— The Erimtan Angle —

In his 1995 book The Missionary Position, Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) takes a good look at the Albanian nun from Skopje who ended up in Calcutta. In 1996, Hitch himself put it like this: “In my book . . . I provide evidence that Mother Teresa has consoled and supported the rich and powerful, allowing them all manner of indulgence, while preaching obedience and resignation to the poor. In a classic recent instance of what I mean—an instance that occurred too late for me to mention it—she told the April 1996 Ladies’ Home Journal that her new friend Princess Diana would be better off when free of her marriage. (“It is good that it is over. Nobody was happy anyhow.”) When Mother Teresa said this, she had only just finished advising the Irish electorate to vote “No” in a national referendum that proposed the right of civil divorce and remarriage. (That vote, quite apart from its importance in separating Church from State in the Irish Republic, had an obvious bearing on the vital discussion between Irish Catholics and Protestants as to who shall make law in a possible future cooperative island that is threatened by two kinds of Christian fundamentalism.) Evidence and argument of this kind, I have discovered, make no difference to people like Mr. Leys [who penned a letter “In Defense of Mother Teresa”, published on 19 September 1996 in NYR]. Such people do not exactly deny Mother Teresa’s complicity with earthly powers. Instead, they make vague allusions to the gospels. Here I can claim no special standing. The gospels do not agree on the life of the man Jesus, and they make assertions—such as his ability to cast demonic spells on pigs—that seem to reflect little credit upon him. However, when Mr. Leys concedes that Mother Teresa “occasionally accepts the hospitality of crooks, millionaires, and criminals” and goes on to say, by way of apologetics, that her Master’s “bad frequentations were notorious,” I still feel entitled to challenge him. Was his Jesus ever responsible for anything like Mother Teresa’s visit to the Duvaliers in Haiti, where she hymned the love of Baby Doc and his wife for the poor, and the reciprocal love of the poor for Baby Doc and his wife? Did he ever accept a large subvention of money, as did Mother Teresa from Charles Keating, knowing it to have been stolen from small and humble savers? Did he ever demand a strict clerical control over, not just abortion, but contraception and marriage and divorce and adoption? These questions are of no hermeneutic interest to me, but surely they demand an answer from people like Leys who claim an understanding of the Bible’s “original intent.” On my related points—that Mother Teresa makes no real effort at medical or social relief, and that her mission is religious and propagandistic and includes surreptitious baptism of unbelievers—I notice that Mr. Leys enters no serious dissent. It is he and not I who chooses to compare surreptitious baptism to the sincere and loving gesture of an innocent “cannibal” (his term) bestowing a fetish. Not all that inexact as a parallel, perhaps—except that the “cannibal” is not trying to proselytize. Mr. Leys must try and make up his mind. At one point he says that the man called Jesus “shocked all the Hitchenses of His time”: a shocking thought indeed to an atheist and semi-Semitic polemicist like myself, who can discover no New Testament authority for the existence of his analogue in that period. Later he says, no less confidently, that “Jesus was spat upon—but not by journalists, as there were none in His [sic] time.” It is perhaps in this confused light that we must judge his assertion that the endeavor to be a Christian “is (and always was, and will always remain)” something “improper and unacceptable.” The public career of Mother Teresa has been almost as immune from scrutiny or criticism as any hagiographer could have hoped—which was my point in the first place. To represent her as a woman defiled with spittle for her deeds or beliefs is—to employ the term strictly for once—quite incredible. But it accords with the Christian self-pity that we have to endure from so many quarters (Justice Scalia, Ralph Reed, Mrs. Dole) these days. Other faiths are taking their place in that same queue, to claim that all criticism is abusive, blasphemous, and defamatory by definition. Mr. Leys may not care for some of the friends that he will make in this line. Or perhaps I misjudge him? Finally, I note that he describes the title of my book as “obscene,” and complains that it attacks someone who is “elderly.” Would he care to say where the obscenity lies? Also, given that I have been criticizing Mother Teresa since she was middle-aged (and publicly denounced the senile Khomeini in his homicidal dotage), can he advise me of the age limit at which the faithful will admit secular criticism as pardonable? Not even the current occupant of the Holy See has sought protection from dissent on the ground of anno domini”. So far Hitch responding to an outraged believe. Two years earlier, in 1994, three years before Mother Teresa’s death, journalist Christopher Hitchens made this documentary asking if her reputation as a Christian servant helping the poor was deserved.

Earlier this year, Zainab Akande wrote on PolicyMic that “the results of a new study [on Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, known worldwide as the Blessed Mother Teresa] may seem shocking to some”.[1]  The study in question, entitled , “Les cotés tenebreux de Mere Teresa”, was conducted by Serge Larivée and Genevieve Chenard from the University of Montreal as well as Carole Sénéchal from the University of Ottawa, and these three delved into the PR campaign conducted by the Vatican as well as into the deeds of the now defunct nun herself. Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) beatified her in 2003 as the dead nun’s first step on the road to sainthood – a path the now equally dead Polish pontiff is now also travelling on due to the good offices of Pope Benedict XVI in 2011.[2]  Akande, for her part, adds that Mother Teresa “once said, [that] ‘There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering’, in response to criticism pushed on by Hitchens. With money bountiful from her charity efforts, Mother Teresa was equipped with resources to give the ill that came from across the world for healing. Instead, she allowed their health to decline, without medicine to hinder pain, proper food, and cleanliness. Yet hypocrisy dictated that when Mother Teresa needed medical care, she received it in a hospital”.[3]

Genevieve Chenard told the Indian journalist Anirudh Bhattacharyya in an interview conducted last March that she and her co-author “found 287 books and articles on Mother Teresa (of which) 153—a little more than 50 per cent—were hagiography. We think Mother Teresa was doing what she thought was good. We are not claiming she was pretending. I think people like her because it made them feel better . . . [Mother Teresa] won the Nobel Prize for Peace. When she got that, she said abortion was the worst thing against peace. I don’t understand how abortion in the case of a woman who was raped could work against peace. There are many other contradictions. Like she was against divorce, but in the case of Lady Diana she agreed with the divorce. These are questions that should have been asked before she got the Nobel . . . She took money, for example, from Haiti, from ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier. She took the money to help the poorest of the poor around the world. But the money she got at that time was already stolen from a very poor population. Those things, it seems to us, are like contradictions, because you don’t steal from someone to give to another”.[4]  Turning to the financial aspect of Mother Teresa’s ‘work’, Chenard added that “What we learned is that there was about $5 million in all the accounts. She raised almost $100 million before 1980. What happened is that around 5 to 7 per cent went to the charity for medicines, things like that. The other money went to build some houses for the missionaries. Just five per cent went to the cause”.[5]

[1] Zainab Akande, “Mother Teresa Not a Saint: New Study Suggests She Was a Fraud” PolicyMic (07 March 2013). http://www.policymic.com/articles/28746/mother-teresa-not-a-saint-new-study-suggests-she-was-a-fraud.

[2] “Pope John Paul II to Be Beatified” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (25 December 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2011/01/15/pope-john-paul-ii-to-be-beatified/.

[3] Zainab Akande, “Mother Teresa Not a Saint”.

[4] “I Don’t Think She Deserved The Nobel” Outlook India (18 March 2013). http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?284270.

[5] “I Don’t Think She Deserved The Nobel”.


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