The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice – Hitchens

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Christopher Hitchen’s book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice
was published in 1995, right around the time when my 10 year old brain was being spoon fed Catholicism and my mother was telling me how saintly and wonderful Mother Teresa was.  It is for this reason that I am now just able to read this revealing book on the hypocrisies and depravities of Mother Teresa.  Having met Mother Teresa himself and tour her poor house in Calcutta, Hitchens offers a glimpse into the derisive nature of her work and her heavy hand in politics and money all over the globe.

Hitchens demonstrates how Mother Teresa became a world fad, accepting monetary donations exceeding $50 million over her career.  “Mother Teresa’s global income is more than enough to outfit several first-class clinics in Bengal.  [Her] decision not to do so, and indeed to run instead a haphazard institution… is a deliberate one.” (p.41)  Not only did she run her “hospitals” and poor houses without basic medical supplies, pain medication or knowledgeable physicians, she left nearly all of the $50 million in “donations to the poor” in New York bank accounts, only withdrawing to help pay for elaborate altar chalices and convent building projects.

Hitchens explains why Mother Teresa, despite her inability to funnel donations where the poor needed it most, received so much attention and monetary support: “The rich world likes and wishes to believe that someone, somewhere, is doing something for the Third World.  For this reason, it does not inquire too closely into the motives or practices of anyone who fulfills, however vicariously, this mandate.” (p. 49)

Mother Teresa apparently carried a similar obsession with sex, as does the rest of the Catholic celibate.  She insisted that women submit to their husbands when approached for sex, as this was the way god intended.  On the political front, she was extremely vocal against abortion in all circumstances (even rape).  Mother Teresa would not tolerate birth control, even when the use of condoms may have prevented HIV transmission between husband and wife.  Hitchens comments on her outspoken agenda against the science of reproduction: “It is often said, inside the Church and out of it, that there is something grotesque about lectures on the sexual life when delivered by those who have shunned it.  Given how much this Church allows the fanatical Mother Teresa to preach, it might be added that the call to go fourth and multiply, and to take no thought for the morrow, sounds grotesque when uttered by an elderly virgin whose chief claim to reverence is that she ministers to the inevitable losers in this very lottery.” (p. 59)

Even more shocking was her financial entanglement with Mr. Keating, one of the greatest con artists of the 1980s.  Mr. Keating donated a quarter million dollars to Mother Teresa at the height of his financial scheme.  The money donated was money stolen from American families who thought they had invested their savings for retirement.  Mother Teresa met with Keating, showered him with praise, gave him a cross that he kept with him continually and even more astonishingly, wrote a letter to the judge on Keating’s case when the man was on trial for fraud in the United States.  The Deputey District Attorney wrote Mother Teresa back, asking her to return the fraudulent quarter million dollars Keating had given her in order to help rectify the lives of those whose money Keating has stolen:  “You urge Judge Ito to look into his heart – as he sentences Charles Keating – and do what Jesus would do.  I submit the same challenge to you.  Ask yourself what Jesus would do if he were given the fruits of a crime; what Jesus would do if he were in possession of money that had been stolen; what Jesus would do if he were being exploited by a thief to ease his conscience?”(p.70)  Mother Teresa never replied.

These sound bites are just a small taste of the dirt Hitchens has dug up on Mother Teresa.  A brief read, this took me only 2 hours to read, but the content is something you are hard pressed to find honestly laid out anywhere else.  The Missionary Position.

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7 Comments

  • Aaron says:

    Hey Chrystine,

    I’ll be straight up and say I’m a Catholic. Practicing? Yes. Good? Hell no.

    Is this book a good read? I ask this because Christopher Hitchens is a noted anti-Catholic. That aside, he’s a bitter person in general, scorning anything and everything that he doesn’t like. The best atheists are the ones that can provide an alternative to religion – the search for truth, fulfillment, and happiness. The worst ones, like Dawkins and Hitchens – who, by the way, are very bright people – seem to devolve atheism to anti-religious mud slinging. If there is no God, and we can do whatever the hell we want, why do they decide to just be full of hate and rage all the time?

    Also, apparently the book is very short. Does it perhaps have citations/footnotes where you can look up more stuff on Mother Teresa? Like you, I was told she was saintlike. But I wonder if a hundred or so pages from one man is enough to really truly bring to light what she really was.

    Anyway your blog is pretty cool (No irony or sarcasm. Please, I’m Catholic, not Christian =P). I’m a health freak too so it’s cool to see some stuff about healthy living.

  • Hitchens is not anti-Catholic. He is anti-religious and anti-myths, like most atheists. People who disagree with one’s viewpoint are often labeled “bitter”. Hitchens is one of the most eloquent, outspoken atheists who tackle the problems within each individual religious cult with uncanny accuracy. His most recent work have been to criticize the Muslim religion for the way they mistreat women and brainwash their children. People who make religious claims should be able to stand behind them when criticism comes their way. The taboo of not challenging religious traditions has begun to fade away and more and more do we require religions to explain themselves. I see this as a positive step towards free thinking.

    The book is a great ready, short and to the point. There are citations and footnotes, even full page photos of the letters Mother Teresa wrote and signed herself (like the plea to save the ponsy scheme guy from going to jail for stealing). I recommend getting it from the library if you can b/c it is a short read, but brand new comes at $11 or so on Amazon. Have a look for yourself and make up your own mind 🙂

    Thanks for reading! I try to squeeze in as much health stuff as possible. If you haven’t already, read my “Do nothing method to healthy skin” I know you will like it 🙂
    http://liberatedmind.com/2009/08/31/do-nothing-method/

  • Aaron says:

    Cool, the book is first in line on the queue, and I’ll give my thoughts on it after I’ve read it.

    I’ll just elaborate, Hitchens was originally anti-Christian, then anti-Judaism, then anti-Muslim. Then he criticized all religions. I also mean that yes, he really is quite a bitter person. If you read his gossip columns in most of the publications he’s been in, it’s like he’s got a hate gene or something. I know him well because while I was atheist/agnostic for a period in my life, it was his way of speaking out against religion that really got me thinking: why is it, that when there are theist vs atheist debates, the atheists seem to always be on the offensive. And why, when given an opportunity to provide an alternative to religion, they’re quite short on answers? I mean, when I was going through my period hating on religion, I could spend hours on saying Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed sucks. However, when asked to provide an alternative, all I could really say was “Well, look at science?”.

    Chrystine, is it possible for me to speak up for Catholicism – and by proxy, other religions – in your blog at least? I guess if you want religion to explain itself, I could maybe provide a channel? It’s just that I use to be in your position, and when I at least decided try see it from “their” perspective, issues started making sense. Pro-life, sexuality, metaphysics, everything.

    If not then fine. I just realized you were also into music. Well, I’m a singer/musician/dancer and a health freak. A shame you don’t have more stuff about music in here. Now if you were just into filmmaking, then proposals would be in order.

    I read the “Nothing works!” post, and hell yeah, I love it. I practice most of them, except the cold showers and steaming. Going to read your current exercising post now.

    Cheers Chrystine!

  • British humor does tend to be darker than American humor, perhaps that paints him as “bitter” to Americans who disagree with his outspoken style.

    As an atheist, I don’t think it necessary to provide an alternative to religion. Religion is a bad habit, a mind virus, a lack of information based decisions that does not need to be “replaced” once it has been eradicated. It is similar to someone saying to me: “oh, I see you have gotten over the flu. What are you going to try to get sick with now that you are anti-flu?” Science is a tool humans use to understand the universe. But a scientist is the biggest doubter of her own results and when suggesting a new way of describing something, will be the first to lay out a long line of provisions and ways in which her theory may be proven false. Science does not claim to be the be-all and end-all of anything. It is this quality of science that strives to prove right or wrong and challenge the accumulation of knowledge that makes our lives easier to live and our world a place we understand more and more of.

    Could you point me to some examples of when “atheists are on the defensive”?

    I actually grew up catholic and believed it like a “fundamentalist-hardcore-religion is my life” type. I lived and breathed it for 19 years. That is what threw me into music: playing the organ and singing at church. I received attention for my musicality and pursued it further. My parents had a knack for telling friends and family that I was the daughter who was the “musician of the family” and that I was “terrible at math”, always with a sprinkle of laughter. From a young age my parents pigeon-holed me in a career path. Halfway through college I realized that I enjoyed music as a hobby, but changing gears was too expensive at a place that charges an arm and a leg each semester. So I finished that with the dream of someday going back to school in the sciences. I know all the Catholic apologetics. I was taught religion as a subject in homeschool and history was taught “through the eyes of Jesus”. When I got out I had to relearn my history and step outside of my catholic world to understand that other people thought differently than I did and that was ok. You may defend Catholicism if you’d like, but I know ever argument inside and out. I’ve held many long email discussions with family, friends, random people over email debating Catholicism and it never fails to end with them resorting to ad hominem attacks because they are unable to answer certain questions or respond to valid points. If you think you can rise above that method of argument, by all means please do 🙂

  • Aaron Lopez says:

    I’m a New Zealander. We’re a constitutional monarchy under the British Head. We prefer British culture over American culture. We understand British irony over American irony. We love the Office UK and revile the Office U.S. Just a bit of background info =P.

    Atheists, who by default are in opposition to any sort of religion, are inherently required to provide an alternative. If not, the conversation looks like this:

    “Here’s our religion”

    “Yeah, well it’s wrong.”

    “What’s right?”

    “(conversation abrupt)”

    There are many atheistic alternatives to theistic religions – think Buddhism and Objectivism which are almost institutional. Others aren’t defined, like a branch which I like to call “atheistic fundamentalism” headed by Hitchens, Dawkins, Dan Barker, Bill Maher. These guys, like Christian fundamentalists, do a lot of talking where they shouldn’t be because it’s not in their field to do so. Their arguments against religion are about as funny as entering that Christian theme park world where you see humans and dinosaurs co-existing in some massive diorama.

    Girl, if you truly knew your apologetics, you wouldn’t have stepped over with Hitchens and co =P. You would’ve snuggled up to Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche, and perhaps a bit of Voltaire. Those guys were amazing atheists, or at least, two of them ended up being anti-institutionalists by the end of it.

    But awesome. Let the games begin! lol

  • Aaron Lopez says:

    One thing I don’t understand though: Catholics don’t forcefully pull wool over your eyes like other Christians. Sure, you’re taught the straight and narrow path (I mean, this is a moral institution teaching its own moral values. The Church has and never will emphasize other trains of thought nor teach how “wrong” other belief systems are. That’s the prerogative of the individual, not the duty of the Church), but as a Catholic you’re very well welcomed to experience other things, even while you practice. Unlike other religions such as Scientology, we have nothing to hide. For example, only does the Church not prohibit people from reading gnostic texts, there’s even some for sale through Catholic branches.

    I mean, if we were to proclaim the Catholic Church as the vanguard of Truth available to all, it’s a bit suspicious hiding it all, isn’t it?

  • Religion is a bad habit, a lack of knowledge. I don’t see why it is necessary to replace a bad habit with another bad habit. When someone quits smoking, do you ask them, well now that you’ve kicked that terrible habit, what in the world are you going to try next? Not at all. We congratulate the individual for coming to their senses and putting an end to smoking.

    The catholic church I grew up in was exactly the opposite of the catholic church you are describing. I was taught religion and history through the eyes of the catholic church. All other religions and worldviews were presented as flawed simply because they were not catholic. I also read some gnostic texts while studying as a catholic homeschooled kid. I was supervised by my parents and they were always there with a lesson plan that told me why the texts were “wrong” without letting me read, absorb and form my opinions and use my own brain.

    This is typical Fundamentalist Christian/Catholic education in the USA. I understand that in NZ there are more free thinkers, open atheists in public office and a greater demand for reason. In the USA, the loudest voices are the nutty religion fundimentalists who want to run the government by their bibles. It is this “unreason” that drives the vocal push-back you hear from people like myself, Dawkins and Hitchens.

    I disagree when you say the catholic church “has nothing to hide”. Unfortunately the church has 50 years of sexual abuse cover up that is seeping out of the Vatican walls.

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