Department Of At Last, An Honest Answering Device
Last week I was gob smacked by the picture MH sent me of our answering machine’s display of a caller ID (for the phone call he missed):
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Department Of It’s Just Where My Mind Goes
My first thought upon reading the following review  excerpt: The film isn’t circumcised?
New York Times Critics’ Pick!
An uncut gem of a movie…..
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Department Of No, I Can’t Just Leave It Alone
Whaddya mean, I’ve never told you my favorite circumcision jokes?
Q. What did the receptionist say to the patient waiting in the circumcisionist’s office?
A. “It won’t be long now.”
Q. How much does a circumcisionist earn?
A. One hundred dollars an hour, plus tips.
Speaking of unkind cuts…what a convenient segue to
Department Of Name Dropping And Saint Shaming
Mother Teresa’s work was part of a global enterprise for the alleviation of bourgeois guilt, rather than a genuine challenge to those forces that produce and maintain poverty.
(“Mother Teresa as the Mirror of Bourgeois Guilt,”
Indian journalist/historian Vijay Prashad )
The following rant thoughtful explication was prompted by a recent comment I overheard, which I list in the paragraph after the warning.
(Consider yourself warned.)
Should you ever attempted to deflect a commendation (within earshot of moiself ) regarding an act of generosity or kindness on your part by using the intended-to-be humble qualifier, “Well, I’m no Mother Teresa…”, brace yourself for my rejoinder:
“Yes, but Mother Teresa was, in fact, ‘no Mother Teresa.’ ” 
The first time I recall doing this was at least fifteen years ago, during the book study group I attended at a UCC church (where we the still-closeted atheists – MH and I – were active members). I cannot recall the book under discussion nor the particular comment which elicited a fellow book group member’s poorly-timed, Well, I’m no Mother Teresa….
“Poorly-timed” translation: I’d been reading up on Mother Teresa, having come across criticism from liberal Catholics regarding MT’s entry into what amounted to the RC church’s “Ten Items or Fewer” saint checkout line.  In doing so I’d encountered a surprising number of informed and rational voices – from British journalist Christopher Hitchens to Australian academic and social critic Germaine Greer  to Indian physicians and activists and others. These voices had dared to question – and more importantly, to examine – MT’s previously unexamined reputation as a humble, selfless humanitarian devoted to the poor. And I began to share some of my “encounters” with the book group.
Pity that unfortunate I’m-no-Mother-Teresa comment-dude…. I did later apologize to him  for getting the group “off track.” (And the always tolerant and circumspect book group leader practically left skidmarks getting us “back to the subject at hand.”)
As per the name-dropping: In October 2007 I attended the Freedom From Religion Foundation‘s annual convention, held that year in Madison, WI. Christopher Hitchens, one of the featured speakers, gave a rousing speech for his acceptance of the FFRF’s The Emperor Has No Clothes Award . Later that evening, a New Friend I Met At The Convention ® and I went to the hotel bar/cafe, to discuss the day’s events over wine and a tasty hummus platter.  There were no tables available, so NFIMATV and I took a seat at the bar. NFIMATV noticed that Mr. Hitchens was seated at the end of the bar, a mere six barstools down from us, and decided we should commend him re his speech.
Although never averse to chatting up strangers, I was reluctant to “pester” someone who was…well, a celebrity of sorts. I reminded NFIMATV of Hitchens’ reputation for not suffering fools;  also, he’d just spoken in front of hundreds of people and might want to simply unwind and sip his drink….
NFIMATV would have none of my protestations. “He came to a crowded, public place! If he wanted to be left alone he’d have gone up to his suite and ordered room service.” She grabbed my arm and literally dragged me down to the end of the bar.
NFIMATV briefly introduced herself and I to Hitch, and complimented him on his speech. Moiself said WTF to moiself, and then aloud to Hitch: “I thought you might appreciate knowing that you’ve been quoted…uh, by me…in a church book study group, when someone said the usual obsequious nonsense about Mother Teresa.”
Hitch winked at me, replied, “Indeed,” and raised his whiskey glass in a toast. Then it was my turn to be the arm-grabber as I led NFIMATV back to our end of the bar.
This ends the name-dropping portion of our programming.
“I just thought that this myth [re Mother Teresa and the Catholic charities providing compassionate care in the slums of India] had to be challenged”….
Over hundreds of hours of research, much of it cataloged in a book he published in 2003, Dr. Chatterjee said he found a “cult of suffering” in homes run by Mother Teresa’s organization, the Missionaries of Charity, with children tied to beds and little to comfort dying patients but aspirin.
He and others said that Mother Teresa took her adherence to frugality and simplicity in her work to extremes, allowing practices like the reuse of hypodermic needles and tolerating primitive facilities that required patients to defecate in front of one another.
(from “A Critic’s Lonely Quest: Revealing the Whole Truth About Mother Teresa,
NY Times profile of Dr. Aroup Chaterjee )
It is highly likely that what you “know,” and what most people think they know, about MT comes from a book about her  – and the media coverage about the celebrity visits to MT’s clinics, which followed publication of the book – written by Malcolm Muggeridge. Muggeridge, a zealous Roman Catholic convert and conservative British social commenter, was derided by Christopher Hitchens as “that old fraud and mountebank.” Hitchens largely credited Muggeridge for providing the propaganda tool which spawned MT’s becoming “the focus of a fawning cult who used the suffering of the poor for her own political and ideological ends.”
Christopher Hitchens was MT’s most vocal – but by no means only – detractor. He described her as a “thieving, fanatical Albanian dwarf,” and charged that the missions she ran in Calcutta were humanitarian humbugs serving as a masquerade for her “cult of death and suffering.” What Hitch did by investigating MT and her work is what any good journalist – and citizen – should do, and yet because he was one of the first to do so he was considered radical and contrarian when he was in fact being sensible and straightforward: he judged Mother Theresa‘s reputation by her words and actions. What was being promoted by the myth makers, saint manufacturers was the opposite – they wanted you to judge MT’s words and actions by her reputation.
Okay, perspective timeout. If you’re interested in this subject, or just perplexed because this is the first time you’ve heard about the MT controversy, you can find much more information than the crumbs I offer in this space. There have been books, articles, even a documentary  on the subject, by writers and investigators far more experienced and eloquent then moiself. If you find your defensive hackles rising at the mere thought of criticizine a “saint”– if you prefer the PR to reality – it’s likely you won’t be convinced by the evidence, no matter the source.
Evidence – and her own words – show that Mother Teresa was not so much a “champion of the poor” but a religious fanatic who took pleasure in their suffering. Not only did she refuse to alleviate the pain of her patients but she gloried in it. As she herself said: “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.”
(“Mother Teresa ‘a friend of poverty, not of the poor,” Carol Hunt, independent.ie)
Here’s the main point, which I think cannot be overemphasized: Mother Teresa did not love the poor and the afflicted; she was in love with poverty and affliction. The difference is astronomically crucial, particularly in understanding her motivation – which is most adamantly not an excuse – for the way she treated her patients and ran her organization.
Did she see the Calcutta slum dwellers for who and what they were, and respect them as (non-Catholic) individuals? Or did she see them as mere objects sharing a “lot” she considered to be some kind of blessed condition bestowed by her deity?
People who are in fact poor and genuinely suffering do not idealize their misery. The destitute want to rise out of poverty, and the afflicted want to get well. To think (and act) otherwise about their situations is patronizing, not compassionate.
A summary of the reality behind the Mother Teresa mythos:
* Critics have pointed out a host of ways in which MT’s mission of mercy was not all that it seemed, including but not limited to her shady ways of caring for the sick, her problematic political contacts, her irregular management of the vast sums of money she received, and her harsh, dogmatic views on social and cultural issues. Examples include:
* Doctors and journalists who visited MT’s clinics accused her of perpetuating the suffering of destitute patients by not giving them easily obtainable painkillers and by having the dying spend their final weeks on wooden pallets in communal dormitories, fed only on boiled rice and water;
* Families who took their loved ones to MT’s clinics to receive care for, e.g., a broken leg, complained that their loved ones were treated as if they were dying (i.e., given only hospice-type care and not transferred or referred to another, actual medical clinic) and thus did die, from lack of treatment of totally non-lethal, treatable ailments.  Meanwhile, MT herself traveled out of the country to California clinics when she got sick and required treatment.
* Several visitors who traveled to see MT’s Calcutta clinic, impressed by the mission to help the poor but appalled by the clinic’s primitive conditions and lack of supplies, made substantial donations to MT’s order (“The Sisters of Charity”) for the express purpose of updating and supplying the clinic. When these donors returned months or years later to see what their monies had wrought, they were shocked to find the clinic was as rundown as it had always been (and MT’s order refused to publish any audit of its funds). Meanwhile, MT’s order was opening religious schools around the world – by MT’s own claim she opened 500 convents in more than one hundred countries – most of them bearing her name. 
* Germaine Greer called MT a “religious imperialist” bent on evangelism,” and Indian human rights activists accused MT of a covert agenda – trying to convert the poor to Christianity, under the guise of treating the sick. Witnesses observed MT and her staff performing the Catholic rite of baptism upon dying and delusional non-Christian patients while pretending to cool the patients’ heads with wet cloths.
* MT accepted donations from – and provided photo ops for – sleazy public figures who gave her donations – including the brutal Haitian dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier (whom she praised in return), the disgraced British publisher Robert Maxwell, and the thieving American banker, Charles Keating (remember the S & Loan crisis?) – while refusing to comment upon (or claiming ignorance about) their atrocious human rights violations.
This last * is particularly galling to me, because if you can for some reason excuse the other criticisms of MT, how can you justify, other than for brazen $$ interests, her cozying up to such horrible people and regimes? Do you know about her astonishing personal involvement in the prosecution of Charles Keating?
MT wrote a letter, on behalf of Keating to the judge who tried Keating’s case, asking for mercy and leniency in Keaton’s sentencing…despite claiming in the letter to know nothing about his business nor the criminal charges levied against him. The Deputy DA who worked on the prosecution of Keating wrote an eloquent letter back to MT, detailing the charges against Keating and the sources of the money that Keating had donated to MT, thus providing, as Hitchens put it, the “clearest and best-documented proof against the customary apologies about (MT’s supposed) innocence and unworldliness.”
The DA was so appalled by MT’s efforts on behalf of her benefactor – and her seeming lack of concern for those Keating had swindled – that he allowed Hitchens to print his response to MT in its entirety, in Hitchen’s MT expose, The Missionary Position. An excerpt from his letter:
“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 saving’s stolen by Mr. Keating’s fraud….
You urged (the judge) 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?
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 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 indirect contact with the rightful owners of the property now in your possession.”
Mother Teresa neither replied to the letter nor returned the money.
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May you always judge the reputation by the deeds, and not vice-versa;
May you always be able to provide an accounting;
May you know (at least as per circumcision jokes) when to leave it alone;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
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 And be relieved if I stop at the mere rejoinder and do not go into full lecture mode.
 Greer was once on the same airplane flight as MT, and noted that while she (Greer) rode in economy class, MT, who had taken a vow of poverty, rode in first class. Greer had critiqued MT and the Catholic charitable orders and their policies and politics before and after that plane ride, and infamously referred to MT as the “glamour girl of poverty” and MT’s Missionary order as an “order of clones.”
 And he later thanked me for bringing up a hitherto unknown (to him) perspective.
 An award bestowed by the FFRF, for public figures who use “plain speaking” on the shortcomings of religion.
 We had to settle for stale pretzels. But the wine was nice.
 Which had been fully on display that evening during a Q & A session after his speech, when “Hitch” calmly, wittily, and effectively verbally eviscerated those who were less than prepared/articulate in framing their questions.
 “Hell’s Angel,” produced by Hitchens and journalist Tariq Ali. Hitchen’s research for this film, which first ran as a BBC television program in 1994, spurred him to write the book, The Missionary Position.
 And these poor families (who later spoke with journalists) told of how when they complained to the local authorities, they were either disbelieved or hushed up, due to MT’s reputation.
 So much for her claims of modesty and humility.
 The purchase of “indulgences” (i.e.. buying one’s way to forgiveness) was once an acceptable method of seeking forgiveness in the Catholic church. It was one of the theological abominations cited by Martin Luther which led to The Protestant reformation.