Mother Teresa of Calcutta

It’s in the Independent today: “Academics suggest Hitch called it right on Mother Teresa.” Serge Larivé, a researcher from the University of Montreal, said:

“Given the parsimonious management of Mother Teresa’s works, one may ask where the millions of dollars for the poorest of the poor have gone?”

He apparently said it in a French publication called “Religieuses” and the news was picked up by the Times of India. You might ask why, because Mother Teresa is not very well known in India. The beggars who have lived for years within a hundred metres of her Homes (often just living accommodation for the sisters with no charitable function) have never even heard of her. Now, according to the Times of India:

“The Vatican overlooked the crucial human side of Teresa and her dubious way of caring for the sick by glorifying their suffering instead of relieving it.”

The Vatican probably received millions from Mother Teresa’s organisation. Millions that were earmarked for the poor. Apart from that Mother Teresa was a publicity magnet. A living saint. They might have had good reason to overlook the human side of her.

By Axel Boldt, via Wikimedia Commons

By Axel Boldt, via Wikimedia Commons

But it’s not just the Vatican. I became interested in Mother Teresa because she still is part of the list of heroes that people always mention. It goes something like this:

“Well, Mandela. And Gandhi, and.. pause while they look for a heroine: Mother Teresa.”

Mother Teresa always seemed to be the only female hero around. I thought that was weird. Looking for her on the internet, there seemed to be Christopher Hitchens and assorted atheists on the one side and Malcolm Muggeridge and the rest of humanity on the other. With the possible exception of people like Susan Shields. She was a Catholic when she joined the Missionaries of Charity and feels profoundly harmed by it. She counted the endless donations and noticed how they had very little effect on the lives of the poor because:

“In Haiti, to keep the spirit of poverty, the sisters reused needles until they became blunt.”

I used to work as a nurse. This hurts me even when I just read about it. Needless suffering.

wikimedia commons

wikimedia commons

I happen to be in possession of the book: “Mother Teresa, the final verdict” by Aroup Chatterjee. It’s an interesting history of Mother Teresa’s activities in Calcutta. Chatterjee was born there and when he moved to England, he was shocked by the picture of the city that he found in the media. He did not recognise observations like:

“70,000 dying on pavements tonight”

The Daily Express printed this outrageous number in 1973, when Mother Teresa was in London to accept the Templeton award. So she wasn’t even there to pick up the dying bodies on such a busy night. And, according to Chatterjee, none of her nuns ever did those things. They had ambulances, but they used them to transport their staff, not the destitute.

“Perhaps the major source of disappointment for volunteers as they arrive to work with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta (…) is the realisation that they would not be part of an angelic team that would scour the streets of Calcutta gently scooping up hordes of humanity as they go along.”

Chatterjee’s book is called a ‘controversial’ book, just as the Montreal study is called a ‘controversial study’. Even though Princess Diana never managed to shake hands with Mother Teresa in Calcutta because Mother always happened to be in Rome or New York, even though Chatterjee has spent years writing this book and has researched it thoroughly, he is, somehow, not trusted by the mainstream media.

Hitchens' and Chatterjee's books

Hitchens’ and Chatterjee’s books

In his foreword, he writes:

“I wish to convey my thanks to some of the world’s most powerful publishing firms who put up obstacle after obstacle in the path of this book.”

I for one don’t think he’s lying. But he finished it and he published it. I think he deserves praise for that. And I’m sure Christopher Hitchens was experiencing no doubts whatsoever when he wrote:

“Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist and a fraud (…)”

This was published in October 2003, when the Roman Catholic Church beatified Mother Teresa because they were convinced she did a miracle after her death. We’ve all heard she is on the fast track to sainthood, and as long as the critics stay marginalised, I’m sure she’ll make it.

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About Pipteinpteron

Catch a falling feather. Don't keep it.
This entry was posted in atheism, book review, sceptic and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Mother Teresa of Calcutta

  1. Louise Hart says:

    Thanks for supporting my blog. You make a difference!

  2. Argus says:

    Oops … you’ve done it now …

    Or not. Where’s all the sound and fury? Seems to be not a squeak anywhere—you’ve fired a full broadside at the Great Holy Mother and all you get back is someone thanking you for supporting their blog (and a grinning dog). Oh well, onwards and upwards … there’s got to be another money spinn— oops, saint, waiting in the wings.

    • Thank you for your comment. Weird, isn’t it? I haven’t often seen a case where the gap between the general idea about a person and the reality is this wide, but sofar nobody has defended her.

  3. elkement says:

    I admit I have explicitly searched for this post as David has mentioned it on his blog. I really like the way you handle controversial topics (and your picking such topics to begin with)!
    I don’t have an opinion on Mother Teresa as I don’t know anything about her than the perpetuated saint stereotype. Probably this should be sufficient to be skeptical!

    • Thank you for your comment, Elkement! This was exactly my point: if somebody, anybody, is consistently portrayed as a saint we should be sceptical. Or at least that’s what I think. But then, I don’t believe in altruism.

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