Love ya, Mother Teresa! Just don’t wanna be like you!

Everybody loves Mother Teresa (except for Christopher Hitchens, who with typical passion, hates her as he pretty much hates everybody that speaks or lives too much for God). I much prefer Hitchens’ definiteness over the mealy-mouthed pretences of creeps like John Dominic Crossan, who pretends to be a Christian while saying Jesus’ body was eaten by wild dogs and holding down a job as a “Catholic theologian.” I fancy Jesus feels similarly (Revelation 3:15-16). A man like Hitchens has the potential to become a St. Paul. A man like Crossan is much more like a bowl of tapioca than a sentient vertebrate. He might, at best, become sanctified tapioca. There’s just not much There there.

But I digress. One of Mother Teresa’s basic ways of approaching the culture she was in was to urge people toward conformity to Christ in the ways that they understood best. In short, if a person was a Muslim, she tried to urge them to be the best Muslim they could be, confident that this too was a form of pre-evangelization since all that is best in what is authentically human (and Islam is a human tradition, not a divine revelation) could also point to Christ. She got this dangerous and loony notion from Paul on the Areopagus (Acts 17). She did the same with Hindus. I don’t know what her “conversion rate” was among her clientele (most of them were, after all, dying). But this was her basic approach. Certainly she did not turn away those who sought baptism, but she was not a “turn or burn” kinda gal.

Now the odd thing is, it’s not a secret that she was a saint. But we don’t really trust what she did (at least, most of my readers don’t). And so I get outraged emails from people, linking to articles like this, in which the correspondent regards it as self-evidently evil that a Catholic congregation should help some Afghans build or rebuild a mosque. Me: I don’t think it self-evidently evil, any more than I think it self-evidently evil that Christians should help Polish Jews build or rebuild a synagogue after the war. There’s more than one way to a human heart.