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Book review

The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (1995), by
Christopher Hitchens

Review by Peter Mosier

If you thought that Mother Teresa (nee Agnes Bojaxhiu) was an example of a good person doing good things, this short work (98 pages) will probably change your mind.

Christopher Hitchens lays out a case for Mother Teresa being an ineffective aid relief worker who was very effective at building her brand and establishing a new religious order (“her Missions of Charity organization currently number some 4,000 nuns and 40,000 workers”).

Hitchens claims the tens of millions of dollars she received over the years went to establish new Missions of Charity convents rather than improving conditions at her already established hospices. (Hospice might be too strong a word, since Mother Teresa believed that suffering brought people closer to God, and therefore relief of suffering would deny the sick and dying that “blessing.”) Furthermore, she used every opportunity to preach the evils of contraception and abortion, a position that would, conveniently, ensure a never-ending supply of wretched poor in need of her ‘hospitality.’

According to Hitchens, Mother Teresa would appear to be a faux naïf when it suited her purpose, such as when sending a character reference letter on behalf of convicted fraudster Charles Keating—a man who had given her over $1 million.

(My favourite part of the book is a reprint of a response letter written to Mother Teresa from Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Paul W. Turley, who successfully prosecuted Keating. He explained the nature of Keating’s crimes to Teresa and asked her, essentially, What would Jesus do if he received proceeds from a crime? He gave Teresa the opportunity to return the ill-gotten gains to the defrauded; she did not respond this offer to do the right thing.)

Yet when dealing with world leaders, from Ronald and Nancy Reagan to the Duvaliers of Haiti, Mother Teresa was clearly a sophisticated political player who used her celebrity to advance her cause. Her cause was neither the elimination of poverty nor improved access to medical facilities for the terminally ill; rather, it was the elimination of contraception and abortion.

One criticism I have of this book is that Hitchens does not do a thorough job of documenting his claims, something that Mother Teresa apologists will likely point out (if they haven’t already). Nonetheless, this was an interesting and eye-opening read.

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