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Posted by on Mar 5, 2013 in In the news, Psychology, Religion | 9 comments

Mother Teresa not so saintly

This article in The Independent cites work published in  The Journal of Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses to raise public doubts about Mother Teresa, whose name has become almost synonymous in the public imagination with compassion and even saintliness.

I must say that I am not surprised at these allegations, since they have been well known (at least in general terms) for quite a long time (at least to people who’ve cared to dig just a bit deeper). Christopher Hitchens even wrote a book on the subject, and although it was presented in a journalistic, rather than overtly scholarly, format, no one, to the best of my knowledge has ever convincingly refuted it. Well, it now seems that Hitchens had it pretty much right.

It’s one thing to be motivated by compassion for others to do whatever is possible, with the resources available to you, to relieve their pain and attempt to treat its underlying causes. It another thing to fetishize pain, treating it as if it has some kind of value in itself, even some sort of spiritual “beauty” that the properly initiated can understand and appreciate. Unfortunately, it seems that Mother Teresa is revered for the former, while actually, as far as the facts seem to show, practising something more akin to the latter. This sort of valorisation of pain is creepy (not a word that I normally like to use, but it fits well here) and abhorrent, but it’s deeply ingrained in Catholic culture and tradition.