Friday, August 24, 2007

Mother Teresa's Sadomasochistic Theology

I read this Time Magazine article about a collection of Mother Teresa's letters just now released, and I seriously considered projectile vomiting -- but I refrained, because I didn't want to mess up my Apple Cinema Display. It is often claimed that one "proof" of the existence of God is that believers have subjective spiritual experiences which confirm -- to them -- that God exists. Of course, such experiences prove nothing, other than the fact that the person having them is prone to delusion or wishful thinking.

Yet, it would seem that Mother Teresa had no such experiences for most of her life. As Time delicately puts it "for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever." She lived, we are told, "in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain." One of the alleged advantages of religion, we are told, is that it provides solace and comfort -- yet for Mother Teresa, it apparently provided none of that.

Meanwhile, even as she felt this spiritual desolation, she kept of this cheery, peaceful demeanor, pretending she had all the answers, when in fact she had none. She was lying for nearly her whole life:

In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the "dryness," "darkness," "loneliness" and "torture" she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. "The smile," she writes, is "a mask" or "a cloak that covers everything." Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. "I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love," she remarks to an adviser. "If you were [there], you would have said, 'What hypocrisy.'"

No shit. I always assumed she was sincere, but it now turns out she didn't even believe the crap she was spewing. And of course Time dances around that fact.

There has always been a healthy dose of sadomasochism in the whole Catholic thing, particularly the fixation on Christ's torture and torment -- the whole Passion thing. Which is why Mel Gibson's The Passion has been referred to as a "gay S&M snuff flick." And don't get me started on self-flagellation or the torture devices developed for the Inquisition.

So it's not surprising that her spiritual suffering is twisted around in some weird sadomasochistic tangle and used as a theological selling point:

For all that she had expected and even craved to share in Christ's Passion, she had not anticipated that she might recapitulate the particular moment on the Cross when he asks, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" The idea that rather than a nihilistic vacuum, his felt absence might be the ordeal she had prayed for, that her perseverance in its face might echo his faith unto death on the Cross, that it might indeed be a grace, enhancing the efficacy of her calling, made sense of her pain. Neuner would later write, "It was the redeeming experience of her life when she realized that the night of her heart was the special share she had in Jesus' passion." And she thanked Neuner profusely: "I can't express in words — the gratitude I owe you for your kindness to me — for the first time in ... years — I have come to love the darkness. "

Words fail. She didn't feel the presences of God or Jesus, and this made her miserable. But it turns out this is God's blessing after all! What a twisted bit of logic, that.

If she was into the whole suffering thing, great. Whip it. Whip it good. But what makes her sadomasochistic theology so pernicious -- as Christopher Hitchens has noted -- is that she embraced suffering in other people. She thought that the suffering of the poor was very beautiful, and that the world is somehow aided by that misery. And. even worse, she didn't use pain medications in her hospice -- to do so would be to deprive the dying of a chance to suffer, and get closer to God! You know, her own spiritual torment was her own business. But she didn't stop at that -- she had to inflict pain on other people. And her hypocrisy knew no bounds, because when she got sick, Mother Teresa checked into first-rate hospitals. None of this dying-on-a-cot-with-no-painkiller stuff for Mother Teresa.

UPDATE: Ann Althouse has an interesting post on this story, with some links. Quite a few people seem to have picked up on the fact that she refrained from giving painkillers to people at her hospice. I wonder if this inconvenient fact will seep out into the general world?


Society Girl said...

Maybe God abandoned Mother Teresa becuase of how the "patients" were treated in her "hospitals"

Alexc3 said...

Society Girl, it's the other way around. Because she thought that her "spiritual suffering" was a blessing from God, she decided it would be a great idea to let those in pain suffer and get closer to Jesus. If she was abandoned by God, it would have been God's abandonment that caused her to let others suffer. Sorry if you were trying to justify your religion in some way with your post.

Tatarize said...

Yeah, in fact, they might be related as Alex suggested. She couldn't have those internal feelings of being close to God, so she felt she was being brought closer to Christ by looking into the faces of people in pain and suffering lying on a crappy cot and dying without medicine.

If God don't give you the warm fuzzies... torture people.

society girl said...

I was not trying to justify my religion; rather, I was trying to suggest that when she felt abandoned by God, if Mother Teresa had done some honest self-examination, she may have made different choices. Not meaning to trivialize, it is like a boss whose secretary and subordinates keep leaving, but s/he never stops to think, "Could it be that I am the asshole?"

Anonymous said...

Have those who have criticized Mother Teresa cared for dying, poor patients refused by hospitals. Find out more about what she did in her life before you criticize. She showed compassion, cleaned, and cared for homeless, alone, dirty, diseased, damaged people that the vast majority of people ignore, and cannot even look at, let alone touch.

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