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The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in…
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The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (1995)

by Christopher Hitchens

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7782919,549 (3.85)35
Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, feted by politicians, the Church and the world's media, Mother Teresa of Calcutta appears to be on the fast track to sainthood. But what, asks Christopher Hitchens, makes Mother Teresa so divine? In a frank expose of the Teresa cult, Hitchens details the nature and limits of one woman's mission to the world's poor. He probes the source of the heroic status bestowed upon an Albanian nun whose only declared wish is to serve God. He asks whether Mother Teresa's good works answer any higher purpose than the need of the world's privileged to see someone, somewhere, doing something for the Third World. He unmasks pseudo-miracles, questions Mother Teresa's fitness to adjudicate on matters of sex and reproduction, and reports on a version of saintly ubiquity which affords genial relations with dictators, corrupt tycoons and convicted frauds.… (more)
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English (26)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (29)
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Mother Theresa is not who she is represented to be in the media. She is a cynical politician and cult leader, mixing it up with brutal dictators when that serves her purposes, refusing to use her vast resources to alleviate the suffering in her institutions for idealogical reasons (and in some cases causing death because of it), and accepting huge donations from criminals who, ironically, conned rich and poor alike to obtain their wealth. The recent revelations from her posthumous memoirs that she simply could not feel the presence of God or the divine, making her at best an unwilling Christian, but perhaps a closet atheist of sorts, only deepen the darkness of Mother Theresa's story. ( )
  taxcourtjester | May 31, 2019 |
When you read a book and you can hear the author's voice clearly in your mind... I miss Hitch. Short, interesting read. ( )
  authenticjoy | Mar 29, 2019 |
We should always be careful who we place on a pedestal, and we should always keep our eyes open when we do. Mother Teresa is the best example of this - she is regarded as a saint by so many, and yet - why? In this longform essay, Christopher Hitchens sets himself the task of demolishing the mythology of the Albanian nun, and so proves himself the ultimate iconoclast along the way. A quick read - but then everything Hitchens wrote is a quick read, it's so good. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Feb 19, 2019 |
Perhaps a little short - as others have said, it would have been good to see Hitchens take twice as many pages to eviscerate Mother Theresa. Nevertheless, Hitchens is always a great read and he covers the topic reasonably completely. ( )
  adam.currey | Sep 24, 2018 |
In attacking the legacy of Mother Teresa, Christopher Hitchens' aim in this polemic is true. It is not so much that she loved the poor but that she fetishized poverty, replacing humility with abjectness and spirituality with anti-materialism. Her missions refused – on dogmatic principles – to deliver proper medical care to the poor and needy who visited, and the places stayed that way for decades, even after the flood of donations that resulted from her fame. (And Hitchens asks: Where did all that money go?) It was a conscious decision to enhance the suffering of the poor, the better to experience 'the glory of God'. Needless to say, Hitchens is not a fan of this needless cruelty.

He also points out that it is hypocritical, for whenever 'Mother' herself became ill, she checked into the finest clinics that (other people's donated) money could buy. "There is no conceit equal to false modesty," Hitchens says on page 91, and in the nauseatingly pious Teresa, doing more harm than good, he has the archetype of the foolish religionite he so despised.

You can understand why Hitchens' takedown caused a bit of a stir back when it was published, but you may also wonder whether it is worth reading this book nowadays, given that Mother Teresa is long gone. Well, Hitchens also throws a few punches towards her champions. Politicians and vested-interest-types got a lot of mileage out of their donations to her missions, with the armour provided by their association with her proving very useful indeed (not least to the dictators she also graced with her patronage). Hitchens reserves his best powder for Teresa herself, but these champions in media, politics and elsewhere also get theirs. Their purchased indulgences, and eagerness to use the suffering of the poor as an opportunity to demonstrate their goodness, are what we would nowadays call 'virtue-signalling'.

However, the book is not comprehensive. It is disappointingly short; a sort of cursory overview of what Mother Teresa really was, as opposed to what the media made her out to be. Hitchens introduces each of the points but never goes into great depth about any of them, and before you know it the chapter has moved on and soon the book has ended. The Missionary Position has the right strategy – "judging Mother Teresa's reputation by her actions and words rather than her actions and words by her reputation" (pg. 103) – but does not go on the campaign. It is a fine war map, but with the individual battles left unfought. ( )
  Mike_F | Jul 10, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Christopher Hitchensprimary authorall editionscalculated
Mallon, ThomasForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Edwin and Gertrude Blue; saintly but secular.
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Who would be so base as to pick on a wizened, shrivelled old lady, well stricken in years, who has consecrated her entire life to the needy and the destitute?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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