(I repeat today a column I wrote for the Sparks Tribune Oct. 16, 1997. I do so because Pope Francis recently pronounced her a saint.)
While millions mourned the recent death of Mother Teresa, cynics remained unmoved.
Yes, she did have a rapport with many of the world’s poor and outcast. She established health clinics, orphanages, homes for lepers and homeless shelters. But she was as reactionary as Pope John Paul II.
Her violent opposition to birth control and contraceptives, while tenets of Catholicism, is unforgivable amid the squalor, poverty and teeming multitudes of India.
Her adopted city of Calcutta is overwhelmed by homelessness and failing public services because India has nearly a billion people. About one-third live below the poverty line. India adds 20 million each year, most destined for the same abject poverty and misery.
Yet Mother Teresa’s solutions? Love. Compassion. Forgiveness. Declaring “God is love.” And: “Suffering and disease are gifts from God.” And: “Preach the gospel to all nations.”
“I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ,” she pontificates. “I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of poor people.”
Oh, and she says a woman’s place is in the home, an outrage to any woman’s liberationist.
Agnes Bojaxhui, her birth name, campaigned relentlessly for sainthood. Her image-making, fund-raising and public relations were superb. She boosted her order, the Missionaries of Charity, but never challenged the status quo, never attacked the ills of society.
Saints should have more substance and less glitter. Yet Mother Teresa will soon be beatified and canonized. The fast track will be greased. (Pope John Paul II has already declared five times as many saints as all of his 20th century predecessors put together.)
Her two miracles required for sainthood will soon be revealed.
Meanwhile, Christopher Hitchens wrote of miracles in The Nation: “Bear in mind always the injunction of David Hume when confronted by a so-called miracle. Is it likely that the laws of nature are suspended? No, never.”
Hitchens, author of the debunking “The Missionary Position,” points out repeatedly that she has been judged by her reputation rather than by her actions, actions including such absurdities as:
• Declaring abortion as the greatest threat to world peace.
• Describing contraceptive as the equivalent of murder.
• Cozying up to the Haitian dictator Duvalier and calling him a friend of the poor.
• Accepting money from savings-and-loan shark Charles Keating and calling him another friend of the poor.
To her, divorce is usually wrong. She campaigned against the Irish referendum lifting the constitutional ban on divorce and remarriage. But divorce was all right for Princess Diana because her marriage was miserable.
“That was like the sale of indulgences,” Hitchens writes, “redemption for those who can pay and hellfire admonitions for the powerless.”
At her death, Hitchens was defiant. “She believed we were all miserable sinners conceived in iniquity. But she was a friend of the rich and powerful, only lecturing on the morals of the poor.”
The Nation, one of the few liberal-to-radical publications in America, was merciless. The magazine called Mother Teresa a tiny crone, “more witch than saint.” It added: “She incredibly rants against abortion. birth control, contraception and family planning.”
She was a religious fanatic, centuries behind the times.
Mother Teresa came into prominence by attacking Pope John XXIII, who may have been the greatest pope in history. His aggiornamento promulgated during Vatican II, his open window on the musty Catholic Church, was remarkable.
But no, Mother Teresa wanted the church to be still more fundamental, still more authoritarian.
Hitchens concludes: “She triumphed through the megaphone and echo chamber of an uncritical mass media.”
But slaurettainthood became unstoppable after Malcolm Muggeridge filmed a documentary for the British Broadcasting Corp. in 1969 with the nauseous title of “Something Beautiful for God.”
Mother Teresa is not a saint to the critical thinker. William F. Buckley, conservative guru, agreed in his book, “Nearer My God.” Reminder: Buckley has an IQ at least 50 points higher than most of us.
Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. (firstname.lastname@example.org)