Awesome Pagan Stuff, oh, and Mother Teresa’s Evil?

Awesome Pagan Stuff, oh, and Mother Teresa’s Evil? September 16, 2010

First a quick run through on awesome Pagan things going on in the world:

Patrick McCollum received the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism from the Hindu American Foundation. He will be attending the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting in Atlanta, GA on Samhain weekend along with Chas Clifton, Helen Berger, Margot Adler, Michael York and other Pagan scholars, movers and shakers. You only need to pay admission to access certain portions of the conference, so it’s worth while to stop by and check it out if you’re in the area. I will be there, sans pink hair.

Next up here at Patheos is a really fabulous series called “What Do I Really Believe?” Want to participate? Follow the guidelines below and shoot a response (please include a photo and short bio if you can) to the question to me at sfoster at

Every week we will have a question on what people really believe regarding a topic. We’re asking the questions of writers/leaders in different faith communities and once posted, we will have space for readers to respond to the question as well.

If you are interested here’s the guidelines:

— target 250 words

— speak from the heart, from your personal perspective (aka “I think I will see my ancestors again” as opposed to “the lore teaches”

Just take 5 minutes to speak from your heart and shoot it over to me. For this series honest, authentic, and heartfelt mean more than academic, polished and logical.

Week 1 Question.

What really happens when we die?

Your best friend is crushed when his 10-year-old son dies of cancer. He tells you that he is comforted, at least, that one day he’ll get to see his child again in heaven.

Later that day, you begin to wonder… Is there life after death? Are heaven and hell real places? Do our souls continue to exist in some form?

What do you really believe?

We’re trying to do a Pagan complimentary series alongside this for the Pagan Portal with a question about different Pagan faith traditions each week. Click here for more info.

And now to my random thoughts du jour….

Not so very long ago I did a “13 things” post on Catholicism. I had assumed from the get-go that one of those favorites would be Mother Teresa. Yet as I did my research for the post I had second thoughts. As a child and a Christian teen I adored Mother Teresa but as a Pagan adult I found her suddenly cold and unfeeling. I skipped over her on the post and didn’t give it much thought until I read Stephen Fry’s latest blog post.

Now Stephen Fry, as well as being a terrifically sexy actor and popular tweeter, is also a famous atheist, hobnobbing with the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. A genuinely awesome human being, Stephen Fry could almost convert me to non-belief. As I’m reading about his feelings of tolerance towards Catholics who are welcoming the pope to England while being opposed to the “head of state” visit being footed by the taxpayers, it occurred to me that when it comes to values I’m much closer to Stephen Fry’s way of thinking than Mother Teresa’s.

And if Stephen Fry hobnobs with Christopher Hitchens, maybe I should give those arguments Hitchens made against Mother Teresa another look-see. As a Pagan, I find her work appalling. Truly appalling. To make a cult of suffering and to be so unfeeling towards the people who need your help the most is abhorrent. She represents the worst of religion.

What do you think? Do you agree with Hitchens? (Pt 1 of 3)

What about Penn and Teller? This is their exposé of Mother Teresa, NSFW, or small children, due to language.

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  • Cara

    A friend of mine, an atheist, actually saw Mother Teresa in action. He said that seeing her caring for the poor, helping people to find dignity and meaning in their suffering, almost converted him on the spot to Catholicism. That she was one of the most kind, loving people he had ever met and that her very presence had such a calming, soothing effect. That if he believed that Gods were possible, some kind of divine presence was radiating out from her. And this guy is…well…a fairly cynical guy.

    I’ve seen the quotes from MT that horrify people. But, like many snips of religious philosophy, unless it is looked at in the wider context it sounds pretty screwed up. Look how often snips of our philosophies are used by those who would discredit us?

    I’m not a fan of most of Christian philosophy in general and Mother Teresa’s in particular, but I have immense respect for Mother Teresa’s life’s work of getting her hands dirty and directly ministering to those considered “untouchable.”

  • Allowing someone to suffer without proper medical treatment is not anything that gives me the warm fuzzies.

    Raising money for the poor and spending it on the church does not earn my admiration.

    I could care less about her quotes. Her actions are pretty reprehensible.

    If a Pagan ran such a home for the dying it would cause outrage over criminal neglect and fraud.

  • Hitchen’s treatment of Mother Theresa tends to be a bit over-the-top, but he is nevertheless absolutely correct in his assessment of The Ghoul of Calcutta.

    Mother Theresa was first and foremost a lifelong activist committed to the most misogynistic and homophobic aspects of Catholicism. Even within the Catholic Church there is a great deal of recognition among “progressive” Catholics of just how negative her influence was both in the Church and in the wider world. She was totally committed to opposing the ordination of women, allowing priests to marry, and any moderation whatsoever in the Church’s position on homosexuality, birth control, sex education, divorce, abortion, and so forth.

  • Well, I will give she doesn’t meet Western standards of hospitality and humanity. I don’t know if she’s violating Indian standards though, so it is possible she isn’t being “inhuman” in that instance.

    That said, she really seems an “angel of death” and a masochist. But that is very Christian in its nature. I suppose the best we can say is she’s a great Christian, and a questionable human being? Seems to meet the standards of “Shameful” by Pagan/Heathen standards.

  • Privileged folks who profit from capitalist social order decrying someone like Mother Teresa? What a surprise. As far as I can see, evil is cognate with wealth. Teresa might be merely a clean-up crew and not a paragon or a remedy, but it seems to me that dismissal of her is more likely to be self-justifying and further legitimate the Pagan penchant for selfishness. (I am Pagan, but I think this movement is still in spiritual kindergarten… and I don’t give a damn about the opinions of rich atheists who criticize those who threaten their self-enriching values).

  • Ali

    I’d recommend reading Robert Inchausti’s discussion of her in his book The Ignorant Perfection of Ordinary People. He gives a great deal of insight into exactly how her Catholic faith influenced her work with the impoverished, and the kind of “sacred simplicity” which she often invoked in response to criticisms that she could have accomplished more if she had abandoned her work and tried some other approach. In particular, he addresses this idea that, by being unable to help everyone, making a choice to help some instead of others is somehow “allowing those others to suffer.” This was, apparently, a very common accusation directed at Mother Theresa, and he tells a very interesting story about her interaction with a reporter who asked her how she could possibly justify her work with this group of injured and dying children here when the group of children over there were dying, and she replied simply, “Then why don’t you put down your microphone and go help those children over there?”

    What I find most intriguing about your post, though, is this idea that we should judge a person’s work based on our perception of their personality, rather than on the work itself. You describe Mother Theresa as “cold and unfeeling” (without appreciating, I think, the psychological and emotional toll that a lifetime of ministry to the suffering can take on a person)… I’m not sure why her attitude or personality – which is difficult for me to judge in any case, having never met her – should play so dominating a role in thinking about her work. Should questions of efficacy and influence be overshadowed by issues of personality? Should questions about her personal beliefs take precedence over a broader view of the concrete work she accomplished in impoverished areas? And should we fault her for attempting to provide admittedly inadequate care for those who would otherwise have died in the streets and the gutters?

    This is, of course, the point that Hitchens overlooks in all his blustering in the video clip you shared. To blame Mother Theresa for the media hype surrounding her seems ridiculous to me, a level of immaturity you might expect in a middle school cafeteria. To criticize her for doing only a little in a situation where otherwise nothing would have been done seems, again, to be missing the point. And to couch all of this in terms of whether or not we find her personality warm and congenial only serves to obscure the real conversation.

  • Wow. So criticizing Mother Theresa for not actually helping the poor makes one selfish?

    Pagans are some of the most unselfish people I know. Just from the fact that we have a huge body of unpaid clergy alone strikes me as very unselfish. There are Pagan run charities all over the US.

  • Ok, so somehow this has become focused on feelings rather than facts.

    The level of care she gives people she has taken charge of is poor. She is negligent. She allows the suffering and neglect of those in her care. She does not spend the money she raises to help those in her care but for expanding her order.

  • mary

    Mother Theresa allowed individuals in her care to suffer, refusing to give them palliative oain medication, saying that they were fortunate to suffer like Jesus suffered.

    Really perverted.

  • Cara

    Oh I get that care of the poor under the Missionaries of Charity was poor, but compared to the care they would have received, which was zero, I’d say they do pretty well. The real criticisms seem to come in on their palliative care. I think the criticisms are warranted, pain medication should be administered. I don’t suffering is good for the soul, nor am I a fan of “natural childbirth” for the same reason. But the real fact is that if these people were not in the care of the Sisters, they would out on the street with no care at all.

    The Missionaries of Charity are expanding, and money is and was spent for that expansion. But that expansion allows them to care for other “untouchables” in other countries. I haven’t seen their financials, but the money doesn’t appear to be spent on high living by the nuns or on magnificent church buildings.

    As for Mother Teresa herself – she started with nothing and begged for supplies to help those around her. She lived just as they live. She thought it important for the children to be educated to have a chance in life so she started to educate them – the “blackboard” was the dirt road.

    Over all – I think she has done some remarkable work and has helped a great number of people who wouldn’t have survived. She has helped the poorest and most forgotten of a country. People no one else were helping. And I guess when it comes down to it, my butt isn’t over there helping people out so for me to condemn someone else for what they do because I don’t think it rises to a level of care that I think is appropriate is not something I’m comfortable doing.

  • @America Stewart, that whole “Wealth=Evil” thing is a very Christian attitude coming from a Pagan. There is nothing wrong in any of the moralities I know of the Ancients that said being selfish was a bad thing, nor was greed, pride, lust, etc. Perhaps too much of such things was considered unwise, but never “evil.”

    Cara raises a good point. I think the biggest issue with Mother Teresa we’re having is Values Dissonance. What might seem bad to us is viewed as good by them. She was a hard core Catholic and they view her as good. Then there are Pagans/Heathens who see her actions as violating laws of hospitality or humanity. There’s not really a good answer.

  • I don’t think this has anything to do with Catholic values regarding basic humanity as I’ve been treated by Catholic doctors and at Catholic hospitals before.

    I’ve been researching her and her organization beyond Hitchens’ “blustering”. The discrepancy between the reality and the mythology of Mother Teresa is really fascinating.

    I don’t condemn people who do good but people who defraud those giving to charities should rightly be condemned.

  • Brian

    Thank’s for this negative view on the world. You have such a empty life that you choose to spend it …trying to discredit one of the most selfless people to walk this planet.

    Perhaps, you should review your life and think how many acts of kindness you have demonstated before you knock this wonderful women.

    Yes.. she was Godly, and yes she was a Christian…….. and she was also Catholic. But most importantly…..whe was kind…to the those who had nothing. She gave her life to help others!

    You.. on the other hand…………….. tear down those who cannot defend themselves. Even in death, her kindness trumps your ignorance!!