Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Hitch and Mother Teresa...

I read Xtopher Hitchens' exposure of the arch reactionary Mother Teresa of Calcutta yesterday (see link). I know it is a few years old but it's still worth a read for those who still harbour any illusions of the saintliness of this character.

I had long disliked her brand of Christianity - one that proclaims itself 'apolitical', one that advocates the giving of charity yet never questions a system which allows so many people to starve or die of treatable diseases, while others have many times what they need. This type of Christianity is in fact not 'apolitical' but is in fact deeply conservative, as Hitchens stresses.
It rests nicely with the status quo and big capitalists have no issue with it - in fact they actively praise and encourage it. At times they donate to its adherents to assuage their guilt, to salvage their reputations, or to buy favour from the Lord.

However, the crimes of MT go further than this. Her 'apoliticism' proved itself to be a sham when on a visit to Nicuagara in the 1980s she criticised the Sandinistas while remaining silent on the crimes of the US backed Contras. Despite the existence of weapons of mass destruction, racism and all the other ills in the world she explicitly believed that abortion and contraception were 'the greatest threats to world peace'. Although I deem it extreme and untrue to hold abortion to be *the* greatest threat to world peace, I can somewhat see the logic behind such an idea. But contraception?? Yet MT's opposition to birth control did not spur her to oppose Indira Ghandhi's coercive population control policy, which involved forcible sterilisations. You'd think someone who believed birth control to be such an evil would have something to say about such a practice going on in the very region where they work. But not MT. Clearly her desire to curry favour and praise from her host government (one of this world) was stronger than her professed ideals.

Not just this but she accepted money from white collar thieves while she ran her shelters on an ethos not unlike that of the Victorian workhouses. Money lay in her bank account while orphans under her care led an existence not unlike that of Oliver Twist. She refused painkillers to the terminally ill in her 'shelters for dying destitutes' due to her belief that suffering was holy, those dying in agony from cancer being united with Christ's sufferings on the cross. However, the Christian religion teaches that holy pains such as poverty and fasting should be voluntary. Jesus could have avoided death on the cross but he chose not to as he believed it to have been part of his mission. Jesus healed the sick and relieved them of pain, he didn't tell them to accept it and suffer as it would somehow purify their sin and hence unite them with his future suffering on the cross.

Hitchens is a declared atheist but that doesn't discredit his arguments. The paragraph above should show it to be possible to be a believing Christian while opposing the hypocrisy and obnoxious theology of Mother T.


Political Umpire said...

Excellent post. A while ago (it was in NZ) I read a similar viewpoint, in particular the point about MT letting people suffer without painkillers because that's what Jesus did. I agreed entirely - as I do with your post - but didn't store the memory of the source so have to be a bit careful about repeating the argument.

The point about contraception is, of course, hardly confined to MT since it's the official Vatican position. That, along with the corruption, trade restrictions, tribal rivalries and absence of the rule of law are the primary factors behind Africa's parlous state. It seems not PC to be able to say so, however.

Liz said...

Indeed, PU. However, the point I was making was that MT is inconsistent, as if she really believed contraception to be such an evil one would have expected her to have been more outspoken about Indira Ghandhi's population control policy. That is not consistent even by MT's own standards.

As for Africa I'd say the legacy of colonialism has a lot to answer for too.

Political Umpire said...

Oh absolutely, I didn't mean to ignore colonisation, but I think there is a real issue with contraception, especially given the aids problem there as well. As well as colonisation, the present day policies of eg the EU are very destructive, as they prevent African farmers competing with European ones (ask a few Kiwis about the EU's agricultural policies, or a few English for that matter ...)

Gracchi said...

Interesting post about MT. It seems to me that there is a distinction between being kind to someone by giving them what we think they should have and being kind to someone by giving them what they actually want. From what you've written MT fits into the first category- she decided it wasn't good for these people to have painkillers so didn't give them to them. I still think that's kindness- afterall its what we do when we send children to school but it does seem to me in the case of adults to violate another ethical principle that of autonomy.

Liz said...

Exactly, Gracchi. Those people were not respected as autonomous adults.

Although I'm not quite sure it could be construed as kind to not give painkillers to either adults or children in pain. I also believe MT to have been motivated by as much egoism as kindess (her own form of kindness, that is).

CrackerLilo said...

I love gracchi's point about different ways to be kind.

And I'm gonna have to check out that article! So many non-Christians just uncritically adore her because she was "good to the poor."

Liz said...

Indeed there are different ways to be kind - Gracchi is right that we often give children what they need rather than what they want. This becomes more complex when applied to adults though - as while they may not always want was is best for them their right to autonomy must be respected. We also assume they are in a better position to judge what is best for them than children are.

Do check that article, cracker. Indeed it annoys me that Christians adore MT uncritically, uncritical adoration of anybody tends to bug me somewhat. It usually leads me to bending the stick the other way. I think this has also been the case with Hitchens (he had quite a good go at Princess Diana too). She was a woman I felt sorry for rather than praised as some people did.