The Messed Up Truth Of Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa's reputation as a sweet old lady who just wanted to help the world's legions of poor, sick people has been all but solidified in popular culture. Her name is synonymous with charity. It gives us that warm sensation, like a memory of grandma's cookies, and we feel better about ourselves and humanity in general. Look how good some of us can be.

But one man who famously was unable to accept the myth of Mother Teresa was British journalist and ardent skeptic Christopher Hitchens. In the introduction to his 1995 book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, Hitchens asks, "who would be so base" as to pick on sweet old Mamma T? But also, "who would be so incurious" as to not wonder what she was really doing with the millions of dollars her operations received in donations?

She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work, says Biography. Her status as the epitome of selflessness was reinforced when the Catholic Church declared Mother Teresa a saint on September 4, 2016, further entrenching a feeling of blasphemy when questioning the popular conception of the nun as the benevolent woman who eased the burden of those suffering in extreme poverty. Like Hitchens, however, Hindu nationalist Mohan Bhagwat wasn't buying it. He is quoted in the Times of India as saying that "Mother Teresa's work had ulterior motive, which was to convert the person who was being served to Christianity."

Mother Teresa thought suffering was beautiful (in others)

Hitchens quoted Mother Teresa: "I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people." The operative words are those last few in which she specifies exactly whose suffering is beneficial to the world. As Hitchens notes, her own suffering was apparently not as beautiful in the eyes of her God, so she checked into "some of the finest and costliest clinics and hospitals in the West" when she had heart trouble in her old age.

A 2013 study of her life and work, posted by the University of Montreal, found that she had a "rather dubious way of caring for the sick" and a number of "questionable political contacts." Most troubling was the "suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received." The study cited "a significant lack of hygiene, ... unfit conditions, [and] a shortage of actual care, inadequate food, and no painkillers" at her more than 500 missions across the world at the time of her death. Apparently, God only delights in poor people's pain.

Propagating the myth of Mother Teresa as a benevolent saint doesn't alleviate that pain, but rather only serves to create more of it. She should be remembered for what she really was: one of a number of respected historical figures who were actually terrible people.