Mother Teresa secretly doubted God’s existence

| August 24, 2007 | 11 Replies

OK, believers.  It’s allright for the rest of you guys to step forth and admit those doubts that all of you have.  CBS has reported that Mother Teresa has unwittingly led the way, thanks to the disclosure of tormented letters she wrote:

Shortly after beginning work in Calcutta’s slums, the spirit left Mother Teresa.

“Where is my faith?” she wrote. “Even deep down… there is nothing but emptiness and darkness… If there be God — please forgive me.”

Eight years later, she was still looking to reclaim her lost faith.

“Such deep longing for God… Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal,” she said.

As her fame increased, her faith refused to return. Her smile, she said, was a mask.

“What do I labor for?” she asked in one letter. “If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.”

According to her letters, Mother Teresa died with her doubts. She had even stopped praying, she once said.

That Mother Teresa had such doubts doesn’t surprise me at all.  All honest Believers admit to having these doubts, at least when I discuss matters of faith with them one-on-one.  If you listen to them at church, however, it’s a totally different story.  In a church, when they are among other “Believers,” they suddenly become cocksure of their supernatural beliefs.  I’ve seen this over and over–the doubt “vanishes” when it becomes socially inconvenient. This oscillation of Belief tells me that having a Belief is not about having any confidence that one’s most supernatural claims are true. 

Over the years, at least four active priests have told me, one-on-one, that they have recurring doubts about the most basic aspects of their faith.  Put them next to a pulpit on Sunday morning, though, and it’s time to rock and roll with doubtless expositions of supernatural claims.  In church, there is no doubt that bread turns into flesh, that Mary actually levitated into heaven and that if people want to get to heaven, they have to get their by following the rules of a bureaucratic church. 

The moral of this post?  I know that you Believers all have deep and recurring doubts.  Why can’t we start our conversations with that as the starting point?  Why can’t we start our discussions of religion by acknowledging that you Believers don’t really know many of the things that you claim to know?  This would be a healthier common ground for our conversations, scary as it is for you.  Can’t we just admit that that all of us posit meaning in strange and ineffable ways, that this meaning is a rickety ephemeral scaffolding and that all of us are glaringly ignorant of the evidence we actually need to answer any of our “ultimate” questions?

The answer to religious strife is intellectual humility.

ps.  I do hope that Mother Teresa hasn’t crossed the line into denying the Holy Spirit!

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About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (11)

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  1. Erin says:

    Or…why can't the "nonbelievers" start with their doubts that they might actually be a god/spirit?

    I think we all question what we believe, and mistakingly think that if we show the "other" side that we have our doubts our argument is weakened.

  2. Zack says:

    As you said, any honest person of faith will admit to doubt and that is where true faith comes in. The whole tale that is spun about a overall creator logically makes no sense whatsoever and is ludicrous on the face. What keeps me believing is that which I can't shake when I look at a baby or a beautiful sunset or just step back from the world for a second and FEEL.

    I have no evidence, no proof of God except in my own heart. That's why I don't believe in religion, I believe in faith in it's many myriad forms. Religions (or atheism or agnosticism) to me are like cars, at different points in your life you need a different kind of vehicle to travel along the path of life. Any honest appraiser ofReligion shouldn't be so dogmatic and realize that there are errors and that you may need to trade in your model from time to time.

    But I am not a typical believer

  3. Tim Hogan says:

    Mother Teresa had doubts but, never denied she had faith in God's existence. Mother Teresa is a powerful saint whose life was a testament to the power of faith and its ability to make a difference, even in the face of doubt.

    Perhaps a reading of all Mother Teresa's letters is in order for those which would use them to deny God's presence. Perhaps as a starting point for an honest conversation about faith is an understanding that it is belief in the absence of proof. Perhaps not calling the faithful "mentally impaired" would help, too! God be with you!

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's more on Mother Teresa, from MSNBC:

    “I have no Faith — I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart — & make me suffer untold agony,” she wrote in an undated letter.

    In 1956, she wrote: “Such deep longing for God and … repulsed empty no faith no love no zeal. … Heaven means nothing pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything.”

    Mother Teresa acknowledged the apparent contradiction with per public persona, describing her ever-present smile as “a mask” or “a cloak that covers everything.”

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20440800/

  5. Xiaogou says:

    Erich, you seem to be an intelligent person. There are some facts that do not fit. First of all, it seems that you believe for a Christian to exist there is the need to have unshakable faith. Second, is that faith is a good thing. Next is the misinformation on certain “Christian” practices.

    Let’s take a look at the first part. Faith is always a question in Christianity. It ebbs and flows with the world around an individual. It is easy to have faith in God when the world is rainbows, flowers and butterflies dancing in the air. Since God is not physical in form. He is not a genie to grant peoples every wish. In this world there will be bad things happening. At those times faith drains away in rivers of suffering. I give credit for Mother Teresa for hanging in there. Death, starvation, illness and human suffering that surrounded her would sap anyone of faith and courage in an unseen being. She stood there putting on a brave face amidst all the misery to give strength to those of weak faith. If she was not brave many would have given up and gone home crying. I am sure many did and many will because it is very hard caring for the dying. As a result of her smiling mask many were saved by the courage (and I mean courage as I cannot imagine many pampered Americans would last the week without faith in an unseen being stronger than themselves in their corner at night when the lights are out. There are a few, but those are the extraordinary ones) of those she inspired. In the Bible it is always a struggle of faith even when Jesus was amongst the people. Jesus even remarked that non-Jews had more faith than those who supposed have faith in God. If you put that as an argument not to believe in God that is fine, as belief in God is difficult at best. It is always a choice of people.

    On the flipside and also the second point, faith is not always a good thing. It can create prejudices, such as I know X,Y and Z is the only truth and let us force our belief down the throats of all those that believe that don’t believe in those things I know is true. Forget love and forget freedom to choose in what or what not to believe. This happens in religious and non- religious people and those who get hurt are those that do not have total faith and willing to just listen and make their own decisions. This makes great sci-fi stories such as the Theocracy where the people are led by the religious leaders, the Technocracy where the people are led by the scientific leaders, the Dictatorship where the people are led by the thoughts of one man or the Communist where religion is eliminated by the government (actually this viewpoint has changed in recent times) and the people are ruled by the Politburo. I would be very scared of anyone who has no doubts about his belief. I would also be very scared if a priest says I quit and men in black cloaks comes by in a black sedan and slit his throat for abandoning the faith or worse yet, if he disappears and comes back on Sunday with a plastic grin (not forced to put on the game face, but really artificial, as in mind control) and he preaches fire and brimstone while hiding a surgical scar on his scalp. Let us hope, and for the Christians pray, that never happens.

    Finally, in the Bible, bread does not turn to flesh. Jesus gave his people bread and wine as a representation of the fact that he was about to be murdered and that whenever they get together and ate bread and wine that they remember all the things that he worked for in trying to bring the “church” around to caring for the people and not the organization that it had become. In legalistic America it is not what is meant, but what is written that is important. In many other cultures you need to understand what is meant beyond the words that are just as important as what is actually written (In a movie, the Americans said, be careful when dealing with these oriental devils, they never say what they mean .) Second, there is no documentation about Mary going to heaven (at least not in the Bible.) And heaven is not gained by going to church or following doctrine. I believe you are talking about a specific church that does not always represent Christianity at least not as the Bible was written. And for the record Erich if Jesus was to appear on the scene today, he would be persecuted by many of the so called Christians today. Eventually, he would be thrown in an asylum or end up dead in a corn field for his blasphemous teachings. The reason they will give is, “Is he not a cult fanatic anyway?”

    In conclusion, Jesus says, a mustard seed of faith is all that is needed, not an ocean full. Unfortunately, many are just full of it. Intellectual humility is a double edged sword as both sides need to have intellectual humility for a meaningful talk to take place. Unfortunately, even if one is intellectually humble, what happens is one slaps him in the face then the gauntlet is thrown down and the war begins. It takes a very wise and calm man to walk the path between.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Daniel Dennett: "I get mail all the time from religious leaders who admit to me in private that they do not believe in God but think that the best way to continue their lives is to swallow hard and get on with their ministries, concentrating on bringing more good than evil into the lives of their parishioners and those for whom their churches provide care."

    Dennett, writing in Newsweek, August 07.

  7. Jay Regen says:

    Hey…I believe I believe in god. Thanx, JAY

  8. Melissa says:

    Mother Theresa was a Catholic. She believed that she could gain heaven by being a good person. She didnt understand that she had completely misunderstood why Jesus Christ had come down to earth to die, being God. Why didnt He just heal people and do miracles, setting the best example possible for us and Mother Theresa? Instead His only purpose for coming to this world was to give Himself up as a sacrifice, and die in Mother Theresa's and my place because she never could be good enough. We all owe God one death. "For the wages of sin is death." (Romans 3:23, 6:23). I hope she did believe on the Lord Jesus and rest in Him at the end of her life… It is so wonderful to know that my eternal destiny doesnt depend on my own good works, because I fail so often. But the Bible even says that my good works or righteousness are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6)(translated as menstrual rags, literally). Wow! But Jesus took my sin onto Him. (Isaiah 53:6)… He took the blame for that the murders that every murderer ever did, and He was able to do that because He is God. In hebrews 1:8, God the Father (who we normally consider to be the GOD) calls His Son, Jesus, "God." In the Catholic Bible!!! and now, when God looks at me (since I've accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior of MY life), He sees only Jesus and His work on the cross… Such love… I dont understand why Jesus would die for such a sinner as me, but He did.

  9. Melissa says:

    I, as a believer, confess that there is so much I don't understand or know, and I've had to humble myself in front of God so many times for acting like I did. All the believers I know are not afraid of humbling themselves… They are more humble than other people I know, who dont have Jesus in their hearts or the ability to see themselves as they truly are—- As I am, a girl who rebelled against the most High God because she didnt need Him and didnt see how proud she was, till God showed me… I think God has to bring us to a place where we are all broken and willing to see ourselves as sinners, who are going to hell…

    That's why I'm glad Jesus substituted my death for his!

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    Melissa: I can't follow where you're going, but I respect your right to go there!

    If you want a real challenge, try restating what you've just written (in the above two comments) without reference to exuberant religious rhetoric and without relying on alleged biblical authority. Until you do this, we'll be talking past each other. It's not that I don't want to understand what you've written about God, Jesus and sin. Rather, it's that I seem cognitively incapable of understanding or even of making a translation of those words into words that I do understand.

    But thanks for stopping by . . .

  11. stephen says:

    Its human to question many things. Mother Teresa, because of the numerous suffering around her may sometimes question even God or for that matter God's own existence. thats very normal considering you and I who would not even last a week trying to take the sick, crippled, dirty people in slums or drains etc. But mother never doubt her believe, thats the reason why she aws able to do the work she does.

    Gos exist, as you and I can feel it. as for those crooks who questions it every time whether he does exist, its their choice and i don't think they even lead a better, contented life… they can never be happy.

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