my thoughts on hitchens’ the missionary position

I have been thinking a lot of the role of the writer. In a recent post, I wrote of the idea of ‘writing posthumously’ – writing without fear. Christopher Hitchens’ book on Mother Theresa – The Missionary Position – is a example of that.

This video from Penn and Teller’ BullShit, is a summary of what Hitchens writes about.

Its very hard to tell the emperor that he has no clothes on, but it needs to be done. In my own journey studying the various histories, its struck me that placing trust in the dominant narratives is misguided. Nothing is ever as clear and simple as the dominant narrative. The subjugated histories are immeasurably important and need to be retrieved from the slag heap of the winners history. And that is what Hitchens does so well here.

In this interview with Free Inquiry Magazine*, when asked why he was picking on this saintly woman, Hitchens replies

Partly because that impression is so widespread. But also because the sheer fact that this is considered unquestionable is a sign of what we are up against, namely the problem of credulity. One of the most salient examples of people’s willingness to believe anything if it is garbed in the appearance of holiness is the uncritical acceptance of the idea of Mother Teresa as a saint by people who would normally be thinking – however lazily – in a secular or rational manner. In other words, in every sense it is an unexamined claim.

It’s unexamined journalistically – no one really takes a look at what she does. And it is unexamined as to why it should be she who is spotlighted as opposed to many very selfless people who devote their lives to the relief of suffering in what we used to call the “Third World.” Why is it never mentioned that her stated motive for the work is that of proselytization for religious fundamentalism, for the most extreme interpretation of Catholic doctrine? If you ask most people if they agree with the pope’s views on population, for example, they say they think they are rather extreme. Well here’s someone whose life’s work is the propagation of the most extreme version of that.

That’s the first motive. The second was a sort of journalistic curiosity as to why it was that no one had asked any serious questions about Mother Teresa’s theory or practice. Regarding her practice, I couldn’t help but notice that she had rallied to the side of the Duvalier family in Haiti, for instance, that she had taken money – over a million dollars – from Charles Keating, the Lincoln Savings and Loans swindler, even though it had been shown to her that the money was stolen; that she has been an ally of the most reactionary forces in India and in many other countries; that she has campaigned recently to prevent Ireland from ceasing to be the only country in Europe with a constitutional ban on divorce, that her interventions are always timed to assist the most conservative and obscurantist forces

I believe that above is a ideal for one to strive for – to question that which no one thinks to, or dares to.

* towards the end of the interview Hitchens talks about his attitude to religion – “‘I’m not neutral about religion, I’m hostile to it.”. Its worth reading for his views on religion and America.

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  1. Pingback: reading hitchens at terryjohal.com

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