The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice

The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice

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by Christopher Hitchens
     
 

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"A religious fundamentalist, a political operative, a primitive sermonizer, and an accomplice of worldly secular powers. Her mission has always been of this kind. The irony is that she has never been able to induce anybody to believe her. It is past time that she was duly honored and taken at her word."

Among his many books, perhaps none have sparked more outrage

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Overview

"A religious fundamentalist, a political operative, a primitive sermonizer, and an accomplice of worldly secular powers. Her mission has always been of this kind. The irony is that she has never been able to induce anybody to believe her. It is past time that she was duly honored and taken at her word."

Among his many books, perhaps none have sparked more outrage than THE MISSIONARY POSITION, Christopher Hitchens's meticulous study of the life and deeds of Mother Teresa.

A Nobel Peace Prize recipient beatified by the Catholic Church in 2003, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was celebrated by heads of state and adored by millions for her work on behalf of the poor. In his measured critique, Hitchens asks only that Mother Teresa's reputation be judged by her actions-not the other way around.

With characteristic élan and rhetorical dexterity, Hitchens eviscerates the fawning cult of Teresa, recasting the Albanian missionary as a spurious, despotic, and megalomaniacal operative of the wealthy who long opposed measures to end poverty, and fraternized, for financial gain, with tyrants and white-collar criminals throughout the world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An extended, nun-busting polemic from the The Nation columnist. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Hitchens (For the Sake of Argument, LJ 6/1/93), a columnist for the Nation, debunks missionary Mother Teresa's saintly, humane persona. He characterizes this 1979 Nobel Peace Prize winner as a political opportunistic promoter of a cult of submission among the poor, who suffer under her substandard medical care. Hitchens claims she is an ideological accomplice and moral legitimizer for the political right, including Charles Keating of the Savings and Loan scandal, Ronald Reagan, and the Haitian Duvaliers. This readable, caustic polemic is very short on biographical data and cited sources and lacks scholarly development. Given its provocative nature, it is recommended for libraries owning several titles about Mother Teresa despite its weaknesses.-Charles L. Lumpkins, Bloomsburg Univ. Lib., Pa.
John Waters
"Hilariously mean."
From the Publisher
"Hilariously mean."—John Waters"

Convincing . . . Hitchens argues his case with consummate style."—New York Times Book Review"

Anyone with ambivalent feelings about the influence of Catholic dogma (especially concerning sex and procreation); about the media's manufacture of images; or about what one can, should, or shouldn't do for someone less fortunate, should read this book."—San Francisco Bay Guardian"

A dirty job but someone had to do it. By the end of this elegantly written, brilliantly argued piece of polemic, it is not looking good for Mother Teresa."—Sunday Times (London)"

If there is a hell, Hitchens is going there for this book."—New York Press

New York Times Book Review
"Convincing . . . Hitchens argues his case with consummate style."
San Francisco Bay Guardian
"Anyone with ambivalent feelings about the influence of Catholic dogma (especially concerning sex and procreation); about the media's manufacture of images; or about what one can, should, or shouldn't do for someone less fortunate, should read this book."
Sunday Times (London)
"A dirty job but someone had to do it. By the end of this elegantly written, brilliantly argued piece of polemic, it is not looking good for Mother Teresa."
New York Press
"If there is a hell, Hitchens is going there for this book."

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781455523016
Publisher:
Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
04/10/2012
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
1
Sales rank:
121,771
File size:
664 KB

Read an Excerpt

The Missionary Position

Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice
By Hitchens, Christopher

Twelve

Copyright © 2012 Hitchens, Christopher
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781455523009

A Miracle

Convulsions in nature, disorders, prodigies, miracles, though the most opposite to the plan of a wise superintendent, impress mankind with the strongest sentiments of religion.

David Hume, The Natural History of Religion

Upon the whole, mystery, miracle and prophecy are appendages that belong to fabulous and not to true religion. They are the means by which so many Lo heres! and Lo theres! have been spread about the world, and religion been made into a trade. The success of one impostor gave encouragement to another, and the quieting salvo of doing some good by keeping up a pious fraud, protected them from remorse.

Tom Paine, The Age of Reason

Thus we call a belief an illusion when a wish-fulfillment is a prominent factor in its motivation, and in doing so we disregard its relations to reality just as the illusion itself sets no store by verification.

Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion

Intercession, the hallmark of sainthood, requires the certification of a miracle. Mother Teresa is already worshipped as something more than human, but she has not transcended our common lot to the extent of being cited as a wonder-worker by Mother Church. The printout of the titles provided me by the Library of Congress showed that almost all were published in the 1980s and 1990s, and it wasn’t until I had been through the list that I noticed what was not there: a 1971 book by Malcolm Muggeridge which argued, inter alia, that Mother Teresa’s miracle had already taken place.

Muggeridge’s book, Something Beautiful for God, was the outcome of a BBC documentary of the same name, screened in 1969. Muggeridge, who made something of a career out of ridiculing TV and showbiz values, claims that he began the project with no idea of the impression it would help to create. “Mother Teresa’s way of looking at life is barren soil for copy-writers,” he says, “and the poorest of the poor she cherishes offer little in the way of ratings.” If that disingenuous disclaimer was true when filming began, it ceased to be true very shortly after transmission had occurred, for it is from this film and this book that we can date the arrival of Mother Teresa’s “image” on the international retina.

Essential to Muggeridge’s project, essential indeed to the whole Mother Teresa cult, is the impression that Calcutta is a hellhole:

As it happened, I lived in Calcutta for eighteen months in the middle Thirties when I was working with the Statesman newspaper there, and found the place, even with all the comforts of a European’s life—the refrigerator, the servants, the morning canter round the Maidan or out at the Jodhpur Club, and so on—barely tolerable.

Since Muggeridge’s time, the city has not only had its own enormous difficulties to contend with but it has also been the scene of three major migrations of misery. Having been itself partitioned by a stupid British colonial decision before independence, Bengal took the brunt of the partitioning of all India into India and Pakistan in 1947. The Bangladesh war in 1971 and, later, the sectarian brushfires in Assam have swollen Calcutta’s population to a number far greater than it can hope to accommodate. Photographs of people living on pavements have become internationally recognized emblems of destitution. Mother Teresa’s emphasis on “the poorest of the poor and the lowest of the low” has served to reinforce the impression of Calcutta as a city of dreadful night, an impression which justly irritates many Bengalis.

The pleasant surprise that awaits the visitor to Calcutta is this: it is poor and crowded and dirty, in ways which are hard to exaggerate, but it is anything but abject. Its people are neither inert nor cringing. They work and they struggle, and as a general rule (especially as compared with ostensibly richer cities such as Bombay) they do not beg. This is the city of Tagore, of Ray and Bose and Mrinal Sen, and of a great flowering of culture and nationalism. There are films, theaters, university departments and magazines, all of a high quality. The photographs of Raghubir Singh are a testament to the vitality of the people, as well as to the beauty and variety of the architecture. Secular-leftist politics predominate, with a very strong internationalist temper: hardly unwelcome in a region so poisoned by brute religion.

When I paid my own visit to the city some years ago, I immediately felt rather cheated by the anti-Calcutta propaganda put out by the Muggeridges of the world. And when I made my way to the offices of the Missionaries of Charity on Bose Road, I received something of a shock. First was the inscription over the door, which read “He that loveth correction loveth knowledge.” I don’t know the provenance of the quotation, but it had something of the ring of the workhouse about it. Mother Teresa herself gave me a guided tour. I did not particularly care for the way that she took kisses bestowed on her sandaled feet as no more than her due, but I decided to suspend judgment on this—perhaps it was a local custom that I understood imperfectly. The orphanage, anyway, was moving and affecting. Very small (no shame in that) and very clean, it had an encouraging air and seemed to be run by charming and devoted people. One tiny cot stood empty, its occupant not having survived the night, and there was earnest discussion about a vacancy to be filled. I had begun to fumble for a contribution when Mother Teresa turned to me and said, with a gesture that seemed to take in the whole scene, “See, this is how we fight abortion and contraception.”

If not for this, it would have been trifling to point out the drop-in-a-bucket contribution that such a small establishment makes to such a gigantic problem. But it is difficult to spend any time at all in Calcutta and conclude that what it most needs is a campaign against population control. Nor, of course, does Mother Teresa make this judgment based on local conditions. She was opposed on principle to abortion and birth control long before she got there. For her, Calcutta is simply a front in a much larger war.

Muggeridge’s fatalistic revulsion from the actual Calcutta made him all the more receptive to Mother Teresa’s mystical prescription for the place, which is that it suffers from being too distant from Jesus. In consequence, his gullibility led him to write the following, which is worth quoting at length. (I should preface the quotation by saying that Muggeridge’s BBC crew included a very distinguished cameraman named Ken Macmillan, who had earned a great reputation for his work on Lord Clark’s art-history series Civilisation.)

This Home for the Dying is dimly lit by small windows high up in the walls, and Ken was adamant that filming was quite impossible there. We had only one small light with us, and to get the place adequately lighted in the time at our disposal was quite impossible. It was decided that, nonetheless, Ken should have a go, but by way of insurance he took, as well, some film in an outside courtyard where some of the inmates were sitting in the sun. In the processed film, the part taken inside was bathed in a particularly beautiful soft light, whereas the part taken outside was rather dim and confused…. I myself am absolutely convinced that the technically unaccountable light is, in fact, the Kindly Light [Cardinal] Newman refers to in his well-known exquisite hymn.

Nor was Muggeridge attempting to speak metaphorically. Of the love he observed in the home, he wrote that it was

luminous, like the haloes artists have seen and made visible round the heads of the saints. I find it not at all surprising that the luminosity should register on a photographic film. The supernatural is only an infinite projection of the natural, as the furthest horizon is an image of eternity. Jesus put mud on a blind man’s eyes and made him see.

Having gone on in this vein for some time, Muggeridge concluded:

This is precisely what miracles are for—to reveal the inner reality of God’s outward creation. I am personally persuaded that Ken recorded the first authentic photographic miracle. [Emphasis added.]



Continues...

Excerpted from The Missionary Position by Hitchens, Christopher Copyright © 2012 by Hitchens, Christopher. Excerpted by permission.
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John Waters
Hilariously mean.

Meet the Author

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and a regular contributor to the New York times Book Review and Slate. He is the author of numerous books, including works on Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, George Orwell, Henry Kissinger and Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as his international bestseller and National Book Award nominee, god Is Not Great.

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