The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice

The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice

3.3 38
by Christopher Hitchens
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, feted by politicians, the Church and the world's media, Mother Teresa of Calcutta appears to be on the fast track to sainthood. But what, asks Christopher Hitchens, makes Mother Teresa so divine?

Overview

Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, feted by politicians, the Church and the world's media, Mother Teresa of Calcutta appears to be on the fast track to sainthood. But what, asks Christopher Hitchens, makes Mother Teresa so divine?

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.
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."
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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781859840542
Publisher:
Verso Books
Publication date:
04/17/1997
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
98
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

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.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

John Waters
Hilariously mean.

Meet the Author

Christopher Hitchens is the author of God Is Not Great, Hitch-22, and Why Orwell Matters.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The negative reviews posted here are typical of the reaction to this book. Outrage is expressed toward the heretic, without any specific refutation of any point. The book presents a clear and concise case that MT was a hypocrite and a fraud. The addition of further details of the woman's life and career would have improved the book, however.
Guest More than 1 year ago
And Hitchens is the man fto say it. I was always in agreement with this view and wondered when the world would catch on. As someone who raised money for impoverished third world hospitals 'the ones that actually like to see poor people stop suffering and live healthy lives', I was enraged by the money this little con artist drained from legitimately charitable enterprises. Saintly? no! but she and her minions were very slick and resorted to sabotage to attract the big donors. I was grateful for this book and bravo again to Hitchens, a hero of mine from the days he taught at Pitt.
Nekko_fox More than 1 year ago
It amuses me ever so much that the outrage (often by Christian theologians and religious fundamentalists) is directed at the supposed belief that Teresa, because of her presumably religious disposition, is above scrutiny and above criticism, just as as religion is apparently claimed to be so. Hitchens tears down the curtain of rhetoric and nonsense and shows the truth behind the matter, shows the reality of who Teresa was and how she came to do what she did. Those who give this book low scores and write their scathing reviews are best to be ignored; they don't read this to learn, they read in the hopes that it will help bolster their faith and give them further fodder in their attempts to belittle those who seek to be free from religious thinking, and are upset that they didn't find the ammunition they were hoping to acquire and so they resort to ad hominem attacks, straw man arguments, and rhetological fallacies all the while refusing to accept, or in fact RESPOND to the facts presented before them, regardless if the evidence produced. For them, religion should never be questioned, and their saints never thought ill of. Though not the greatest literary work of the 21st century, it is still an essential read for those willing to tear themselves away from the propaganda of the church and expand their knowledge beyond an outdated religious manuscript that was cobbled together by dozens of religious copyists with hidden agendas.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a former Catholic, I understand how Mother Teresa was canonized even before she died, because that was the powerful marketing message we were fed for years. But one thing Hitchens does, that the Church conditions you not to do, was ask for hard facts. The hard facts show Teresa to be an ultra-orthodox hypocrite who harkens back to 19th century attitudes about rich and poor, holy and holier than thou. One thing is true of the people who can't wait to pray to Teresa: they are icon-seekers who can't tolerate challenges, because they mistake blind acceptance for faith. So if you can't stomach the thought that the media image of a bent old woman reaching her hand out the a starving, sick child actually believed that that child's suffering somehow redeems the world, remember that she was friends with Doc Duvalier and Charles Keating, two of the biggest thieves of the 20th century. It's not much of a stretch.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of Hitchen's finest! The religious fanatics are out in swarms attempting to discredit and hide the truth of one of the foremost swindlers and frauds in modern history. Independaent thinkers, moral and ethical individuals owe Hitchens a vast debt of gratitude for providing a brilliant example of the repudiation of received opinion and its replacement with an exercise in critical inquiry that results in the smashing of illusion and unmasking its beneficiary, in this instance Mother Teresa, and exposing her to the piercing light of reality, especially when the beneficiary has been protected from exposure by ensconcement behind the massive propaganda stronghold of religion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At last, someone who is not afraid to speak out and shake a lulled and willingly-duped world. I see this blind acceptance of 'Mother' Teresa's carefully cultivated public image even inside india. A 'must-read' for those who want to understand how history is made: by propoagandists, publicists and an uncritical media.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The negative reviews are presumably written by those who never read the book. They might have an example of his poor writing or bad research otherwise. Perhaps Hitchens has a bit too little sympathy for a sincere woman who was willing to sacrifice much, exploit many and overlook the failings of her sponsors to build her conservative religious legacy, but he illuminates hypocracies unbecoming to a supposed saint.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Society shouldn't venerate people unless they deserve it. After reading this, I think Christopher Hitchens deserves veneration more than Mother Theresa for trying to open people's eyes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great book, tough topic, outstandingly written. Of course, mass deluded people and bigots would give the book only a 'poor' rating. In fact, they would give it to their lives and intellect.
heathenatheist More than 1 year ago
How nice for Mr. Hitchens that he has basically been vindicated by mother teresa herself! She has recently confirmed his notions that she in FACT has no faith. See just some of her own writing and remarks below: Shortly after beginning her work in the slums of Calcutta, she wrote "Where is my faith? Even deep down there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. If there be a God - please forgive me." In letters eight years later she was still expressing "such deep longing for God", adding that she felt "repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal". This is just a tidbit. So for all who bashed Mr. Hitchens for his brave revalations about this wicked person, do some real investigating before you pass judgement. Read her very own book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Typical of Christians to NOT read or hear facts but still have opinions...B&N you should really not let people who haven't read this book write reviews.  This is well written and well researched.  Very enlightening.  Christian hypocrisy at it's FINEST.
DipsyDmstr More than 1 year ago
Once again Christopher Hitchens throws the harpoon at the hypocracy of piety. The truth lies not in mumbling words but in an acute interest in the facts. Keith Taylor (AKA Dipsey Dumpster
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
With documentation and evidence, how can anyone deny the facts? Well written and wonderfully exposed for the world.
Dazatheist More than 1 year ago
Well I know what I have not done. I have not taken people from the streets and places then in tiny hammocks to lay in anguish to die without medical help or even a baby aspirin. Mr. Hitchen provides a great and insightful introduction into the fraud that is Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (sorry but Terresa is not her real name)
Guest More than 1 year ago
Christopher Hitchens' latest is guaranteed to spark controversy, as he takes aim at one of the icons of Catholicism. The irascible Hitchens -- one of the few committed socialists to support the Iraq war -- reaffirms his status as iconoclast and, from his point of view, truth teller. While The Missionary Position is short on facts, and demonstrates the usual socialist bias against organized religion, Hitchens does raise disturbing questions about Mother Teresa, who routinely flew to the US for medical treatment using donated money, professed divorce as a mortal sin, yet supported her friend Lady Diana's decision to divorce Charles, and spent a goodly portion of her later years traveling the world using other people's money. Hitchens is always unpredictable. He celebrates George Orwell for his willingess to admit his early support of Stalin was misplaced; voted for G. W. Bush; excoriated the Clintons, whom he calls cynical liars; believes Henry Kissinger belongs in prison; and quit his job at the left leaning The Nation rather than change his position favoring the Saddam's overthrow. If you're looking for conventional wisdom, watch Larry King. If you're looking for provocative commentary, check out Hitchens.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Only Hitchens can make great arguments.
PuckTE More than 1 year ago
MT was a horable person, but this book is an amazing read. You are missed Hitch.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago