on 22 April 2014
This was a distressing read but I couldn't put it down. As far as I'm aware Mother Teresa has been beatified but not yet canonised (made a saint). I am not religious and find the idea of human beings making other human beings saints laughable and absurd. But that aside Christopher Hitchens has amassed so much evidence regarding her 'treatment and care' of the sick and dying, all of it verifiable and from external witnesses who saw this standard of care for themselves, truly shocking. Especially as MT herself flew out to costly clinics for treatment of her own health issues. Can we begin to imagine the furore if a fraction of this happened in an NHS hospital? It wasn't as if money wasn't available. Millions of pounds were donated by wealthy individuals and by governments - sometimes corrupt governments. Where did the money go? In any other circumstance there would have been a thorough investigation. Perhaps there has ....... How can the Vatican proceed with this canonisation??
As I said at the beginning I myself am not a churchgoer but it would seem to be a hugely damaging step for the Church's credibility if it continues with the process. I would also have thought the Catholic Church itself would like a few more answers and more than one decidedly dubious "miracle" to create a saint. Hitch has done a brilliant job putting this well written and well researched book together. Let us hope it was to good purpose.
on 12 July 2008
During her lifetime, Mother Teresa was as close to canonization as it was possible to get without actually being dead. The front cover of Time magazine called her a "Living Saint". A cult of holiness surrounded her and in the eyes of the media and many politicians she could do no wrong. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and awarded numerous honors in the countries she visited.
The facts however didn't match the illusion and public perception and Christopher Hitchens had the courage to say so. He exposes her revolting attitude towards the dying, namely that they were there to die and to suffer; in that way they became closer to Christ. Care, compassion and alievement of pain were practically non-existent in her `clinics'. Standard clinical procedures and medical diagnosis was also spurned because they were materialistic. Provenance was to be preferred at all times. Hitchens also shows deceit was practiced as a matter of course towards those of other religions who were secretly baptized without their knowledge by sisters who were supposed to be caring for them.
Then there is her fawning over politicians, including some of the worst despots of the latter twentieth century. The Duvalier's of Haiti and Hoxha of her native Albania were amongst the most notoriously repressive regimes, yet as Hitchens documents, this living saint was there giving them her blessing. If she could preach her message against abortion and her present advocacy of unlimited population growth at the same time, so much the better. Not so much reducing the suffering in the world as adding to it would appear to be Mother Teresa's legacy.
There is also the little matter of money and as Hitchens points out, there is rather a lot of it, that was handed over in the name of charity or humanitarian support. Very little of this ever went to benefit the poor for whom it was intended. Rather it disappeared into unaudited bank accounts. One account in the Bronx had over $50 million dollars, yet Mother Teresa was on record as saying she wouldn't accept altruism. She was quite happy to accept money from fraudsters such as Charles Keating, but ignored a letter from the man investigating Keating's massive thefts requesting its return. It might also be asked where the money came from which allowed Teresa to fly around the world often at short notice. As far as I know, the world's commercial airlines have never operated a policy of free seats to the religious.
Hitchens' book does not set out to be a hatchet job but he has not surprisingly received a fair amount of criticism for writing it. However there has never been any convincing explanations put forward by Teresa's apologists to any of Hitchen's criticisms, yet there has been much silence since he former living saint was hoisted to a higher plane following beatification in 2003. For those who are determined to see Mother Teresa as the embodiment of religious holiness nothing will convince them of anything untoward. However, if you do have doubts about the abuse of religious power and the ways in which all manner of lies are justified on the back of adherence to religious dogma, this book will provide a most illuminating window into a highly corrupt world.
With a merry sizzle, Christopher Hitchens gleefully tosses another sacred cow onto the barbecue in ' The Missionary Position', his brilliant and unanswerable takedown of Mother Teresa. If you define the task of the journalist as bringing to light things that someone, somewhere would prefer you not to know, then in that respect alone this is about as good as journalism gets. It takes a real leap of contrarian imagination to tackle as figure as proverbially saintly as Mother Teresa. But, layer by layer, Hitchens peels away the myths that surround the erstwhile Agnes Bojaxiou to reveal a deeply and shockingly compromised figure. Hitchens distils his anger and outrage into a splendid cocktail of Swiftian disgust and Juvenalian disdain, delivered with his characteristically razor-sharp phrasemaking.
At just over 100 pages of largish print, this is undeniably brief, but brevity of course is the soul of wit. There's not an ounce of fat on this brilliant polemic, which which hits bullseye after bullseye with unfailing precision, and says no more than it needs to. It's a miniature masterpiece, and hats off to Atlantic books for republishing it as a stand-alone volume. Thoroughly recommended.
Oh dear, as of the 3rd week of March 2016 Agnes has finally been Canonized, the rushing-through continued despite The Hitch being employed by the Vatican as Devil's Advocate - you will of course know that I am not making this up. This book's message is even more urgent than it was, therefore. That this short book nowhere quite touches the sustained heights of his great first two collections of essays (see my highly enthusiastic reviews; The Hitch's best two books must be read), it is close and it is a necessary short if scorching polemic. Those lamenting the absence footnotes can check what Hitchens says and will find nothing amiss, all his criticisms are justified. Of course there must be redeeming features for the Old Woman of Calcutta but, like Germaine Greer, (who outraged people by selecting Teresa as a Villain in a regular Independent newspaper feature), Hitchens will have none of them. He goes out of his way to be offensive, which will almost certainly not persuade anyone who believes that she is indeed a Saint, of her flaws. She was when I first wrote this on the first rung to Sainthood and was indeed be expedited, be sure of that, as I rightly observed: the requisite miracle by her posthumous Intercession is logged. (And it's a disgrace, a dubious 'Cancer' of a simple Indian 'cured' by rubbing the tumour with a photograph of Mother T., a dangerous precedent in Mumbai, where mountebanks and charlatans abound). It is as laughable as the 'miracle' the credulous Malcolm Muggeridge attributed to her and which is here exposed with exemplary clarity. Hitchens intends to shock anyone remotely dubious of the claims made for her and her famous Calcutta Missionaries of Charity institution and he is wise to subject the myth to scrutiny. The well informed will be aware that there has been a trickle of ex workers there disenchanted at the lack of palliative care; at the proto saint's concerns for the souls of rather than the living bodies of the dying at her feet. That she consorted with a number of dubious, and invariably Right Wing types in a quite shameless search for money is on-the-record and should be more widely known. Once he has told you, then you will doubtless try to shake Hitchens' deliberately nasty imprecations off of the putative Saintly personage born Agnes in Skopje, [Yugoslav] Macedonia (see, even her provenance isn't what you thought). Shouldn't the selfless work she undoubtedly did entitle her to greater respect than The Hitch will allow her? That he causes you to think before coupling her name with the hagiopoly is a measure of his success. Hell's Bat it might well be then...
on 27 June 2011
As a child I prayed for Mother Theresa and donated money to her without question.
Without malice, but with rational reporting, Hitchens shows how her work is not the saving of the sick, but some bizarre 'worship cult' whereupon the input are the gullible and ill, the process is their suffering and the output is the imaginary concept of humility to god. As an aside, another product of this perversion is many millions of dollars of real cash which cannot today be accounted for.
on 25 September 2010
Elizabeth Bennet, upon learning the true natures of Darcy and Wickham, muses: "one has got all the goodness, the other all the appearance of it." It is a moment of clarity. A moment when one of literature's more famous "bubble reputations" is burst asunder and the young miss Bennet sees the bounder Wickham for what he truly is. And if it is satisfying, in fiction, to have a bubble burst and the stench of true character to come wafting off the page, then when the book in question deals with a real person, it is even better than that.
When Diana Spencer was killed the media were so obsessed with her cult of personality (or, perhaps, just her cult if you want to look at it that way) that Agnes Bojaxhiu, when she checked-out a few days later, received the briefest of mentions in the press. I complained to anyone who would listen. That Diana gets fawned over whilst the "blessed Teresa of Calcutta" - an old gal who, if nothing else, knew what a day's work was, gets a miserly couple of inches on page six was thought a disgrace by your humble servant. I did not bother to detail Mother Teresa's good work and use it in my argument that she was more worthy than Diana because the whole planet knows what good work this woman did. She needs no introduction. Her name is enough: Mother Teresa. Oh, yes, she gave her life to caring for the suffering and the poor. That Mother Teresa. Interesting, then, to read the following:
"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 and practices of anyone who fulfils, however vicariously, this mandate."
One can almost smell the coming expulsion of puss from the pricked bubble. Hers, it seems, was a cult of personality that would have embarrassed Stalin.
Mother Teresa told a man riddled with cancer and racked with pain that he was suffering as Christ suffered on the cross, so Jesus must be kissing him. (An offer of cancer drugs or pain-killers was not forthcoming from the wrinkled one, and the terminal patient was left with nothing to ask for other than for Jesus to stop kissing him.) This was the Mother Teresa approach. Suffering is good; pain is good; poverty is good. Her missions across the globe may have been sat on millions of dollars of donation money, but this was never reason enough to pay for a resident doctor or buy carpets. The way to salvation (which was the same for elderly, cancer-stricken men and women and hungry, orphaned babies) was through suffering in all its forms.
Many things are taken for granted, which doesn't mean just that we assume they will always be around or be true, but taken for granted in that we don't bother to question them in the first place. Who questions that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west? That the sun does no such thing doesn't matter - we all know it's "true". We read declarations on our packaged food which tell us the products contain genuine colours, flavours and chemical preservatives; so, if the establishment can swindle us into eating chemicals - and make us think we are doing the exact opposite - why not have a look at the reputation of the most venerated female the planet has known and see if there is any justification for the gushing and fawning? The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in theory and practice, does just that.
The diminutive walnut-with-legs was a fanatic; a religious zealot who would happily advance the misery of those unlucky enough to fall into her clutches in the name of organised superstition. It was never the poor she loved, it was poverty she adored. Of this we can be sure, her words confirm it.
"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."
Is this the mind of a kindly, generous old lady, motivated by, and dedicated to, easing suffering among the wretched of the earth?
I think not.
The enforced misery for the powerless, the money from the worst dictators - Duvalier and Hoxha, to name but two - the private jets and expensive clinics when she was ill, all show that there were two Mother Teresas: The pathetic humble and hunched nun, and the vicious, nasty money-grabber, playing the world stage and offering the touch of one of her talons to a slobbering politician eager for an image boost.
If you are the conservative type, the type whose thinking is restricted by pride and predjudice, who trembles at the idea of challenging a long and firmly held belief lest you may actually learn something, I would suggest you avoid this book.
on 26 April 2012
This is an incredibly important, if difficult book from a Christopher Hitchens.
We project our own hopes and desires on people such as Mother Theresa, and do not question the image that the media portrays of her. We need to think there is someone in the world doing all the good that we ourselves are failing to do. We want to believe that by supporting this work, we will be absolved, at least in part, for our lack of greater contribution to healing the world's ills. What we forget, however, is that the mission that we wish to see is not necessarily the one that Mother Theresa was undertaking.
It is exceedingly well written, balanced and all his assertions are backed up with verifiable facts. It makes for very uncomfortable reading which will (as you may expect if you have raed any Hitchens before)challenge your world view.
I highly recommend that everyone reads this.
on 9 September 1997
Bravo to Christopher Hitchens for writing a story that needed to be told. Too bad Mother Teresa's many supporters and apologists will probably never read this book. This book's a must for anyone who's concerned about instant myths-in-the-making.
on 21 February 1999
Hitchens, columnist for "The Nation" and "Vanity Fair," offers open-minded readers an iconoclastic take on the Mother Teresa phenomenon. She is judged by her reputation, not by her deeds, and the majority of the media unfortunately puff up her image and never examine her actions.
Particularly memorable is Hitchens' recounting of the "discovery" of Mother Teresa by Malcolm Muggeridge, whose 1970 BBC documentary with the title of something like "Miracle for God" contained Mr. Muggeridge's testimony of what he believed to be a genuine miracle. But on the word of a noted cinematographer (who worked, incidentally, on Kenneth Clarke's series on PBS entitled "Civilisation"), the supposed miracle had more to do with the Eastman Kodak filmstock than it did with any divine intervention. Muggeridge's praise of Teresa at that time created the reputation surrounding the saint of Calcutta which lives to this day. And yet the public thoughtlessly accepts this stuff. The general approval of the Mother Teresa industry is merely a manifestation of an affluent West's wanting to have some way to ease their guilt for their own attitude toward the unfortunate of the world. Hitchens' prose style, as well as his rather unusual (though quite reasonable) examination of his subject matter is a true joy to read. Hitchens' work is very definitely journalism, unfortunately not practiced by most of the hacks who work in the media today.
on 21 July 2007
This book is a tremendous indictment of one of the most over praised women in the last hundred years. Referring to various acts of cynicism and callousness Hitchens wages a concrete but brief attack on her reputation; her support for the notorious Duvalier Family, her support for the crook Charles Keating who rightfully should have the title of the American Maxwell. But the biggest and most shocking judgement passed on her holiness is her appalling treatment of the people whom she was lauded for supposedly serving. While many may claim in her support that she fleeced the bad to aid the good there is no evidence that she was a 20th century Robin Hood. She may have been good at taking from the rich but she never quite managed to get around to giving it to the poor.
There are two key points here, which are at the centre of this book. One, what actually was her deeds and there effects? Also more importantly the fact that any kind of demand for proof of her greatness has never been demanded before this book. In the first area he unearths that she did not in fact direct her fundraising cause towards helping the poor but actually channelled it into her cause of catholic fundamentalism. Her famous Calcutta home for the dying was literally that. This was a theological death camp where people under the order of Mother Theresa were not even allowed to sympathise with those for whom they were meant to care. There never was more poignant evidence of her cynicism than the pictures of this place; the money she had collected instead of being deployed to buy medicine or pay for better conditions was used to militarise thousands of nuns of her order. It is very convincingly proved here that because of her actions thousands perhaps even millions of people suffered and died because of what she did and poverty has been made more prevalent not less so because of her actions.
But more fundamental to this book is the analysis of the cultural attitude towards her. Christopher Hitchens does a fine job of showing how the liberal establishment will fall down at the feet of any person based on the thinnest of Chinese whispers. For in the end this book ironically is not about Mother Theresa or even religion, it is about the cowardliness of the secular who applaud the so-called good works of people like Mrs. T for cynical and credulous reasons. Here's a book that asks us whenever someone has disproportional amounts of acclaim heaped upon them to ask why? That's a start.