"Only the absence of scrutiny has allowed her to pass unchallenged as a
force for pure goodness, and it is high time that this suspension of
our critical faculties was itself suspended." - Christopher Hitchens
The Ghoul of Calcutta?
There are some things that you just don't do. Punching babies,
cooking and eating kitten and orphan pies, cutting your lawn in the
shape of a Swastika whilst wearing a shirt saying "Lay off the
Hitler". Furthermore, there are things that you just don't say.
It's often said that the two topics of conversation to avoid in order
to have a successful dinner party are religion and politics. Try
saying that you have some criticisms of Mother Teresa whilst dining
with friends and see how far you get.
Yet if we left these things unexamined then we would be simply
blindly repeating a statement or idea that we're told is right. Oceania
is at war with Eastasia, Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.
Mother Teresa has been perhaps the most popular figure of the 20th
century. She is seen as the moral saviour of the morally lacking
Catholic church - a religious figure that even the secular adore
and praise. Ever since Malcolm Muggeridge released the documentary
"Something Beautiful for God", she has been seen as a go-to example of
the perfect way to act. Entirely selfless and devoted to what she saw
as a greater cause. This is probably true, but a closer examination
of Mother Teresa reveals a much darker and more irrational side to her.
Mother Teresa certainly brought the cause of charity greater notice
than it had ever been afforded and for that we owe her an immense
gratitude. Yet her own Missionaries of Charity operated under a
dubious and sinister modus operandi that can raise a few eyebrows at
least. The millions in donations that Mother Teresa and her order
solicited is parked in foreign bank accounts so that Missionaries of
Charity do not have to tell anybody what their money is being spent on.
It is the only Indian charity that does not release its financial
records and such practises are unheard of for any charity in the
West. So it is unknown what all the millions are spent on. It is estimated that at least half of the money is spent on religious activities, training nuns and the like, rather than true charity, such as the building of schools and decent hospices. A
disillusioned former official had he following to say:
"The money was not misused, but the largest part of it wasn't used at all.
When there was a famine in Ethiopia, many cheques arrived marked 'for the hungry in Ethiopia'.
I asked the sister who was in charge of accounts if I should add up all
those very many cheques and send the total to Ethiopia.
The sister answered, 'No, we don't send money to Africa'."
Home for the Dying
"We have a home for the dying in Calcutta, where we have picked up more
than 36,000 people only from the streets of and out of that big number
more than 18,000 have died a beautiful death." - Mother Teresa
Everyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the past 100 years
has heard of Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying. It's her flagship
home - an example of what one woman can do with the drive to serve. The
public image of the home is that of something beautiful, yet frequent
visits by medical professionals told a different story.
The editor of The Lancet, Dr. Robert Fox, visited the home
in 1994. Expecting to find an impressive hospital, he was left
disgusted and disappointed. There were no blood tests to distinguish
serious illnesses from other ailments, no methods taken to
distinguish the curable from the incurable, painkillers were refused
to cancer sufferers, needles were re-used without having been cleaned
and sterilized, communal toilets were used. Patients were forced to
defecate in front of each other. Whatever you wish to call this, it is certainly not dying with dignity.
It's important to remember throughout all of this that Missionaries
of Charity had the money to improve these conditions. Whilst there
are no records of their finances, they had (and still have) the
backings of virtually every significant head of state, hundreds if
not thousands of extremely wealthy donors and many more middle-income
donors. So why were these inexcusable conditions that run true
throughout Missionaries of Charity (this is not an isolated case) carry
on being so?
"We are misunderstood, we are misrepresented, we are misreported.
We are not nurses, we are not doctors, we are not teachers, we are not social workers.
We are religious, we are religious, we are religious." - Mother Teresa
I know what you're thinking. "Here comes the true center of the
argument. You're just critical of Mother Teresa because she was
religious and you're not! Haha, gotcha!"
Whilst I'm not a big fan of religion, I by and large don't find
the belief in God or scripture particularly offensive its own.
Where my line is drawn is when these beliefs begin to cloud people's
judgment and remove all sense of reality and common sense from a
For her part, Mother Teresa never claimed to be anything but a
religious missionary more interested in handing souls over to
Christ than alleviating suffering. But this writeup would be more
shallow than I could allow if it simply criticized Mother Teresa.
This is more a promotion of critical thinking and a critique of
idolatry. The myth that Mother Teresa was interested in alleviating
suffering was likely perpetuated by a public relations campaign
spearheaded by The Vatican. Logically, it makes sense - the Catholic
church has certainly been at an all-time low in terms of PR and Mother
Teresa serves to bring them some credibility, especially if she is seen
as being someone even the secular can adore; as someone whose only
interest is the alleviation of the poor's suffering.
Yet examining two of her own statements paints a different picture:
"I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to
share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much
helped by the suffering of the poor people."
To a patient dying of cancer:"You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you."
This goes a long way towards explaining the conditions, particularly
the lack of even simple painkillers, at the Home for the Dying. There
is a school of Christian theology that believes very much in
suffering as being a path to understanding Christ's suffering on the
cross. Whilst it makes for great debate in the ivory theology towers,
the dangers of such beliefs paint a much darker picture when you see
the state of Calcutta. Throughout the world she is revered, yet on
the ground in Calcutta opinions of her are much less sanguine.
Her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech was equally bizarre and
religiously driven. Almost all of it decrying the evil of abortion
and birth control as being the greatest threat to world peace.
Whatever your views on abortion may be (and I am very much opposed to
partial-birth abortions), the greatest threat to world peace it is
From religious lunacy to pure hypocrisy, Mother Teresa spent a
large amount of her time (around six months) campaigning in Ireland
for divorce to remain outlawed. This therefore meant that any woman in
Ireland married to an abusive, violent wretch of a husband would
have to remain legally bound to that person by law. Later, when
Princess Diana and Prince Charles divorced, she told the press how
happy she was for them because Diana had been so unhappy in her
Anyone old enough (not me), will remember Charles Keating and the
savings and loan scandal. Without getting into the details of that,
Keating was convicted for fraud and having stolen millions from
investors and customers, many people losing their entire life savings
and being left poor and without homes. It later arose that Keating had
donated $1.25 million to Mother Teresa's order. When Mother Teresa
wrote to the judge presiding over the case the case asking that
charges be dropped against Keating in the name of forgiveness and
because of the money he had charitably donated, the prosecution wrote
back informing Mother Teresa that the money she had recieved was
stolen, had robbed millions of people of their life savings and kindly
asked her to return the money. They recieved no reply.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of Mother Teresa was the various public figures she fraternised with and accepted donations and endorsements from. Most popular images form the zeitgeist have her with the Reagans or the Clintons, but very often she solicited donations from the despotic and downright evil Duvalier family in Haiti. Various times she appeared with the dictatorial dynasty and even more times she praised their love of the poor and how the poor loved them. All of this whilst Haiti was driven into the ground by the very people Mother Teresa endorsed. After recieving the money that the reprehensible Duvalier family had stolen from the people of Haiti, Mother Teresa went back to India and paid no attention to the suffering of the poor in Haiti.
As I said before, ultimately this is not really a criticism of
Mother Teresa. She never tried to portray herself as anything other
than a religious figure and sometimes even resented the image of her
as an agent of charity as opposed to an agent of God. What this is a
criticism of is the suspension of critical thinking and placement of
all our trust in something - whether that be a supernatural,
deistic figure or a flesh-and-blood cultural icon. It's a natural
human impulse to want to have faith in something and believe when no
evidence is available or even believe when the evidence suggests the
contrary. The fable of the Pied Piper can say a lot about the impulse
to believe and the dangers thereof. Agree or disagree, upvote or
downvote, the main thing to remember is that even our most saintly
and revered figures should never be free from criticism and once we
start to examine the evidence, we may find something we didn't expect.
Many people see Mother Teresa's relationship with the poor as a deeply committed spiritual outlook of the world. Commited it may be, but ask yourself - which other charities would we entertain this sort of excuse-making with? If Oxfam required all their missionaries to live in abject poverty and their officials made public statements framing suffering as a positive thing, it would be an outrage. The idea of suffering being anything other than a disgusting and unfortunate reality for many is patently absurd, yet because Mother Teresa is left unexamined as a figure of moral absolutes and ultimate kindness, we afford such ridiculous statements respect. If you want to see where this sort of thinking ends up - take a trip to Calcutta.