Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My response to some criticism of Mother Teresa/Saint Teresa

Last updated on 10th Sept. 2016

I do NOT have the impression/view that Mother Teresa was a mystic or had any paranormal/mystical powers like what, going by my own subjective/individual experience, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi had (which some would dispute and which disputation is fine by me as I do not have evidence to prove my experiences to others). So I do not have the view that Mother Teresa was a miraculous (paranormal powers) figure in her lifetime. The canonization process involved the Roman Catholic church's confirmation of two supposed miracles attributed to her. I have not studied that and do accept the view that unless there is a rigorous scientific examination of these supposed miracles, they should not be accepted as miracles (paranormal events) by guardians of certified knowledge.

What I have found inspirational in Mother Teresa's life story is her dedicated service to the desperately suffering poor in some parts of India (and later, in other parts of the world through her organization). I have viewed and read some of Mother Teresa's famous and trenchant critics, including the Late Christopher Hitchens. But my view is that while Mother Teresa's service to the suffering and poor, individually and through her organization, may surely have had some flaws here and there, from an overall perspective, they have been of great help both at physical level and at mental level to the suffering poor. The mental level aspect where a loving and caring attitude is showered on the forlorn and forsaken (who have been rejected by their family and friends), is a vital aspect of Mother Teresa and her organization's service to society activity, from my point of view. The world seems to have got into a situation of plenty of material goodies as compared to the past (going back even half a century, I would say), which unfortunately are rather inequitably distributed, a craze for self-aggrandisement on a scale never seen in human history perhaps, in terms of the great number of people affected by it and the extent to which they try to amass wealth and power, accompanied by an acute scarcity of human love and compassion, especially for the poor and suffering.

Can one be critical of her service to the poor and suffering? Can one view these aspects of her life, as documented in biographies like the one I read which was written by Navin Chawla, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navin_Chawla, Indian Administrative Service officer (civil service bureaucrat) and former Chief Election commissioner of India, who knew/was associated with Mother Teresa for decades, as fraudulently portrayed? While Hitchens and other critics' views do have their value, one must balance them with views of other responsible and respected persons who have seen and experienced Mother Teresa's service activities towards the poor & suffering in India, is it not?

About forced baptisms: That would be a terrible thing, if true. If true, she and her associated organization MUST be criticized for it. Inmates of her care-homes/hospices who voluntarily want to embrace the Catholic Christian faith is a different matter. In my humble view, freedom of religion principle should be applied and such persons should be free to adopt the Catholic Christian faith if they want.

About source of donations to Mother Teresa being not good (i.e. donation money not earned by fair and honest means), at times: Well, trying to judge people who want to help the poor though donations in money or kind, is a tricky thing. Valmiki was a hunter before he became a Rishi! Should Valmiki have been denied spiritual advice by the Rishis as he was a hunter? And then who will judge who has the right to donate in money or kind? Will a body like United Nations draw up a list of people whose donations in money or kind should be banned, and which should be followed by charitable and service to society organizations worldwide? Even then there will be people who will say that rich and powerful nations have politicized the formation of this list.

I think spiritual organizations must be neutral in politics (democratic politics and other type of government (e.g. military) politics). The head of state and his/her deputies must be given importance by a spiritual orgn. as it needs protection from the state to run its service and other activities. I mean, the brutal reality is that without protection from the state, spiritual institutions are easy prey for robbers and looters. Even now in the 21st century, one reads about ghastly things like rapes and killings of spiritual/volunteer workers at charitable/free service institutions in some places in the world. Spiritual orgns. should avoid getting into judgement about whether the head of state and other top government ministers are suitable or not.

A very important aspect of spiritual organizations is their power to transform those who harm society to change to do work that benefits society. So great spiritual orgns keep their doors open to even criminals who are willing to change, and sometimes become great examples of transformation from bad behaviour to good behaviour.

About lack of accounting of large donations to Mother Teresa orgn.: This is a valid criticism if her orgn. did not keep proper accounts. Very unfortunately, large donation money has the unbelievable and awesome power of attracting money crazy people and completely corrupting a spiritual organization. Spiritual orgns. tend to run in an informal family kind of atmosphere, especially when they are small and growing. They lack the sophistication needed to have accountability in terms of both money and power. Ideally, there should be well developed and well defined NGO standards for money and power accountability in spiritual orgns which grow beyond a particular size (in terms of donation money and in terms of number of people involved).

Given below are some responses that I received mainly over mail to the above post contents (or related material), and my response to them.

A correspondent wrote:
Saints will always be maligned.  Even the simply good people are terribly gossiped about.

I (Ravi) responded back (slightly edited):
Thanks for that input. I recall reading or hearing Swami on fruit laden trees attracting stones.

Ravi: I received a lot of critical comments on my Facebook post associated with this blog post, https://www.facebook.com/ravi.s.iyer.7/posts/1786671618216074. Some of the criticism is about allegations that her orgn. offered good services to those who converted to Christianity and denied services to those poor & suffering who refused to convert to Christianity.

One particular Facebook post shared as a comment in the above mentioned post of mine, is from somebody from Calcutta who claims to have a first person account of such negative stuff, https://www.facebook.com/sarita.chamaria.1/posts/232405500494931, dated Sept. 4th 2016.

A USA based correspondent wrote (edited) over two separate mails:



Of the criticisms, the ones I mostly take note of is her hanging out with dictators, pushing reactionary political agendas, and not providing good medical care. Other people have done more for the poor and been less keen to get publicity and credit for her work. I hear that after her death her missionary organization has cleaned up its act significantly.
And of course, I don't believe in miracles, so I consider the whole business of saints an exploitative publicity stunt by the Catholic church. I'm well aware that many disagree on this.

My impression is that "mother" Teresa was into personal aggrandizement and reactionary politics. Her efforts for the poor and suffering could have been done far better by others - and were on a much larger scale. In terms of social activities, her efforts were hardly significant even in Calcutta; others did much more.

I (Ravi) responded (edited) to the above as follows:

Read all the links you gave.

Teaching endurance of suffering and pain, IMHO, is not a bad thing. But if Mother Teresa (MT) consistently (as against a chance misspoken remark) held and promoted the view that suffering and pain of the poor helps the world, then I strongly disagree with that view. Further I think such a view would be strongly criticized by Pope Francis too.

Her hospices following improper medical practices must be strongly criticized. However, it must be noted that her hospices take in people which Indian govt. hospitals reject. So while her hospices should be urged to improve their medical care, if they follow improper medical practices, it should not be forgotten that the alternative for the inmates of her hospices would be much worse, as they would literally be on the streets and perhaps even be under attack from animals and pests on the streets.

If her hospices did indeed glorify the suffering of the inmates instead of making whatever efforts they could to relieve that suffering, then such actions MUST BE CONDEMNED as inhuman (let alone being ungodly).

On her firm support for the Catholic church's harsh stand on abortion (viewed as killing) and even contraception: Well, I personally think a planned family using contraception appropriately is a good thing but then I am not married and don't have children. Abortion is a far trickier thing. I am simply not in a position to comment on it. All I can say is that I view life as something awesome, something magical and something delightful. A decision to do away with an unwanted unborn child in the womb, therefore, to a person like me, is a VERY VERY BIG decision which, in cases like unmarried teenage pregnancies by consensual intercourse (excluding the horrendous situation of rape), some woman who had some fun with some man, and became pregnant without realizing the consequences, may not have the knowledge, maturity and financial and social support to take.

Am I strongly critical of MT for her harsh criticism of contraception and abortion? Not really. I stay away from commenting on that aspect of the teachings of the Catholic church and MT.

You wrote, "Other people have done more for the poor and been less keen to get publicity and credit for her work". After going through a lot of criticism of MT (including on my Facebook post), I realize that my opinion of MT had been formed mainly by what I had read in the mainstream media and by Navin Chawla's authorised biography of hers (I don't recall it dealing with much of such criticism). While I did read & view some criticism (e.g. Hitchens) I viewed them as extreme and doubted the truthfulness of the criticism.

Now my view is that I may not have a balanced and well read view on MT. Neither do I have the time and inclination to get into that exercise. Perhaps MT started off her mission (after she quit her convent) in the right spirit but got caught up in publicity and marketing glare later on. Perhaps she later became more of a marketing icon for the Catholic church and less of a genuine servant of the poor and suffering. Perhaps she also got caught up in evangelical activities pushed by rich donors, and did not do enough to prevent forced conversions of inmates in her hospices, especially those that were close to death. I don't know what the truth is. But neither do I want to get involved in the unpleasant task of investigating such matters (even as an Internet based reader of articles and viewer of videos).

Thanks for your comments which, along with other criticism on my Facebook post, forced me to do some reading of such criticism.

Ravi: On a more positive note, here's an interesting article extract by a Sathya Sai Baba devotee and a Catholic Christian from the USA, Dr. Christian Moevs, from http://media.radiosai.org/journals/Vol_06/01OCT08/07-Christian.htm:

After I came back from that visit I began telling everyone about Baba. I had never experienced such happiness. One of Baba’s teachings is that one of the direct paths to God is to “serve God” in others, that means service to humanity. In Rome, Baba’s devotees were going to Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity shelter near the Vatican. I did the same. The experience was so sublime. They would serve on white floors, white tables, white linen, shining crystal, silverware - everything polished by hand and set down perfectly as if Christ was coming to eat.

That is how they served every single person who came to them. Everything was served with discipline, joy and silence - just as they do near Baba. This was a huge turning point in my attitude towards Catholicism. I had to go all the way to India to get slapped personally in the face by Baba in order to come back and do what my fellow Catholics had been doing for years! It was such a turnaround! I felt a deep sense of gratitude and devotion to the Church.

Question: To a person not familiar with Sai Baba, how would you introduce or explain Baba?

Answer: Sai Baba is a mirror. He reflects us to ourselves. A thief will see a thief. A spiritual aspirant will see a holy teacher and a saint will see God. To most people, Rama is just another King; to those who can see what Rama is - Rama is the avatar.

To know Christ is to completely sacrifice and surrender yourself to the Divine. Understanding comes when you shut your mouth and start serving, begin loving and growing in self-sacrifice. Mother Teresa is an example.
--- end extract from radiosai.org ----

[I thank radiosai.org and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above extract from their website on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]

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