So Mother Teresa wasn’t very nice. Who knew?
Quick, think of somebody who you should never criticize ever. Did you say Mother Teresa? Because I imagine a lot of people think you should have. Earlier this year researchers in Canada posted a paper online in the Journal “Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses”. The paper, called “Les côtés ténébreux de Mère Teresa” or “The dark side of Mother Teresa” will be published this month in the March issue. It looks at 287 documents, covering 96% of the literature on her life and work. The University of Montreal posted an article in advance of the publication which claims “the researchers conclude that her hallowed image—which does not stand up to analysis of the facts—was constructed, and that her beatification was orchestrated by an effective media relations campaign.”
The researchers also said that her “rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce.” In life when she was presented with criticisms about how the poor suffered in her care she responded with “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.” Lovely.
And the research isn’t that surprising. Everyone from the British Medical Journal to the New Left Review to The Lancet has taken a pop at her for her work at one point or another. Christopher Hitchens even got an entire book out of it. And an article in Slate. And a channel 4 documentary. And he mentions it at the start of Letters to a Young Contrarian and again in God is Not Great. I’m assuming he stopped eventually as there would have to come a point where even he would admit he was just picking on a dead nun.
Of course none of this unique to Mother Teresa. In fact she stands up pretty well when compared to some of the other people canonized by the Catholic Church in the past. Vice helpfully did a list which includes such miraculous and pious pricks as Christina Mirabilis (who hallucinated and flew a lot), Cædwalla of Wessex (who killed a shit load of Saxons) and Ambrose of Something (who really didn’t like the Jews. Like, really hated them). If you’re interested, Cracked has a couple of lists of some of the other interesting miracle workers that are included in the over 10,000 saints currently recognized.
Even with the well documented, and often deserved, criticism of Mother Teresa the cult that seemed to surround her in life is alive and well. Céleste Owen-Jones, an Associate Producer of HuffPost Live, decided to write a defence of Mother Teresa which can easily be summed up as “Erm no, not even though, and even if you’re right she’s still better than nothing which is why she’s awesome”. The best bit of the article though has to be in response to her opposition to abortion and contraception: “Yes, Mother Teresa was adamant and very vocal about this. Although I usually scream loud and clear when I hear any politician questioning what I consider two fundamental rights, I do not hold it against Mother Teresa.” So, question these two fundamental rights and make Céleste Owen-Jones scream, unless you’re Mother Teresa and it just becomes yet more proof of how Super-Special-Awesome you are. Sounds cult like to me.
Anyway on a slightly related note please enjoy this video of Frankie Boyle making a joke about another “icon” of our time.