07 December, 2006

Wasted Lives

We're having a pretty good discussion over at Amy's about what constitutes a wasted life. (Yes, this is a conversation that revolves around our shared interest and belief in Bronze Age 'mythologies'.)

As you'd expect with any conversation invoking the names of God and Dr. John Piper, it's taken a lot of twists and turns. And I think now is the time--and my blog is a better place--for this particular rant.

Apologies in advance to my many Catholic friends and readers.

Here goes.

Mother Teresa was not who you think she was. I have deep-seated anger toward the way Mother Teresa perverted the gospel of Jesus and tortured thousands of Indians.

Whenever people want to invoke the image of a saint walking among us, they invariably default to Mother Teresa. And you cannot blame them. She's had wonderful press. To those who are just going by the glossy shots, she is someone who cared for the sick and dying in the slums of Calcutta, all in the name of Jesus. When I say "Mother Teresa", I'm betting your first thought is of a woman holding a sick baby. And then your second thought is of a woman clasping hands with Princess Diana.

Here's what you may not know. And this is the important part.

Mother Teresa was a devotee of the doctrine of redemptive suffering, and created a mission to embrace that. Her fundamental belief was that watching the suffering of other people can bring a person closer to God.

From the Saint Of The Gutters website:
In 1952, she established a home for the dying poor - the Nirmal Hriday (or "Pure Heart") Home for Dying Destitutes. There, homeless people - uncared for and unacceptable at other institutions - were washed, fed and allowed to die with dignity.

Reading that closely, you may notice something missing. The sick were washed, fed and allowed to die with dignity. They were not in any way treated for their illness. Pain medication was withheld. So that "the Saint of the Gutters" could experience a spiritual contact-high as she watched the homeless die in excruciating pain. But hey, at least they were clean and on a cot, instead of lying in the gutter. Shouldn't that count for something?

I truly don't believe we can acheive salvation through works. I think Mother Teresa is the perfect example of that. I'm fairly sure that she's in heaven now--but only through the grace of God. The works she did were certainly far from holy.

If you're interested there are others who have written much longer, more thorough pieces on this topic. Unfortunately, I don't see many Christians on the Mother Teresa Debunking train. I wish I did.

Christopher Hitchens in Slate
A roundup
Vijay Prashad on the the Ethics of Mother Teresa


At 2:54 PM, December 07, 2006, Blogger Slartibartfast said...


I need to think about this one a bit. I WILL say that upon reading your second link, Mr Prashad's objections seem to be that Teresa did not embrace liberal politics. A quote:

- To Teresa, poverty was 'beautiful', people must put up with it, not challenge its causes.
- Like the Popes, she took care not to criticise the powerful. She moved with the makers of poverty like Reagan or Thatcher but did not question their policies that spread terror and misery in Africa & (in the case of Reagan) in Latin America.
- How did she & Pope John Paul II jointly view the Bhopal disaster (1984)? As an example of capitalist greed and contempt for Third World people?
Hardly. They called it a ‘sad event’ that resulted from ‘man’s efforts to make progress.’

Invoking Reagan and Thatcher as devils? Not a good start.

Anyway, I've heard about Hitchen's crusade against Teresa, but I always assumed it was because he's a religious skeptic and also because of her stance on abortion.

But right now, I'll claim ignorance, read the links, and see where it takes me.

At 3:09 PM, December 07, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

First off, this is definitely a "strange bedfellows" argument for me.

Hitchens is an athiest.
Prashad is a communist.

Pretty much everyone who is openly critical of MT does so because they have a worldview that is either diametrically opposed to her faith or some of the more conservative positions of the Catholic church.

I as a conservative Christian think that it is necessary for Christians to stop holding MT forward as a bastion of all we hope to become in our Christian walk. I see that a lot. Of course I won't get into the pitfalls of modelling our walk after those other than Jesus--because that's the conversation over at Amy's.

But Mother Teresa plainly had an agenda of her own that encouraged suffering as a way to partake in the passion of Christ. There are many Christians who believe that suffering and pain are quite literally a form of communion. I have as many problems with the Doctrine of Redemptive Suffering as I do with the Doctrine of Prosperity. Both are what I consider to be heresies that place the burden of salvation upon the work of the individual.

In MT's case, the practice of the Doctrine of Redemptive Suffering was especially heinous. Most practitioners of DoRS choose to partake through their own suffering. (As a person with chronic pain I've been approached by many DoRS ministries who encourage me to "suffer as Jesus suffered" and seem to miss the point of Redemptive Grace altogether.)

What MT did was to instead exploit the suffering of others in order to partake of the communion of Redemptive Suffering. That to me is an inexcusible misuse of the Passion of the Christ.

I really wish more conservative Christians were less afraid to disown these practices. Again, we often don't because of the "strange bedfellows" principle. We don't wish to be aligned with athiests and communists so we choose to be aligned with a misuse of the Gospel.

At 3:45 PM, December 07, 2006, Blogger Rob Robinson said...

Thanks, Kat. You've given me cause to think, if nothing else. I've never heard about any of this before, which sounds like the norm. I'd always assumed MT was a humble and compassionate soul. I am curious to learn more.

At 4:51 PM, December 07, 2006, Blogger grandefille said...

Because I am not in any way an educated soul on this doctrine, I dare not say too much.


I as a causal observer always thought Mother Teresa advocated one's OWN suffering as a way to move closer to God. As in, using one's own suffering to understand some minute infintesimal portion of what Christ suffered on the cross. I have always been taught that the most Christlike way to live is to alleviate *others'* suffering.


... watching the suffering of other people can bring a person closer to God ...

That sounds more like sadism than saintliness.

At 4:52 PM, December 07, 2006, Blogger Holiday Grinch said...

"Her fundamental belief was that watching the suffering of other people can bring a person closer to God. "
Ugh, now I know why the nuns were so mean to me.

At 4:53 PM, December 07, 2006, Blogger grandefille said...


That should read "casual." And "infinitesimal."

You see why I said I dare not say too much.

At 5:06 PM, December 07, 2006, Anonymous nm said...

I'm a long-time Mother Teresa hater, but in fairness we should remember that during her lifetime there were no effective anti-AIDS drugs (the patients at her hospice were just about exclusively suffering from AIDS) and the drugs for palliative care for the number of people she took in would have been very high, possibly beyond her order's ability to provide. That is to say, in feeding and cleaning people in the late stages of AIDS she probably did provide more physical comfort than they could have received elsewhere.

Her sin, as I see it, is that she would not allow her patients to get visits from their friends and lovers, since they were all (including the patients) sinful homosexuals who ought to be kept apart. You could take your loved one to her hospice to ease their dying, but once you did so, it was goodbye. You could not be at their sickbed/deathbed or continue to help them yourself in any way. And they could not be helped by your loving presence. Thus, IMO, any physical comfort she provided was surely outweighed by the emotional damage she did.

At 5:18 PM, December 07, 2006, Blogger Slartibartfast said...

OK - I see now. The whole "suffering as sacrament" thing. Yes, this line of thinking is alive and well, and as far as I can tell, it runs strongly within the Catholic church. I am not a Catholic, but my kids go to a Catholic school, so I only know what I see from the semi-outside.

What I DO know is that Mel Gibson made what may be the best movie ever made about Christ, however he devoted over two hours to the suffering of Christ, and about 30 seconds to (what I consider) the far more important ressurection. This says a lot about a certain mindset.

I can't denounce it as heresy, I just believe this thinking is extra-Biblical.

We Methodists have our own version of this, with the Justification/Santification tenets. However, it needs to be made clear that most Methodists believe that sanctification comes not from anything we do, but is the natural work of the Holy Spirit once one is "justified". Some Methodists forget this - it's an internal argument within our denomination.

But I've gone way off base. Anyway, I'd much rather judge the particular "suffering" mindset than MT as a person or Christian, because I'm really not supposed to do the latter.

At 6:35 PM, December 07, 2006, Anonymous sista smiff said...

Slartibart...you must be a Methodist. :) They don't like to hear about the blood.

To me, the Gospel is all about the suffering, that HE became our sin...all the nastiness, and worst of us, He actually became that, willingly for us. We shouldn't gloss over the suffering because it was not pretty. The good part is He overcame that and we have eternal life through Him...yay!

I get squirmy when I hear people talk about good works getting them into Heaven. Good works are a result of salvation, for sure, but, it's faith that gets us there.

The Gospel According to Sista...

At 6:06 AM, December 08, 2006, Blogger Exador said...

Seems to tie in nicely to the overall self-serving interests, that is christianity: "If I toe the line, I get rewarded with heaven."

At 7:02 AM, December 08, 2006, Blogger Slartibartfast said...

But Exador, classic Christianity is the ONLY major religion that DOESN'T say :

You must do 'x' to acheive 'y'

Islam had myriad rituals and prayers you must do to be right with God.

Same with Judaism.

Buddhism gives us all kinds of practices to relieve ourselve of Desire (thus allowing us to be at one with the Universe)

Hinduism has an incredible amount of "practices" (think yoga) that you must "do" to reach Nirvana.

Only Christianity says: you suck. You are NOT perfectible. Give up. Only Christ can do it. Let Him.

OK, that's a (slightly vulgar) oversimplification, but the underlying point is valid. Even Catholicism and fundamentalist denominations say, "You may have to do works to receive a higher reward, but that has nothing do do with your salvation".

Christianity is the only major religion that says that man can't "do something" to get to Heaven (or reach Nirvana).

At 7:41 AM, December 08, 2006, Blogger Exador said...

Not a physical act, no. If I remember correctly, it has to be a change of heart; that's why confession is useless unless you truly are penitent in your heart,

but the goal is the same.

Get into heaven
Get that reward for yourself.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm plenty selfish.
But I don't go around basing a religion that preaches how selfless we should be, when the ultimate goal is not a better world here on earth, but a purely selfish reward in the afterlife.


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