The dark side of Mother Teresa

May 21, 2008 | By | 15 Replies More

The next time someone gets all misty-eyed when talking about the saintliness of Mother Teresa, have them read this post by Ebonmuse at Daylight Atheism. Here’s an excerpt:

Teresa was a friend to vicious dictators, criminals and con men. As Christopher Hitchens documents in his book The Missionary Position, Teresa was acquainted with a startling number of unsavory characters. Two such were the Duvaliers, Jean-Claude and Michelle, who ruled Haiti as a police state from 1971 until they were overthrown in a popular uprising in 1986. (They looted the country of most of its national treasury when they fled.) Teresa visited them in person in 1981 and praised the Duvaliers and their regime as “friends” of the poor, and her testimony on their behalf was shown on state-owned television for weeks. Bizarrely, she also visited the grave of brutal Communist dictator Enver Hoxha in 1990, laying a wreath of flowers on the tomb of a man who had viciously suppressed religion in Teresa’s native Albania. The list also includes the Nicaraguan contras, a Catholic terrorist group who unleashed death squads on the civilian population in their bid to conquer the country.

Teresa was also a friend to Charles Keating, a conservative Catholic fundamentalist who served on an anti-pornography commission under President Nixon. Keating would later become infamous for his role in the Savings & Loan scandal, where he was convicted of fraud, racketeering and conspiracy for his involvement in a scam where customers were deceived into buying worthless junk bonds, resulting in many of them losing their life savings. Keating had donated $1.25 million to Mother Teresa in the 1980s, and as he was awaiting sentencing, she wrote a letter to the court on his behalf asking for clemency.

The above post is a potent counter-balance to all the Mother Teresa hype.

My biggest concern with Mother Teresa was her destructive approach to family planning. How is it possible that she didn’t see the connection between the out-of-control birth rate and the resulting poverty? I suspect that she did see the connection, but was unwilling to speak the obvious. That would have caused people to stop adoring her. Further, Mother Teresa was far too enamored with the rich and famous and she was unwilling to give up that limelight. In the meantime, her irresponsible approach to family-planning created an ocean of grief which she tried to clean up, a teaspoon at a time.

Simple-minded self-ignorant acts of kindness can be destructive in the aggregate. Mother Teresa’s advocacy of the lack of family planning is on a continuum with all of those politicians who kiss all those babies (perhaps because they really do like babies), but then go back to Washington to rip away their health care coverage.

To cap it all off, Mother Teresa was intellectually dishonest, living a closeted a life as an agnostic while publicly proclaiming her alleged great faith.

There’s not nearly as much work for saints to do when we all start living responsibly and honestly, focusing on the root causes of problems.


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Category: Culture, Good and Evil, Politics

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 (15)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    In effect, Mother Theresa was human. We get it. She had a kind of power, and power is as power does. Her education was through faith, and her power come from the external posture of that faith.

    If one were trying to get support from brutal regimes to alleviate the suffering caused by said regime, one would necessarily make an effort to stay on the good side of said regime, to say whatever pleases it. The same goes for economic despots.

    The foot soldier never has the vantage to change the direction of a battle once engaged. Had the general/Pope spoken out against the regime, the soldier/nun could have taken a different position with impunity.

    As a member of an oppressed minority in the organization (female), Theresa had little choice about her expressed position on birth control, if she would continue helping people on the front lines. Had she taken the long-term view in defiance of her church, she would not still be a celebrity eligible for eventual Sainthood.

  2. —My biggest concern with Mother Teresa was her destructive approach to family planning. How is it possible that she didn’t see the connection between the out-of-control birth rate and the resulting poverty?—

    Of course she did. Such is the basis for a long-standing posture on the sanctity of tragedy fomented in Christianity and other religions—that this is "our lot" and is therefore the focus of pity, of pleading, of a kind of grace through misery that is subtext to much theological sophistry. People who act to circumvent the causes, if successful, would somehow make it possible for people to feel some control over their own lives rather than always relying on the church.

    The Catholic Church has long held that an excess birth-rate is a problem, but it is the natural consequence of Original Sin—sex. People should stop fucking. That is the only solution. Yielding to temptation brings misery, a connection they are loathe to abandon by suggesting that science can offer solutions.

    Ironically, in conversation once with a devout Catholic over exactly this issue, the response I got was that it is the responsibility of scientists to come up with ways to feed and clothe all those people, rather than work to curtail an exploding birth-rate.

    There is no hypocrisy in this when you grasp the fundamental embrace of human tragedy innate in so much theology. It is, as I say, "our lot" and therefore we must see to it that it is inevitable.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    This post reminds me of the way the Bush Administration tries to demonize its enemies by declaring (always without specific evidence) that someone or some group "has links to al Qaida." I've always believed that such allegations should have little bearing on foreign policy decisions, because just about anyone (even Mother Theresa) can be shown to have "links" to *some* disreputable person or group. Indeed, the old 'seven degrees of Kevin Bacon' has taught us that we are all "linked" to others in some way. Yet, amazingly, a large percentage of the American population jumped right on Bush's bandwagon, and proudly supported his scapegoating. Though, of course, they didn't call it scapegoating, they called it "patriotism."

  4. I told you she is a hypocrite. [here's the link]

    I'm sure anybody can be connected somehow with some morally dubious person and everybody has made the wrong decision in a weak moment, but Mother Theresa repeatedly displayed a close affinity to dictators. Or maybe these were just more examples of her extreme positions, next to extreme "compassion" we have an extreme appeasement policy. Let's kiss some dictator's ass and thus we will be able to protect and help the suffering population. Or maybe it was extreme hubris, maybe she believed with her visits she could induce some kind of moral change in her hosts.

  5. Mark M Zima says:

    As a Catholic, I carry no bill for the holiness of Mother Teresa. I do not believe she is qualified to be canonized a Saint by the Catholic Church. However, I see Mr. Hitchens’s book as a rant against God more than a critique of Mother Teresa. He makes a couple of valid points that the Vatican needed to give a better response to than the one they offered. Equally, Mr. Hitchens needed to slice through the data with a verbal carving knife not the broad sword he employed. The Keating case is his best argument.

    If you are interested in learning more about the real Mother Teresa, I have written a book, Mother Teresa: The Case for The Cause. My book is an intensively researched book exploring the faith and morals of Mother Teresa as compared to Catholic and Christian standards. My book is unique in that there is no book currently in print that explores the faith Mother Teresa practiced in light of the faith she professed. My book fills in the gaps of facts and issues Mr. Hitchens only alludes to in his book.

  6. John Jackman says:

    Well I am very sad at the one sided comments here to discredit Mother Theresa. She is a Catholic Nun and believed in Jesus Christ as her savior and savior of all. For Jesus Christ luxury and enjoyable life was not the order of the day. There was meaning in Christian faith to suffering. Not that it elevates suffering but only through suffering and sacrifice can one reach God. That was the meaning of the Cross. Mother Theresa was a firm believer in that. She saw in suffering of the marginalized and the poorest of the poor the cross of Jesus and tried to be a good neighbor to them as Jesus has taught. She was a good example of the Good Samaritan. Without this religious background no one cannot understand the ministry of Mother Theresa.

    About her being friendly with the worst of criminals. Jesus did the same too and got crucified for it at last. But does the writer know that through her associations with them she might have at least questioned within their consciences what they were doing was wrong? Does the writer know that by befriending them she might have had the intention of making Christ present to them? She always accepted the sinner and appalled the sin.

    About birth control. Here are some facts for you: In order for a culture to maintain itself for more than 25 years it needs a fertility rate of 2.11 children per family. Anything less the culture will decline. Historically a culture has never recovered after 1.9 fertility rate. At a rate 1.3 it is impossible to reverse.As of 2007 the fertility rate of powerful European countries are as follows: France-1.8, England-1.6, Greece-1.3, Germany-1.3, Italy-1.2, Spain-1.1. The average fertility rate of 36 countries of the European Union is a mere 1.38. So contraceptives have done its part. Only the Catholic church has predicted the predicament of this and had the wisdom and the boldness the profess it. Mother Theresa simply carried it out. These things Mother Theresa did, does not discredit her as a living saint. She said, "My work is as small as a tiny drop in the ocean. But without that tiny drop the ocean will not be full."

    • Erich Vieth says:

      John Jackman: Mother Teresa's own words contradict your wishful thinking that she maintained her strong religious belief.

      You offer a strange solution (no birth control and thus rampant overpopulation) to address your worry that we're going to run out of people. How about sensible use of birth control to maintain an ecologically sustainable numbers of humans? That's what I advocate. It's not an all or nothing proposition unless you see the world in blindered binary fashion through a filter of conservative religious beliefs.

  7. Frank Einstein says:

    papists are incapable of doing quality work due to the very structure of the institution they serve. they keep the ratlines of salvation open to the wrong people and deliver the others over to the prince of nickels and dimes.

    • Bob Einstein says:

      What a laughable post. You offer no facts, just your idiot rant and obvious hatred of the Church. Here’s my reply…”Non-papists are incapable of doing quality work because they have no infrastructure, they are shattered into 33,000 denominations (if protestant), they believe anything under the sun, or moon, or whatever, and have no defining cohesive belief among themselves.
      Throughout the centuries, as a group, they have proven themselves wholly ineffective at providing salvation or even providing for the needy. And if they’re atheists, they serve one goal and one goal only — their own welfare. The Catholic Church is the largest relief organizatio on the planet. Do some research before you spout such crap.

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    Mother Teresa was generous with her prayers but rather miserly with her foundation’s millions when it came to humanity’s suffering. During numerous floods in India or following the explosion of a pesticide plant in Bhopal, she offered numerous prayers and medallions of the Virgin Mary but no direct or monetary aid. On the other hand, she had no qualms about accepting the Legion of Honour and a grant from the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti. Millions of dollars were transferred to the MCO’s various bank accounts, but most of the accounts were kept secret, Larivée says.

  9. Monseigner Joseph says:

    Mother Theresa was a fabulous woman. Someone to aspire by, she treated all people with love and care and what you said Erich Vleth about her visiting the grave of brutal Communist dictator Enver Hoxha in 1990, laying a wreath of flowers on the tomb of a man who had viciously suppressed religion in Teresa’s native Albania, she was forgiving him as God would have done and it must have been very difficult for her. Mother Theresa should be treated with respect for all she has done.

    • markwt says:

      Perhaps it’s fair to say that what she actually did and what she is known for are separate things, and the reputation is at odds with the reality, and this disparity may not be her fault at all. But if in fact Hitchens was right, in that she loved poverty but not the poor (and there are ample indications in her own words that this was so) then what we have is someone being praised for all the wrong reasons and accorded honors undeserved.

      To ostensibly work in the conditions extant in Calcutta the way she did and claim to wish to do something to alleviate them and then be an enemy of one of the very things that might have made a difference—birth control—beggars the imagination. But if instead her entire focus was on a cultivated appreciation of suffering, then it all makes sense—but was not what people were led to believe she was all about. There was, at best, a bait and switch here, and her continued deification as some kind of beneficent martyr should stop.

      As to the money her order spent on convents, that’s a matter of record, and again, not what was claimed as her brief.

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    “Internationally revered Catholic nun Mother Teresa and her legacy are the subjects of a new study released by University of Ottawa researcher Carole Sénéchal Serge, and University of Montreal researchers Larivée and Genevieve Chenard. The study authors found that Mother Teresa was the farthest thing from a saint. Instead, the study authors say, she was a cruel woman who believed that there was glory in the suffering of the sick. She made people with grave illnesses sicker by denying them medication and forcing them to writhe in pain while she squirreled away “enormous sums of money” that could have been used to help them.”

  11. Erich Vieth says:

    More on the PR miracle of Mother Teresa:

    The more we learn, the less impressive she is.

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