Christopher Hitchens, a man who was at the forefront of the New Atheism movement, once called Mother Teresa “a demagogue, an obscurantist and a servant of earthly powers.” Hitchens has since passed away (may he rest in peace) but his baffling banner of hate continues to be raised by some atheists.
Recently, I noticed that when the Vatican announced Mother Teresa’s canonization date, the Patheos Atheist Channel was abuzz with posts that basically regurgitated the same old Hitchens-inspired accusations that are light on evidence and heavy on emotion.
Don’t get me wrong. I actually admired some of Christopher Hitchens’ work when he was alive. He had a way of cutting through bias. He did not care when he ruffled feathers, including those of his own supporters. And his prose could be incisive and powerful.
But when he was wrong, he was really wrong.
And I think most sensible people can see he was wrong about Mother Teresa.
In my weekly column over at Aleteia this week, I disassemble and respond to some of the most common arguments against Mother Teresa in an article titled “5 Responses to the Ridiculous Rancor of Some Towards Mother Teresa.”
I bring this up not to attack atheists. As most of you know, I used to be an atheist myself. But I have no patience for some of the ridiculous arguments that some atheists seem pushed to take up that are based in emotion rather than rationality. The argument that Jesus never historically existed is one such argument that does atheists no favors.
This behavior reveals a lemming-like tendency among some atheists to espouse any nonsense as long as it is something that they long to believe. (And some atheists accuse Christians of being mindless sheep!)
But I think most reasonable people see through the angry, emotion-filled accusations against Mother Teresa. They are really nothing more than baseless accusations rooted in the strange obsession of a man with a tiny nun who dedicated her life to the poor, a woman who made her living by loving rather than by a pen dripping in disdain.
The truth is that I think there is one reason and one reason only that Christopher Hitchens hated Mother Teresa with such a blind rage.
She lived the Gospel.
She lived it to such an extreme degree that Hitchens could only manage to deny her goodness with lies and ad hominem arguments, the only weapons against goodness that are heard by some people.
Did Hitchens know this is what he was doing?
I don’t think so. I think he subconsciously dealt with the challenge that Mother Teresa was to his worldview by constructing an imaginative world in which a poor nun helped poor people because she was masochistic and power-hungry, a theory completely lacking in concrete evidence.
Now, I will be the first to admit that what I am doing to Hitchens is similar to what he did to Mother Teresa. I will confess that I am simply working from conjecture and guessing in this analysis of his reasons for believing as he did. But at least I base my guess on reasonable assumptions and give Hitchens the benefit of the doubt. And, unlike Hitchens, I have not mixed up my analysis with a string of profane, ugly metaphors and a vigorous sprinkling of nasty ad hominem attacks.
In a recent rare interview, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of the need for witnesses in the world today. In modern times of relativism, when people cannot agree on common values or truths, it is in true witness that people are moved, that people see that God really exists. He says:
“In order for me to believe, I need witnesses who have met God and make Him accessible to me.”
Benedict points out that it is in mercy, that the modern man can find the answers to age-old questions. Mercy is the method by which we can share the Good News with others in an age of presumption and relativism.
Mother Teresa was a witness of mercy and I believe that Christopher Hitchens deep down knew this; it is why he hated her so obsessively. Hitchens was a man who, for whatever reason, did not want mercy or evidence of the source of it. He was revolted not by Mother Teresa, but by the God who worked within her.
Mother Teresa’s life speaks to us of the divine condescension of love. Her life speaks of the divine suffering of Jesus Christ for others, a suffering that was not rooted in sin but in humility and love.
Mother Teresa poured out her life as a libation for the poor she served, with little thought to her own personal comfort and self interest.
Why would a human being do this?
I am getting a lot of response from people saying that I did not address any of Christopher Hitchens’ arguments. I link to an article in this piece where I do, but just to be even more clear:
Want some responses to the arguments that are used to insist Mother Teresa was a bad person? Check out my column today at Aleteia.
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