Christopher Hitchens angered a lot of people with his expose of Mother Theresa in his 1995 book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, and he was dismissed by her fans as an angry atheist who wanted to tear down anyone who was held up as exemplifying what was good about religion.
Now along comes a study (by Serge Larivée and Genevieve Chenard of University of Montreal’s Department of Psychoeducation and Carole Sénéchal of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education to be published in the March issue of the journal Studies in Religion/Sciences) that says that he was pretty much right in his basic criticism.
[T]he 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 study also support Hitchens’s charge that she had this weird idea that there was something virtuous and noble about the suffering of the poor and as a result she did not use the huge amounts of money she raised to alleviate suffering as much as she might have. The suffering of others is always easier to be philosophical about than our own.
The problem is not a lack of money—the Foundation created by Mother Teresa has raised hundreds of millions of dollars—but rather a particular conception of suffering and death: “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,” was her reply to criticism, cites the journalist Christopher Hitchens. Nevertheless, when Mother Teresa required palliative care, she received it in a modern American hospital.
Mother Teresa was generous with her prayers but rather miserly with her foundation’s millions when it came to humanity’s suffering. During numerous floods in India or following the explosion of a pesticide plant in Bhopal, she offered numerous prayers and medallions of the Virgin Mary but no direct or monetary aid.
The authors say that her legacy was not entirely bad, though, since even false and self-serving myths can generate some positive results. “If the extraordinary image of Mother Teresa conveyed in the collective imagination has encouraged humanitarian initiatives that are genuinely engaged with those crushed by poverty, we can only rejoice. It is likely that she has inspired many humanitarian workers whose actions have truly relieved the suffering of the destitute and addressed the causes of poverty and isolation without being extolled by the media.”