Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Christopher Hitchens, The Missionary Position

Christopher Hitchens, The Missionary Position; Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, Verso, London 1995

One may safely affirm that all popular theology has a kind of appetite for absurdity and contradiction…while their gloomy apprehensions make them ascribe to Him measures of conduct which in human creatures would be blamed, they must still affect to praise and admire that conduct in the object of their devotional addresses. Thus is may safely be affirmed that popular religions are really, in the conception of their more vulgar votaries, a species of daemonism. David Hume, The Natural History of Religion

…who would be so incurious as to leave unexamined the influence and motives of a woman who once boasted of operating more than five hundred convents in upwards of 105 countries—‘without counting India’? xi

If the baffled and fearful prehistory of our species ever comes to an end, and if we ever get off of our knees and cull those blooms, there will be no need for smoking altars and forbidding temples with which to honour the freethinking humanists, who scorned to use the fear of death to coerce and flatter the poor. Xiii

‘Mother Teresa, what do you hope to accomplish here?’
‘The joy of loving and being loved.’
‘That takes a lot of money, doesn’t it?’
‘It takes a lot of sacrifice.’
‘Do you teach the poor to endure their lot?’
‘I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.’
(11, Press conference, 1995, regarding new home for orphans in Chevy Chase, Maryland.)

Between 1588 and 1988 the Vatican canonized 679 saints. In the reign of John Paul II alone (as of June 1995), there have been 271 canonizations and 631 beatifications. Several hundred cases are pending, including the petition to canonize Queen Isabella of Spain. So rapid and general is the approach that it recalls the baptism by fire-hose with which Chinese generals Christianized their armies…13

…a determination to be the founder of a new order—her Missionaries of Charity organization currently numbers some 4,000 nuns and 40,000 lay workers—to be ranked with St Francis and St Benedict as the author of a ‘rule’ and a ‘discipline’. 14

…direct testimony of Ken Macmillan himself: “During Something Beautiful for God, there was an episode where we were taken to a building that Mother Teresa called the House of the Dying. Peter Chafer, the director, said, ‘Ah well, it’s very dark in here. Do you think we can get something?’ And we had just taken delivery at the BBC of some new film made by Kodak, which we hadn’t had time to test before we left, so I said to Peter, ‘Well, we may as well have a go.’ So we shot it. And when we got back several weeks later, a month or two later, we are sitting in the rushes theatre at Ealing Studios and eventually up came the shots of the House of the Dying. And it was surprising. You could see every detail. And I said, ‘That’s amazing’ That’s extraordinary.’ And I was going to go on to say, you know, three cheers for Kodak. I didn’t get a chance to say that though, because Malcolm, sitting in the front row, spun round and said: ‘It’s divine light! It’s Mother Teresa. You’ll find that it’s divine light, old boy.’ And three or four days later I found I was being phoned by journalists from London newspapers who were saying things like: ‘We hear you’ve just come back from India where Malcolm Muggeridge and you were the witness of a miracle.’” 26-27

Muggeridge: So you wouldn’t agree with people who say there are too many children in India?
Mother Teresa: I do not agree because God always provides. He provides for the flowers and the birds, for everything in the world that he has created. And those little children are his life. There can never be enough. 30

Muggeridge: You don’t think there’s a danger that people might mistake the means for the end, and feel that serving their fellow men was an end in itself? Do you think there’s a danger of that?
Mother Teresa: There is always the danger that we may become only social workers or just do the work for the sake of the work…It is a danger; if we forget to whom we are doing it. Our works are only an expression of our love for Christ. Our hearts need to be full of our love for him, and since we have to express that love in action, naturally then the poorest of the poor are the means of expressing our love for God. 31

…she cheapens her own example by telling us, as above, that humanism and altruism are ‘dangers’ to be sedulously avoided. Mother Teresa has never pretended that her work is anything but a fundamentalist religious campaign. 32

No Philosopher was on hand to tell him that there is no strong sentiment without some terror, as there is no real religion without a little fetishism. 35 –Jospeh Conrad, Victory

…the visit of Dr Robin Fox to the Mother Teresa operation in Calcutta in 1994. As editor of The Lancet, perhaps the world’s leading medical journal… “There are doctors who call in from time to time but usually the sisters and volunteers (some of whom have medical knowledge) make decisions as best they can. I saw a young man who had been admitted in poor shape with high fever, and the drugs prescribed had been tetracycline and paracetamol. Later a visiting doctor diagnosed probable malaria and substituted chloroquine. Could not someone have looked at a blood film? Investigations, I was told, are seldom permissible. How about simple algorithms that might help the sisters and volunteers distinguish the curable from the incurable? Again, no. Such systematic approaches are alien to the ethos of the home. Mother Teresa prefers providence to planning; her rules are designed to prevent any drift towards materialism: the sisters must remain on equal terms with the poor…Finally, how competent are sisters at managing pain? On a short visit, I could not judge the power of their spiritual approach, but I was disturbed to learn that the formulary includes no strong analgesics. Along with the neglect of diagnosis, the lack of good analgesia marks Mother Teresa’s approach as clearly separate from the hospice movement. I know which I prefer. 37-39

Bear in mind that Mother Teresa’s global income is more than enough to outfit several first-class clinics in Bengal. The decision not to do so, and indeed to run instead a haphazard and cranky institution which would expose itself to litigation and protest were it run by any branch of the medical profession, is a deliberate one. The point is not the honest relief of suffering but the promulgation of a cult based on death and suffering and subjection. Mother Teresa (who herself, it should be noted, has checked into the of the finest and costliest clinics and hospitals in the West during her bouts with heart trouble and old age) once gave this game away in a filmed interview. She described a person who was in the last agonies of cancer and suffering unbearable pain. With a smile, Mother Teresa told the camera what she told this terminal patient: ‘You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you.’ Unconscious of the account to which this irony might be charged, she then told of the sufferer’s reply: ‘Then please tell him to stop kissing me.’ There are many people in the direst need and pain who have had cause to wish, in their own extremity, that Mother Teresa was less free with her own metaphysical caresses and a little more attentive to actual suffering. 41-42

Ms Elgy Gillespie, author, journalist and sometime editor of The San Francisco Review of Books. Experienced in the care of AIDS patients, she spent some time at Mother Teresa’s San Francisco branch: “Sent to cook in her hostel, tactfully named ‘The Gift of Love’ (it is for homeless men with HIV), I found a dozen or so very sick men; but those who weren’t very sick were exceptionally depressed, because they were not allowed to watch TV or smoke or drink or have friends over. Even when they are dying, close friends are not allowed. They are never allowed to drink, even (or especially) at the funerals of their friends and roommates and some have been thrown out for coming home in drag!” 42-43

Susan Shields, (nine and a half year member of Mother Teresa’s Order) : “In the Bronx, plans were being made to establish a new home for the poor. Many of the homeless were sick and needed more permanent accommodation than that offered by our night shelter. We had bought a large abandoned building from the city for one dollar. A co-worker offered to be the contractor and arranged for an architect to draw up plans for the renovations. Government regulation required that an elevator be installed for the use of the disabled. Mother would not allow an elevator. The city offered to pay for the elevator. Its offer was refused. After all the negotiations and plans, the project for the poor was abandoned because an elevator for the handicapped was unacceptable.” … She was disturbed that the poor were the ones who suffered from the sisters’ self-righteous adherence to ‘poverty’. She knew of immense quantities of money, donated in all sincerity by people ‘from all walks of life’, which lingered unproductively in bank accounts… “The flood of donations was considered to be a sign of God’s approval of Mother Teresa’s congregation…The donations rolled in and were deposited in the bank, but they had no effect on our ascetic lives or on the lives of the poor we were trying to help…For Mother, it was the spiritual well-being of the poor that mattered most. Material aid was a means of reaching their souls, of showing the poor that God taught the sisters how to secretly baptize those who were dying. Sisters were to ask each person in danger of death if he wanted a ‘ticket to heaven’. An affirmative reply was to mean consent to baptism. The sister was then to pretend she was just cooling the person’s forehead with a wet cloth, while in fact she was baptizing him, saying quietly the necessary words. Secrecy was important so that it would not come to be known that Mother Teresa’s sisters were baptizing Hindus and Moslems.” 45-48

Emily Lewis, a seventy-five-year-old nurse who has worked in many of the most desperate quarters of the earth… “My own experience of Mother Teresa occurred when she was being honored at the 1989 luncheon meeting of the International Health Organization in Washington, D.C…She also touched on AIDS, saying she did not want to label it a scourge of God but that it did seem like a just retribution for improper sexual conduct.” 49

Helpless infants, abandoned derelicts, lepers and the terminally ill are the raw material for demonstrations of compassion. They are in no position to complain, and their passivity and abjection is considered a sterling trait. It is time to recognize that the world’s leading exponent of this false consolation is herself a demagogue, an obscurantist and a servant of earthly powers. 50

A woman experiencing danger in childbirth, for example, is supposed to sacrifice her own life for that of the child. (Judaism, which has codes no less ethical, tends to mandate the opposite decision, for the greater good of the family.) 52

Teresa, acceptance speech to Nobel Peace Prize, 1979: “Today, abortion is the worst evil, and the greatest enemy of peace…if a mother can kill her own child, what will prevent us from killing ourselves, or one another? Nothing.” 57

Keating made donations (not out of his own pocket, of course) to Mother Teresa in the sum of one and a quarter million dollars. He also granter her the use of his private jet. In return, Mother Teresa allowed Keating to make use of her prestige on several important occasions… 65

Mother Teresa’s letter to Lance Ito: “Dear Honorable Lance Ito, / We do not mix up in Business or Politicts or courts. Our work, as Missionaries or Charity is to give wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor. / I do not know anything about Mr. Charles Keating’s work or his business or the matters you are dealing with. / I only know that he has always been kind and generous to God’s poor, and always ready to help whenever there was a need. It is for this reason that I do not want to forget him now while he and his family are suffering. Jesus has told us “Whatever you do to the least of my brethern…YOU DID IT TO ME. Mr. Keating has done much to help the poor, which is why I am writing to you on his behalf. / Whenever someone asks me to speak to a judge, I always tell them the same thing. I ask them to pray, to look into their heart, and to do what Jesus would do in that circumstance. And this is what I am asking of you, your Honor. / My gratitude to you is my prayer for you, and your work, your family and the people with whom you are working. / God bless you/ M. Teresa” 67

“Dear Mother Teresa: / I am a Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles County and one of the persons who worked on the prosecution of your benefactor, Charles H. Keating, Jr. I read your letter to Judge Ito, written on behalf of Mr. Keating, which includes your admission that you know nothing about Mr. Keating’s business or the criminal charges presented to Judge Ito. I am writing to you to provide a brief explanation of the crimes of which Mr. Keating has been convicted, to give you an understanding of the source of the money that Mr. Keating gave to you, and to suggest that you perform the moral and ethical act of returning the money to its rightful owners. / Mr. Keating was convicted of defrauding 17 individuals of more than $900,000. These 17 persons were representative of 17,000 individuals from whom Mr. Keating stole $252,000,000…The victims of Mr. Keating’s fraud come from a wide spectrum of society. Some were wealthy and well-educated. Most were people of modest means and unfamiliar with high finance. One was, indeed, a poor carpenter who did not speak English and had his life saving stolen by Mr. Keating’s fraud. / The biblical slogan of your organization is ‘As long as you did it to one of these Me least brethren. You did it to Me.’ The ‘least’ of the brethren are among those whom Mr. Keating fleeced without flinching. As you well know, divine forgiveness is available to all, but forgiveness must be preceded by admission of sin. Not only has Mr. Keating failed to admit his sins and his crimes, he persists in self-righteously blaming others for his own misdeeds. Your experience is, admirably, with the poor. My experience has been with the ‘con’ man and the perpetrator of the fraud. It is not uncommon for ‘con’ men to be generous with family, friends and charities. Perhaps they believe that their generosity will purchase love, respect or forgiveness. However, the time when the purchase of ‘indulgences’ was an acceptable method of seeking forgiveness died with the Reformation. No church, no charity, no organization should allow itself to be used as salve for the conscience of the criminal. We are all grateful that forgiveness is available but we all, also, must perform our duty. That includes the Judge and the Jury. I remind myself of the biblical admonition of the Prophet Micah: ‘O man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you. To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.’ / We are urged to love mercy but we must do justice. / You urge Judge Ito to look into his heart—as he sentences Charles Keating—as do what Jesus would do. I submit the same challenge to you. Ask yourself what Jesus would do if he were given the fruits of a crime; what Jesus would do if he were in the possession of money that had been stolen; what Jesus would do if he were being exploited by a thief to ease his conscience? / I submit that Jesus would promptly and unhesitatingly return the stolen property to its rightful owners. You should do the same. You have been given money by Mr. Keating that he has been convicted of stealing by fraud. Do not permit him the ‘indulgence’ he desires. Do not keep the money. Return it to those who worked for it and earned it! / If you contact me I will put you in direct contact with the rightful owners of the property now in your possession. / Sincerely, / Paul W. Turley.” 68-70

There is no conceit equal to false modesty, and there is no politics like antipolitics, just as there is no worldliness to compare with ostentatious antimaterialism. 86

But we do believe in religion—at least for other people. It is a means of marketing hope, and of instilling ethical precepts on the cheap. It is also a form of discipline. The followers of the late American guru Leo Strauss—a man who had a profound influence on the Republican Right wing—make this cynical point explicit in their otherwise arcane texts. There should be philosophy and knowledge for the elect, religion and sentimentality for the masses. 97


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