Follow Tales from Absurdia on WordPress.com
Enter Absurdia

The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice Review

Twitter
Facebook
LinkedIn
Pinterest
WhatsApp
The Missionary Position Review

“A thieving, fanatical Albanian dwarf”

This was what author and journalist Christopher Hitchens once branded Mother Teresa.

Harsh? I’ll let you make that call.

Regardless, this damning statement might lead you to think that The Missionary Position is yet another of Hitchens’ famous polemics. And on this count, you’d be wrong.

Whilst The Missionary Position retains Hitchens’ usual sardonic wit, it’s also an excellent piece of investigative journalism. In this brief pamphlet, rounding out at around 100 pages, Hitchens examines Mother Teresa’s role in Kolkata (then Calcutta), the role of faith in her care, and ultimately – whether the public perception of Mother Teresa is well-founded or not.

The Great Kodak Misunderstanding

In this first section, Hitchens argues that Western adoration of Mother Teresa began with Malcolm Muggeridge’s 1969 documentary, Something Beautiful for God.

The BBC production centred on the Kolkata House of the Dying where Mother Teresa presided over the sick.

It was following this documentary that Muggeridge proclaimed to have recorded the first ever ‘authentic photographic miracle’. The lighting was poor in the orphanage, and there were doubts that footage shot would be any good (this was 1969 after all).

Ken Macmillan, the cameraman on this particular job, made the point that prior to visiting Kolkata, the BBC had procured some brand new Kodak film. Upon returning to the UK, he noted:

You could see every detail. And I said, “That’s amazing. That’s extraordinary.” And I was going to go on to say, you know, three cheers for Kodak.

I didn’t get a chance to say that though, because Malcolm, sitting in the front row, spun around and said: “It’s divine light! It’s Mother Teresa. You’ll find that it’s divine light, old boy.” 

Ken Macmillan, BBC Cameraman

From here, it was too late. The press got hold of the story, of the ‘halo-like’ lighting in the orphange. It is here, Hitchens argues, that the myth surrounding Mother Teresa took off.

Fundamentalism and Palliative Care

This section focuses on Mother Teresa’s faith, and observations made by various doctors and volunteers at the orphanage.

Having visited himself, albeit briefly, Hitchens noted that the orphanage had ‘an encouraging air and seemed to be run by charming and devoted people’.

However, Mary Loudon, a volunteer in Kolkata was less impressed from a medical point of view, noting the re-use of needles, lack of painkillers, refusal to send a child in agony to a local hospital, and the cramming of hundreds of people into a couple of poorly equipped rooms.

“She described a person who was in the last agonies of cancer and suffering unbearable pain. With a smile, Mother Teresa said: “You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you.” Unconsious of the account to which this irony might be charged, she then told of the sufferer’s reply: “Then please tell him to stop kissing me.”

The Missionary Position (p.43)

Continuing on, The Missionary Position notes that the global income of Mother Teresa’s charity ran well into the millions, squaring this against the quality of life offered to the inpatients of the orphanage.

Fraud

Probably the weaker section of the book, but nonetheless interesting, Hitchens addresses Mother Teresa’s association with dubious individuals and regimes.

Hitchens goes to great lengths to point out Mother Teresa’s association with the Duvaliers of Haiti, a despotic regime that would eventually be sent packing. Other targets include Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, and – possibly the more interesting subject of Hitchens’ ire – Charles Keating.

Keating was convicted of one of the biggest fraud scandals in U.S. history. A key player in this deception, Keating donated $1.25 million US dollars to Mother Teresa’s cause.

“Saints, it seems, are immune to audit”

The Missionary Position (p.75)

In turn, Mother Teresa furnished him with a personalised crucifix and a personal testament of his good character at the trial in which Keating would be found guilty of fraud and conspiracy.

The money, which belonged to the U.S. taxpayer was never recovered, with no reply ever received.

 

Final Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Missionary Position drives home a really important point.

Idolisation is not a healthy attitude to have.

There’s no doubt that, as a well-known anti-theist, Hitchens had his motives in penning this pamphlet (he went on to produce a documentary called Hell’s Angel too).

However, regardless of your political or religious affiliations, it’s a really interesting piece of journalism.

Was Hitchens right? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


*For more information on the Tales from Absurdia rating scale,
please
read the review rating system.

Enjoy this blog post? Try these

3 thoughts on “The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice Review”

Comments