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Sacred Cow

Mother Teresa remained a sacred cow in the US through the end of her life. A US journalist or media outlet could no more question her motivation or ethics than they could advocate kicking puppies. In this interview, author Christopher Hitchens tells Free Inquiry magazine why he decided to rush in where any self-preserving journalists fears to tread.

Mother Teresa raised at least tens of millions of dollars for "her work," but that money did not go to aid the sick and the dying people on the streets in Calcuta. She did not keep any financial holdings in India, because the Indian government maintains the right to audit accounts, so she kept her vast fortune in places where she did not have to divulge how much she had taken in or what she did with that money. She supported "Third World" despots like the Duvalier family in Haiti, and, far from striving to minimize human sufferring, she celebrated it and held India up as an exemplar to the world of glorious sufferring.

link: http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/hitchens_16_4.html

FI: You point out that, although she is very open about promoting Catholicism, Mother Teresa has this reputation of holiness amongst many non-Catholics and even secular people. And her reputation is based upon her charitable work for the sick and dying in Calcutta. What does she actually do there? What are her care facilities like?

HITCHENS: The care facilities are grotesquely simple: rudimentary, unscientific, miles behind any modern conception of what medical science is supposed to do. There have been a number of articles - I've collected some more since my book came out - about the failure and primitivism of her treatment of lepers and the dying, of her attitude towards medication and prophylaxis. Very rightly is it said that she tends to the dying, because if you were doing anything but dying she hasn't really got much to offer.

This is interesting because, first, she only proclaims to be providing people with a Catholic death, and, second, because of the enormous amounts of money mainly donated to rather than raised by her Order. We've been unable to audit this - no one has ever demanded an accounting of how much money has flowed in her direction. With that money she could have built at least one absolutely spanking new, modern teaching hospital in Calcutta without noticing the cost.

The facilities she runs are as primitive now as when she first became a celebrity. So that's obviously not where the money goes.


FI: There is a Roman Catholic doctrine about the redemption of the soul through suffering. This can be seen in Mother Teresa's work: she thinks suffering is good, and she doesn't use pain relievers in her clinics and so forth. Does she take the same attitude towards her own health? Does she live in accordance with what she preaches?

HITCHENS: I hesitated to cover this in my book, but I decided I had to publish that she has said that the suffering of the poor is something very beautiful and the world is being very much helped by the nobility of this example of misery and suffering.

FI: A horrible thing to say.

HITCHENS: Yes, evil in fact. To say it was unChristian unfortunately would not be true, although many people don't realize that is what Christians believe. It is a positively immoral remark in my opinion, and it should be more widely known than it is.

She is old, she has had various episodes with her own health, and she checks into some of the costliest and finest clinics in the West herself. I hesitated to put that in the book because it seemed as though it would be ad hominem (or ad feminam) and I try never to do that. I think that the doctrine of hating the sin and loving the sinner is obviously a stupid one, because its a false antithesis, but a version of it is morally defensible. Certainly in arguments one is only supposed to attack the arguments and not the person presenting them. But the contrast seemed so huge in this case.

It wasn't so much that it showed that her facilities weren't any good, but it showed that they weren't medical facilities at all. There wasn't any place she runs that she could go; as far as I know, their point isn't treatment. And in fairness to her, she has never really claimed that treatment is the point. Although she does accept donations from people who have fooled themselves into thinking so, I haven't found any occasion where she has given a false impression of her work. The only way she could be said to be responsible for spreading it is that she knowingly accepts what comes due to that false impression.

FI: But if people go to her clinics for the dying and they need medical care, does she send them on to the proper places?

HITCHENS: Not according to the testimony of a number of witnesses. I printed the accounts of several witnesses whose testimony I could verify and I've had many other communications from former volunteers in Calcutta and in other missions. All of them were very shocked to find when they got there that they had missed some very crucial point and that very often people who come under the false impression that they would receive medical care are either neglected or given no advice. In other words, anyone going in the hope of alleviation of a serious medical condition has made a huge mistake.

I think it was Mark Twain who said that sacred cows make the best hamberger. Share a burger with Christopher Hitchens.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 11th, 2004 07:32 am (UTC)
Let's not forget the 1.25million she accepted from Charles Keating, which bought him a letter from Mother Theresa to Judge Lance Ito requesting lienency on the S&L scandal which cost the public over 3 billion and cheated about 21,000 elderly retirees $285mil of savings.

She must of considered Keating a holy man for all the suffering he inflicted upon the public, and all the impoverished people he made which were now free to accept Catholic charity!
Jun. 11th, 2004 06:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Charles Keating
Hitchens does talk about Mother Teresa's connection to Keating in the interview. I'd be interested to read his book, but I think he's written several other books that would prove more interesting to me than one on Mother Teresa.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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