The obsession some atheists have with Mother Teresa borders on the monomaniacal.
Even when I was an atheist I thought it quite absurd whenever comfortable first-world atheists would viciously attack a woman who gave up everything to serve the poor and who lived in abject poverty herself.
The idea that this selfless woman was actually a masochistic, self-obsessed lunatic, who loved to watch the poor suffer originated with Christopher Hitchens, largely considered the founder of the New Atheism movement. In fact, virtually every irrational and over-the-top criticism of Mother Teresa that I have read can be traced back to his obsessive hatred of the Albanian nun.
Hitchens has since passed away (please say a prayer for his soul), but unfortunately his pet theories have not; they pop up on Internet forums all the time.
As Mother Teresa’s canonization date approaches, it is likely that this nonsense will spread. Our era is addicted to shock and outrage, so headlines excoriating Mother Teresa will be irresistable, no matter how false.
With that in mind, here are some common charges atheists make to justify hating Mother Teresa, and some handy responses:
1. Mother Teresa’s Canonization Is a “Fraud”: Christopher Hitchens criticized Mother Teresa’s recognition by the Church because the Church sped up her beatification process. He also mocked the idea that a miracle could have come about through Mother Teresa’s intercession.
So? Hitchens was an atheist; would he be satisfied with any process that canonized Mother Teresa or any other saint? Did he believe in any of the miracles that have been attributed to the intercession of the saints, even those with abundant eyewitnesses, verifications by doctors, etc? The answer is no. So why would it matter to Hitchens (or any other atheist) how quickly Mother Teresa was canonized? Even if it were theoretically true that Mother Teresa was a terrible person, why would an atheist care who the Catholic Church canonizes?
2. Mother Teresa “Mismanaged Money”: Mother Teresa’s critics accuse her of mismanaging donations, and as evidence they point to the humble state of the congregation’s homes versus the large donations that are assumed to have been poured into their coffers. Yet no theory is advanced as to exactly how the foundress spent the organization’s money in an unethical way. She certainly did not spend it on herself.
Vatican officials confirm that Mother Teresa donated her congregation’s surplus money to be dispersed through the many avenues through which the Church helps the poor. In other words, she did not hoard the donations she received just for her order; she shared the wealth, which is in keeping with the mission of her organization. Mother Teresa and her sisters are called to minister in a simple way to the poorest of the poor, and if they have extra money it goes to other poor people. I am not sure why this is so offensive unless one is trying to find offense.
3. Mother Teresa’s Homes Are “Abusive”: Critics point to what they call deplorable conditions in the homes the sisters run — a charge that betrays how completely they misunderstand the Missionaries of Charity. The sisters join the poverty of the people they serve. Their mission is not to build state-of-the-art hospitals, or work for political or social change, which many Catholics do. They provide care for children and adults in the most desperate of situations, people who would otherwise be living and dying on the streets. The sisters themselves live in complete and utter poverty, sleeping on the floor and washing their one habit in buckets and drying them overnight.
This criticism often comes drenched in a mind-set of first-world privilege that has no idea what kind of conditions people experience in third-world countries. It also often comes from critics who don’t bother to spend any amount of prolonged time in these situations — more willing to “investigate” her homes than actually show up and work alongside the nuns.