“Where is my Faith”: Mother Teresa and Suffering

This one came completely out of left field. I’m still taken aback by it.

Come_be_my_lightFor the last fifty years of her life, Mother Teresa had lost her faith. In private letters to friends and confessors (as documented in a new book “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light”), she acknowledged repeatedly that she no longer felt the presence of God in her life. At all. Ever. Not in prayer, not in the Eucharist — never. She was tormented by God’s absence, described her empty spiritual life as one of “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture,” and once described her pretense at faith as “hypocrisy.”

For the last fifty years of her life.

Mother_teresa_2Before I really get into this, I have to say a few words about Mother Teresa. If you have an image of her as the pinnacle of human goodness, the compassionate and charitable woman who selflessly devoted her life to others and founded hospitals and hospices for the desperately poor… I’m going to have to burst your bubble. Mother Teresa was a problematic figure at best, and many of her so-called charitable works were profoundly screwed-up. Despite the enormous amounts of money she collected, her hospitals and hospices offered grotesquely inadequate medical care, revoltingly unsanitary and even abusive conditions, and — pay attention to this part, it becomes important later — little or nothing in the way of pain relief, allowing the sick to suffer and the dying to die in terrible pain. They were essentially warehouses for people to convert to Catholicism and die, and the conversion part was far more central to their mission than either healing or the relief of suffering.

Missionary_position(There are other problems with Ms. Teresa, including making nice with dictators such as Duvalier; taking donations from savings and loan racketeer Charles Keating and not returning it to the people from whom it had been defrauded; her rabid opposition to abortion as “the greatest destroyer of peace today”; her non-consensual baptisms of non-Christians on their deathbeds; founding convents and conversion missions with donations intended for the hospitals and hospices (that also becomes important later); and more. Furthermore, when she herself was ill, she spurned her own clinics, and sought out the best and most expensive Western hospitals available. For corroboration and more details, read “The Missionary Position” by Christopher Hitchens, Aroup Chatterjee’s “Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict,” and her Wikipedia bio, which includes several references to her critics.)

But for now, I’m going to focus on the hospitals and hospices.

I’m going to focus on the lack of pain medication offered in those hospitals and hospices.

And I’m going to come back to her loss of faith.

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Does The Emperor Have Clothes? Religion and the Destructive Force of Asking Questions

Is the mere act of questioning religion an attack on it?

God_delusionThere are religious believers who seem to think so. An increasingly common refrain among religious writers and leaders is that the recent surge of atheist writing is unacceptably offensive and insulting. Intolerant, even.

I’m not going to say atheists are never rude. But much of the time, atheists get accused of offensiveness and intolerance for saying things like:

“I don’t agree with you.”

‘I don’t think you’ve made your case.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“What evidence do you have to support that?”

LiesAs Richard Dawkins pointed out in a recent Free Inquiry article, the kind of critical language that’s considered shockingly offensive when it’s applied to religion isn’t even blinked at when it’s applied to, say, political discourse or restaurant reviews.

StalinBut many believers are very serious about this. Example: A recent visitor to my blog accused me of trying to force my atheism down everyone’s throat. When I challenged him to find one place — just one — on my blog where I advocated forcing atheism on anyone, he replied that I was “trying to cow others into your restrictive view” and “forcing a materialistic, Godless view onto others by claiming that you know there is no God.”

TheatheistRight. The act of stating my opinion in public is the same as forcing that view onto others. I don’t, in fact, claim that I know there is no God, but never mind that now. I am cowing people into my narrow view through the awesome power of my blog. Which is read by hundreds of people every day! HUNDREDS, I tell you! Flee before me, puny earthlings! Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! I will cow you with the force of my opinions! Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated into my materialist Godless view; for while you may have the infinite power of the Almighty God on your side… I WIELD THE BLOG!

Bwa ha ha ha ha!

That’s the modern atheist movement, all right. Trying to destroy all that is holy by, you know, arguing. By trying to convince people that religion is mistaken. By writing books, and blogging, and going on TV, and such.

Genocideportallogoesr2Of course, this was the same guy who later tried to defend biblical atrocities by arguing that genocide and the infanticide of one’s enemies were, in some cases, morally defensible. Thus earning him our household nickname “Senor McGenocide Pants.” So it’s a little hard to take him seriously.

But Senor McGenocide Pants isn’t alone. A lot of religious believers are very angry and very upset over the fact that atheists are starting to speak out: not just expressing our own opinions and theories, but seriously criticizing theirs.

And while I don’t think they’re at all right to be morally outraged, I do think they’re right to be afraid.

Origin_of_species_2I think the act of looking at religion as just another hypothesis about the way the world works — and asking it to defend itself with evidence and logic just like any other hypothesis — is a radical act. All by itself, completely apart from any of the specific arguments against religion’s accuracy and morality. The mere act of shoving religion into the marketplace of ideas, and expecting it to fight it out with all the other ideas about why things are the way they are… I think people who are deeply attached to religion have every reason to be afraid of that. I think that act has more potential to eventually dismantle religious beliefs than any of the specific arguments leveled against those beliefs.

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The New “Zoo” Review

This piece originally appeared on the Blowfish Blog.

Zoo_posterThe movie is about bestiality.

I want to tell you that right up front, since it takes a while for the movie to get around to it. A little more specifically, “Zoo” is a documentary about a 2005 incident in which a man died of a perforated colon after engaging in sexual activity with — read “getting fucked in the ass by” — a horse. And it’s about the small group of people — other zoophiles, or “zoos” — who shared these sexual activities and interests as a community: talking about it on the Internet, engaging in it at small gatherings, and sometimes photographing or filming it.

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Friday Cat Blogging: Violet on the Suitcase

And now, two cute pictures of our cat.

Violet_2

Violet_1_2

This is Violet, on Ingrid’s suitcase. I’d like to think that she’s doesn’t like Ingrid traveling so much and is trying to tell her not to leave. But really, I think she just likes sitting on the suitcase.

Which, I would like to point out, is not that much larger than Violet. We have some large cats.

Only Losers Dine At Le Cirque: The Stigma on Sex Work Customers: The Blowfish Blog

PayingcoverbigA recent letter to the Savage Love sex advice column reminded me of a rant I’ve been wanting to make for a while; ever since I put together Paying For It, really. It has to do with the stigma on sex work customers, and the idea that “having to pay for it” makes you a pathetic loser. Oddly enough, even in the sex-positive community that embraces and celebrates sex workers, this scornful attitude towards sex work customers often persists.

So I’ve ranted about it over at the Blowfish Blog, in a piece called Only Losers Dine At Le Cirque: The Stigma on Sex Work Customers. Here’s the teaser:

Does paying a restaurant to feed you a meal make you a loser? Whether you eat out every night or only do it as an occasional treat; whether you’re looking for a special meal you can’t get elsewhere or simply want the convenience of getting dinner without any hassle… does it make you a loser? A pathetic nobody who can only get fed if he pays someone to do it?

For more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Literally

No, this isn’t about literal interpretations of the Bible. It’s about the word “literally.”

Language_instinctFaithful readers of this blog will know that, when it comes to language, I’m a fairly ardent usagist/ descriptivist. I think language is a biological function that depends on constant change in order to work. I tend to embrace changes in the language rather than resisting them. I think grammar books would be more effective if they taught the rules of the language as it actually is, rather than as the authors think it ought to be. And I think that arguing “that’s not what this word really means,” when it’s how the majority of people using the language use it and understand it, is absurd. There is no objective, Platonic form of the word “nice” — it means what we understand it to mean.

MagritteBut while I am a passionate descriptivist, I’m not a hard-line one. I understand that, while language has to change in order to work, it also has to have some consistency in order to work. If we don’t agree on what the words we use mean (as well as on the structures we use put them together), then language becomes nonsense. And while I think it’s silly to resist changes in the language just on principle, I think it is worth discussing whether any particular change is necessary, desirable, comprehensible, and/or graceful.

Which brings me back to “literally.”

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Shout-Outs to my Godless Homies!

WritingA couple of shout-outs to some great godless bloggers. There was a standout piece in this week’s Carnival of the Godless, a deceptively simply little ditty from Spanish Inquisitor titled Why Didn’t Jesus Write?

This question — and the whole host of questions that it raises — is so obvious, I’m slapping myself on the head for it not having occurred to me before. The guy was supposedly God. He could turn water into wine, feed the multitudes with a couple of loaves and fishes, heal the sick, raise the dead. But he couldn’t write down his teachings, to avoid twenty centuries of squabbling and warfare about what he really meant? Brilliant. Go read it.

El_greco_the_repentant_peter_3I also want to say Howdy to Ed Brayton and his wonderful peanut gallery over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. He has a great post on the Wiley Drake/Mike Huckabee kerfuffle, in which Baptist minister Wiley Drake endorsed a candidate for President (big no-no — religious leaders and organizations can’t do that if they want to stay tax-exempt), got called on it by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State… and is now calling on his followers to pray “imprecatory prayers” against the AUSCS, prayers asking God to hurt or kill your enemies. Quote from Drake: “God says to pray imprecatory prayer against people who attack God’s church… The Bible says that if anybody attacks God’s people, David said this is what will happen to them… Children will become orphans and wives will become widows.” Quote from Ed: “Very nice, Reverend; I’m sure that’s just what Jesus would do.”

SopranosEd’s piece is excellent, as always… but the comments are off-the-charts hilarious. People have compared Drake to a mob boss and God to a hit man; have pointed out how committed to family values Drake must be to call for wives to become widows and children to become orphans; have wondered why Drake is calling for imprecatory prayers against the AUSCS instead of, say, Al Qaeda; and, in my very favorite comment of all from Zek, asked this question: “So… God told him to tell people to tell God to kill people?” Excellent, hilarious point, and from now on every time a preacher says God asked him to call for prayers, it’s going to be stuck in my head.

DuererprayerWhile I’m at it, Daylight Atheism also has an excellent and hysterical piece on the prayer attack against the the AUSCS, in which he mentions (among other things) a call for counter-prayers from Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, and drily points out that, “While I appreciate Dr. Prescott’s concern, I can assure him that his efforts are unnecessary.”

Bible_book_of_isaiah_2Finally: A huge, heartfelt “thank you” to Ebon Muse of Daylight Atheism and Ebon Musings. He not only came through in a recent comment debate here on this blog with an eloquent and thorough demolition of the supposed accuracy of Biblical prophecy; he then posted that demolition on his own blog. Thanks, dude. You totally hit it out of the park. Greatly appreciated.

Carnival of the Godless #73

CarnivalCarnival of the Godless #73 is up at In Defence of Reason. I submitted two pieces for this round, and asked them to pick the one they liked best; but instead they just ran them both, “Someone’s looking out for me”: God and the Minneapolis Bridge Collapse, and Eternal Fire: What Jesus Says in the Gospels About Hell. I’m not sure if they really liked both pieces or were just too lazy to pick, but in either case I’m grateful and am not going to argue. Thanks!

A Self-Referential Game of Twister: What Religion Looks Like From the Outside

(Quick explanation: I’ve been in some frustrating debates with religious believers lately — one in particular — and it seems like the point-by-point squabbles have been missing the point. This piece is an attempt to step back from that, and look at the whole disagreement from a larger perspective.)

Here’s the thing, Rev. Cawley. I’m not dying to continue the point-counterpoint debate on the points you raised.

Cross_in_the_sky_2Instead, I want to step back for a moment and give you an idea of what your arguments sound like to someone who isn’t already a Christian. Not just to someone who’s a pretty convinced atheist, but to someone who doesn’t know what they think one way or another, who’s looking at different religious beliefs and deciding what to think. You seem to be at least somewhat sincere about wanting to understand non-believers, and I want to give you, and other believers, an idea of what religion — and religious apologetics — looks like to us.

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“A magnetism that will not let go”: The Drooling Homophobe Series, Part 764

Do these people listen to what they say?

Don’t they know how obvious this “lady doth protest too much” thing is starting to get?

Pass_the_saltPandagon has the story of right-wing Christian extremist Dave Daubenmire of Pass the Salt Ministries, who, with his flock, has been on a crusade to disrupt the church services of gay-friendly churches. But that’s not even the best part of the story. As is so often the case, the best part of the story is in an almost offhand remark.

In a Bible-spewing homophobic rant earlier this year about a visit to the Gay Pride Parade, Daubenmire had this to say:

“The ‘meat’ on display will forever change the way you view homosexuality. Sin has no boundaries, no clutch, and no emergency brake. Once you dip your toe into the pool of sin, especially sexual sin, there is a magnetism that will not let go.” (emphasis mine)

Ummmm…

Gaypridesaopaulodrags_fullLet me put it this way. The straight guys I know who visit the Gay Pride Parade do not describe the event as having “a magnetism that will not let go.” Their reaction is more along the lines of, “Nice dress, dude.” They describe it as interesting, entertaining, touching, hilarious, kind of tedious when the “polo-shirted employees of boring corporations” contingents go by, etc. But they do not describe it as a pool of sin with a magnetism that will not let go. The straight guys I know are not forever changed by the sight of gay male “meat on display,” and they are quite capable of resisting the magnetism of homosexuality. They find the magnetic pull of homosexuality pretty gosh-darned unmagnetic. That’s kind of what makes them, you know — straight.

Ted_haggard_3So I just have to ask: Do Dave Daubenmire, and Ted Haggard, and all the rest of the right-wing Christian leering brigade, really not know what they sound like? Do they really not see that frothing at the mouth closely resembles drooling?