Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mother Teresa, Princess Diana – the populist saints?


Mother Teresa died 10 years ago today, just days after ‘The Peoples' Princess’, Diana died under a flyover in Paris. History has been kind to them since.

Both Teresa and Diana had a lot in common – they have both been remembered for their personal suffering, their selflessness, and for good works (Mother Theresa for ‘helping the poor’ – Diana for ‘helping’ people with AIDS and boldly going where no princess had boldly gone before – into the middle of a field of landmines.

Mother Teresa is on a fast track to Sainthood – and there are still many that would like to cast Dianna as some kind of secular Saint.

There has been nearly as much coverage today in Poland of the death of Mother Theresa ten years ago as there was in the UK on the tenth anniversary of the speed crash death of Diana.

But are their reputations so deserved?

Diana has been portrayed as a victim of the media’s greed and intrusiveness – quite forgetting that she courted their attention when she wanted to. She was also a victim of a jug-eared adulterer, apparently.

And Mother Teresa?

Father Tomasz Jaklewicz of Poland's largest Catholic weekly Gosc Niedzielny told Polish Radio today::

'I think that blessed Mother Theresa is very popular in Poland. Maybe this is because she is associated with Pope John Paul II. She is one of the three persons in white - John Paul II in his white cassock, Mother Theresa in her white sari, and I would add here brother Roger of the Taize community in his white habit. These three persons constitute a kind of an icon of the Church in the 20th century. What is interesting, they are not so much like saints of the old type, whom we pray to and ask for intercession, but they are more like role models. I think each of them, in their own way, present the face of the Church that is close to people.'

Mother Teresa as role model?

Christopher Hitchens – the author of the Mother Teresa biography The Missionary Position makes comments about the Mother of Calcutta that are equally compatible (although substitute the word 'church' for 'media') to Diana, who Tony Blair once called ‘The Queen of Hearts…(puke).:

What is so striking about the "beatification" of the woman who styled herself "Mother" Teresa is the abject surrender, on the part of the church, to the forces of showbiz, superstition, and populism...

Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.

And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit.

But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?

Well, indeed.

31 comments:

roman said...

beatroot,

Chris Hitchens as an expert commentator on the virtue of Mother Teresa?
His conclusions are so negative and bordering on contempt that one would be remiss in not sensing massive and naked bias. It is very sad indeed, when even a little old frail woman doing charity work is chosen to be demonized by a psuedo-intellectual writer with anti-freeze running through his veins.
It is very disappointing to see such crass judgmental scrutiny and cheap "paparazziing" of defenseless (a/k/a dead) notables.
Hitchens should know better.

beatroot said...

It is very sad indeed, when even a little old frail woman doing charity work is chosen to be demonized by a psuedo-intellectual writer with anti-freeze running through his veins.

How many 'little old ladies doing charity work' do you know who hobnob with fascist dictators, Roman?

:-)

And how about engaging with the argument that is presented: how and what did MT do to illiminate poverty?

She was not doing 'charity work' at all....she was on a religious mission....

The way to stop poverty is through politics ....not teaching people that being poor is 'noble'....how is that going to make people want to change their circumstance?

geez said...

Hitchens: "she was a friend to the worst of the rich."

<><

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Hitchens has been hobnobing with the scummiest of the scummy in recent years.

Hey, JP2 consorted with Fidel, too.

And Hillary is in a snit coz Obama sez he'd be willing to talk to dictators.

Also, I don't think MT went out of her way to "hobnob" with anyone. They sought her out. Should she have refused them the chance to act charitably?

Remember, too, that there is poverty of spirit. Maybe she helped those fascists in that respect, even if but a little bit.

And don't forget JC taught that we will always have the poor with us.

So, I see nothing wrong with tending to the immediate human needs of impoverished people. What's wrong with extending a little love, expecting nothing in return?

Saints are not supposed to be perfect. Of course, she had flaws. But did she do much good, so much so that she should be considered a role model -- and a saint?

I'd say so.

Throw in Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton into that mix, too. And Romero, quickly.

Anyway, in terms of humility, no matter a few imperfections, MT certainly has Hitchens beat hands down. And I see no problem with 500 or a thousand convents with nuns and laypeople feeding and comforting the poor and sickly.

Foolishly, Hitchens opts for the leadership of George Bush in tending to the needs of the poor in Iraq, the rest of the middle east, the US, etc.

Marloes de Koning said...

Check out this brilliant piece of Dianalism. 'Diana pregnant again'. The German Bild-Zeitung with a series on 'what would have happened if Diana were still alive?

beatroot said...

Also, I don't think MT went out of her way to "hobnob" with anyone. They sought her out. Should she have refused them the chance to act charitably?

Geez, it was nothing to do with charity. She hobnobbed with dictators which supported catholic church.

So, I see nothing wrong with tending to the immediate human needs of impoverished people.

And that is all she ever did....so why the fuss?
The present Indian economy has done much more to alleviate pverty in that country than MT....so when is India going to become a saint? Eh?

geez said...

If you were penniless and there was no one else to be there with you at your side on your deathbed, BR, would you rather have a social worker from the state of India or a Mother Theresa?

Also, I'm mighty sure that all the individuals she helped in her decrepit clinics were more grateful to her and her sisters than to the state of India.

And last time I looked, poverty is far from eliminated in India.

You're right of course in that she didn't do all that much to alleviate economic poverty. She provided acts of mercy to those in poverty.

Kindness. That's something with which Hitchens seems absolutely unfamiliar.

Redwine said...

In such an apolitical world we have the icons we deserve. However, I see no point of comparison between the two ladies. If Diana was 'helping people with Aids", who comes next? Paris Hilton or Britney?

roman said...

beatroot,

Lets engage not in "fell swoop" theories on how to eliminate poverty. There are no magical solutions to this problem and no one person is able to accomplish this by themselves.
Your query: "how and what did MT do to illiminate poverty?"
Answer: What has Hitchens done in this regard? No one person is able to "eliminate" poverty.. so the expectation set of MT is impossible to begin with. She sought out the most desperately poor, sickly, aged and dying amongst us and gave them comfort. She believed in the commands of her religious convictions. If beatroot is able to think less macro and more like one of those desperate people helped by MT, he would be convinced that poverty had been eliminated.:)

frolix22 said...

Princess Diana was nothing more than a privileged woman, fairly attractive, who became rather deranged towards the end of her life. The way she is idolised by so many, especially here in Britain, is quite baffling.

michael farris said...

Mother Teresa was under no legal, financial or moral obligation to do what she did and had every right to walk away from it at any moment.

Those who wish to criticise her for not acting according to their preferences might want to remember that.

michael farris said...

Princess Diana was raised to be an ornament in some rich man's life.

Then, she ended up being used pretty much as a brood-mare by a cynical prince who wanted someone to produce little heirs and keep her mouth shut (and eyes and ears closed and not bother him in his important business of dallying with his mistress).

She had the last laugh as it turned out that she did the figurehead-royals' jobs better than any of them, for which sin they couldn't forgive her.

She was no saint, but she was able to think on her feet (unlike most of the Windors) and relate to people directly and relatively uncondescendingly (again unlike the family she married into). Amid the vanity and foolishness, she allowed her fame and her face to be put to good use and on the whole did some (mostly indirect) good in the world.

It's too bad she happened to die when she was at loose ends and clearly floundering and needing to find some new direction.

I didn't get the outpouring of grief at her death. In some ways it reminded me somewhat of a child whose puppy just died. Everybody's saying that it isn't that big a deal but to the child the world has ended (for a time).

beatroot said...
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beatroot said...

I think the two women were a product of their age. Teresa was the prototype Diana. Both were, in their different ways, style over substance. They were the heart of a heartless world, they were the opium of the people…

But..anyway…I was in London when the Diana thing happened and I was in Amsterdam when MT died. No question – Diana was the more box office death in that part of Europe.

The British went nuts. The Sunday morning newspapers looked really stupid. They had been printed before the death and were full of Diana bashing…Oooo look at her with that Arab etc…same with the people…they thought she was a bit of a bitch. And then she died. And then she turned into a saint.

And the biggest crime the Windsors committed was that they did not show their emotions!!! The ‘stiff upper lip’ was seen as a criminal act as perfectly sane Brits, who had never ever even met Diana, went to emotional pieces. The Queen refused to become Oprah Winfrey and let it all hang out and this was seen as a crime against the nation.

Since then, every time something horrible happens Brits are forced to show emotion. The newspapers are these days in UK full of celebs eagerly showing us how fucked up they are emotionally. The one minute silence has stretched to four, five minutes.

This is the Diana effect.

As for the Royal family…well, Diana’s death saved them. They were in big trouble in the mid 1990s. Now the storm has passed. Nobody respects them very much. but the Guillotine has been put back in its box.

So Teresa and Diana are projections of some very weird emotional stuff in a culturally screwed up West.

We are desperate for Media Super Saints!

michael farris said...

"So Teresa and Diana are projections of some very weird emotional stuff in a culturally screwed up West.
We are desperate for Media Super Saints!"

I partially disagree. I do think they're projections (all role models are), but what's wrong about looking for positive role models?

What makes MT a role model is the idea of unflinchingly and compassionately serving immediate and glaring needs that are being ignored (long range planning to ameliorate those needs is a completely valid but entirely separate issue).

What makes Diana a role model is her emotional directness and desire to do good (that she wasn't repulsed by or afraid of AIDS sufferers was a _huge_ deal at the time, o korzeniu o krótkiej pamięci).

Some of MT's more bizarre ideas about birth control or Diana's more superficial fashion/celebrity obsessions are just not relevant to that discussion. Nor should they be. If you dig deep enough every role model has feet of clay and less-than-wonderful features.

You're also a symptom of the spiritual bankruptcy of the west with your desire to tear symbols of Doing Good down to your own small, human size.

beatroot said...

what's wrong about looking for positive role models?

This is central to my point. These are NOT positive role models. MT thought that poverty was GOOD. Noble. Not something to be disgusted by, not something to be fought. She was pro-poverty. She was an anti-role model in her part of India. She was for keeping women in their place - she opposed all secular ideas such as equality of the sexes etc. She was not interested in building a more modern society. She held India back.

It is only now that India has entered into a period of fast economic growth that these ideas are starting to change that place significantly.

She was an anti-role model.

michael farris said...

"She held India back"

I think you're ascribing just a small bit more power to her than she actually had. I realize she was the Finance Minister and President-for-Life but ....

Yeah, granted, she had some weird-ass stupid ideas. But most people don't know about that and those weird ideas don't form part of why people look(ed) up to her and don't pollute the good that she did do.

And even had she done as you did during your charitable work among the poor in India and financed software start-ups and handed out condoms, it would still be a good idea to actually tend to those dying destitute in the gutter that most Calcuttans were busy tastefully ignoring.

Any human being that does some good things in the world will have some major flaws as well, it comes with the territory. That shouldn't make the good worth less.

geez said...

Cut me a break. She did not wish poverty on anyone, except herself and sisters in her order.

Please provide a quote where she goes on about poverty being in and of itself good or noble.

Her virtually boundless charity to the poor was the positive role-modeling she provided.

She was a sinner. She had doubts. Wow. When's the next news flash?

beatroot said...

Mike Yeah, granted, she had some weird-ass stupid ideas. But most people don't know about that and those weird ideas don't form part of why people look(ed) up to her and don't pollute the good that she did do.

What do think the point of the post was: to point out the other side of Saint Teresa...

Anonymous said...

Dear People:

The public response to the “revelation” that Mother Theresa was subject to doubts and long periods of spiritual dryness says more about the spiritual state of our culture than it does about her. People nowadays can't understand why she would remain a Catholic if she wasn't "getting off" on it. Where's the euphoria? Where's the payoff? If Catholicism was such a "downer" for her, why didn't she just move on? The idea of suffering for one's Beloved (human or Divine!) as being a high privilege is meaningless to such people.
(Remember Don Novello's character of Guido Sarducci, gossip columnist for La O'sservatore Romano on Saturday Night Live? In one of his sketches he talked about a plan to remove the cross from Catholic churches because "the logo is a downer." I'm not sure people could understand the humor of that today.)

It may be that God was calling Mother Theresa, who in "natural" terms was a "cataphatic" contemplative, subject to visions and auditions and sensible consolations, to a different vocation: that of the apophatic contemplative, who encounters God in the barrenness, mortification and dark night of all the faculties of the soul -- until he or she learns that the feeling of God's absence is the very SIGN of His presence. And she may not have fully understood everything that such a call might entail.

We mustn't forget that Christ felt abandoned by God too: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Clearly he never doubted God's existence; atheists never feel "abandoned by God." And I'm sure that Mother Theresa never doubted His existence either; she simply mourned His felt absence, like John of the Cross, and Rumi, and so many other mystics always have. So what else is new? What else is new is that people are clueless nowadays about the fundamentals of the spiritual life.

Sincerely,
Charles Upton
cupton@qx.net

Anonymous said...
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beatroot said...
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beatroot said...

Amen!

geez said...

Charles:

One of the best posts I've seen in these here parts since I started hanging out here.

Thank you.

geez said...

Charles:

Looked you up and I'm assuming you're "beat," too. Cool. Anyway, I'm now looking forward to finding and reading your stuff. Mea culpa for never having heard of you before.

Another good reason to read the BR.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

‘Yeah, granted, she had some weird-ass stupid ideas. But most people don't know about that and those weird ideas don't form part of why people look(ed) up to her and don't pollute the good that she did do.’

Have to actually agree with this statement by Mike. It clearly goes further than beatroot’s short sighted assertion that the post merely ‘points out the other side of Mother Theresa’. The ‘point of this post’ is its recognition of the fact that people continue to look up to her. Why should this reality be jeopardised on the basis of lesser known details? Indeed the unfortunate fact that so few role models of such a nature exist in a world of crass consumerism (in the west at least), to me begs the question of whether it is justifiable to try, for whatever motivation, to tarnish Mother Theresa’s reputation.

It remains undeniable that the name and image of Mother Theresa remain icons of human dignity and goodness. Surely such worthy traits in themselves justify her enduring status as a role model to whom millions can aspire.

Anonymous said...

MT and Diana are both wonderful poeple they helped poeple and yes they have had some problemes , but dont we all? you cant expect them to be emortal! so calm down a little and instead of Criticizing them be more suportive on what they did. like common they gave pretty much their lives to help others and they didnt need to but they did. so i dont think they diserve to be dimalished by some idiot because they didnt stand up to your standerds.

I'm doing a project on MT and i find she does diserve to be called a saint. She did the best she could, she didnt force anyone to be catholique, and she devoted her life to help other and didnt ask for anything in return.

Anonymous said...

MT and Diana are both wonderful poeple they helped poeple and yes they have had some problemes , but dont we all? you cant expect them to be emortal! so calm down a little and instead of Criticizing them be more suportive on what they did. like common they gave pretty much their lives to help others and they didnt need to but they did. so i dont think they diserve to be dimalished by some idiot because they didnt stand up to your standerds.

I'm doing a project on MT and i find she does diserve to be called a saint. She did the best she could, she didnt force anyone to be catholique, and she devoted her life to help other and didnt ask for anything in return.

Anonymous said...

At least she did something for people, in an enormous way, against cultures, poverty, even sometimes, against Church.

It´s always the same... People criticize the few good persons, instead of admire them and follow their example.

Emil said...

Evil always hates and tries to find wrong in good.

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