Mother Teresa’s entire name is associated with goodness. “You’re no Mother Teresa,” People scoff when they tell you to do the right thing.
But was Mother Teresa even a “Mother Teresa?”
Mother Teresa’s Sainthood
She was celebrated as a saint during her life and canonized as one upon her passing. According to the official story, she dedicated her life to serving the poor, and she even won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her efforts.
The Case Against Her Sainthood
People started questioning Mother Teresa’s motives, and sainthood after renowned Athiest thought leader Christopher Hitchens’ two works, the documentary Hell’s Angel and book The Missionary Position, called some of her practices into question.
Hitchens claimed that Mother Teresa was a fraud. He reported that she purposefully withheld medicine to keep people suffering and housed them in horrific conditions despite having the money to offer something better.
She Loves Suffering
In Hitchens’s view, Mother Teresa behaved like this because she loved suffering. She thought it brought people closer to Jesus. She forced people to suffer for her religious beliefs.
And She’s a Hypocrite
But she changed her view when it came to her own healthcare. She didn’t spend her hospice years in overcrowded, dirty shelters, and she received the best care available for her cancer treatments.
What’s the Truth?
Was Mother Teresa a saint or a fraud? The truth is likely somewhere in between. Though there’s some truth to the fraud claims, many are made in a vacuum without nuance and without considering her stated mission or the country/times where she was working.
Mother Teresa’s stated goal was hospice care, but not modern hospice care as we know it. When she started in the 1950s, hospice was just a place where people go to die. There was no medical component.
Never a Hospital
Mother Teresa never intended to cure the sick. Her goal was to offer food, shelter, and a bit of comfort to people nearing the end of their lives.
She Could Have Made It Better
Some of the judgment is fair – Mother Teresa had the funding to improve the hospice. She could have provided better beds, more space, or a variety of other things to ease her patients suffering even more.
One of the harshest criticisms against Mother Teresa is the lack of painkillers. Hitchens reported she intentionally withheld them to watch people suffer, as their suffering would bring them (and, as a result, her) closer to God.
In truth, she did offer some painkillers, but they were the over-the-counter kind. As a hospice, not a hospital, she didn’t have access to stronger medicines.
Why Not Hire Doctors?
The crux of the issue is there’s a lot Mother Teresa could have done differently. She could have hired doctors to prescribe painkillers, though that was outside her stated goal.
Some Suffered Needlessly
Many in her care could have had better outcomes if they had access to medical care. Mother Teresa and her crew refused to transfer patients to real hospitals for better care. Some of these patients weren’t even terminal but didn’t have access to the necessary care that would save their lives.
Better than Nothing
Mother Teresa offered immediate attention to the dying poor. Many would say a bed and a hot bowl of soup were far better than the alternative, dying in the sewer.
On Doing More
The critics have a point. She could have done far more. She refused to do anything to help people outside their immediate needs. Mother Teresa did nothing to help people escape poverty or get genuine medical care, and she could have.
She also failed miserably at providing hygienic conditions for patients. She wouldn’t even allow the nurses to boil needles, causing untold amounts of infections. The living conditions in her hospices were subpar but probably better than the sewer.
But What Have the Critics Done?
But what did they do other than judge Mother Teresa? Asking why she didn’t build a hospital is like asking someone who builds a cat rescue why they don’t rescue dogs. A hospital was never the goal. A safe place for the poorest people who couldn’t afford medical care was the goal.
Her Attitude Problematic
The most significant criticism against Mother Teresa is her attitude. According to an interview by Mary Johnson, someone who worked with Mother Teresa, the idea that the saint “glorified suffering” is true. She didn’t help the poor to truly help them. She only helped them so she could get closer to God. They had to stay “the poor and suffering” for that.
But it was The Church’s Attitude at the Time
It’s easy to blame Mother Teresa for this horrible attitude, but we must also look past her to her spiritual directors, who were all pushing the same message. Johnson admitted that she received the same guidance from her directors, that she could only provide immediate assistance and couldn’t do anything to improve people’s lives.
Mother Teresa Human
The truth is Mother Teresa is neither a saint nor a fraud. She was a human, doing the best she could with the information she had available. She made mistakes along the way, but she also did help a lot of people who everyone else ignored.
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