Friday, August 24, 2007

A New Look at an Old, Dead Woman

Or should that be "a dead old woman?" On the news today I saw a report about the diaries of Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

I've known people who admired her and those who reviled her, but somehow my attitude about her stayed completely ambiguous. Those who admire her cite the obvious: that she felt a "calling" to minister to the poor, that she lived among those people and shared their circumstances for half a century, that she was always cheerful in any circumstance. Those who disliked her talked about how she diverted funds that could have cured lepers so she could buy medicine that eased their pain while their flesh rotted, and while she pushed for their conversion. I never found either credible as a complete picture of the woman.

What is undeniable about Theresa's life is that from the late 1940s on she lived to serve unfortunate people. It matters little to me why she chose to do that, or why she felt she had to do it (frankly, it's more valuable to me if it happened without compulsion), but true character (I think) is measured in how often a person can forego her own wants or (especially) her needs in order to help others. In this Theresa can't be faulted.

Christopher Hitchens, a British atheist, was called by the Catholic Church to provide counter-arguments regarding the issue of Theresa's beatification. He claimed that she told him her work wasn't to help the poor, but to convert them to Catholicism. The Catholic church beatified her despite Hitchens's contribution.

Now Theresa's diaries are being published. The diaries reveal that, except for a five-week stint in the 1950s, Theresa felt no connection to God or Jesus, didn't feel their presences (or is it just one presence? I get confused with the logistics of the Three-In-One Oil of the Deities) I have to tell you that I'm intrigued. I had no interest in a Macedonian girl who became a nun. I had little interest in a nun who claimed God told her what to do, even if it was something noble. I am intensely interested in a nun doing God's work while feeling no connection to God or Jesus, yet staying true to her religious order. That fascinates me.

But I still think she was a woman suffering under a mass social delusion, and who let that delusion limit the horizons of her life.


Sean said...

That would be an interesting read. I'm interested in your final sentence, "But I still think she was a woman suffering under a mass social delusion, and who let that delusion limit the horizons of her life." I may be completely stupid, naive or both, but what does that mean? What was the delusion and what limits did it place on her?

Jason said...

Well, to phrase it in my usual provocative way (or maybe "offensive" is the right word--I can't get too uptight about it):
The delusion is religion, and the limits it placed on her life were that she directed her life in accordance with the idea that an Invisible Sky Wizard was whispering hints to her about how to best spend her time.
I suppose I should start blogging more seriously about these bigger ideas so I can frame more productive discussions. These off-handed comments I'm in the habit of making don't lend themselves to that.

Sean said...

OK. I'll wait for the post (hint, hint). :-P