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Doubting Teresa
Andrew Greeley gets all boo-hoo-ey that somebody dug up Mother Teresa's diaries and discovered that even she found the notion that there is a god a bit hard to believe. (It seemed she had no problem believing in being rich and famous -- but that would be news to our doe-eyed boy Greeley.) Greeley writes:

Now, as the poor battered Catholic Church tries to recover from a bushel basket of scandals, it must cope with the Mother Teresa scandal. Someone has found the poor woman's private letters in which she confessed how weak her faith and love seemed. Spread around the world by Time magazine, the letters are taken as evidence that she was not the saint we all thought she was. On ABC Evening News on Friday night, an itinerant atheist offered the opinion that she was a hypocrite.

Well, gee whizakazzoo! Whatever is the world coming to? Well, for a better grasp on its realities, here's Brother Hitch on Mother T -- on the stuff Greeley should be upset about:

One of the most salient examples of people's willingness to believe anything if it is garbed in the appearance of holiness is the uncritical acceptance of the idea of Mother Teresa as a saint by people who would normally be thinking - however lazily - in a secular or rational manner. In other words, in every sense it is an unexamined claim.

It's unexamined journalistically - no one really takes a look at what she does. And it is unexamined as to why it should be she who is spotlighted as opposed to many very selfless people who devote their lives to the relief of suffering in what we used to call the "Third World." Why is it never mentioned that her stated motive for the work is that of proselytization for religious fundamentalism, for the most extreme interpretation of Catholic doctrine? If you ask most people if they agree with the pope's views on population, for example, they say they think they are rather extreme. Well here's someone whose life's work is the propagation of the most extreme version of that.

That's the first motive. The second was a sort of journalistic curiosity as to why it was that no one had asked any serious questions about Mother Teresa's theory or practice. Regarding her practice, I couldn't help but notice that she had rallied to the side of the Duvalier family in Haiti, for instance, that she had taken money - over a million dollars - from Charles Keating, the Lincoln Savings and Loans swindler, even though it had been shown to her that the money was stolen; that she has been an ally of the most reactionary forces in India and in many other countries; that she has campaigned recently to prevent Ireland from ceasing to be the only country in Europe with a constitutional ban on divorce, that her interventions are always timed to assist the most conservative and obscurantist forces.

FI: You point out that, although she is very open about promoting Catholicism, Mother Teresa has this reputation of holiness amongst many non-Catholics and even secular people. And her reputation is based upon her charitable work for the sick and dying in Calcutta. What does she actually do there? What are her care facilities like?

HITCHENS: The care facilities are grotesquely simple: rudimentary, unscientific, miles behind any modern conception of what medical science is supposed to do. There have been a number of articles - I've collected some more since my book came out - about the failure and primitivism of her treatment of lepers and the dying, of her attitude towards medication and prophylaxis. Very rightly is it said that she tends to the dying, because if you were doing anything but dying she hasn't really got much to offer.

This is interesting because, first, she only proclaims to be providing people with a Catholic death, and, second, because of the enormous amounts of money mainly donated to rather than raised by her Order. We've been unable to audit this - no one has ever demanded an accounting of how much money has flowed in her direction. With that money she could have built at least one absolutely spanking new, modern teaching hospital in Calcutta without noticing the cost.

The facilities she runs are as primitive now as when she first became a celebrity. So that's obviously not where the money goes.

FI: How much money do you reckon she receives?

HITCHENS: Well, I have the testimony of a former very active member of her Order who worked for her for many years and ended up in the office Mother Teresa maintains in New York City. She was in charge of taking the money to the bank. She estimates that there must be $50 million in that bank account alone. She said that one of the things that began to raise doubts in her mind was that the Sisters always had to go around pretending that they were very poor and they couldn't use the money for anything in the neighborhood that required alleviation. Under the cloak of avowed poverty they were still soliciting donations, labor, food, and so on from local merchants. This she found as a matter of conscience to be offensive.

Now if that is the case for one place in New York, and since we know what huge sums she has been given by institutions like the Nobel Peace committee, other religious institutions, secular prize-giving organizations, and so on, we can speculate that if this money was being used for the relief of suffering we would be able to see the effect.

Sam Harris writes:

And now we learn that even Mother Teresa, the most celebrated exponent of this dogmatism in a century, had her doubts about the whole story—the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the existence of heaven, and even the existence of God:
Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love — and now become as the most hated one — the one — You have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One. — Alone ... Where is my Faith — even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness — My God — how painful is this unknown pain — I have no Faith — I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart — & make me suffer untold agony.

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them — because of the blasphemy — If there be God — please forgive me — When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. — I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?
— addressed to Jesus, at the suggestion of a confessor, undated

Teresa’s recently published letters reveal a mind riven by doubt (as it should have been). They also reveal a woman who was surely suffering from run-of-the-mill depression, though even secular commentators have begun to politely dress this fact in the colors of the saints and martyrs. Teresa’s response to her own bewilderment and hypocrisy (her term) reveals just how like quicksand religious faith can be. Her doubts about God’s existence were interpreted by her confessor as a sign that she was sharing Christ’s torment upon the cross; this exaltation of her wavering faith allowed Teresa “to love the darkness” she experienced in God’s apparent absence. Such is the genius of the unfalsifiable. We can see the same principle at work among her fellow Catholics: Teresa’s doubts have only enhanced her stature in the eyes of the Church, having been interpreted as a further evidence of God’s grace.

Ask yourself, when even the doubts of experts are thought to confirm a doctrine, what could possibly disconfirm it?

Hitchens' book: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Sam Harris' book: Letter to a Christian Nation. And then, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. Greeley's still stuck on this old thing, poor dear.

Posted by aalkon at September 1, 2007 11:28 AM

Comments

So, once we've cast doubt on all God belief, what do we replace it with? Paganism? Atheism?

Atheists don't score all that high on surveys of happiness and contentment.

Posted by: doombuggy at September 1, 2007 4:09 AM

Who said the space taken by faith needs to be "replaced" with anything? Who said happiness and contentment are the highest virtues?

Posted by: Crid at September 1, 2007 4:35 AM

I was no great fan of the T-woman and I'm not Catholic nor admire them so you won't see me running to her defense but I do want to point something out: Doubt, considering the possibility that something is not true, is the essence of rationality. You construct a proof by beginning from the proposition that what you seek to prove is not the case.

You are crowing over Teresa's doubts as further proof of your worldview that faith is irrational, almost as though any piece of information could be twisted to support what you believe and who does that sound like?
Just something to think about.

Posted by: martin at September 1, 2007 6:33 AM

Nicely answered as always Crid. Well said.

Posted by: martin at September 1, 2007 6:37 AM

So, once we've cast doubt on all God belief, what do we replace it with? Paganism? Atheism?

You seem to mistake atheism for a belief system. It's not. It's simply not believing in stuff there's no evidence for.

You can (and I do) have an ethical framework and meaning in your life (I'd say more, since it's real) without believing in an imaginary figure.

I'm not crowing over anything, Martin. You should doubt your assumption that I am. Reread above. I think, based on reading Hitchens' work on MT, that religion was business for her, and I suspect that she was as much about money, power, and fame as any hot young thing you'll read about in the tabloids. At least Paris Hilton and Posh Spice are brazen about it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 1, 2007 7:29 AM

Yay, Amy!!

I've always loathed Tennyson's self-serving line "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds," because it's inevitably quoted to align with quoter with the big shot martyrs.

I knew the pious would seize on T's fuzzy moments to "prove" the depth of her faith. It was a slam dunk. Piety 101.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at September 1, 2007 7:54 AM

Thank you -- I also hate that line...which is passed around by many religious nutters to help each other be smug about nonthink.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 1, 2007 8:32 AM

**Who said the space taken by faith needs to be "replaced" with anything?**

I said that. You don't have to pay attention to me, but people don't always wander aimlessly with great success (Lord of the Flies).

You have to actively counter what's going on around you, or else you might end up leaving a mosque, strapped into a suicide vest.

**Who said happiness and contentment are the highest virtues?**

This is my working hypothesis for comparing different belief systems. Do you have a better metric?

Posted by: doombuggy at September 1, 2007 9:47 AM

"I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One."

Sounds like someone needed to replace the batteries in her vibrator.

Posted by: Sister Lena Cuisina at September 1, 2007 9:50 AM

**You seem to mistake atheism for a belief system. It's not. It's simply not believing in stuff there's no evidence for.**

I do think atheism is a belief system, one I'm not disinclined to embrace. To say it is merely the absence of belief in the unproved, is a cop out.

Posted by: doombuggy at September 1, 2007 9:50 AM

"...I'm not crowing..."
Fair enough. But if: "Well, gee whizakazzoo! Whatever is the world coming to?" wasn't meant ironically, I am forced to concede some of the regard I held for you. However will you cope?

Of a day so fine
'ere a week with no Monday
MT's on her own

Posted by: martin at September 1, 2007 9:55 AM

You are DOOMED, doombuggy. Lying down in the middle of the 405 freeway during rush hour would be a safer bet than successfully defending those silly comments you just posted.

Say a little prayer. You'll need it.

Posted by: Lena at September 1, 2007 9:57 AM

Sister Lena, I'll be your huckleberry.

Posted by: martinique de la prueba at September 1, 2007 9:57 AM

I'm off to buy new batteries for my vibrator...

Posted by: doombuggy at September 1, 2007 10:00 AM

> people don't always wander
> aimlessly with great
> success

Living in faith doesn't seem, from the outside, to imbue lives with lots of purpose. Religious people aren't even coy about it... They call God a father, and talk of their whole lives as a powerless, servile, directionless childhood in which they need endless shelter, direction and discipline. Some of us want more out of life. For us to be called 'aimless wanderers' by those so terrified and incurious is a small price to pay. Their condemnation is weightless: It'd be like me telling Jordan he never really knew how to dunk. He'd ask for my credentials.

> Do you have a better
> metric?

Yes; decency.

Happiness and contentment are personal fulfillments: They're not gifts you can give to another person. You can do things to make people happy, but you'll never really know what's going on in their hearts. If you call these things supreme, you're doing so selfishly. When someone says feelings are of paramount importance, you'll always always always find that the feelings they're most concerned with are their own.

Furthermore, your assertion is the quintessence of Pascal's Wager. This omniscient, omnipotent God of yours seems not to be operating in your heart as you make this first choice, else it wouldn't be necessary; furthermore He'll let you choose to flatter him with insincere love for selfish purposes and reward you as if you meant it. Whatta guy.

Take a look at all the monsters in the world, from Atta to McVeigh; they too are obsessed with happiness and contentment. The things you can give others are what Freud called the meaning of life ("To work and to love").

> To say it is merely the
> absence of belief in the
> unproved, is a cop out.

Bad punctuation, and your meaning is unclear anyway: Cop out of what? What matter hasn't been addressed? Bring it.

I always thought Doombuggy was a guy.

Everyone, everyone should read the Hitchens book on Teresa.

Posted by: Crid at September 1, 2007 11:29 AM

Crid, you're harshing my narcissism.

I bow to your paragraph on decency.

It isn't enough to pronounce religious belief as irrational, and expect it to wither on the vine. We have to put together a "rational belief system" to replace it. And don't just toss out a couple of books by Kierkegaard and Quine, and say "It's in there somewhere". People need a take home message.

"It was God's will" may be wrong on many levels, but it has an explanatory power that gets many people through the day. You have to give them something else to say.

I think it is a cop out to say that atheism "is simply not believing in stuff there's no evidence for." Atheism should be prepared to offer a time tested ethical framework.

Doombuggy is a guy. He buys batteries to start his compressor engine, to run his concrete vibrator.

Posted by: doombuggy at September 1, 2007 2:16 PM

> We have to put together
> a "rational belief system"
> to replace it.

You keep saying that. Why should we? More to the point, what...

> Atheism should be prepared
> to offer a time tested
> ethical framework.

...makes you think it hasn't?

> People need a take
> home message.

Are the rest of us really expected to distract and amuse those whose listless worldviews need colorful trimmings of fantasy?

Posted by: Crid at September 1, 2007 3:10 PM

Doombuggy, I think you've got something there with that concrete vibrator. Lucille could use it. Remember her from the limerick?

There once was a lass named Lucille
Who had parts made of Bessemer steel.
She could only get thrills
From mechanical drills
Or an off-center emery wheel.

Sorry, this digresses quite a ways from Mother Teresa, but I'm going to post it anyway.

Posted by: Axman at September 1, 2007 3:17 PM

Atheism is not a "belief system." Atheists do not gather and non-worship some collectively agreed upon thing. Atheists are people who don't believe in things without evidence they actually exists. I don't have "faith" there's a god, aliens with probes coming to take me away, or a tooth fairy, because I see no proof any of them exist.

You have to actively counter what's going on around you, or else you might end up leaving a mosque, strapped into a suicide vest

Belief in using reason to address life's issues generally doesn't lead to bomb-belt chic.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 1, 2007 3:43 PM

I view religion/atheism as kind of a competitive marketplace. We have to offer a better product than Islam, Buddhism, Scientology, et al, even if it means offering the equivalent for "colorful trimmings of fantasy". If we don't offer it, someone else will.

Posted by: doombuggy at September 1, 2007 8:35 PM

Right, but someone else always will. The market is efficient whether it's competitive or not.
Do we have to tell people to the truth about professional wrestling, too?

Meanwhile our product is plainly, demonstratively, recursively, metaphysically better than other products. Remember, when Arafat got sick, he didn't go to Riyadh, Tripoli, Damascus or Baghdad. He went to Paris.

Posted by: Crid at September 1, 2007 9:41 PM

Been out and about running all day. Glad to see you've been working the bitchslap shift, Crid and Amy.

Can we connect some dots here? Doesn't it make perfect sense that this 80-year-old virgin whining about having "no one to cling to" was a major figure in the holy church of child rape? These midnight convent pussy quivers would be merely humorous if they didn't seem so clearly related to the Catholic church's tragic lack of competence in all matters sexual.

Posted by: Lena at September 1, 2007 10:59 PM

I commented on this story about a week ago on my blog. Basically, I don't believe a word about her lack of faith. Her carrying on is just more Christian martyrdom:

http://blog.mariodiana.com/2007/08/25/is-the-pope-catholic/

Posted by: Mario at September 2, 2007 8:02 AM

Mario -- Her dramatic "carrying on" was just one big sublimated pussy quiver -- which I suppose is what the cult of Christian martyrdom is all about. Unfortunately, religiously repressed sexuality often rears an ugly (cock) head.

Posted by: Lena roasting in the flames of Hell at September 2, 2007 12:06 PM

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