Ever since the publication of Christopher Hitchens book, The Missionary Position, I keep hearing from people who believe that Mother Teresa was twisted person who intentionally perpetuated poverty rather than relieving it because she believed things were better that way. I attended a discussion for an unrelated book last night in which one of the audience member commented that Teresa kept people poor because she thought it would help them get to heaven. The moderator pushed back at that idea, but it obviously had some currency with those present.
I’m not an expert on Teresa, and I haven’t gotten around to Hitchens’ book. So no answers here, but I do have this question. I wonder whether its the case that Mother Teresa’s admirers and detractors would all essentially agree on the facts of what she did, but interpret them in almost opposite ways. Could it be that she chose to focus on comforting the sick and dying rather than relieving poverty because that was her calling, her charism, and she needed to focus on bringing a personal touch to as many people as possible in Calcutta? Those who fell under the influence of her ministry certainly seemed grateful. Hitchens, whose vision goes no further than the material comforts of this life has no appreciation for a touch of grace to the dying because it doesn’t solve anything he can see. It has no tanglible results. But with every hug, every bath, every spoonful of soup brought to the lips of an invalid, Teresa was sowing grace amidst despair.
I’m not opposed to poverty relief efforts–quite the opposite! But I do recognize that there is more than one kind of good work in the world. I’d be cautious about criticizing someone for doing a kind of good work different than the one I prefer. There’s room for both.
And I’m definitely of the opinion that Teresa is just too tempting a target for my atheist friends. There’s a little too much glee in the criticisms. What a delight it is to show that the woman so admired around the world was a fraud! If the iconic holy woman of the modern age was really a pathological deviant, then there can’t be anything to that Christianity stuff after all, can there?