Monday, August 15, 2005

Christopher Hitchens On Mother Theresa(Interview) by Matt Cherry

The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 16, Number 4.

Below, Matt Cherry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, interviews Christopher Hitchens about his book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (Verso, 1995) and his television program, which strongly criticized Mother Teresa. The interview recapitulates the most devastating critiques of Mother Teresa ever made. It also gives a very telling account by a leading journalist into the U.S. media's great reluctance to criticize religion and religious leaders.

As Free Inquiry was going to press, we heard that Mother Teresa was suffering from heart trouble and malaria and there was concern about her chances of survival. It was, therefore, suggested to the editors that it would be inappropriate to print an interview that contains criticism of Mother Teresa's work and influence. However, in view of the media's general failure to investigate the work of Mother Teresa or to publish critical comments about her, the editors felt it important to proceed with the publication of this revealing interview.

Christopher Hitchens is "Critic at Large" for Vanity Fair, writes the Minority Report column for The Nation, and is a frequent guest on current affairs and commentary television programs. He has written numerous books on international current affairs, including Blood, Class and Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies.

—— EDS.

Free Inquiry: According to polls, Mother Teresa is the most respected woman in the world. Her name is a by-word for selfless dedication in the service of humanity. So why are you picking on this sainted old woman?

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

FI: You have to go to the Book of Mormon?

HITCHENS: Yes, and the Seventh-Day Adventists, who descended from the Millerites. I can see that Scientology now enjoys charitable status as a religion, which I think is a real triumph. I can't get over that. You can set some idea of what it would have been like to live in third-century Nicea when Christianity was being hammered together - an experience I am very glad I did not have. Religious diversity is confused with pluralism. Because of multi-culturalism and what is called "political correctness," religion has a certain protection that it couldn't expect to have if it was a state-sponsored racket like the Church of England.

FI: A lot of people who aren't religious think religion should still be beyond criticism.

HITCHENS: Certainly, because it's people's deepest and dearest beliefs, and because they are communities as well as congregations. And I suppose that in the minds of some people the feeling is "Well, you never know, it may be true and then I will go to Hell." A lot of people every now and then are visited by fear. It seems that as animals we are so constituted. At least we can know that about ourselves, but it is such a waste of the knowledge to interpret in any other way. On the other hand, I'm also impressed by the number of people who manage to get by - often without any help or support - not believing.

FI: The great thing about humanism is that so many people reach the position independently, because it is not about teachers and doctrines. You just end up a humanist by following your own questions.

HITCHENS: That's true. And it doesn't have any element of wishful-thinking in it, which is another advantage. Though it's the reason why I think it will always be hated but never eradicated.

FI: Look at the situation in Western Europe: in Holland about 55 percent say they are humanist or non-religious; and in Britain it's up to about 30 percent and among teenagers it's 50 percent. So there's an enormous movement in Western Europe towards secularism and humanism. Yet in America it seems to be getting just more and more religious. Which, considering the convergence of culture in other areas, seems quite anomalous. Sociologists are just beginning to address this issue but haven't done so properly yet.


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