The missionary position, by Christopher Hitchens

I got Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens’ autobiography, a month ago. I was about to start, but then I realised that most of what I knew about Hitch is what I have seen of him on Youtube—any video starting with “Hitchens destroys” is wonderful. Hence, before diving into his autobiography, I decided to read every book he wrote.

I have started with The missionary position, a long essay where he deconstructs the character of Mother Teresa. It is astonishing how much we do not know about her. But what is even more astonishing is that the clues about her character were there for everyone to see. As Hitch states, “The rich world likes and wishes to believe that someone, somewhere, is doing something for the Third World. For this reason, it does not inquire too closely into the motives or practices of anyone who fulfils, however vicariously, this mandate.”

Hitch approached this project with the objective of “judging Mother Teresa’s reputation by her actions and words rather than her actions and words by her reputation.” I can only imagine how difficult that must have been (the essay was first published in 1995). And what he found can be summarised in a sentence what he wrote in an article just after she was beatified: Mother Teresa “was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty.”

She believed that suffering was the way to God, to Jesus. “The point is not the honest relief of suffering but the promulgation of a cult based on death and suffering and subjection“, Hitch claims. We are talking about terminally-ill people that would have to suffer in their final moments because that is what God had decided for them. And it was not for lack of means: she received significant donations—some with highly dubious characters. But it is not clear where these donations went. However, it is clear where they did NOT go: to improve her clinics to relieve the pain and suffering of the ill. As Hitch puts it, “theirs was a regime of austerity, rigidity, harshness and confusion… when the requirement of dogma clash with the needs of the poor, it is the latter which give way.”

There is an episode narrated by Mother Teresa herself that perfectly illustrates the West blindness towards her. She explains the last moments of a cancer patient in excruciable pain. She told him: “you are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you.” To which he replied—according to her: “Then please tell him to stop kissing me.” This is a mad woman as anyone who would take a paracetamol when they have a headache should recognise. She did not do what she did to get rich, true, but her motives were delusional (and to a certain extend cynical since she sought the best care when she had health problems) and the consequences in terms of suffering were significant.

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