Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Most Evil Woman Who Ever Lived

As the Catholic Church canonizes Agnes Bojaxhlu, I find myself encountering a peculiar thing from the more radically left-fringe of my internet awareness.

Article after internet article, attacking the woman most of us knew as Mother Teresa.  If those articles are to be believed, she was a monster, a glazed-eye fanatic who abused the oppressed and cozied up to dictators for her own psychotic self-aggrandizement.  That way of understanding her life was first and most aggressively pitched by the late and much lamented atheist provocateur Christopher Hitchens, who at least had the advantage of wit, a mastery of the language, and his own peculiar dissolute charm.

The latest wave of condemnation has none of his talent.

She is, by the standards of her accusers, a psychopath.  The most evil woman who ever lived.

The charges against her seem to fall into several different categories.

First, that she was anti-abortion and believed that divorce was problematic.  She also opposed contraception.  I personally don't share what was likely her perspective on some of these issues.  Why?

Because I'm not Catholic.  I mean, she was Catholic, after all.  Right?  And she's being made a saint in the Catholic church, right?  That a Catholic saint would hold orthodox Catholic positions seems rather a silly thing to get one's knickers in a twist about.  What matters to me...what matters to anyone grounded in reality...is what a person actually believes and how their belief impacts what they do.

That gets us to attack point number two.  She believed that there was an inherent nobility in poverty, and that enduring suffering has redemptive power.  This is also a Catholic position, pretty radically so.  It's also a pretty basically Christian position, one that I share.  She insisted on telling the poor that they were worthy, that their suffering wasn't in vain, and that they had value as human beings no matter what their condition.

Why is this wrong?  Well, because it must be wrong.  Spun the way her prosecutors are spinning it, her care for the poor was abuse because it celebrated suffering and did not challenge systemic injustice.  Saying that the endurance of suffering is noble becomes the foundation of the charge that she was a sadist.

Again, this seems absurd.  Faced with someone dying in squalor, you can either affirm their life or not.  You can frame their suffering as meaningless, as something inflicted on them by a power beyond their control.  "Your life up until this point, all the hurts and losses?  A waste of time.  Being poor sucks. Oh, you're dying?  Pity.  Hope oblivion works for you."

That's not to say I have a problem with being aware of systemic injustice, or of calling attention to it.

But more often than not in this #hashtag #activism era, focusing monomanaically on macro issues becomes a great way to do nothing.  Faced with a starving man, writing a tumblr post about food injustice and global imbalances of privilege and residual impacts of colonialism may not be wrong, but it is a hell of a lot less relevant to that actual human being than putting food in his belly.  Faced with an abandoned soul, you don't offer up a tweet about social isolation.  You take time for them and show them compassion.

It's the secular leftist equivalent of offering thoughts and prayers instead of real material care to another human being.  

Third, that in her actions she was an abuser of the poor.  Her clinics and hospices and orphanages did not meet acceptable levels of hospital hygiene, and often did not provide care that meets medical best practices.   Needles were boiled and reused rather than discarded.  Nuns who had not received nursing degrees tended to their charges.

So in the heart of desperate poverty, Western medical standards were not being met, and Mother Teresa is to blame for criminal malpractice.  

Again, this is more than slightly insane, unmoored from the reality of life in the global South.  In places of abject poverty, where resources are scarce, you have to make do.   If you're running a clinic in the South Sudan, it's not going to look like a clinic in a tony suburb of London.  Expecting it to do so and condemning it when it does not is fundamentally irrational.

Fourth, that she went to desperately poor countries that were run by the corrupt and by dictators, and she did not condemn those predators and dictators.  That, in fact, she may have been kind to them and said positive things as she and her order worked to build clinics and hospitals in places like Haiti.

From within the protective clamshell of laptop aggrievement, attacking her for this makes sense.  But if what matters to you is the alleviation of immediate human suffering, then maintaining a stance of absolute ideological purity doesn't get people fed and healed.  The starving and the sick and the orphan may not have the energy for revolution right now.

But still.  Do your justice work.  Fine.  Go team.  You work for that, while she makes sure the poor don't starve waiting for utopia to materialize.

What strikes me in this collection of absurdities, as it struck me when I read Hitchens' infinitely better written but equally preposterous character assassination pieces years ago, is how deeply the need to attack Mother Teresa rests in the mortal desire to avoid cognitive dissonance.

If faith is axiomatically monstrous, and you're just sick to [flipping] death of this [maternal copulation] nun being thrown back at you as evidence of the goodness of faith, then she must be destroyed.  Datapoints must be selected and assembled into a counterargument, one that allows one's understanding of existence to be unsullied by complexity.

And that's a problem.  It creates binary thinking, the dark and bitter absolutism that sours all of human life. 

Because reality is complex.  People who disagree with me on some pretty fundamental things also are capable of remarkable goodness.  I am not an atheist, but accept that atheists show compassion and grace.  I am not a Muslim, but can embrace the truth that Muslims feed the poor and welcome the stranger.  I can see the good in the stranger, and even in those who consider themselves my enemy.

Binary thinking does not permit that.

Mother Teresa was not perfect.  She felt that more than anyone, felt the dark nights of her soul, felt her own inadequacy, felt the emptiness of her own ego in the face of God's calling.

But that is how saints feel.  It is how they are.


42 comments:

  1. Just read it again - seriously the best piece on Mother Teresa out there. Thank you.

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  2. As a former Catholic, I understand suffering. But you cannot explain how kids suffered while she had millions of dollars raised in the bank and you can't explain how she got western medical care when she was sick. Why didn't she suffer?

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    1. Sorry, I meant HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS!

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    2. Also you point out Hastings because he is atheist, but you neglected to mention Chatterley who works in the same slums and the two Canadian researchers.

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    3. She suffered every day she cared for others. She was given western care because people thought she was a great woman and they gifted her with it. Are you really going to begrudge a woman that dedicated their lives to helping others? Like the article points out. What a ridiculous concept to condemn such a person when so many or us in our first world environments behind our key boards can not even fathom what this woman gave daily much less compare to what we have sacrificed in our lives.

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    4. She didn't suffer because out of that billion dollars she had in her bank, she bought for herself a luxurious house, a comfortable yatch, went on the world tour, spent days on the beaches, and because of her luxurious living she was awarded the bharat ratna, and the Nobel prize.. A haha I guess you'd get that Nobel prize too if you'd had millions, right Mr Michael? :D

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    5. Maybe you could even get an ignoble prize for your commenting skills.. Maybe :p
      Read mother Teresa's autobiography if you can sir, the thing is we don't really know people and yet judge them the wrong way.. It's so humane of us.. We all do that. I challenge you to do what mother Teresa did, go out and take those poor sick people by your hands and cleanse their sicken bodies, and above all do this with love and compassion.
      I wonder if you Could do this for 60 years.
      God bless

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    6. "She had hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank"? What an absurd claim!

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    7. I had the chance to hear from a religious sister working with mother Teresa on this. The sister mentioned that mother Teresa had not wished to receive the western medicine treatment. It was the people around her that (I can't remember) persuaded or want her to undergo those treatment.

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    8. Picking up abandoned people from road side, who's body parts were eaten by ants, cleaning their wounds, giving them a proper funeral, taking care of leprosy patients when the world abandoned them, taking care of abandoned parents. When she died, the only thing which she called hers was a bible, two saree's and a pair of slippers. Like really? Million dollars. Do one thing from the above listed and then let me know how did u feel? Then multiply it with 10000. That's what she has done for Indian people.

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  3. A truer piece has never been written, but from where I sit, I must take one small exception: It's not the "secular leftists" that offer meaningless "thoughts & prayers", it the self-righteous, pious, heartless right that's fond of doing this. A secular leftist would have no reason to offer a prayer. It means nothing to them.

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    1. He was referring to the conservative right when he said this. He was comparing the meaningless #hastag movements of the secular left to those thoughts and prayers of the right. Reread that section.

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  4. That's why he called hashtag activism the secular *equivalent* to offering thoughts and prayers...

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  5. That's why he called hashtag activism the secular *equivalent* to offering thoughts and prayers...

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  6. One of the most commonly understood realities of St. Teresa of Kolkata's life was that she suffered tremendously, privately, both physically and spiritually, for decades during her incredible service to the poor.

    Whatever she could not use for her mission, she gave to the Vatican treasury to be redistributed to other charities. Meanwhile she and her sisters lived with the barest of means--she famously wished to live "poor amongst the poor" (i.e. as one of them)--and worked tirelessly caring for people abandoned on the streets and in the slums. Her feet were severely deformed because she chose to wear the most worn pair of shoes amongst those donated, so that others could have the rest.

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  7. I applaud you on this article. Excellent insights. Haters are going to hate, self righteous are going to be, well, self righteous and condemning. I am Catholic Clergy, if I can actually do 1% of what St. Teresa did in her life, I could die a happy man.

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  8. David, you are absolutely right ... So right as in that so called "Traditonalist" Radical Catholics, those who are more fit than Pope Francis to judge and pontificate on matters of Faith and Motals with an iron fist, see it fit to calumniate the Church and another Theresa, alongside their atheist/agnostic counterparts (whom the Radical Traditionalists also scoff about for not being in the Church.) See this example from fringe critic, Louie Verrechio: https://akacatholic.com/teresa-of-calcutta-a-saint-for-our-times/

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  10. Oh, please. Another garbage article casting aspersions at St. Teresa because she didn't share your secular dogmas.

    That's freedom of expression for you, though, that even amoral nitwits like you get to have the right to say whatever you want to say, no matter how moronic.

    ~Theo

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    1. Theo. Did you read the article? You do realise this article defended and praised her right?

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    2. I believe you misunderstood or didn't perhaps read the article, Teofilo?

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    3. I think Theo is referring to another article mentioned in the (now deleted) comment above by Michael Walls.

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  11. I really liked this article. I very much admired her, even while disagreeing with some of her beliefs and choices. But heck, I don't always agree with all of my own beliefs and choices! We are each doing the best we can in our given situations. I hope she rests peacefully.

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  12. What a stupid article. She was living with the poor and only had all the basic necessity to live on and nothing extra. You said she had millions in the bank but she was not living like how Princess Diana was living which was in luxury. She was running a big operations and all of that requires money. She could not give 1st class treatment for everyone else the money would not be enough for all the poor people that she had to take care of. Why not the writer of this article sell of everything you have and do what she did instead of wasting your time writing stupid things.

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    1. What article did you read, Francis, because none of that was part of this one!

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  13. This piece reminds me of the criticisms against Damien of Molokai, which were destroyed by Robert Luis Stevenson, a non-catholic, I'm his open letter to Rev Hyde of Honolulu. Find it, read it, and squirm.

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  14. And please don't forget the 4000-odd sisters in the missionary of Charity.mother Teresa did it for 60 years. These sisters carry on that legacy. They do it shunning all the limelight and accolades.

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  15. Mother got regonition and awards for her selfless work.Not all volunters will get this reconition.If we can do what she did but atleast learn to appreciate her effort.God Bless her always.

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  17. Mother Teresa was HUMAN and in every respect, just like JESUS she was condemned by a few for doing good and she was tested all the time, BUT what sets her apart is her willingness to LISTEN to what GOD called her to do and continued to give off herself regardless of was said about her. There is always going to be the evil one looking in to find fault but these people that do that, God forgives, just like Mother would have done. To the author, why would you choose this title ? Mother was far from being evil...although you were being defensive..it still hurts to read this title. May Mother's soul rest in Peace! I feel very fortunate to have been touched by our newest Saint of our time. She held my face with her BIG STRONG HARDWORKING HANDS and said, "God Bless You"! Blessed I am indeed today!! Peace to all that are reading this blog.

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  18. I would say much of the dissent against Mother Teresa is for the sake of itself and it is coming from those acting as contrarians for the sake of being contrarians. Many people just want attention and the only way they can get it is through deliberate negativity. Great point about hashtag activism, we can have all the good intentions in the world but that doesn't lead to anything other than self aggrandizing unless you're actually doing the work.

    I think they do not like Mother Teresa because she actually spent her life doing what they only pay lip service to. She is revered for her life of service to the most destitute while while they WANT TO BE revered for there good intentions.

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  19. @Kevin Miller. I found your points well expressed. I especially like your closing sally. I'm going to remember it and use it

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  20. Does anyone besides myself find it interesting that the comments about Mother Theresa - not only on this blog but everywhere else that I have seen - concern primarily if not exclusively appreciation for her tireless physical care for the poor and dying. She was, after all, the foundress of a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church. Would one not expect that the conversation would center upon her zeal for the salvation of souls? From the articles and comments one could well conclude that they refer to a devoted social worker. And that, without doubt, is commendable. But surely there must be something uniquely Catholic about her life and work to account for her canonization. Why is not that the focal point in these discussions? Just wondering.

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    1. To fulfill one's calling is to make the individual's will United to the will of God. Mother Theresa was called to be a social worker in a sense. To be truly Catholic is to put all energy towards acting out God's will in a person's life. Mother Theresa giving her all to serving her neighbor every time she met him fulfills the greatest commandment: Love God and love neighbor. She loved God so much she made her will one with God's (as best she could) and she loved her neighbor through her "social work." This is what it is to be Catholic.

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    2. To fulfill one's calling is to make the individual's will United to the will of God. Mother Theresa was called to be a social worker in a sense. To be truly Catholic is to put all energy towards acting out God's will in a person's life. Mother Theresa giving her all to serving her neighbor every time she met him fulfills the greatest commandment: Love God and love neighbor. She loved God so much she made her will one with God's (as best she could) and she loved her neighbor through her "social work." This is what it is to be Catholic.

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  21. The irony is that the modern self-righteous tend to be secularists these days. The arm-chair criticism is all rather sickening when you think of what she chose to do with her life and the conditions she has a) endured and b) tried to alleviate. (Not to mention her own awareness of her fallibility, as you mention.) Brilliant piece, of course. I wish more people of your profile would speak sense like this.

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  22. Heartless Right??? Takes one to know one. I know the opposite! Loving Right... Every Christian opening his and her heart to need wherever they find need.

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  23. Although I find this perspective a lot more acceptable than Hitchens's, it misses a few important points:

    Her Missionaries of Charity brought in around US$75 million per year in donations. That averages out to $125,000 per year for each location that her missionaries operated. So why did she have to operate in the "heart of desperate poverty"? The reason is that only about 7% of the money donated to the Missionaries of Charity's actually went to her work.

    She was exactly who she said she was. But those around her took advantage of her naive ideology and gullibility. Those around her diverted to themselves 93% of the $75 million per year that good-willed people donated to what they thought was a good cause. She didn't complain because it doesn't take a lot of money to let poor people suffer, as she believed they should.

    7% of the donations went to her "work", the rest wet into the coffers of the Roman Catholic Church. (And some to the likes of white-collar con-artist Charles Keating, who stole from the poor and gave to the rich, and also gave just a tiny bit to the really poor.)

    The bottom line is that she was a somewhat honest person with a really perverted ideology. Evil people took advantage of her for profit, while poor people suffered unnecessary, and good willed people were conned.

    So I'd say give a foolish lady a break, and ask those who benefited from her folly to give the huge amounts of money they made from her back to a good cause.

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  24. I don't agree with the demonisation of MT either, but I think there is a conflation here of 2 important things that should be kept distinct (under the writer's second point). Affirming the value and dignity of poor people is not the same thing as affirming the nobility of poverty and seeing suffering as good because redemptive. One can agree wholeheartedly with the value and dignity of poor people but think that suffering and poverty are undesirable and need to be eliminated. To fail to do that idealises suffering and poverty and perpetuates social evils. (That is also a Catholic position, albeit a more contentious Liberation Theology one.)

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    1. Thankyou for clarifying the difference between the value and dignity of poor people and the "nobility of poverty". There is no dignity in excruciating poverty or suffering!

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  25. Thanks for writing this. It was convicting.

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  26. I'm curious how one justifies the claim that nobility in poverty is a Catholic doctrine? Christian? Certainly. But you don't see the majority of western churches lined with gold nor do they have icons and idols of silver and gold displayed all over their sanctuaries. Has anyone surveyed the Vatican of their Roman faith?

    The Vatican Bank has over $8 billion dollars in assets alone. So it's no surprise to me that any priest, nun, bishop, or pope would be regarded as corrupt or romanticized.

    But hey, for the price of $250,000 we all can be canonized.

    Source: http://money.cnn.com/2015/09/24/news/pope-francis-visit-vatican-catholic-church/

    May the true Gospel of Christ Jesus be heard. And may Rome repent for her century long lusts.

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