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Saturday, 13 October 2012

How Christians Lie To Us - Fact And Fiction

This is the second and last blog dealing with Christopher Hitchens' book "The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice". In the first ("How Christians Lie To Us - Birth Of A Myth") I used Hitch's description of how Malcolm Muggeridge invented the Mother Theresa of Calcutta myth almost out of thin air to illustrate how (mythical) sanctity and 'miracles' can be created almost at will for a credulous audience eager for such things.

In this one, I'll use the testimonies of those who witnessed Mother Theresa and her 'Missionaries of Charity' at work to contrast the reality with the myth of tender, loving care for the needs of the sick and dying which the Catholic Church and much of the uncritical media have assiduously manufactured.
There are doctors who call in from time to time but usually the sisters and volunteers (some of whom have medical knowledge) make decisions as best they can. I saw a young man who had been admitted in poor shape with high fever, and the drugs prescribed had been tetracycline and paracetamol. Later a visiting doctor diagnosed probable malaria and substituted chloroquine. Could not someone have looked at a blood film? Investigations, I was told, are seldom permissible. How about simple algorithms that might help the sisters and volunteers distinguish the curable from the incurable? Again no. Such systematic approaches are alien to the ethos of the home. Mother Teresa prefers providence to planning; her rules are designed to prevent any drift towards materialism: the sisters must remain on equal terms with the poor...

Finally, how competent are the sisters at managing pain? On a short visit, I could not judge the power of their spiritual approach, but I was disturbed to learn that the formulary includes no strong analgesics. Along with the neglect of diagnosis, the lack of good analgesia marks Mother Teresa’s approach as clearly separate from the hospice movement. I know which I prefer. [Emphasis added.]

Dr Robin Fox, Editor The Lancet; The Lancet, 17 September 1994; Quoted in Hitchens, Christopher (2012-04-01).
The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.)



My initial impression was of all the photographs and footage I’ve ever seen of Belsen and places like that, because all the patients had shaved heads. No chairs anywhere, there were just these stretcher beds. They’re like First World War stretcher beds. There’s no garden, no yard even. No nothing. And I thought what is this? This is two rooms with fifty to sixty men in one, fifty to sixty women in another. They’re dying. They’re not being given a great deal of medical care. They’re not being given painkillers really beyond aspirin and maybe if you’re lucky some Brufen or something, for the sort of pain that goes with terminal cancer and the things they were dying of...

They didn’t have enough drips. The needles they used and re-used over and over and over and you would see some of the nuns rinsing needles under the cold water tap. And I asked one of them why she was doing it and she said: "Well to clean it." And I said, "Yes, but why are you not sterilizing it; why are you not boiling water and sterilizing your needles?" She said: "There’s no point. There’s no time."

The first day I was there when I’d finished working in the women’s ward I went and waited on the edge of the men’s ward for my boyfriend, who was looking after a boy of fifteen who was dying, and an American doctor told me that she had been trying to treat this boy. And that he had a really relatively simple kidney complaint that had simply got worse and worse and worse because he hadn’t had antibiotics. And he actually needed an operation. I don’t recall what the problem was, but she did tell me. And she was so angry, but also very resigned which so many people become in that situation. And she said, "Well, they won’t take him to hospital." And I said: "Why? All you have to do is get a cab. Take him to the nearest hospital, demand that he has treatment. Get him an operation." She said: "They don’t do it. They won’t do it. If they do it for one, they do it for everybody." And I thought — but this kid is fifteen.

Mary Loudon, Volunteer, Home For The Dying, Calcutta;
Quoted in: Hitchens, Christopher (2012-04-01). Op. Cit.



Bear in mind that Mother Teresa’s global income is more than enough to outfit several first-class clinics in Bengal. The decision not to do so, and indeed to run instead a haphazard and cranky institution which would expose itself to litigation and protest were it run by any branch of the medical profession, is a deliberate one. The point is not the honest relief of suffering but the promulgation of a cult based on death and suffering and subjection...

[Mother Theresa] described a person who was in the last agonies of cancer and suffering unbearable pain. With a smile, Mother Teresa told the camera what she told this terminal patient: "You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you." Unconscious 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."

Hitchens, Christopher (2012-04-01). Op. Cit.



Sent to cook in her hostel, tactfully named "The Gift of Love" (it is for homeless men with HIV), I found a dozen or so very sick men; but those who weren’t very sick were exceptionally depressed, because they were not allowed to watch TV or smoke or drink or have friends over. Even when they are dying, close friends are not allowed. They are never allowed to drink, even (or especially) at the funerals of their friends and roommates and some have been thrown out for coming home in drag! When I mentioned the Olympics to them, they looked even more depressed. "We are not watching the Olympics," said a sister from Bombay, "because we are making our Lenten sacrifice." When they’re very sick and very religious (which is often the case . . . ) this doesn’t matter, but with brighter men or older men it seems intolerable. A Guatemalan writer that I befriended there was desperate to get out, so a friend of mine who also cooks there (an African American who is a practicing Catholic) adopted him for as long as she could. He became much sicker and when she begged him to go back because she couldn’t mind him, he begged her to keep him because he knew they didn’t medicate enough, or properly, and was afraid he would have to die without morphine . . . I am now cooking occasionally for the homeless men at the Franciscans where one of the patients, Bruce, is an ex-Mother Teresa and neither he nor the priest have a good word to say for the Sisters at "The Gift of Love."

Ms Elgy Gillespie, sometime editor The San Francisco Review of Books, on working in Mother Theresa's San Francisco Branch;
Quoted in Hitchens, Christopher (2012-04-01). Op. Cit.



Some years after I became a Catholic, I joined Mother Teresa's congregation, the Missionaries of Charity. I was one of her sisters for nine and a half years, living in the Bronx, Rome, and San Francisco, until I became disillusioned and left in May 1989. As I reentered the world, I slowly began to unravel the tangle of lies in which I had lived. I wondered how I could have believed them for so long.

Three of Mother Teresa's teachings that are fundamental to her religious congregation are all the more dangerous because they are believed so sincerely by her sisters. Most basic is the belief that as long as a sister obeys she is doing God's will. Another is the belief that the sisters have leverage over God by choosing to suffer. Their suffering makes God very happy. He then dispenses more graces to humanity. The third is the belief that any attachment to human beings, even the poor being served, supposedly interferes with love of God and must be vigilantly avoided or immediately uprooted. The efforts to prevent any attachments cause continual chaos and confusion, movement and change in the congregation. Mother Teresa did not invent these beliefs - they were prevalent in religious congregations before Vatican II - but she did everything in her power (which was great) to enforce them.

Once a sister has accepted these fallacies she will do almost anything. She can allow her health to be destroyed, neglect those she vowed to serve, and switch off her feelings and independent thought. She can turn a blind eye to suffering, inform on her fellow sisters, tell lies with ease, and ignore public laws and regulations.

Women from many nations joined Mother Teresa in the expectation that they would help the poor and come closer to God themselves. When I left, there were more than 3,000 sisters in approximately 400 houses scattered throughout the world. Many of these sisters who trusted Mother Teresa to guide them have become broken people. In the face of overwhelming evidence, some of them have finally admitted that their trust has been betrayed, that God could not possibly be giving the orders they hear. It is difficult for them to decide to leave - their self-confidence has been destroyed, and they have no education beyond what they brought with them when they joined. I was one of the lucky ones who mustered enough courage to walk away.

It is in the hope that others may see the fallacy of this purported way to holiness that I tell a little of what I know. Although there are relatively few tempted to join Mother Teresa's congregation of sisters, there are many who generously have supported her work because they do not realize how her twisted premises strangle efforts to alleviate misery. Unaware that most of the donations sit unused in her bank accounts, they too are deceived into thinking they are helping the poor.

As a Missionary of Charity, I was assigned to record donations and write the thank-you letters. The money arrived at a frantic rate. The mail carrier often delivered the letters in sacks. We wrote receipts for checks of $50,000 and more on a regular basis. Sometimes a donor would call up and ask if we had received his check, expecting us to remember it readily because it was so large. How could we say that we could not recall it because we had received so many that were even larger?

When Mother spoke publicly, she never asked for money, but she did encourage people to make sacrifices for the poor, to "give until it hurts." Many people did - and they gave it to her. We received touching letters from people, sometimes apparently poor themselves, who were making sacrifices to send us a little money for the starving people in Africa, the flood victims in Bangladesh, or the poor children in India. Most of the money sat in our bank accounts.

The flood of donations was considered to be a sign of God's approval of Mother Teresa's congregation. We were told by our superiors that we received more gifts than other religious congregations because God was pleased with Mother, and because the Missionaries of Charity were the sisters who were faithful to the true spirit of religious life.

Most of the sisters had no idea how much money the congregation was amassing. After all, we were taught not to collect anything. One summer the sisters living on the outskirts of Rome were given more crates of tomatoes than they could distribute. None of their neighbors wanted them because the crop had been so prolific that year. The sisters decided to can the tomatoes rather than let them spoil, but when Mother found out what they had done she was very displeased. Storing things showed lack of trust in Divine Providence.

The donations rolled in and were deposited in the bank, but they had no effect on our ascetic lives and very little effect on the lives of the poor we were trying to help. We lived a simple life, bare of all superfluities. We had three sets of clothes, which we mended until the material was too rotten to patch anymore. We washed our own clothes by hand. The never-ending piles of sheets and towels from our night shelter for the homeless we washed by hand, too. Our bathing was accomplished with only one bucket of water. Dental and medical checkups were seen as an unnecessary luxury.

Mother was very concerned that we preserve our spirit of poverty. Spending money would destroy that poverty. She seemed obsessed with using only the simplest of means for our work. Was this in the best interests of the people we were trying to help, or were we in fact using them as a tool to advance our own "sanctity?" In Haiti, to keep the spirit of poverty, the sisters reused needles until they became blunt. Seeing the pain caused by the blunt needles, some of the volunteers offered to procure more needles, but the sisters refused.

We begged for food and supplies from local merchants as though we had no resources. On one of the rare occasions when we ran out of donated bread, we went begging at the local store. When our request was turned down, our superior decreed that the soup kitchen could do without bread for the day.

It was not only merchants who were offered a chance to be generous. Airlines were requested to fly sisters and air cargo free of charge. Hospitals and doctors were expected to absorb the costs of medical treatment for the sisters or to draw on funds designated for the religious. Workmen were encouraged to labor without payment or at reduced rates. We relied heavily on volunteers who worked long hours in our soup kitchens, shelters, and day camps.

A hard-working farmer devoted many of his waking hours to collecting and delivering food for our soup kitchens and shelters. "If I didn't come, what would you eat?" he asked.

Our Constitution forbade us to beg for more than we needed, but, when it came to begging, the millions of dollars accumulating in the bank were treated as if they did not exist.

For years I had to write thousands of letters to donors, telling them that their entire gift would be used to bring God's loving compassion to the poorest of the poor. I was able to keep my complaining conscience in check because we had been taught that the Holy Spirit was guiding Mother. To doubt her was a sign that we were lacking in trust and, even worse, guilty of the sin of pride. I shelved my objections and hoped that one day I would understand why Mother wanted to gather so much money, when she herself had taught us that even storing tomato sauce showed lack of trust in Divine Providence.

This is, of course, the same 'penniless' Mother Theresa who shunned her own order's tender loving care for the care of some of the best and most expensive hospitals in the West, when she had her own health problems with her heart and with old age.

Not strictly concerned with witness testimony, never-the-less, the following exchange stands as testimony the moral ambivalence and greed disguised as humility, piety and poverty which characterised Mother Theresa's cult and her overweening lust for sanctity and to be the founder of a new Catholic order.

The background is Charles H. Keating's "Lincoln Savings & Loans" scam with which he stole $252,000,000 from small savers and investors, often taking their entire life savings. In an attempt to give himself a gloss of respectability he had enlisted the help of Mother Theresa by giving her donations totalling $1,250,000 for which she gave him a personalised crucifix (No! Really!) which he constantly displayed. Christians seem to make the best suckers.

He stood trial before the Judge Lance Ito (of the O.J.Simpson trial fame) and the following personal testimony from Mother Theresa was submitted to support a plea for clemency. It's touching humility and pathos would have done credit to Uriah Heep.
Dear Honorable Lance Ito,

We do not mix up in Business or Politicts or courts. Our work, as Missionaries of Charity is to give wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor.

I do not know anything about Mr. Charles Keating’s work or his business or the matters you are dealing with.

I only know that he has alway (sic) been kind and generous to God’s poor, and always ready to help whenever there was a need. It is for this reason that I do not want to forget him now while he and his family are suffering. Jesus has told us “Whatever you do to the least of my brethern … YOU DID IT TO ME. Mr. Keating has done each to help the poor, which is why I am writing to you on his behalf.

Whenever someone asks me to speak to a judge, I always tell them the same thing. I ask them to pray, to look into thier (sic) heart, and to do what Jesus would do in that circumstance. And this is what I am asking of you, your Honor.

My gratitude to you is my prayer for you, and your work, your family and the people with whom you are working.

God bless you

M. Teresa
Thinking that this might have been an innocent mistake made through her naivety (something which comes across in this letter in marked contrast to her public speeches), one of the co-prosecutors in the case, Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles, Paul Turley, wrote to Mother Theresa in his personal and private capacity:
Dear Mother Teresa

I am a Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles County and one of the persons who worked on the prosecution of your benefactor, Charles H. Keating, Jr. I read your letter to Judge Ito, written on behalf of Mr. Keating, which includes your admission that you know nothing about Mr. Keating’s business or the criminal charges presented to Judge Ito. I am writing to you to provide a brief explanation of the crimes of which Mr. Keating has been convicted, to give you an understanding of the source of the money that Mr. Keating gave to you, and to suggest that you perform the moral and ethical act of returning the money to its rightful owners.

Mr. Keating was convicted of defrauding 17 individuals of more than $900,000. These 17 persons were representative of 17,000 individuals from whom Mr. Keating stole $252,000,000. Mr. Keating’s specific acts of fraud were that he was the source of a series of fraudulent representations made to persons who bought bonds from his company and he also was the repository of crucial information which he chose to withhold from bond purchasers, thereby luring his victims into believing they were making a safe, low-risk investment. In truth and in fact, their money was being used to fund Mr. Keating’s exorbitant and extravagant lifestyle.

The victims of Mr. Keating’s fraud come from a wide spectrum of society. Some were wealthy and well-educated. Most were people of modest means and unfamiliar with high finance. One was, indeed, a poor carpenter who did not speak English and had his life savings stolen by Mr. Keating’s fraud.

The biblical slogan of your organization is ‘As long as you did it to one of these My least brethren. You did it to Me’. The ‘least’ of the brethren are among those whom Mr. Keating fleeced without flinching. As you well know, divine forgiveness is available to all, but forgiveness must be preceded by admission of sin. Not only has Mr. Keating failed to admit his sins and his crimes, he persists in self-righteously blaming others for his own misdeeds. Your experience is, admirably, with the poor. My experience has been with the ‘con’ man and the perpetrator of the fraud. It is not uncommon for ‘con’ men to be generous with family, friends and charities.

Perhaps they believe that their generosity will purchase love, respect or forgiveness. However, the time when the purchase of ‘indulgences’ was an acceptable method of seeking forgiveness died with the Reformation. No church, no charity, no organization should allow itself to be used as a salve for the conscience of the criminal. We all are grateful that forgiveness is available but we all, also, must perform our duty. That includes the Judge and the Jury. I remind myself of the biblical admonition of the Prophet Micah: ‘O man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you. To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.’

We are urged to love mercy but we must do justice.

You urge Judge Ito to look into his heart — as he sentences Charles Keating — and do what Jesus would do. I submit the same challenge to you. Ask yourself what Jesus would do if he were given the fruits of a crime; what Jesus would do if he were in possession of money that had been stolen; what Jesus would do if he were being exploited by a thief to ease his conscience? [my emphasis]

I submit that Jesus would promptly and unhesitatingly return the stolen property to its rightful owners. You should do the same. You have been given money by Mr. Keating that he has been convicted of stealing by fraud. Do not permit him the ‘indulgence’ he desires. Do not keep the money. Return it to those who worked for it and earned it!

If you contact me I will put you in direct contact with the rightful owners of the property now in your possession.

Sincerely,

Paul W. Turley
He never received a reply and the stolen money remains un-repaid.

"For the love of money is the root of all evil." 1 Timothy 6:10


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