated. It’s just a plain fact that, despite soliciting money from people by talking about helping Calcuttans, the vast majority of the money seems to have gone towards setting up convents in her name around the world. It’s just plain fact that she hobnobbed with and praised violent dictators, knowingly accepted stolen money from Keating, and so on.

    I find that people never really respond to or try to refute Hitchen’s arguments and evidence: instead they simply pull a variation of “it’s just patently ridiculous that you attack such a wonderful saint!” What’s ironic is that this plays right into Hitchen’s point: people in the West have simply come to use Mother Theresa as an image that assuages their guilt without having any idea what the facts on the ground were, or that she was a human being. It’s Hitchens who argues that she was “mixed.” The “crowd” is who paints her and her work as if it were some sort of Platonic ideal.

  • http://unorthodoxatheism.blogspot.com Reed Braden

    I prefer to think for my own. I was given two sides of the story (one by the Vatican and one by Hitchens, Dr. Aroup Chatterjee, et al) and told to pick one. I examined both sides and found the side that I believe to be more true.

    I used to be pro-Teresa. I have no agenda against the woman. I just think she’s a twat.

    Siamang – What does it matter who he slept with? How does that keep him from being right?

    Marie – Since when did the amount of people at one’s funeral become an indicator for the goodness of the person? The people were duped into believing the old tart.

    Crystal – What’s irrational is the insistence of the media to ignore things like her questionable money trail and the eye-witness reports of cruelty in her “homes for the Dying.”

  • http://mollishka.blogspot.com mollishka

    What Mike C describes is the ultimate one-sided love-hate relationship. It’s reasoning like this that depicts just how viral (and therefore strong) Christianity is: it comes equipped with so many built-in self-reinforcing mechanisms that by the time someone realizes that *gasp* god isn’t there, they are compelled to take this lack of evidence as evidence that he is “there.” Mind-boggling and sickening.

  • stogoe

    Maria,
    People donated money to MT because they assumed she was providing health care to the sick and dying. Instead, she built warehouses for people to suffer and waste away. There was no healing, nor amelioration. Just a bed to die in.

    Meanwhile, she jets around the world and hobnobs with European nobility and dictators, and uses the donated money to expand her order’s reach.

    Not a ‘good’ woman by any means. Even Charles Manson watched fewer people die.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    I could have sworn I posted on this (once with one link and then again in another thread with no link) and that my posts went through… Did I mess it up somehow?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    Perhaps so mollishka. My point was simply to say that atheists are telling us nothing new by pointing out that people (even Mother Theresa) often do not feel the presence of God in their lives. Christians are already well aware of this fact, and have been reflecting on its implications for millenia now.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    I just think she’s a twat.

    Hmm, I can believe my friends who have worked on the ground with Teresa and seen her operation first hand… or I can believe a self-proclaimed know-it-all who uses sexist words like “twat” to demean people he disagrees with.

    Dunno, tough choice…

  • mike

    mother teresa… What is amazing to me is how we treat people. How we treat each other. Mother teresa HAD to do nothing for the sick and dying in calcutta. Their own culture considers them untouchables- unworthy of any assistance because they are working out their own bad karma. It’s our own cultures anxts with heroes of any kind that we feel the need to tear them apart. After a person is dead it is so easy to second guess them and their life. Its what christians call grace.

  • Polly

    @stogoe and Reed Braden,

    I guess I’m naive. I’m surprised by what you guys are saying about MT. All I knew about her was the popular image of an old lady trudging through the 3rd world grime, presumably helping the poor.
    Are you saying that she really wasn’t doing good? Do you have a link or a source or something? I’m genuinely curious.

  • Loren Petrich

    “Both Kolodiejchuk and Martin assume that Teresa’s inability to perceive Christ in her life did not mean he wasn’t there. In fact, they see his absence as part of the divine gift that enabled her to do great work.”

    That is absolutely absurd Pollyannaishness and Panglossianism, which is not exactly a great advertisement of them as great criticial thinkers.

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    or I can believe a self-proclaimed know-it-all who uses sexist words like “twat” to demean people he disagrees with.

    My feeling exactly.

  • Raghu Mani

    At the risk of sounding too radical, may I suggest that there might be a middle ground between “saint” and “twat” where Teresa might fit :-).

    I have mixed feelings about her. On the one hand, I cannot discount the criticisms that Hitchens and others have raised. On the other, I have talked to people who have seen her operation first-hand and they do agree that she is doing a lot of good for the poor of Calcutta.

    Raghu

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    I agree Raghu. She was a regular person who made mistakes like anyone else. She wasn’t perfect, but at the same time, I didn’t see anything about Teresa’ mistakes that were not at least somewhat understandable/ justifiable, or else just based on Hitchen’s own ideological differences about what is worthwhile ministry to the poor in the first place.

    And frankly, someone who thinks that the Iraq War is justified because the Iraqis are religious is not someone whose judgment I would trust on matters of justice and compassion.

  • Claire

    What you have to understand here is that some branches of christianity (including MT’s catholicism) see suffering as a good thing, an offering to god and a way to get closer to god, not as something to be avoided. Using that as a reference, it’s perfectly logical that she would leave people to suffer and die (as she did) rather than helping them get well or feel better (which she didn’t). A sickening and downright evil thing to do by any decent person’s view, but in her eyes, a good thing.

    The other things she did mark her as a fraud (the toadying to the rich, the love of celebrities, using money to glorify herself) but in this she was perfectly, horribly, appallingly sincere.

    Maybe there was a reason she felt abandoned by god. Maybe at some level, even she knew she was doing wrong, but she didn’t let that stop her.

    And so other people suffered and died, for her glory and the glory of her god.

  • ash

    i’m with Polly on this – i’d really like some non-Hitchens references to go check out for myself please?

  • minkz

    What I see is a very confused woman. On one hand , she has these doubts about god, and on the other she let people experience pain and suffering in hope that they would be closer to god?. That does not some how seem right, does it?. But then again she did some good. (even if it was in the name of the very thing she doubted.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    So all those who disagree with Teresa’s methods: what will you do differently? Are you willing to go and spend your life on behalf of the poorest of the poor and do it the way you think it ought to be done?

  • Claire

    I didn’t see anything about Teresa’ mistakes that were not at least somewhat understandable/ justifiable, or else just based on Hitchen’s own ideological differences about what is worthwhile ministry to the poor in the first place.

    To anyone who considers that “worthwhile ministry to the poor” consists of giving people a clean place to die without even enough medical care to see if they are truly dying or could be treated: please, don’t help.

    That’s more than an “ideological difference”.

    Are you willing to go and spend your life on behalf of the poorest of the poor and do it the way you think it ought to be done.

    No, I don’t set up to be a saint, I don’t want the fame and the glory. But (and here’s the important part) I will NOT pretend to help the poor or the sick and dying and expect to be honored for it. I will NOT prevent the sick and dying from receiving medical treatment. I will NOT funnel money into my pockets (or my religion’s pockets) and away from charities that do really do good work.

    I will send money to charities that help, but I will find out first what they really do, where the money goes, and what they consider to be help.

  • Aj

    A non-Hitchens book on “Mother Teresa”, Mother Teresa by Aroup Chatterjee

    Mother Teresa:
    wanted people to live in poverty.
    denounced women’s rights to divorce (unless your rich) and abortion.
    misappropiated charity money, on converting people to catholicism instead of caring for them.
    praised a brutal dictator for money.

    She didn’t just “make mistakes”, she was a wicked person who did extremely bad deeds. It’s hard to see what good she did for people at all, but there’s plenty of bad she did. It’s insanity to ask others whether they would dedicate their life to the poor when she did no such thing.

    Disagree with her methods…
    I’d rather believe a crowd than one man…
    Hitchens is in support of the war in Iraq so he must be wrong on this…
    “Mother Teresa” is human, we make mistakes…

    Please stop, I’m going to be sick, too much nonsense.

  • Tom in Iowa

    So this tells us that Mother Teresa was a human being, with all the flaws and foibles and certainties and doubts that are the characteristics of our species. And she tried to do good works, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing. Like any other human being she could be convinced (even self deceived) of the rightness of her path, and stick to it through thick and thin. Just like anyone with a focus and determination to persevere.

    I think the disservice to her (and humanity) is to try to turn her into a saint or a demon. It’s too bad that it’s already been done, and that we can’t just recognize her as a human.

  • Polly

    Mike C,

    In short: no. That is a calling that is beyond me. I freely, and humbly, admit it. Regardless of what I find out, it will not change anything I do in my own life. This is purely for historical knowledge.

    It reminds me of the surprise I got when I first read about some of Ghandi’s less than ideal non-violent extremism. He would actually push people (verbally) into violent situations by castigating them for fleeing from violence. Until then, I thought he was a saint – so to speak. I’d like my OWN “saint-worship” tempered with reality, that’s all.

    I agree that people are seldom all-good or all-bad. I’m not looking to classify her, I just want perspective on an important and well-know person in recent history. If we were talking about Britney Spears, I wouldn’t have the faintest interest.

  • miller

    Mike C,
    The explanation you gave (2nd comment from top) is not irrelevant to atheists, it is one of the things in religion that looks especially bad. It links to the idea of a “test of faith”, as if “passing” such a test (by forgoing reason for faith) were the desirable outcome. Implicit is that atheists are failures. I realize there are lots of rationalizations behind this that can perhaps make it consistent with the Christian worldview, but the end result is a bit offensive.

    But I guess that’s just the way it goes. Every worldview has corrolaries that are offensive to other worldviews.

  • Claire

    A non-Hitchens book on “Mother Teresa”, Mother Teresa by Aroup Chatterjee

    You can read this online at

    http://www.meteorbooks.com/

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    So you’ve read Hitchens or Chatterjee, but have you read Teresa’s own writings? You accept their interpretation of her actions, but have you read her for yourself? Or have you read the stories of those who have worked with her?

    I’m not trusting a crowd or simply dismissing the criticisms out of hand. But I will trust the friends I know personally who have gone to Calcutta, who have worked with Mother Teresa, and who will say that the people there were given death with dignity and the chance to be loved before they died, and that the value of this should not be discounted.

    It’s not an either/or. By all means, give medical treatment to those who might benefit from it. There are ministries that do that kind of thing, some of whom work in conjunction with the Sisters of Charity. But there are thousands more who are beyond medical help and would die forgotten and alone on the streets of Calcutta if not for the love of the Sisters. If you think more medical charity needs to be done, then do it (I’m serious – why not put your life where your mouth is? start a nonprofit or join one – go overseas, lend a hand for a week or month or a summer), help meet that particular need. But don’t condemn others who see another, different need, and rush to meet that as well. You don’t have to belittle the work others are doing because it’s not the work you would do (if you are actually doing anything at all).

    And those who accuse Teresa and her sisters of actually taking joy in the suffering of others ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Talk to someone who has been there before making such spurious accusations. Their ministry is about love – love for the outcast and forgotten members of society. If Teresa talked about the value of suffering, she was talking about the value of her own suffering – the value of suffering alongside those who suffer, of mourning with those who mourn – in other words, of having compassion and identifying with the suffering of others in hopes of relieving it in some way, or of bringing some goodness out of it. Trying to twist these ideals into something sinister is just mean-spirited and false.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    The explanation you gave (2nd comment from top) is not irrelevant to atheists, it is one of the things in religion that looks especially bad. It links to the idea of a “test of faith”, as if “passing” such a test (by forgoing reason for faith) were the desirable outcome. Implicit is that atheists are failures. I realize there are lots of rationalizations behind this that can perhaps make it consistent with the Christian worldview, but the end result is a bit offensive.

    But I guess that’s just the way it goes. Every worldview has corrolaries that are offensive to other worldviews.

    Miller, I’m sorry if you find the idea of apophatic theoology offensive. I’m afraid I really don’t know what you mean about a “test” though. This is not about testing anything or proving anything. The via negativa is not about “reasons for belief”. It’s not a “test of faith”. And this isn’t apologetics, it’s spirituality and theology. It is not a rationale to convince people to believe in spite of a lack of evidence. It is for those who already believe but want to know why their belief doesn’t always lead to an immediate experience of God’s presence. I don’t really see what that has to do with atheists at all or why you would feel judged by it. Forgive me for not getting it.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    You don’t have to think Mother Theresa was evil to at least agree that her position as “most wonderful person ever” is not really very rational or fair. Hitchen’s main thesis, which is perhaps more important than his specific allegations (none of which, again, people ever seem to dispute on the facts: they just get upset that they are mentioned!) is that this image of a perfect saint is basically cobbled together Western Guilt for the poverty in the developing world: we like seeing ourselves as uncomplicated missionaries to those poor helpless people, without really having to bother and look at the reality of the situation.

    I don’t think there is much doubt that Hitchens is somewhat right about this. Believe what you want about Mother Theresa: the fact that most people are never even told about the more controversial aspects of her ministry and actions is proof enough that she is simply treated as a symbol instead of a person in the media and public mind.

  • Claire

    It is for those who already believe but want to know why their belief doesn’t always lead to an immediate experience of God’s presence. I don’t really see what that has to do with atheists at all or why you would feel judged by it. Forgive me for not getting it.

    It’s a difference between the the religious vs. rational viewpoints. In the religious viewpoint, underlying assumptions are often unquestionable, so the question then is “given that there is a god, why don’t I feel his presence? Because I have faith that he’s there, so there must be another reason”. The rational viewpoint is that the thinking should be “if there is a god, why don’t I feel his presence? Possibly because my earlier assumption is wrong, and there is no god, and I must investigate that possibility first”.

    To a rational person, the refusal to question the underlying assumption is at best, stupid, and at worst, sheer pig-headedness, and the elaborate framework needed to find another, more acceptable answer when the underlying assumption seems to be in question (such as your apophatic theology), is a deliberate rejection of reason. Rational types don’t like that any more than the religious like a rejection of faith.

    Does that help to explain it?

  • stogoe

    A little late, but I remember getting such info from articles by Hitch on MT. Or perhaps they were articles promoting Hitch’s book, The Missionary Position.

  • Claire

    And those who accuse Teresa and her sisters of actually taking joy in the suffering of others ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

    I didn’t say that, and I don’t see where anyone else did either. I said that she and the church think suffering is good for people, that they consider it an offering to god and that it’s necessary for people to suffer in order to make them more humble and holy and so forth. If someone thinks that way, why bother to alleviate suffering at all? Just give the poor a clean place to do it in, that’s enough, and that’s what she did.

    Me, I think unnecessary suffering is a bad thing, and all treatable ill health is unnecessary suffering.

    But I will trust the friends I know personally who have gone to Calcutta, who have worked with Mother Teresa, and who will say that the people there were given death with dignity and the chance to be loved before they died, and that the value of this should not be discounted.

    I don’t discount the value of hospice care at all – I just object to substituting hospice care for medical care. I don’t see a mention of your friends seeing any medical care – did they? Did they see that people brought in off the streets were given a complete medical workup to determine if they needed medical care instead of hospice care? Were they doctors who could tell if the people dying were treatable or not? Or did they just assume anyone there in the hospice needed to be there because they looked pretty bad off? These are not rhetorical questions, by the way – I’m interested to know what they actually saw in terms of deciding whether hospice or medical care was needed.

  • miller

    Mike C,
    Ok, you’re right. It’s only reminiscent of the “test of faith” idea, not actually related.

  • monkeymind

    Mike C. said:

    don’t condemn others who see another, different need, and rush to meet that as well. You don’t have to belittle the work others are doing because it’s not the work you would do (if you are actually doing anything at all).

    I agree with that… really some of the comments seem angry at her for not solving the problems of an entire sub-continent in one lifetime.
    I have to say though that i have found some of what Mother T is quoted as saying a bit off-putting – I feel more drawn to someone like Dorothy Day who was subversive as well as saintly (though she would have hated being called that.) She once said: “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”

    I think she is up for beatification also, but fat chance with this pope.

    In regards to the Via Negativa I have heard it presented as a way to break down limited, parochial, projected versions of God. It’s more a discipline to remind the believer that whatever they think they know about God, it’s wrong. So yes, I don’t see why atheists have to be threatened by it. It seems similar to the Buddhist project of attempting to achieve an unmediated experience of reality (“reality is free of all notions.”) in other words, don’t believe everything you think.

    As far as Mother T’s doubts, whenever you commit to a person or a cause, there will be times when whatever shiny happy feelings that first drew you in disappear and you have to reach for a deeper level. So I find the revelations about Mother T’s very moving, actually.

  • Kate

    I understand why Mother Teresa felt lost and alone at times. We all do. She was dealing with the Catholic Church and their antiquated structure, plus the poor and the sick on a daily basis. I believe in God and eternal life and I have been blessed in knowing God’s presense is always with me, even at my darkest moments. Mother Teresa grew tired of the daily struggles and the overwhelming desperation she embraced. I’m sure she felt God was absent because things changed very little around her. If you watched helpless children die on a daily basis, your faith would be challenged. Part of her personal struggle in life was to continue to serve God, even when she felt abandoned by God. That in it’s self takes great faith, to put one foot in front of the other each day, to continue to love and care for those in need, regardless of your own doubts and disappointments.

    If someone wishes to live their life as an Athiest, I have no problem with that. It’s the person’s right to choose what they do or do not believe in. I will continue to believe in God and that His plan for all of us will one day be revealed. Please do not use Mother Teresa’s letters as a way to discredit this wonderful child of God. She deserves to be remembered as a good person, a good Christian and a decent human being. I dare say, that is more then most of us will be remembered for.

  • Karen

    Wow – ABC nightly news just quoted Dan Barker on camera about this story! They actually cited the “atheist” response to a news item. That’s gotta be a measure of progress!! :-)

  • Mriana

    I’ve heard her story and I’m really not surprised by it. I listen to Abraxas’s podcasts called “Coffee, and he onced asked, “Some people lose their faith because Heaven shows them too little, but how many lose their faith because Heaven shows them too much?” Many theologians/religious scholars hit that moment. Some like Mother Teresa still try to continue in the faith, others like Spong, Price, Harpur, Cupitt Borg, and like take it in a different direction. Spong (a retired Episcopal Bishop) calls himself a non-theist, Price (also is Episcopalian once a Baptist minister with a degree in theology) calls him self a Humanist/atheist, Borg and Cupitt are also Episcopal priest, but I don’t know how they identify themselves. Harpur, I don’t know what he is either, but he is a religious scholar and thinks Christianity should be taken further than what Spong suggests. So, the reactions vary amongst theologians and religious scholars.

    Oh yes, I forgot Dan Barker of the FFRF. He was once a minister too who wrote the book “Losing Faith in Faith” after he turned atheist. He too hit the wall of shocking discovery as most know.

  • Maria

    So you’ve read Hitchens or Chatterjee, but have you read Teresa’s own writings? You accept their interpretation of her actions, but have you read her for yourself? Or have you read the stories of those who have worked with her?

    this is a problem I see with some people. they will only read what their “own” say-i.e. some religious will only read other religious, some atheists will only read other atheists. I think it’s ridiculous both ways. The reason I said what I said was b/c like Mike C, I knew people who dealt with her and some that were helped by her, and I’d take their word over Hitchen’s any day b/c they were actually there-for years.

    Disagree with her methods…
    I’d rather believe a crowd than one man…
    Hitchens is in support of the war in Iraq so he must be wrong on this…
    “Mother Teresa” is human, we make mistakes…

    well, I’ve seen the first arugment used many times against religion. I wonder if you’d have a problem with it in that context? probably not. as for the second one, umm, yes, we can critcize Hitchens. I’ve heard this argument used against religion too (it’s wrong on one thing so it must be wrong on everything) and again, I bet you wouldn’t have a problem with it in that context. If he’s going to criticize others, he opens himself up. He’s not above criticism, and he doesn’t get a special pass, just like she doesn’t. I never said she did, all I said was she wasn’t the evil person Hitchens made her out to be, though apparently that is the same as thinking she was a “saint” and “attacking Hitchens” according to some. Even Aroup Chatterjee admits she did “something” for the poor. My verdict was she was mixed, and I think that’s ultimately how most people will end up feeling. And the last one is a truism, it can be said of anyone.

    People like her, Ghandi, Diana, and the Dahli Lama are always going to be admired by some, no matter what Hitchens says. He hasn’t exactly made himself likeable, nor does he have a reputation for having an open mind, so even when he says something true most people don’t want to listen. And what he said that the people of Iraq “deserved” to be invaded b/c they are religious to be invaded was totally out there-(ask yourself, how would you react if someone said that a secular country deserved to be invaded b/c it was secular? it’s inane both ways).

    I’d like to see “evidence” other than people regurgitating what Hitchens says. So far what I have to go on is people I spoke to who knew and dealt with her, to several Indians who wrote books about her help, vs. Hitchens- well, I’m going to be more inclined to believe the former more, for obvious reasons. But sometimes I get the impression that they are dismissed out of turn b/c they’re “poor and stupid” (I’ve actually used that phrase used) and “easily duped”. As someone here pointed out, obviously everyone who went to her funeral must have been “duped”, it couldn’t have been they may have found some good in what she did.

    As for Mother Theresa’s big image (which I do think got out of hand), umm, the secular western media had just as big a hand in that as religion. Same with the other figures I mentioned. To me they were all mixed, but certainly not totally useless as Hitchens would have us believe (Ghandi especially). Other than criticizing famous people, I don’t really see what Hitchens has accomplished-his whole identity is built on attacking people, IMO. If there were no more famous people to attack or religion he’d be out of a job. But of course, I’m sure I’ll get told off by someone for saying and thinking that, b/c some people seem to feel that he is above criticism. Rather ironic.

    Hmm, I can believe my friends who have worked on the ground with Teresa and seen her operation first hand… or I can believe a self-proclaimed know-it-all who uses sexist words like “twat” to demean people he disagrees with.

    yeah I know. but apparently that doesn’t count to some people, only what Hitchens says counts.

    At the risk of sounding too radical, may I suggest that there might be a middle ground between “saint” and “twat” where Teresa might fit :-).

    I have mixed feelings about her. On the one hand, I cannot discount the criticisms have been raised. On the other, I have talked to people who have seen her operation first-hand and they do agree that she is doing a lot of good for the poor of Calcutta.

    Raghu

    exactly. this pretty much sums up what I was trying to say, but obviously some people didn’t get it. I just didn’t want to take Hitchens word for it, I wanted to hear it from others and so far most of what I’ve heard is people parroting Hitchens-ironic I think. I will check out that other book.

    I don’t think there is much doubt that Hitchens is somewhat right about this. Believe what you want about Mother Theresa: the fact that most people are never even told about the more controversial aspects of her ministry and actions is proof enough that she is simply treated as a symbol instead of a person in the media and public mind.

    He may be, but there should be more information than just everyone parroting Hitchens. Obviously if he got the “info” it’s not that hard to get. As for it not being known, these stories have been circulating for years, and most people I’ve met have at least heard of them. And the media does this to lots of people-it’s unfortuantely something that they do-make huge images out of ordinary people.

  • Maria

    I’ve heard her story and I’m really not surprised by it. I listen to Abraxas’s podcasts called “Coffee, and he onced asked, “Some people lose their faith because Heaven shows them too little, but how many lose their faith because Heaven shows them too much?” Many theologians/religious scholars hit that moment. Some like Mother Teresa still try to continue in the faith, others like Spong, Price, Harpur, Cupitt Borg, and like take it in a different direction. Spong (a retired Episcopal Bishop) calls himself a non-theist, Price (also is Episcopalian once a Baptist minister with a degree in theology) calls him self a Humanist/atheist, Borg and Cupitt are also Episcopal priest, but I don’t know how they identify themselves. Harpur, I don’t know what he is either, but he is a religious scholar and thinks Christianity should be taken further than what Spong suggests. So, the reactions vary amongst theologians and religious scholars.

    Oh yes, I forgot Dan Barker of the FFRF. He was once a minister too who wrote the book “Losing Faith in Faith” after he turned atheist. He too hit the wall of shocking discovery as most know.

    thanks for writing about those books. they look interesting. I’ll have to check them out.

  • Crystal

    Well, no one in India that wrote about her and KNEW her seemed duped. They knew very well how how she ran her operation. I heard she gave that “rich money” to the poor. Don’t know if it’s true or not, it’s just what was written by some of the very poor people she helped in India, whose judgement seems much more trustworthy than Hitchens. If she was really as “bad” as Hitchens, says, I don’t think all those “poor duped Indians” would have turned out to go to her funeral. How could they have been “duped”, when she was “leaving people to die”? If she was doing this out in the open, wouldn’t they have known? I don’t deny she made mistakes. I did not agree with her views on birth control and abortion. I think the woman was neither sinner nor saint. I don’t see things in black and white-isn’t this what people get mad at religion for? but hey, it seems with some people on here in this matter, unless someone is an atheist their opinion doesn’t count-you’re either with us or against us? Obviously, as the above poster said, those people who say she helped them know less than Christopher Hitchens.

  • Aj

    well, I’ve seen the first arugment used many times against religion. I wonder if you’d have a problem with it in that context? probably not.

    That doesn’t make any sense. It’s an apologetic argument. Please explain how it could be used as argument against religion.

    as for the second one, umm, yes, we can critcize Hitchens. I’ve heard this argument used against religion too (it’s wrong on one thing so it must be wrong on everything) and again, I bet you wouldn’t have a problem with it in that context.

    You can, and I can say you’re not justfying those criticism with logic. You readily admit the argument is a fallacy, but use it anyway. You’re wrong of course, but that’s to be expected, I don’t agree with “religion poisons everything”, I’d say it poisons a lot of things.

    If he’s going to criticize others, he opens himself up. He’s not above criticism, and he doesn’t get a special pass, just like she doesn’t.

    What kind of bullshit is this? He isn’t open to criticism if he doesn’t criticize others? He’s not above criticism, or gets a special pass.

    I never said she did, all I said was she wasn’t the evil person Hitchens made her out to be, though apparently that is the same as thinking she was a “saint” and “attacking Hitchens” according to some.

    What are you responding to?

    My verdict was she was mixed, and I think that’s ultimately how most people will end up feeling.

    I don’t care what your “verdict” is, or what “most people” end up “feeling”. I didn’t realise you were a spokesperson for “most people”.

    And the last one is a truism, it can be said of anyone.

    It was used as an apology for all the bad she had done, like all she did was spill milk. That Stalin, bit of a rogue, he was human, we all make mistakes.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    It’s a difference between the the religious vs. rational viewpoints. In the religious viewpoint, underlying assumptions are often unquestionable, so the question then is “given that there is a god, why don’t I feel his presence? Because I have faith that he’s there, so there must be another reason”. The rational viewpoint is that the thinking should be “if there is a god, why don’t I feel his presence? Possibly because my earlier assumption is wrong, and there is no god, and I must investigate that possibility first”.

    To a rational person, the refusal to question the underlying assumption is at best, stupid, and at worst, sheer pig-headedness, and the elaborate framework needed to find another, more acceptable answer when the underlying assumption seems to be in question (such as your apophatic theology), is a deliberate rejection of reason. Rational types don’t like that any more than the religious like a rejection of faith.

    Claire, thank you for your reply. Unfortunately I see you falling into two common false stereotypes atheists often have about Christians. First, most Christians that I know do question their beliefs, quite frequently. You are right that some do not, and that some churches discourage questioning. But that is not what I consider healthy faith and is not the kind of religion that I myself represent. Personally I can recall from my early adolescent days being encouraged by my parents and pastors to “make my faith my own”, in other words, to question and think through my beliefs for myself from top to bottom, including the existence of God (and I grew up in a conservative evangelical background).

    The second misconception I see you espousing is that Christian people are deliberately irrational. Perhaps I didn’t explain it thoroughly enough, but apophatic theology is not a rejection of reason. It does not say that we should believe in God despite the lack of all evidence. What apophatic theology says is that we have reasons for believing that God may exist – we have had experiences of God in the past or encountered philosophical arguments or personal stories that seem convincing to us, among other things – but at the same time we have these experiences of God’s distance or absence too. Apophatic theology is thus simply one possible explanation for why we have these conflicting experiences.

    In that sense it is highly rational – we are simply considering all our options. On the one hand you could be correct – our experiences of of absence may mean that God does not exist and our earlier experiences were just a counterfeit. But wouldn’t rationality direct us to consider other possibilities too? Another possibility is that our original experiences of God were in fact true and yet for other reasons God chooses to subsequently remain “hidden”. Apophatic theology explores what some of those reasons may be – and there are many, some of which I find quite convincing – not ad hoc at all.

    At any rate, I can quite understand why others like yourself would look at God’s absence and conclude that he must not have existed in the first place. That is clearly one rational option. But please understand that others of us have had such overwhelming experiences of God’s presence that it is difficult for us to simply say “that wasn’t real”, even when that presence fades. For people like me, apophatic theology helps describe another rational possibility.

    (And monkeymind is also right that another key strain of apophatic theology is about “breaking down limited, parochial, projected versions of God.” For instance, my wife is currently working on a book that uses apophatic theology to help her establish why it is appropriate to refer to God with feminine metaphors and language as well as male.)

    Anyhow, I hope that clarifies some of the misconceptions. I apologize for contributing to them in any way.

  • Mriana

    thanks for writing about those books. they look interesting. I’ll have to check them out.

    You are very welcome, Maria. I assume you are referring to my blog, where I mentioned some titles for Fundamentalist to read or the list of authors I mentioned here? Either way, I can appreciate all the authors and their books. They aren’t Dawkins-ish or Harris-ish either. I think they are good reads and could help the religious extremists to have a better understanding than what Dawkins and Harris say. Their books speak to both the religious and non-religious. Incidently, Spong has a new book out called “Jesus for the Non-religious” I haven’t read it yet, so I don’t know exactly what he says in it, but given what I have read, it can’t be all bad and will be at least an interesting read.

    Given I have not read it, I don’t know if it is on topic or off topic. I do know Price does discuss faith in his book “The Reason Driven Life” and obviously Barker does too in his book.

    Oh BTW, Dan Barker is going to be in Dawkins’s chat sometime the very beginning of Sept. The topic about “Losing Faith in Faith” which could touch on this topic.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    I said that she and the church think suffering is good for people

    Forgive me for stating the obvious, but suffering is good for people. That is not a religious doctrine – it is a simply observation of real human experience. Any psychologist would tell you the same. I mean c’mon, have none of you gone through a period of trial and suffering in your life that helped shape you and strengthen you and made you a better person? Let’s be honest here – if we were having a different conversation that had nothing to do with Mother Teresa or religion at all, but instead were talking about difficult experiences we’ve all faced in life, I can imagine that most of you would say that those experiences have had positive effects in your life.

    The paradox that we all live with (atheists too, not just MT and other Christians) is that while on the one hand suffering does produce good results in our life, on the other hand no one should think that this is an excuse to simply do nothing about the suffering of others. I think most people, atheist or Christian or whoever, will recognize that while on the one hand suffering is something that can produce good results in our lives, on the other hand, it is something to be resisted and alleviated whenever and however we can.

    This is just a tension we all have to wrestle with and it does no good to blame Mother Teresa for wrestling with it too. As far as I can see she did find a balance. Her work was about alleviating the suffering of others insofar as she was able, but she also realized the limitations of her own abilities to alleviate all of the suffering around her, and thus sought ways to transmute the suffering into positive spiritual growth as well (for her, the nuns and the patients). The basic existential reality we all have to face is that in this life you can fight suffering or you can utilize suffering for good ends. Mother Teresa did both.

    I don’t see a mention of your friends seeing any medical care – did they? Did they see that people brought in off the streets were given a complete medical workup to determine if they needed medical care instead of hospice care? Were they doctors who could tell if the people dying were treatable or not?

    Yes, there were doctors that examined people and helped treat the ones who could be treated (with the limited supplies they had – if you’ve never been to a Third World country like India you may not realize just how overwhelming the needs are and how impossible it is to help everyone who comes… no matter how many millions of dollars a charity has). My friend spent a portion of his summer there rolling cotton balls in the doctor’s office while watching them perform examination after examination. That’s all the details I know, but to answer your question, yes, there were doctors and there was a triage system of sorts.

  • Miko

    Forgive me for stating the obvious, but suffering is good for people. That is not a religious doctrine – it is a simply observation of real human experience.

    Buddhists would disagree with that statement. If not religious, it’s at least a cultural doctrine.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    “Forgive me for stating the obvious, but suffering is good for people.”

    This seems particularly ridiculous in the face of the SORT of suffering we are talking about, most of which involved lack of access to basic medical care, nutrition, and so on.

    Countless people have lived and died rich full lives without experiencing the sort of suffering of these people, and if the world is one day made free of such suffering, I see no reason to think that we will somehow be less complete human beings for it. The fact that some people can rise above suffering (and clearly, not all can: a heck of a lot just die, or fall into despair, etc.) does not mean that suffering is a good or necessary thing, or that we should be indifferent to reducing it when it is in our power to do so.

    None of this provides any sort of good refutation to the issue of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of donations never showing up in Calcutta, the accusations of some of the former people in her order, her hobnobing with brutal dictators, her hypocrisy on divorce when it came to the rich and famous, and so on. I’m not bringing these things up because I’m trying to make the case that she was an evil person. But the picture we are given of her is distorted without including these things, and “oh, well she struggled with stuff, we all do” is really not an acceptable deflection of all criticism, unless of course you are prepared to use it for everyone all the time for any action.

  • Aj

    The second misconception I see you espousing is that Christian people are deliberately irrational. Perhaps I didn’t explain it thoroughly enough, but apophatic theology is not a rejection of reason. It does not say that we should believe in God despite the lack of all evidence. What apophatic theology says is that we have reasons for believing that God may exist – we have had experiences of God in the past or encountered philosophical arguments or personal stories that seem convincing to us, among other things – but at the same time we have these experiences of God’s distance or absence too. Apophatic theology is thus simply one possible explanation for why we have these conflicting experiences.

    It’s not always the case that Christian people intentionally reject reason, but the above paragraph demostrates that atleast one Christian rejects reason.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    Countless people have lived and died rich full lives without experiencing the sort of suffering of these people, and if the world is one day made free of such suffering, I see no reason to think that we will somehow be less complete human beings for it. The fact that some people can rise above suffering (and clearly, not all can: a heck of a lot just die, or fall into despair, etc.) does not mean that suffering is a good or necessary thing, or that we should be indifferent to reducing it when it is in our power to do so.

    Bad, I don’t disagree with what you said here, and I don’t see anything I said as contradicting what you said. I was not trying to say that suffering is in itself a good thing, only that good can be brought out of suffering. And of course we should attempt to reduce suffering. That is a given. Again, you seem to be reiterating the same point I was trying to make: suffering is not good, it should be diminished, but even when it cannot, some good can be brought out of it.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    Buddhists would disagree with that statement. If not religious, it’s at least a cultural doctrine.

    Have you ever seen Star Trek V? Spock’s brother, Sybok, is convinced it is his mission to help people release their pain, to give up their bad memories and regrets that are causing them emotional suffering – in many ways similar to the Buddhist philosophy. And do you remember Kirk’s response to Sybok? He refuses to give up his regrets and his suffering. He says “I need my pain. My pain makes me who I am.”

    All due respect to the Buddhists, with whom I agree on many things, but I think on this one I’m going to go with Captain Kirk.

  • Miko

    All due respect to the Buddhists, with whom I agree on many things, but I think on this one I’m going to go with Captain Kirk

    Are you sure? When you envision Heaven, do you then see people starving to re-death, murdering each other, cheating, lying, stealing, raping, taking drugs, and engaging in all of the other sordid affairs which cause human suffering? Or do you imagine an afterlife in which you lose your identity due to the absence of pain?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    Miko, I’m not sure how we got from talking about the value of suffering in this life to whether there is suffering in heaven. Suffering happens in this life – the question for me is whether I would just want all my past suffering erased so I don’t have to feel the pain of it anymore, or whether I am grateful for the trials I’ve endured because they helped shape me into who I’ve become. I choose the latter, and I think that even in heaven I would still remember these past sufferings. I don’t think they get erased.

    But regardless of what happens in heaven, in this life suffering is an unavoidable reality. I can either try to ignore it and treat it as illusory, as the Buddhists would have me do (e.g. by eliminating my desires, since if we don’t desire anything then we can’t suffer when our desires go unmet), or I can embrace suffering and try to bring some good out of it (e.g. by using it as a catalyst to work towards the fulfillment of one’s more noble desires, not simply suppress them.)

    Personally I choose to acknowledge the reality of suffering, not simply try to avoid it. To quote another good movie, “Life is pain your Highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.” :)

  • John Murie

    The woman questioned the teachings that were feed to her , and that food did not taste as well as she was told it would . Was sour more so than sweet .

  • Kay S.

    Forgive me for stating the obvious, but suffering is good for people. That is not a religious doctrine – it is a simply observation of real human experience. Any psychologist would tell you the same. I mean c’mon, have none of you gone through a period of trial and suffering in your life that helped shape you and strengthen you and made you a better person? Let’s be honest here – if we were having a different conversation that had nothing to do with Mother Teresa or religion at all, but instead were talking about difficult experiences we’ve all faced in life, I can imagine that most of you would say that those experiences have had positive effects in your life.

    Mike, your comments about suffering being positive and about psychologists opinions on suffering lack specificity and important qualifiers. As a student of psychological research myself, I’d like to attempt to provide some clarification. While it is not inconceivable that some positive benefits could come (socially or personally) from pain and suffering: for example, it could be argued that suffering can offer a richness of human experience and allow a person to explore their own limits, capabilities and strength.

    I will try to add some clarification:

    1) You seem to be assuming that it is the suffering that is making you a stronger person. But, there are so many other psychological explanations: one is justifying the suffering by seeking confirmatory evidence to make it appear positive by recruiting either real or illusionary “benefits” of that suffering (perhaps ignoring the not-so-positive consequences). In psychology, we call this the “confirmation bias.” People have a need for control over their environments. Not feeling in control or feeling a lack of autonomy can be devastating and lead to learned helplessness – it may give suffering a justifiable reason, but that may be a defense mechanism, or self-protective strategy. That justification is a post hoc explanation of suffering making you stronger, is an assumption, it is not supported by direct causal evidence. People can justify and (falsely) explain and make sense of all kinds of things (e.g. racism, sexism, domestic violence, human torture, genocide, etc.) Also, I don’t know the personal suffering you have been through that was so positive in your life, but in the conditions we are taking about in some of the most extreme and dire situations (especially for the most marginalized of society in developing countries), people may not feel (or in reality possess) much control over their circumstances or much hope for a better life or future (based on past experience telling them their suffering hasn’t end and will not end). That is not positive. (So, in this respect, I agree with many of Bad’s sentiments stated in his post.) In your example of suffering being “good” you refer to a “period” of suffering, which implies an end. Are your experiences comparable to extreme forms of suffering? If not, I think your generalization that pain is good, falls short of being convincing for all cases. I personally have witnessed that that kind of suffering in others; it can (though does not always) break the human spirit. And, perhaps the “good” that the suffering produced for you happened after the fact – when it was over (at a point when you were longer being influenced by your current state of emotions and physical realities of unbearable pain) – for many the suffering never really ends. These examples are extreme, but they are I believe the kinds of suffering that many of the people – Teresa’s organizations were said to serve – were living and dying with.

    2) Anything is excess is not necessarily a good thing. Take alcoholic beverages, for example, a glass of wine can be lovely and may (arguably) even offer some health benefits, but too much of that causes serious dependency or even immediate death. Not very adaptive. For pain and suffering also, too much is probably not a good thing. Pain is the organism’s way of providing feedback that the current situation is noxious and that the organism needs to rest or escape the current situation. If your hand is on a hot stovetop burner, it is the pain (or the smell of scorched flesh) that tells us it is time to remove it. It is useful signal. Every person is different, and I would never personally take away someone else’s autonomy over how much pain they are willing and wanting to endure or how much they seek to alleviate it when possible if that is a viable option. It’s one thing to choose to endure child birth with no drugs. It’s another thing to be water-boarded. One involves autonomy and choice, the other involves lack of control and choice. In MT’s case, some have argued that she made the choice to not provide treatment or alleviate pain to any significant degree (with the limited – or not so limited – resources she had), assuming it was good for them or that she knew what was best for the poor and therefore made the choice to ignore that suffering or even encourage and praise it. (In a perverse way, I actually can understand how if resources truly are limited and there is great suffering and pain, it psychologically feels better just to resign oneself to that reality…though perhaps more resources could have been found and allocated to health treatments to prevent, manage or cure some of the ills of the suffering patients of MT.)

    3) Not all pain for all reasons is “good” for people. By this line of reasoning, one could try to make the leap to justify domestic violence, even sexual assault or abuse. Human torture even! Can you imagine tying someone up unable to move their limbs or eat or drink with their face in the sand and their body exposed to the heat, sun, wind, rain for 26 days straight and then saying how grateful they should be because you made them stronger! (Now they have crippling incurable deformities as a direct result of the torture, malnutrition and likely psychological damage.) That’s about the most ridiculous thing I could fathom. Not only arguing that people might preserve after such experiences, in spite of the experience or because of it, but that these behaviors are actually virtuous, because they allow for this “good” to occur. If suffering is good, why then do jurisprudence systems punish more someone, who in making transgressions against someone else intentionally harms or torture them in doing so, rather than mitigating the transgressor’s punishment? This would seem to provide evidence that causing pain is frowned upon.

    4) Finally, telling people suffering is good for them, is one example of how cruel systems to perpetuate. (Again this relates to justification and is a psychological defense against feeling powerless to the realities one lives in.) I suggest you take a look at System Justification Theory: http://www.psych.nyu.edu/jost/ Wouldn’t it be better to try to fix the system rather than be resigned to it and forever maintain the status quo, unless you think society is already perfect as is, which many privileged people probably do think is best (for them).

    I hope this helps explain how at least one psychologist thinks about this issue.


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