Re: Future Saint Teresa, w/o ecstasy

1

Oh, the irony.


Posted by: NCProsecutor | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 9:46 AM
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Given that her entire project was inexplicable from a human-rights point of view and only made sense from a religious point of view, this is odd.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 9:48 AM
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It is odd. I wonder if her devotion was some version of the sunk-cost fallacy.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 9:48 AM
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Doesn't seem that odd to me. IIRC, Cowper felt no spiritual connection for the last part of his life. Still he believed and, given the nature of his belief, feared God.

I can see Teresa doing what she thought was her calling even when she no longer felt anything. She had felt something and that was enough.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 9:52 AM
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The word is most likely "compensation." The apparent craziness of her project being an attempt to recover the spiritual sense she'd lost.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 9:55 AM
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Agreed with 4. It has been more than 10 years since I "felt" anything w/r/t the presence of God, but, if I were a slightly different person, I could have maintained a lifelong relationship with the church and with Christian philanthropy, and considered myself absolutely a Christian.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 9:55 AM
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Of course, I don't mean to say that any of us could just "be" Mother Theresa, but that there often is an intellectual faith that is a response to the absence of the divine in the world (often called fideism). Samuel Johnson's faith was similar.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 9:57 AM
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Don't get me started on Mother Teresa.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:00 AM
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Say what you will about the Catholics, but it's just like them to want to preserve correspondence of this sort.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:04 AM
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The error lies in expecting the life of faith to be one of constant and ever-deepening mystic transport, relieving one of the squabbling emotions of the quotidian.

Put another way, a lot of the time on the road to Damascus is spent asking Papa Smurf if it's much farther.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:05 AM
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No need to beat a dead nurse.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:06 AM
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How interesting. I'm torn between being pissed off at the Church for (typically) overruling her wishes about her correspondence and being kind of glad/impressed that they did. Though the explanation's obvious--a big part of faith for Catholics is that you don't *have* to feel it all the time; in fact, continuing to act as a person of faith even when you've lost your faith is kind of the ultimate test of faith--I'm a lot more interested in thinking about whether her loss of faith was the effect of her work.

The funny thing is, I really do think she was doing good work in a spiritual sense and that there really is a strong case to be made against the usual anti-Teresa arguments.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:12 AM
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Did you all ever read that Unamuno book, "San Miguel, Bueno Martir"? It's sort of along these same lines, but without all the extra bad crap Apo and Fontana have uncovered for me about Mother Theresa.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:13 AM
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Interesting. In other news, I'm sad to discover that aif files played through my stereo by an ipod sound not as good as the original cds. To what extent is this the fault of the ipod?

Which output are you using on the iPod. I know that there's an output using a 32-pin connector that should sound better than the headphone out.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:13 AM
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To the second part of the question, there's an easy way to find out. Play the CD through your computer. Then play the AIFF files from your computer. Beatify, repeat.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:14 AM
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The oddness isn't in continuing a relationship with the church, with thinking of oneself as a christian, or with thinking of oneself as having faith. It's partly in the extreme self-denial, and partly in the weird form her efforts took. In her place, I'd probably start wondering if my actions were actually what's required/desired by God in the absence of some sort of spiritual confirmation. (ML King's experience comes to mind as a contrasting case: self-doubt answered by powerful spiritual experiences.)


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:14 AM
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aiff files are uncompressed aren't they? If the A/D converter on the iPod isn't shitty, it ought to sound fine.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:15 AM
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13: I was thinking of Unamuno, too. Loved that novel.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:15 AM
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Bphd, would you care to outline that case?

NickS & Wrongshore: thanks!


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:16 AM
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FL:

obvious point, you don't have some EQ turned on on the iPod? That's colouring the sound?

Wikipedia says:

If the sound is enhanced with the iPod's software equalizer (EQ), some EQ settings -- like R&B, Rock, Acoustic, and Bass Booster -- can cause bass distortion too easily.[44][45] The equalizer amplifies the digital audio level beyond the software's limit, causing distortion (clipping) on songs that have a bass drum or use a bassy instrument, even when the amplifier level is low.

Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:22 AM
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ttam, that's a good point, but I have the EQ off. (The test recording was Rostropovich's recording of the Bach suites, so it's not like I've got really low end thumping going on.*)

*Joke about sodomy omitted for the sake of decorum.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:24 AM
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I really do think she was doing good work in a spiritual sense

But you're wrong.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:25 AM
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Don't get me started on Mother Teresa.

Links, please.


Posted by: blortch | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:27 AM
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Hitchens did a good job on Mother Theresa, also Kissinger and Lady Di. Then Satan took over.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:31 AM
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23: Here and here, but I really recommend reading the whole book


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:31 AM
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In her own unique way, B is Mother Therasa.

Shit, so is AWB. So is Heebie, except that she's purportedly Jewish.

Heebie is my favorite Mother Theresa of all! Keep savin them lepers, Heeb!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:32 AM
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Don't get me started on Mother Teresa.

Agreed. I am not a fan of MT.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:34 AM
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19: Okay, well, tell me what all your objections to her are, but my understanding is that most of the anti-Teresa arguments are about her anti-birth-control stuff and the weird icky shit with licking lepers' sores and fasting and crap like that.

It seems to me that yeah, there's a case to be made that she wasn't actively working to improve the world or the conditions of poverty, but (at best) merely bandaiding the status quo, and that's an argument I agree with. On the other hand, I also think that there's a real and truthful humility in the position that one can't improve the world, but that one *can* treat people who are fucked over by it with dignity and respect.

This is surely my own residual Catholicism, but, e.g., yes, I'm absolutely pro-choice; otoh, I *do* think it's true that a big reason why people "have" to choose abortions is because society as a whole doesn't properly value children enough. So I can actually respect the integrity of someone who says well, okay, we really don't see having children as the central purpose and highest value of this society, and that's fucked, and if we did a lot of people who "have" to have abortions or use birth control b/c kids are a huge economic burden, wouldn't; and therefore I am going to do the thing that I think is most right and work to emphasize the importance of reproduction and having kids and attending to the feelings of people with large families rather than succumbing to the facts of an unjust society and working to "help" people not have children.

And like the licking lepers and fasting thing, I can kind of see that as being work one would do in order to challenge and try to overcome one's own resistance to weakness or the grossness of being a physical animal, which is in keeping with the pro-life argument in its best guise. There's a kind of extreme and to me admirable modesty/humility in deliberately deciding, we're all only one person among billions, like individual creatures of any other species, and the species is going to do what it's going to do as a biological organism, and I'm going to emphasize human dignity by accepting that rather than trying to rise above or improve it.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:34 AM
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Experiencing the presence of God is not central to Lutheran or Catholic Christianity, or to many forms of Calvinism. Ecstatic religion is always a threat to organized churches.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:36 AM
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28
the starfish argument.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:36 AM
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Althouse, your one-stop shop for spiritual aridity.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:37 AM
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Mmmmm. Lepers. Heebie, are you gonna want that whole leper?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:37 AM
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Experiencing the presence of God is not central to Lutheran or Catholic Christianity, or to many forms of Calvinism.

Indeed, the Presbyterians among whom I grew up would have been positively offended by God's presence at their worship services.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:38 AM
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30: What?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:38 AM
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Mmmmm. Lepers. Heebie, are you gonna want that whole leper?

They taste like capers.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:41 AM
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What?

He said, "THE STARFISH ARGUMENT."

You're welcome.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:41 AM
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Very few of the people who denigrate the practice of menial servitude to the poor and the wretched are themselves robbing the rich and giving to the poor or otherwise taking "direct" "action" to alter this fallen world's balance of power. Cough Hitchens cough.

As for the fasting and licking leprous sores, saints have done similar things in the past -- some of them rather more often than they suffered the stigmata or what have you. Very few saints seem to have been pleasant to be around, unless, in the case of Saint Francis, you happened to be a bird or a wolf with an abiding interest in being preached to.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:42 AM
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I don't understand why this has been all over the news recently. Mother Teresa's long struggle with "spiritual darkness" has been widely known for quite some time. At the very least, this aspect of her personal letters was throughly covered by early 2005 (in this book), but I'm under the impression that it was relatively well-known long prior to that. So I really don't understand what's making it jump all over the news in the last few days.

More substantively, she came to view the "darkness" and a maturation of her faith--a sanctifying struggle given to her by God to ensure her faith wasn't dependant on spiritual-emotional manifestations, but that it ran deeper. She saw herself as in a sense participating with Jesus in his cry of spiritual lonliness from the cross: "My God, why have you forsaken me?"

And of course this phenomenon is nothing unique in Catholic spirituality. See, e.g., St. John's "dark night of the soul".


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:43 AM
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B, it comes down to whether you trust lepers or not.

Licking lepers is neither here nor there for me. The problem is, partly, that she *didn't* treat people with dignity and respect, properly construed, because that would have involved, say, better medical treatment and certainly better pain management. (Someone might respond: but by her Catholic lights..., to which I say, well, I'm pretty sure those are the wrong lights, and it matters that one conceive of dignity and respect properly, etc.)


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:44 AM
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My soul spent the long dark night giggling and eating smores around the campfire.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:45 AM
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34--
http://www.thefunnypage.com/starfish/index.htm


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:45 AM
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but it's important that when you read the parable of the starfish,
you change the last line to "fuck you, clown".


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:46 AM
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30: What?

Hundreds, thousand of starfish are washed up on an empty beach after a storm, drying in the sun. A young boy is walking along the beach, picking starfish up and throwing them in the water, one after another. An old man watches him doing this, and eventually goes up to him and says, "Why do you bother? You're wasting your time! You'll never get them all before they die. What difference does it make?"

The young boy picks up one more starfish, throws it in the water, and replies, "It makes a difference to that one."

Paraphrased, although I think the last quote is verbatim. Provenance unknown, or rather, I don't care to look it up right now.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:47 AM
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one *can* treat people who are fucked over by it with dignity and respect.

This is exactly what she did not do. Hitchens is correct when he says that she was not a friend of the poor, but a friend of poverty. One who administered last rites to non-Christians against their will, who raised mountains of money that somehow never materialized into anything vaguely resembling medical or hospice care, who told people that suffering was a gift from God, who palled around with the some of the world's most abhorrent dictators. Seriously, read Hitchens' book and see if you still think there's anything at all redeeming in her work.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:47 AM
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Heh. I've only heard that starfish story with the hero being a small girl. From that context, it's comically patronizing that the version in 41 features a native.

Actually, the fact that it's a native shedding great light and wisdom is funny, no matter how you slice it.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:48 AM
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thanks, cyrus.
and do you see how much it's improved by that small alteration in the last line?


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:48 AM
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Ah. pwned, I see. Oh well.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:48 AM
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In 38 "and" s/b "as".


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:49 AM
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And the native says, "We're not clowns. We just have different customs than you."


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:49 AM
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Licking lepers is neither here nor there for me. The problem is, partly, that she *didn't* treat people with dignity and respect, properly construed, because that would have involved, say, better medical treatment and certainly better pain management.

I agree. On a somewhat sidenote, I dislike the utter quackery about the sainthood process. Total form over substance. It diminishes some of the important actual work done by people.

More on point, the best line about her was that she was a servant of poverty, not a servant of the poor. She worshiped the state of poverty.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:51 AM
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49--
no, no, it's not the *native* who says "f.u. clown."
it's the *starfish*.
on its way back into the ocean.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:51 AM
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39: No, I'm not saying "by her Catholic lights." What I'm saying is that the problem hinges on the question of what one means by dignity, respect, and human. If you think--and the logic and morality of this point of view is accessible to me, *if* it's sincerely felt and practiced and not just a way of telling other people to go fuck themselves--that the essence of being human is that we *are* animals (which isn't inconsistent with Catholicism, by the way--that whole fallen state thing), then it makes sense that the most loving thing you do is simply be with people as they suffer.

Analogy: if you have a kid, and it's got some godawful illness, of *course* you want to do whatever you can to get it good medical care, to manage it's pain, etc. But surely that desire is driven as much by your own agony as it is by empathy for the kid; and in a situation where whatever's wrong is something that simply can't be treated, or the pain can't be managed, it would be *excruciating* to have to just sit there and be with your own child in agony. You want to *do something*. There's something really noble about not only just sitting there not being able to "do" stuff, but also about recognizing that state of being in others, and accepting them and helping them, too, bear it.

Flippanter's point about how most of us who talk a lot about improving the world don't necessarily do much on the ground is astute, I think: it seems like a necessary component of wanting to improve things is also wanting to get the fuck away from things that can't be improved. What I think I see in Teresa and her ilk is, what, a sense of duty that drives the sense of morality rather than the other way around. It's interesting, and I think there's some truth in it.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:52 AM
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"pwned" less appealing after this.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:52 AM
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My head is spinning from the pwnage layers in 53.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:55 AM
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I dislike the utter quackery about the sainthood process.

Agreed. The entire saint thing needs to just be done away with. So ridiculous.

Seriously, read Hitchens' book and see if you still think there's anything at all redeeming in her work.

Afraid I shan't, simply out of laziness and not really caring that much. Sorry.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:56 AM
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People would understand the real meaning of the the starfish story better if the starfishes were hyenas or weasels. Starfishes are shits.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:56 AM
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B, I wonder how much we're disagreeing about the facts of MT's actions and how much we're disagreeing about the evaluations. I think (perhaps wrongly) that T's efforts were not directed toward effectively alleviating poverty, for one, and suffering, for another. In your parenting analogy, it would be like watching the child suffer while knowing that there are cheap and effective pain relief medicines that you aren't using.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:57 AM
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Also, the starfish story seems like the wrong analogy. Maybe if the native/little girl/kid/whatever in the story, rather than throwing the starfish back, merely sat on the beach and kept them company as they died.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:57 AM
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Starfishes are shits.

Emerson's poops are star-shaped.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:58 AM
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Licking lepers is neither here nor there for me.

Heebie and I were never going to invite you anyway, if that's what you're hinting at. It's our leper.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:58 AM
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out of laziness and not really caring that much

I hear ya. Nonetheless, it's the definitive rebuttal and you seem not at all familiar with most of it.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:59 AM
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In your parenting analogy, it would be like watching the child suffer while knowing that there are cheap and effective pain relief medicines that you aren't using.

Really, more like Christian Scientists praying for their child to recover when surgical intervention would fix the problem.

She felt that suffering was good for them.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 10:59 AM
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I'm becoming more confused by 52. I think that people are animals (though of an interesting sort) but I think it's rarely the case that the most loving thing I could do is to be with them when they're suffering, especially when there are other options, such as "use my international stature to raise funds for well-functioning medical facilities rather than for convents" or whatever.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:00 AM
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QUICK! Everyone get all your analogies in while Ogged's out! It'll be just like the mice making up analogies all day while the cat is at an undisclosed location!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:00 AM
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FINE, Emerson. FINE. I never wanted to lick your stupid leper anyway. I'll be sitting at home having a tea party with my stuffed lepers.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:01 AM
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57: I think we're disagreeing about evaluations, rather than facts? And yeah, I know that that's the problem with the parenting analogy. But in a sense, it isn't: even if she had been able to throw some of the starfish back by alleviating the poverty of x thousand individuals, the point is that that's not addressing the larger moral problem which is that poverty and suffering exist and (arguably) are a necessary condition of life. So in that sense, I think it's more like, okay, what about in a situation where relief of pain simply isn't possible?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:01 AM
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Mother Teresa is like heebie's butt. Allegedly wonderous. In reality, it just sits there.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:01 AM
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"Years later the boy, now a man, met one of the hyenas whose lives he had saved. 'Hi, do you remember me?" he asked, right before his throat was torn open.

Except with a starfish, of course.,


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:03 AM
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In reality, it just sits there.

Sometimes it's productive.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:04 AM
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I think we're disagreeing about evaluations, rather than facts?

I'm pretty sure you're disagreeing about facts -- you're talking about situations where pain is unavoidable and no treatment is possible, but that's not actually what was going on with the people Mother Teresa worked with.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:04 AM
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Substitute "'" for """ and """ for ",".


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:06 AM
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Starfish are misunderstood.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:06 AM
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Heebie's butt can multitask. It isn't "just sitting there". That's just one of the things it's doing.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:07 AM
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61: Neener neener. I've read the reviews of the book, anyway, and seem to know the general outline of the arguments, do I not?

63: That's not true though; it's *always* the case that you can only be with people while they're suffering. There are people suffering horribly all over the world all the time, including right now. If we all run out and immediately rob banks and kidnap doctors and hijack airplanes and rush to, say, the Sudan, there will *still* be people suffering horribly there and elsewhere (including surely in our own cities) that we're abandoning or ignoring by trying to help those other people over there. This is a kind of spiritual truth that I think the Teresas of the world kind of force us (or themselves, at least) to sort of sit with and contemplate, rather than wave away by saying "oh, of course, but still, let's hop on that airplane."


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:07 AM
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Put another way, a lot of the time on the road to Damascus is spent asking Papa Smurf if it's much farther./i>

This is just plain awesome. I am adopting it as my formal expression of faith.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:08 AM
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66: once you agree to the facts, I think you're in trouble.

I think it's more like, okay, what about in a situation where relief of pain simply isn't possible

That's not the position she was in, as far as I know.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:09 AM
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Come to think of it, arguably the bile of Hitchens et al is easily answered by pointing out that while Teresa's holding the hands of dying people, Hitchens and the rest of us could be raising the money and building the hospitals or whatever, rather than sitting around bitching that *she* should be doing those things.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:10 AM
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Mother Teresa's goal wasn't to eradicate poverty in Calcutta. Maybe you think perhaps it should have been, but, well, why aren't you doing anything about poverty in Calcutta? She was trying to send a message about the fundamental dignity of the human person, even the poor and the sick and the diseased and the forgotten.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:11 AM
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74 furthers my confusion. The poor I will have with me always, I realize, but I'm not sure why my inability to help everyone rules out an obligation to help some. "I could have saved your life, or at the least provided a less painful death, but since I couldn't do that for everyone I chose not to do it for you." And isn't T guilty of lovingly ministering to a select few, anyway? I'm not seeing the point; maybe it's a Catholic thing.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:12 AM
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My favorite variation on the starfish argument is a line from Charles Burnett's unjustly neglected 1990 film To Sleep With Anger, a line I often repeat to myself when I feel overwhelmed: "Nobody ever jumped into a river to save 400 drowning people."


Posted by: Rah | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:13 AM
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Bitching about things is the fundamental mission of Unfogged. How ironic that B would the one to fail to understand this.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:13 AM
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78 pwned by 77, I think. That's what I get for proofreading. Never again!


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:13 AM
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Mother Teresa's goal wasn't to eradicate poverty in Calcutta. Maybe you think perhaps it should have been, but, well, why aren't you doing anything about poverty in Calcutta?

That's a strange argument. Given that she was in Calcutta and involved in charitable works it makes sense to ask of her why she wasn't doing things that would have made people's lives better than the actual things she was doing in Calcutta.

Saying that "Person X ought to have done a rather than b" is not refuted by asking why the speaker isn't doing a.

I can have a [poorly informed] opinion about how, say, a water sanitation engineer in Mombassa ought to be working without also needing to have the desire to be improving the water supply in Mombassa.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:16 AM
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That's not the position she was in, as far as I know.

But it is; it's the position we're all in. You can throw x number of starfish back, but all the others will die alone. The anti-Teresa argument is the starfish parable: she ought at least to have thrown back as many as she could and tried to urge other people to join her in rescuing starfish. The pro-Teresa argument (I think) kind of doesn't work so well with the starfish analogy, but the best way to make the comparison would be maybe to say that she recognizes the "you can't save them all" fact but instead of shrugging and heading home for lunch decides to stay on the beach and do what she can to keep them company as they die.

Which being starfish, of course, they don't give a shit about. But I suspect that people would.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:16 AM
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85

I was hoping that "well, what are you doing about it" wouldn't come up but since it has it's fair to point out that since one of the questions we're futzing over is whether MT is a moral exemplar, a great person, or whatever, my own moral standing is neither here nor there, since I'm making any claims about being more worthy and no one's giving me prizes. The same point goes for Hitchens.

One issue that Brock and I probably disagree about is the relationship between the actual actions of MT and human dignity-- that is, what message she actually sent.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:17 AM
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Maybe you think perhaps it should have been, but, well, why aren't you doing anything about poverty in Calcutta?

Of course, she was collecting money from people to help the poor.

If you ask me to throw you a lifepreserver while you are in the water with a drowning person, I don't think it is too much to wonder why you didnt use to save that person.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:17 AM
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I'm not sure why my inability to help everyone rules out an obligation to help some

You have an obligation to help some?? Are you doing everything you can to fulfill it? Are you doing more than Mother Teresa did?

isn't T guilty of lovingly ministering to a select few, anyway?

WTF is that supposed to mean? Yes, being a finite human being she chose a finite population to serve. I've never seen anything to suggest she'd have been anything but thrilled by someone else conducting similar work with other populations. It wasn't as if she privileged a certain population above others, or whatever it is you're trying to imply (I really don't know).


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:19 AM
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One issue that Brock and I probably disagree about is the relationship between the actual actions of MT and human dignity-- that is, what message she actually sent.

Correct.

I don't see that she made the poor people any more dignified by not actually helping them. Maybe God has a different definition of dignity than I do.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:19 AM
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This has been #1,000,000 in a series of random strong opinions from B.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:19 AM
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84: but, and this is the crucial point, the number of people meeting some horrible fate isn't fixed. It's not as though the people she ministered to as they died could not have been saved, or treated better while they lived. If we knew that a particular starfish must die on the beach, very well, but that's not the case here.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:20 AM
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Next week, with Cardinal Biggles, #1,000,001: "The Unjustly-maligned Inquisition".


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:21 AM
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75: Thanks. Coming at you, Hans K√ľng!


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:21 AM
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78 does a good job, I think, of summing up what I'm saying. And I don't think 83 is an adequate response. She wasn't a water sanitation engineer, and she wasn't doing charitable work in the "helping alleviate poverty" way that we tend to think of charitable work. If you will, she was sort of merely being a witness. It's hard to grasp if you insist on the point that actions should some kind of practical or material purpose, and normally I'm all about being practical and material, but all I'm saying is that there's something to the idea that simply being with someone is a good thing--not to relieve loneliness or whatever, but simply to accept and acknowledge them.

Anyway, obviously I'm not explaining it very well. Like I said, maybe it's some residual Catholic hocuspocus or something, who knows.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:21 AM
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#1,000,002: "Athletes who get LASIK eye surgery are less ethical than those who use anabolic steroids."


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:22 AM
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re: 93

t's hard to grasp if you insist on the point that actions should some kind of practical or material purpose

It's not a general claim I'd want to insist on, no. But in this particular case, the case of someone raising money to minister to the poor (in some sense or other) damn right I'd insist on it.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:25 AM
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The most convincing objection to Mother Theresa is that she actually caused harm (or interfered with efforts to help) because of her spiritual convictions. Taking a vow of poverty to the extreme of using blunt needles on people because you don't want to spend money is fucked up any way you slice it.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:26 AM
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Can't all those poor people suffering far away keep themselves company? How does Mother Teresa help?

OK, according to 93 she's not actually trying to help them... she's doing it for herself, because it's good for her to acknowledge the poor. Which is kinda weird.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:28 AM
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arguably the bile of Hitchens et al is easily answered by pointing out that while Teresa's holding the hands of dying people, Hitchens and the rest of us could be raising the money and building the hospitals or whatever, rather than sitting around bitching that *she* should be doing those things.

You can only be fraud if you've made certain claims to begin with.

She was trying to send a message about the fundamental dignity of the human person, even the poor and the sick and the diseased and the forgotten.

Evidently combining this sense of their dignity with rather small concern for their actual state.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:28 AM
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I don't see that she made the poor people any more dignified by not actually helping them. Maybe God has a different definition of dignity than I do.

I don't think this has to depend on God (though presumably it did for her). I certainly don't believe in some supernatural conscious being (or even some supernatural Life Force), but I think there's a problem with this "making" people "more" dignified thing, and with the concept of what "help" should mean, and as Labs says, what "dignity" means. Things that live are that: living things. You can't endow them with dignity or make them be dignified or help them be other than what they are (though you can help them live longer, or more healthily, etc, which I agree are Good things to do). But even if you help massively, in the end, you can't change or repeal what being a living thing means (which includes among other things suffering and death). I dunno. There's something worthwhile in making facing and acting on that the central task of one's life, somehow.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:28 AM
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83 - The problem is the way that public discourse about Mother Teresa -- perhaps especially Mother Teresa's public discourse about Mother Teresa -- elided the difference between charity and witnessing. Wanting to live in poverty among the suffering of Calcutta is an impulse with a great deal of historical standing in the Christian faith; representing this as somehow a charitable venture for the suffering of Calcutta is where things fall down.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:28 AM
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Yes, 97 gets an an element of essential narcissism that I think is at the root of a lot of people's discomfort with the reverence for MT.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:29 AM
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I don't think that people realize how tasty lepers are. That puts a whole new face on things.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:30 AM
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The problem with Mother Teresa is she wasn't throwing back the fucking starfish at all. She was standing around and watching them suffocate and patting them on the head and saying "oh you poor thing" while they died. She had many, many, many resources and vast international standing, and she could've used that to actually improve the lives of the people nominally under her care, and she didn't. Not only did she not improve their lives, it doesn't even seem to have occurred to her that she should be in the business of improving lives at all. Fuck Mother Teresa.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:30 AM
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93: Your point about the value of just being with does make some sense to me -- though I will admit I know zero about MT, so no opinion express of implied, etc., on that.

It evokes for me that story of Jesus dining with Mary and Martha (oh, I think them -- I'm no good at chapter and verse) and one of the women is running around doing all the work, cooking, etc. and complains to Jesus that the other isn't helping and he responds that the one who chose to spend time with him rather than bustling about made the better choice. Sometimes, having someone be with you is more valued than having someone do for you.

Mind you, I ordinarily only whip out this biblical passage to justify not helping with dishes at dinner parties.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:31 AM
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is easily answered by pointing out

Only if you don't think about it too hard and propose a model of compassion utterly unlike the one in which she was working.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:31 AM
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re: 99

You can't endow them with dignity or make them be dignified or help them be other than what they are

With respect, that reads like mystical bullshit.

you can't change or repeal what being a living thing means (which includes among other things suffering and death)

You very much can change or repeal some of those things. Sure, everyone dies. But we can die with greatest or lesser degrees of pain and suffering and with a greater or lesser degree of respect.

I'd take being surrounded by loved ones, in a clean, pain-free environment over lots of alternatives.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:31 AM
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96 is good.

But in this particular case, the case of someone raising money to minister to the poor (in some sense or other) damn right I'd insist on it.

Presumably because your sense of what one means by "ministering" to the poor is different than hers. In any case, the whole resentment of people being ripped off is a completely distracting side issue: either what she was doing was worth doing, or it wasn't. Her raising money or not doesn't matter.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:31 AM
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39: Licking lepers is neither here nor there for me.

I suppose y'all will consider me intolerant for coming down unambigously against leper-licking.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:32 AM
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so she collected a bunch of money, and didn't spend it to alleviate suffering.

so how did she spend it? has there been any investigation of this?
does it have to do with rudy's love nest in the battery?


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:32 AM
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In any case, the whole resentment of people being ripped off is a completely distracting side issue: either what she was doing was worth doing, or it wasn't.

Fine.

Her raising money or not doesn't matter.

Wrong. Why the hell did she raise money if she wasn't going to help people with it?

Except for extreme Catholics who shared her views, everyone who gave money to her organization was misled as to what would be done with it.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:34 AM
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104--
i don't want to get all chapter-and-verse on you, either, but it wasn't mary and martha.

in the actual passage, jesus was having dinner with a starfish.

(they were both dining on leper! tasty!)


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:35 AM
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PF, Heebie and me weren't inviting you either. You can just forget about it, Mr. Sour Grapes.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:35 AM
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111: Thanks -- I'd forgotten. This is why I now serve only starfish at my dinner parties.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:36 AM
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I'd like to point out that Dorothy Day, whose faith I'd stack up against Mother Teresa's any day of the week (despite John Paul II's attempt to redefine her as a pro-life figure and only that), didn't set out to groove on the vibes of America's poor and suffering. Peter Maurin said they wanted to engage in "daily practice of the works of mercy", and I think the discourse surrounding Mother Teresa's dishonestly conflates what she was doing with equally spiritually valid and much more temporally useful ministering that other people were and are doing.

I'm just a fucking Unitarian, though, so nobody has to take me at all seriously.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:37 AM
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100 I think addresses the real problem, which isn't Teresa and what she did or didn't do. It's what is said about what she did or didn't do.

With respect, that reads like mystical bullshit.

Heh, yeah, that's the problem with trying to talk about "spiritual" crap. What I meant, more directly, is that if people have dignity (if anything alive has dignity), then it's already there; it's not something you give them or make them have. I think the essence of Catholicism (maybe religion more generally, dunno) is that we view life (not our lives, but the simple distinction between say a rock and a bacteria) as remarkable ("miraculous") and that what Teresa was getting at, and what religion gets at when it's doing its job properly, is that we think (for obvious self-interested reasons, but even so) that living is damn cool. We talk about it in all sorts of metaphorical ways and argue about whether, say, its better to perpetuate the coolness of life by using birth control so we don't poisoning the planet and end up watching each other starve because we've exhausted the resources we need, or to perpetuate the coolness of life by having as many babies as possible (since that's what all living things try to do) and not worrying about the effects of that (whether you call the effects god's will or evolution or the state of nature or fate or whatever). The former is the argument we usually prefer, including me; but there's a certain quality of attractive humility in accepting the latter (which includes accepting what we know about the probable effects of it, i.e. poverty and death, as opposed to simplistic arguments that somehow everyone's going to end up with a pony).


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:42 AM
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either what she was doing was worth doing, or it wasn't.

As I understand your point, it's whether she thought what she was doing was worth it. Which seems like sort of a low bar.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:42 AM
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113--
well, mother teresa wouldn't actually feed people who were starving.
only if they were sort of quasi-starving, like maybe starv-ish.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:44 AM
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Sure, re. 114. I'm not saying Teresa was *more* or *less* good (or bad) than anyone else. I'm simply saying that there's *some* value, I think, in what I understand of what she was doing.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:45 AM
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it's whether she thought what she was doing was worth it.

Nope, not what I'm saying.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:45 AM
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104: Some things only Jesus can get away with saying.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:46 AM
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120 - I thought the parable about the "nappy-headed hos" was over the top.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:47 AM
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or to perpetuate the coolness of life by having as many babies as possible (since that's what all living things try to do) and not worrying about the effects of that (whether you call the effects god's will or evolution or the state of nature or fate or whatever).

With respect--which I mean, because people I respect really, really appreciated Mother Theresa--that seems like a sort of GWB approach to policy. "I meant well, and who can tell the effect?"


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:47 AM
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100 is good.

I think addresses the real problem, which isn't Teresa and what she did or didn't do. It's what is said about what she did or didn't do.

The media portrayed her as something she wasn't. This led to enormous numbers of charitable donations to her organization from people who thought she was something she wasn't.

Did she encourage the media to perpetrate this foolishness? I'm not sure.

What did she end up doing with the money, anyway? She should have just given all of it to some charity organization that did what the donors thought her organization did.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:47 AM
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Somehow I think that bots were involved when Mother Teresa won the Peace Prize. I'm surprised that Slate hasn't picked up on that.


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:48 AM
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What did she end up doing with the money, anyway?

She used it to set up convents for an order she founded.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:49 AM
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I recommend that people read the link in 96.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:49 AM
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I haven't read the book, but I did once attend a viewing of his "Hell's Angel," where we were graced by the presence of Hitch himself. A nasty man with a highly affected manner and an absurdly inflated sense of his own importance. Things got ugly in the Q&A afterward, when a young woman took him to task for "silencing the voices" of the women (sisters of MT's order) depicted in the film; his response was vicious, and way out of proportion to whatever offence against his dignity that Hitchens thought she had committed.

I don't trust his account, on account of his misogyny and his manifest hostility toward all things Catholic. Yes, he's anti-religion in general, but he seems to take a special interest in the RC Church.


Posted by: Invisible Adjunct | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:50 AM
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It's not all that surprising that Mother Theresa had a long dark teatime of the soul, and I'm kind of glad the Church didn't just destroy those writings and pretend she was always happy.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:50 AM
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Her raising money or not doesn't matter.

Given that it was job 1, 2, and 3 with her, I'd say that it does. Look, she was basically running a pyramid scheme whereby they'd "witness" suffering in order to raise money to build more convents with her name that would similarly "witness" more suffering in order to raise more money. The money is and always was the point. Meanwhile, all that money that was being raised wasn't going to the people they were supposedly helping at all.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:50 AM
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128: Yeah, due credit to the Church, which can (to my very, very limited knowledge) be pretty cool.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:54 AM
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So is the pro-MT view coming to this? MT wasn't in the business of alleviating suffering, reducing poverty, or traditional do-gooding the way it's ordinarily conceived. Instead, she was engaged in another sort of activity altogether, call it "witnessing," and that activity isn't aimed at improving the health or economic status of those on the receiving end. (And B adds: witnessing is a valuable activity in its own right and oughtn't be judged by the standards of traditional do-gooding.) Whether "witnessing" in this sense is worthwhile or not is up for debate, as is whether MT encouraged people to misconstrue her efforts.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:55 AM
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Those lepers got to spend time with Mother Teresa. Isn't that reward enough? They'd probably never got to hang out with a white person before, never mind getting licked.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 11:59 AM
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And Hitchens' character is completely beside the point (though I doubt there's much disagreement that he's quite the asshole). Either his argument holds water or it doesn't.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:00 PM
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Now that I think of it, I recognize a kind of spiritual-lingual similarity between bitch and MT.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:01 PM
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To the extent that MT travelled around the world compassionately observing the poor and the sick, and possibly occasionally communicated what she saw to a wider audience by writing or whatever, then I see the spiritual value of her endeavors. But is that really a good description of what she did?


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:01 PM
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There are several interelated questions here (entirely apart from the question posed in 38, for which no one has even offered a guess and which really does puzzle me): (1) what is it that Mother Teresa was "doing"?, (2) what is it that people thought Mother Teresa was doing?, (3) what led people to donate so much money? (which is obviously related to 2, but is different in that she didn't ask anyone to donate money to her ministry--she asked that people donate money to help the poor, which wasn't really what she saw herself as doing), (4) what happened to all the money that was donated? I think it's still mostly sitting in bank accounts of her organization (which are ultimately Vatican bank accounts). It would be nice to see something useful happen to it.

These are the sources of all the controversy. Obviously no one thinks it would be wrong for a woman moved by compassion to decide to go and live her life among the poor, desolate and dying, offering them what care and companionship she had at her disposal (even if this did little or nothing to improve their material conditions). I think actually we could (maybe?) get reasonable consensus that such behavior would be honorable, even if perhaps a bit nutty. So if you think that is more or less what she saw herself as doing, then she becomes more sympathetic. (Although things like the dull-needles in 96 are still hugely problematic, even from this perspective.) Obviously if you see her more as a phony who used trickery to more or less syphon-off funds that were being donated to poverty relief and directed them instead to the Vatican, where they were probably just used to better faciliate the raping of little children by priests, that's going to be more troublesome.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:03 PM
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122: Fair enough, and I think it boils down to whether one can or cannot accept that as a morally defensible way of thinking about things. My only caveat is that in the GWB case, the man *does* have a specific job to do--protecting the constitution, among other things--which he hasn't done. In Teresa's case, the question about what she was "supposed" to do is, I think, itself really dependent on whether or not you think "I meant well and who can tell the effect" is valid to begin with.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:04 PM
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I think that's pretty close, FL. There's a lot of Catholic weirdness in it, but her line seemed be pretty typical Catholic weirdness: every human being has dignity (which isn't measured by how much stuff they have, so no, you can't give them dignity), there is value in acknowledging that even someone who the rest of society ignores, and sometimes acknowledging that just means ensuring they die in a hospice instead of on the street.

And it's not as though the Missionaries of Charity don't have hospices and schools and shelters. Would it be how I'd run a charitable mission? Probably not; and at a first glance I think part of the problem is that people who have taken a vow of poverty should not be in charge of funds. But is the opinion here that the poor would have been better off had Mother Theresa done nothing... or just that they want to feel free to criticize her and don't think that they can? The latter makes sense. The former to me seems a bit off.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:05 PM
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She used it to set up convents for an order she founded.

I don't think that accounts for even close to all the money donated to her. A drop in the bucket, basically.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:05 PM
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131: Fair enough. Call it "witnessing" or "serving god" or whatever, sure. Comity!


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:05 PM
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You people are no fun.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:07 PM
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This strikes me a being very close to the Bush/Cheney position of "we never actually said that 9/11 was caused by Saddam."

Sure, people should know exactly what someone is going to do with their money before they donate it.

But, this isn't a trial about whether she committed actual fraud. The question is whether she is even close to being worthy of reverence.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:09 PM
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is the opinion here that the poor would have been better off had Mother Theresa done nothing... or just that they want to feel free to criticize her and don't think that they can?

The latter doesn't really make sense to me--*everyone* criticizes Teresa, don't they? The former, I think the opinion here is that (1) she made no appreciable difference in their lives;* and (2) they might *well* have been better off, since she was such a public and admired voice for arguments against birth control, etc.

*Dunno how comfortable I am with this part; one would have to ask them, no? My sense is that the people she "served" or worked with or whatever speak/spoke well of her, but of course that could be total propaganda.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:10 PM
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The question is whether she is even close to being worthy of reverence.

My claim would be she is worthy neither of especial reverence nor of special condemnation.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:11 PM
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Okay, next topic. Dalai Lama: homewrecking jackass?


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:12 PM
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141: Only so far you can go with the flavour of lepers, since everyone knows they taste like chicken.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:13 PM
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145: You forgot "New agey."


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:14 PM
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135--
after you lick lepers, the main thing you are communicating around the world is communicable diseases, i should think.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:14 PM
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I think 145 should take into account the man's own dysfunctional childhood. It's more a cycle of abuse thing than a simple homewrecking jackass judgment, and I think therapy, rather than jail time, is called for.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:16 PM
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132: Some oppose leper-licking because they find it grotesque, perverse behavior.

I, on the other hand, consider myself an advocate for the poor, unoffending lepers: Would you want to be licked by Mother Theresa?



Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:16 PM
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Wait. Don't answer that. I don't want to know.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:17 PM
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149: You would.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:17 PM
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You know who hangs out with ("witnessing", or whatever) the poor and diseased a lot? Other poor and diseased people. None of whom are famous or up for sainthood for their troubles.


Posted by: reprehensible | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:17 PM
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152: What can I say? I'm a bleeding heart.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:18 PM
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What can I say? I'm a bleeding heart.

What a shame MT isnt around to comfort you.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:19 PM
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we're late to the party--sully already wrote about this in his book, and quotes it on his site:

"In that type of faith, doubt is not a threat. If we have never doubted, how can we say we have really believed? True belief is not about blind submission. It is about open-eyed acceptance, and acceptance requires persistent distance from the truth, and that distance is doubt. Doubt, in other words, can feed faith, rather than destroy it."

uh, sully?
do you really want to say that i cannot believe something unless i doubted it?
do you really want to say that accepting something requires distance from the truth?

oh well. makes a stirring peroration. and it's presumably what he heard back in his rc youth.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:19 PM
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If the Dalai Lama were serious about his beliefs, he'd encourage Tibet to revolt.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:19 PM
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Mother Teresa Sent To Hell In Wacky Afterlife Mix-Up


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:20 PM
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To the extent that MT travelled around the world compassionately observing the poor and the sick, and possibly occasionally communicated what she saw to a wider audience by writing or whatever, then I see the spiritual value of her endeavors. But is that really a good description of what she did?

No, of course not, because beyond describing what she saw she then asked for money, with the implication being that she would then use that money to help those poor and those sick, and then she didn't do it. Yes, there's a value in pointing out massive poverty and suffering, to the extent that it encourages others to do something to alleviate that suffering, but it turned out that a lot of people tried to alleviate suffering by giving money to Mother Teresa, which then wasn't used to help the poor and the sick in any meaningful way!

This isn't just a matter of a crazy religious eccentric deciding to spend her life with the impoverished of the world - that would be perhaps useless, but harmless. What Mother Teresa did was set up a charitable organization everyone associated with poverty and poverty alleviation, and then did her damnedest to bring in as much money as she could without actually helping the poor, sick people in her care. In doing so, she was not only just being a very nasty person by denying these people the vast resources at her disposal, she was competing for donations with other organizations that actually did provide adequate food and medical care. So she actively did harm.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:23 PM
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What a shame MT isnt around to comfort you.

I had to spend a few seconds wondering which commenter MT was before I realized who you meant.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:24 PM
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143: I know someone who did a short stint with Mother Teresa's organization in Calcutta. She was completely overwhelmed by the moroseness of the experience. As she described it, too many of the sisters took Jesus' "the poor you will always have with you" line with a sort of fatal determinism -- there is nothing that can be done to remedy the problem of poverty, and therefore nothing we ought to do to try. But, in response to your point, she was very much under the impression that those served appreciated their work a great deal. These are mostly people who would otherwise literally be dying alone on the streets, abandoned and forgotten. It can mean a great deal to be taken in, to be bathed, to be touched, to be acknowledged by another human being. Even if you're still dying. There's a big difference between dying alone and forgotten and dying with someone who cares holding your hand. 97 is either deeply cynical or unserious.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:25 PM
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huh. while I don't have any strong opinions on Mother Teresa, it seems important to remember that she was more concerned with the spiritual well-being of the people she attended to than their material well-being.

We may not agree with her, but it's short-sighted to judge her harshly for not doing something she didn't set out to do, or saw as secondary.

She had a different viewpoint from most of us on what constituted "helping." That viewpoint is not new, as someone implied - it has a very long tradition and history - it is as old as the Christian church itself.

There is a way in which I can admire what she did more than a bourgeois person who just sends money off to a cause and feels his duty is done. Even if she was flawed.


Posted by: mrmf | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:43 PM
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If you strongly disbelieve in spiritualism, I think it's entirely appropriate do criticize people for doing spiritual works. Someone who is more concerned about a person's spiritual well-being than their material well-being is wrong and should be criticized.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:46 PM
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157: The Dalai Lama has a clear understanding of political reality and spends a lot of time convincing Tibetans not to revolt.

The US has no leverage on China and probably won't during the forseeable future. One way or another we're in their pocket. The Tibetans are more or less doomed, because they're outnumbered several hundred times and have no international support.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:46 PM
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Lepers are tasty, but B is a true saint for being willing to lick Mandom-flavored Ogged.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:48 PM
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or what Brock said in 161. Even though I am not Christian, I'd rather have a Mother Teresa figure around in my dying moments than medical specialists doing all that Western technology can do to save me.

Which is not to say that money doesn't need to be raised & spent to improve healthcare in the Third World, nor that there should be any complacency about poverty or mortality rates there. Just that there are values other than material ones, and they become even more important as one gets near death. And we all die.

Compassion is a miracle, and I don't think you are especially more likely to receive it from someone sharing your disease or poverty levels or your approaching risk of death. Whenever it comes - from a fellow sufferer or from an outsider like Mother Teresa - it is still an astonishing and transformative thing.


Posted by: mrmf | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:50 PM
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You don't have to absolutely despise MT to believe that her reputation is excessively inflated and somewhat bogus, and that she herself put too much into the PR. There are a lot of medium-range Christian workers of her type that no one criticizes much, but she was built up (literally) into a saint and made a media heroine.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:51 PM
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Most people do realize that saints* are not regarded as flawless, right? Most are deeply flawed, sometimes monstrously so. But they each offer a unique way to get at some neglected spiritual truth or value.

*Neglecting for the moment the fact that Mother Teresa has not, in fact, been declared a saint.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:53 PM
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163: This I don't get. What if I strongly disbelieved in materialism? I wouldn't start yelling, "Fuck the Red Cross!", I'd recognize their hearts were in the right place even if their priorities weren't.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:53 PM
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Has she been canonized? I know they rushed into it (bring back the devil's advocate!!!) and that she's been beatified, but that's not the same as being a saint.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:53 PM
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163: ?? "spiritualism"??

haven't you ever noticed needs in yourself other than for food, shelter, & medecine?

e.g. for a sense of shared purpose, for understanding from another person, the pleasure of being held in their thoughts or them temporarily putting your needs in front of theirs, for dignity, companionship, or joy?


Posted by: mrmf | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:54 PM
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Can't we all come together in our common hatred for Christopher Hitchens?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:54 PM
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The Venerable Bede is now Saint Bede. Update your bookmarks.

Tertullian will never be a saint because he was a Holy Roller. The poor bastard.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:54 PM
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Fuck the Red Cross.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 12:55 PM
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oh man, do you know how many questions the red cross asks before they put out?

have you experienced any sudden weight loss.
have you ever lived in a foreign country.
have you had unexplained night sweats or fever.
have you spent more than six months in a country that has experienced outbreaks of 'mad cow' disease.

the list goes on forever, and pretty soon you just feel like,
you know, it's just not worth a fuck.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:00 PM
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169: I think (and now I see why the analogy ban is so vital! But Ogged is gone!) that religious feeling versus atheism is such a fundamental difference that it doesn't work the same way as many other significant differences. I mean, there is a commonality between even say socialists and democrats that is missing in this instance. It's so fundamental that it's almost impossible to discuss without fighting.

If Mother Teresa does things I consider counterproductive because she feels that there is a God and that this is what he wants her to do, and I feel that the universe doesn't have that kind of personal, individual organizing principle and that therefore we can't use "God wants me to" as any kind of justification...well, we're going to have to fight, see? There just isn't any commonality.

If she and I both believed in helping individual lepers--I from some sort of exceptional marxist and she from a Catholic perspective--why then, we'd have comity. Otherwise, war, so to speak.

I can't believe that someone's heart is in the right place when I believe that their deepest-held principles are wrong.

Perversely, the self-punishing and miserable Mother Teresa seems far more tolerable (in fact, even appealing) than the smiling justification-for-a-million-acts-of-indifference Mother Teresa.

Seriously, I've had several people argue against any kind of systemic social action (whether improved labor laws or whatever) because "just like Mother Teresa" they believe in helping "one and one and one". Bullshit, says I. At least let's not kid ourselves.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:05 PM
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176: "Had" s/b "heard". I didn't instruct them to do it, at least not consciously.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:05 PM
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I feel obligated, Kid.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:10 PM
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B is a true saint

About time.

176: See, I think that the religious vs. athiest distinction is the wrong one, which is why I've been talking about spirtuality, as mrmf does a decent job of explaining in 171.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:11 PM
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176: Perhaps you'd consider MT counterproductive in the sense that she provides the pretense of social action without the substance. I, the hypothetical Catholic, might argue that the reactionary will find their pretenses where they may, with or without MT. While you may find MT's practices useless, in and of themselves they are, at worst, harmless from an atheist perspective.

OT: You have seen this, right?


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:16 PM
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So on the one hand, we have her being there in peoples' dying moments, and demonstrating the value of being there for each other independent of any material difference made. On the other hand, we have piles of money probably just gathering dust -- or more likely, interest -- in some Vatican vault, when its donors (maybe? probably? certainly?) thought it would be used for bandages and water purifiers and stuff. The first is good, the second is not.

And I'm curious about that second option. The link in 94 said a lot, but raised plenty of questions too. Is there another side to the story, some non-disgruntled ex-nun saying, "Sure, we collected the money, and it's all getting spent on orphans, they just don't happen to be in Calcutta."? How much money are we talking about? Did MT really know nothing about it? What exactly were the pretenses under which it was collected, and how intentional was that image?

172: yes.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:16 PM
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179: Okay, I can hear the unpleasant peel-back sound of the lid coming off the can of worms...I loathe the term "spirituality", particularly when it is used to elide the distinction between a teleological and a non-teleological worldview.

When I reflect happily on my status as one organism among others (or reflect unhappily, as the case may be) this is not because I feel that there is anything more to any organism than its material nature. There just isn't, as far as I am concerned. No common spirit. No tuning in to higher feelings. No ghosts. No afterlife. No transcendence. Zip. What I think, no matter how powerful to me, no matter how deeply felt, is what I think when little electrical signals in my brain do whatever they do. It doesn't reflect any "reality" of interconnection or similarity other than what may be determined by (admittedly limited) empirical means. When I am astonished by the world, it is because I am astonished, an evolved thing dancing on vitalist strings. I don't know myself; in a sense I am not I. That's remarkable and interesting, but it's not "spiritual". It's very material, in fact.

Or so I believe, as they say.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:18 PM
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religious feeling versus atheism is such a fundamental difference that it doesn't work the same way as many other significant differences

Well, religious doctrine versus atheism is where the fights come from. Those fights overlaps with feeling only insofar as parties assume that their particular doctrine gives them a monopoly over certain forms of feeling (appreciation of the poetic majesty of the universe, commitment to something greater than oneself, a moral compass, a place in the chain of being, whatever).


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:18 PM
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182: I agree. But we need a name for these *feelings* of connection and transcendence (which do "matter" to us). Talking about spirtuality doesn't have to mean believing in ghosts.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:22 PM
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180: For me, atheism isn't separable from my politics. We have to do things because when one person dies, they're dead. That's all they get. So when I see someone doing something politically harmful because of religion it is, honestly, rather panic-inducing--I feel like time and lives are being wasted.

The commonality between politics and religion is that (to me) both have to turn outward (even under the guise of retreating from the world; neither literally nor intellectually is retreat from the world some kind of vanishing-from-the-stage (with maybe a little dispensation for hermits who live alone in the woods)), and that's why they get into conflict (or collusion).

OT: Yes, and he quotes a line from Robertson Davies which has always chilled me. Although latterly I find that RD doesn't produce as much anxiety in me as he used to when I was young. And I've just been rereading Things That Never Happen...his middle period stories are best, I think. Not a man well-served by optimism of any kind. "Feeling bleak, baby?" "The bleakest."


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:26 PM
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I dislike the words "spiritual" and "spirituality" too, but in my case it might be the fault of C. S. Lewis. They just sound so mealy-mouthed to me.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:26 PM
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182--
yeah, that sounds right, except there's nothing about being a materialist that has to rule out interconnection, even of kinds we haven't discovered yet.
the best argument against esp is...
that it has been extensively tested and has consistently failed.
so that one is dead in the water.
but that doesn't preclude their being other kinds of materially-based interconnections among persons, species, etc.
it's weird that pigeons are sensitive to magnetic fields, but it is amply confirmed, and no threat to materialism.
materialism doesn't of itself preclude "tuning in to higher feelings". it just requires a material account of the tuning and the feelings and what makes them higher.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:27 PM
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184: Well, let's not have it be "spirituality" which although it has the advantage of popularity has the tremendous disadvantage of all kinds of teleological baggage. How about "vitalist illusion" as a nice, neutral term...?

Freud on the "oceanic feeling" is annoying.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:28 PM
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I don't like it when it's used in a mealymouthed way, but I think it's possible to use it simply as a word rather than a euphemism.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:29 PM
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188: Fair enough. Come up with a serious neutral and descriptive word and I'll totally join you in propagating it.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:30 PM
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188--
"on the "oceanic feeling"" s/b


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:31 PM
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Seriously, I've had several people argue against any kind of systemic social action (whether improved labor laws or whatever) because "just like Mother Teresa" they believe in helping "one and one and one". Bullshit, says I. At least let's not kid ourselves.

Aren't you the one who gets trapped in the endless loop of "maybe I'm wrong"?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:33 PM
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Whenever I see the title of this post I read it at first as "Fucking Saint Teresa on ecstasy."


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:34 PM
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Shorter thread:

"It's fucking SHOCKING that Mother Teresa, member of a religion that believes the soul and Heaven are infinitely more important than the body and life on earth, acted like it was more important to set up convents and do spiritual shit than to fight poverty and disease."


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:37 PM
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The Dalai Lama is a sonofabitch, incidentally.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:37 PM
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194: member of a religion that believes the soul and Heaven are infinitely more important than the body and life on earth

Humanism happened to the Catholics too, Anderson.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:38 PM
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"It's fucking SHOCKING that Mother Teresa, member of a religion that believes the soul and Heaven are infinitely more important than the body and life on earth, acted like it was more important to set up convents and do spiritual shit than to fight poverty and disease."

Oh, go tell it to Dorothy Day.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:39 PM
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195 is an excellent criticism, not of the Dalai Lama specifically, but of the fame of people like him an dTeresa, yeah.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:39 PM
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I seem to recall a number of times when sick and desperate people approached Jesus, and instead of just sitting there and patting their arm while they died, he, you know, healed them and shit.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:41 PM
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192: I seldom let the maybes get in the way of action. That's why I am drawn to this new version of ol' MT. I totally get the whole soldiering-on-anyway/o-darkness-o-void thing. In some bizarre alternate universe, we'd probably be BFF.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:43 PM
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199: Ah, but Gswift, he was actually god, y'see. We aren't.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 1:54 PM
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When I see a sick person I just quietly lay on the hands and heal them.

Theresa's a bitch. No wonder B likes her.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 2:00 PM
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She dresses like shit, though.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 2:03 PM
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199, 201: As I recall, the only guy Jesus ever said went to Hell was a rich guy who refused to help the poor.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 2:04 PM
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I thought 195 was crap. Tibetan nationalism has the same validity as Basque and Kurdish nationalism (I think that Corsican nationalism was just a throway line). The Tibetans are under more pressure than the Basques, from a much more ruthless enemy. Their position is much like that of the Kurds, who are also doomed for reasons of international politics. Lots of people have involved themselves in supporting the Kurds, and the Basques have attained a lot of their goals.

So yeah, there's a bit of trendy shallowness to the Free Tibet movement, but the movement is intrinsically valid.

On top of that, Tibetan Buddhism is really of extraordinarily interesting at many levels.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 2:07 PM
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It's fucking SHOCKING that Mother Teresa, member of a religion that believes the soul and Heaven are infinitely more important than the body and life on earth, acted like it was more important to set up convents and do spiritual shit than to fight poverty and disease.

No one's acting shocked. We're just saying that it's bad. If you withhold food and medicine from poor, sick people - food and medicine you could very easily afford - you're a bad person. If you do so under the guise of helping those poor and sick people, you're a monster. Whatever fucked-up Medieval theology is at play here doesn't matter; letting people suffer and die is wrong, and doing so while collecting millions of dollars from the rest of the world under the premise of alleviating that suffering is the most despicable kind of fraud.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 2:16 PM
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Atheism and politics overlap, for me, in the realm of the exceptionally tiresome.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 2:17 PM
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"I don't think that people realize how tasty lepers are. That puts a whole new face on things."

I guess after the last one fell off and I ate they had too.


Posted by: Bryan | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 2:22 PM
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206--
"the most despicable kind of fraud"

oooh, tough call. tough, tough call.
prior to the bush years, i probably would have agreed with you straight off.
but since then, the competition has just gotten a lot fiercer.

still--"really despicable kind of fraud" works for me.

in addition to the fact that the withholding of food & medicine is
a) contrary to luke 11:11
and
b) exactly what the wingers got their knickers in a twist over vis a vis schiavo.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 2:25 PM
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207: Well, militant atheism is certainly one of the most tiresome things ever, I'll grant you that, although I vigorously resist the CS Lewis-ish/Chesteronian "Oh, well, atheism is so boring and trivial and that's why it's not a serious intellectual position."

I do not myself start discussions on religion on account of as how I have observed that atheists and not-atheists can seldom have a conversation on the topic that is either polite or substantial; there really isn't much space for anything except trivialities and insults.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 2:30 PM
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There's nothing wrong with trivialities and insults, Frowner. You just don't understand.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 2:38 PM
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211: Well then fuck you Emerson, I don't like your shoes.

See? Happy now?


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 2:41 PM
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If you click the link in 195, and then click through further to the Counterpunch article being quoted in that link, you will eventually find this sentence:

A similar point was made long ago by Theodor Adorno in his study of the horoscope section of the Los Angeles Times in the early 1950s,

Posted by: marcus | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 3:04 PM
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The next sentence deserves citation as well:

He argued that horoscopes, if not in themselves permeated by fascist ideology, promote the sort of submission to abstract authority that paves the way for the rise of fascism.

Posted by: marcus | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 3:06 PM
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And look where we are now.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 3:11 PM
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Ah, but Gswift, he was actually god, y'see. We aren't.

In addition to what stras said, a parable comes to mind. One with a Samaritan.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 3:23 PM
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212: Okay, now there's no need to start insulting footwear. That just crosses a line, I tell you. It crosses a line.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 3:51 PM
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"Well, militant atheism is certainly one of the most tiresome things ever."

Definitely. Christopher Hitchens quoted in the article- "She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself."

So this woman chooses to live her life amongst the squalor and this fat ass calls her mission an 'attempted cure' and that she's dug herself a pit? Who's next? Clara Barton?



Posted by: terpbball | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 3:51 PM
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I love Adorno. So cranky!


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 3:56 PM
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Much as I hate to agree with Hitch about anything, it actually looks precisely as though the over-the-top and sometimes harmful nature of MT's mission was born from an attempt to quash her own doubts about her faith. So it would appear he called that one right.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 3:56 PM
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220 to 218.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 3:57 PM
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From The Jargon of Authenticity, by Trans-World Adorno: This is authenticity's funky commercial. (p 30).


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 4:15 PM
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212:
:-)
!!1!!!11!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 4:17 PM
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However, you've never even seen my shoes. Those were sandals. Sandals without socks.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 4:18 PM
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OT, since the Virgin/Whore thread was closed: Someone put up another Stump video on Youtube. (over the credits of this)


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 4:24 PM
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Clara Barton was a fag.

I installed two-way mirrors in her pad in Brentwood, and she come to the door in a dress.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 4:24 PM
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NO COMMENTS ON FLABS CREDITING ALTHOUSE WITH THE LINK?


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDMA | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 4:31 PM
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227. We are none of us saints.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 4:32 PM
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225: And it's Charlton Heston! Freakin' sweet.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 4:36 PM
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The station where I work has one of what must be eight or nine extant copies of the US release of the Stump album, which DOES NOT HAVE "BUFFALO" ON IT!

But it does have "Charlton Heston". Maybe that should be my new opening song.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08-24-07 4:38 PM
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Because of the references made in this thread yesterday by Snark & RFTS, I've begun Dorothy Day's The Long Loneliness. The 1981 introduction by Daniel Berrigan is itself a remarkable piece of writing: graceful, incisive, intellectual. The leaders of the Counterculture of my youth, of the civil rights and other political challenges were quite often on that level, it seems to me, and if today's are, it doesn't show as much.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 08-25-07 12:41 PM
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77: Sorry, I have to run, but I just wanted to say that you don't have to read Hitchens to know that something was sour with Mother Theresa's work---you just have to talk to a number of Kolkatans who actually lived and worked in the city, trying to make it better, rather than treating it as an amusement park of human misery.


Posted by: Ile | Link to this comment | 08-25-07 2:19 PM
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232: Actually, reading Hitchens is a lot easier for most of us.

Interesting. What specifically do you have in mind?


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08-25-07 2:21 PM
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