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Saints preserve us from the canonization of Mother Teresa

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If anything sums up everything that is wrong with the Roman Catholic Church, it is the canonization of a monstrously vicious, sadistic, racist, colonial control freak born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu and known to the world as Mother Teresa -- now St. Teresa of Calcutta. Oh, Calcutta!

Bad enough that a particularly obnoxious Pope of recent memory wanted to have a Nazi war criminal canonized (I do keep wanting to add an extra "n" to that word). The present Pope, Francis, may have stopped that one in its fetid tracks. If so, good for him. But in the dreadful Ms. Bojaxhiu resided everything that is wrong with institutionalized belief, and indicates just how easily the abstract notion of "goodness" can flip to its opposite. Thanks to the good Pope Francis, she is now a saint, pickled in immortal aspic for generations of blind worshippers yet to come.

Bojaxhiu's well-catalogued sins are far better documented than her alleged good deeds. In her, the cardinal sin of pride found its apogee. She was almost a walking definition of humblebragging. This story, from someone who did come later to have some admiration for her, is instructive:

Later, when I had children, my mother insisted we took them to the her chapel to be blessed. She did. My mother told Mother Teresa, "My daughters volunteered at Shishu Bhavan when they were young." "Oh," she responded to me with unconcealed hauteur. "When you were a child. But now? You do nothing useful for the poor now, I suppose?"

The poor, noble saint-to-be reveled in the suffering of the relatively few people actually "rescued" by her Missionaries of Charity. "I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people." In fact she had a ghoulish fascination with agony -- so long as she herself wasn't subjected to it.

The "rescued" suffered grievously under her malign, obsessive gaze. They were denied analgesics, adequate food and even basic medical care, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that poured into the coffers of Bojaxhiu's Missionaries of Charity. Unsterilized needles were re-used. Then, adding insult to grievous injury, the dying, mostly Hindus, were baptized in stealth. But Bojaxhiu herself received care in the best American hospitals when she needed it.

"One day I met a lady who was dying of cancer in a most terrible condition," said Bojaxhiu. "And I told her, I say, 'You know, this terrible pain is only the kiss of Jesus -- a sign that you have come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you.'" This sort of thing can no doubt be explained by experts in the pathology of sadism.

Nor should we ignore the settler/colonialist ideology that caused this appalling woman to end up a saint. In the words of Vijay Prashad:

Mother Teresa is the quintessential image of the white woman in the colonies, working to save the dark bodies from their own temptations and failures....

The Euro-American-dominated international media continue to harbor the colonial notion that white peoples are somehow especially endowed with the capacity to create social change. When non-white people labour in this direction, the media typically search for white benefactors or teachers, or else, for white people who stand in the wings to direct the nonwhite actors. Dark bodies cannot act of their own volition to stretch their own capacity, for they must wait, the media seem to imply, for some colonial administrator, some technocrat from IBM or the IMF to tell them how to do things. When it comes to saving the poor, the dark bodies are again invisible, for the media seem to celebrate only the worn out platitudes of such as Mother Teresa and ignore the struggles of those bodies for their own liberation. To open the life of someone like Mother Teresa to scrutiny, therefore, is always difficult....

Mother Teresa's work was part of a global enterprise for the alleviation of bourgeois guilt, rather than a genuine challenge to those forces that produce and maintain poverty.

But the basic question that arises from this travesty needs to be pondered -- the one I already raised above. How is it that goodness flips so easily to its opposite, evil? How is it that the two are so apparently imbricated that few seem to notice when it happens? Dare I raise Stalinism and the true believers of Communist parties worldwide who saw and heard nothing amiss during his anthropaphagous reign until Khrushchev, himself deeply collaborative in the deaths of millions, told them it was OK to see Stalin as he had been?

All of us progressives like to cling to the possibility that our dreams and visions might be realized -- that, in more obscurantist words, the eschaton might be immanentized. But why does that grasping for the ideal inevitably seem to entail profoundly contrary moves? Let me put forth a suggestion for discussion: the institutionalizing of radically decent impulses is at the same time the institutionalizing of their opposite. I don't mean this in the dialectical sense at all, contending opposites and so on. I mean that the two are one.

There is something about the formalizing, the structuring, the codifying of ideals that creates a space akin to the one occupied by Schrödinger’s famous cat, simultaneously both dead and alive until observed. In the moral quantum universe we inhabit, if I can put it that way, acts are neither bad nor good until "observed," either. Of what does that analogical observation consist? Radical critique -- initial awareness, stepping back, assessing, analyzing, proposing. But it is impossible to do any of that effectively—we merely confound the problem -- by trying to do it solely from inside the institution, on the institution's terms. How then can we be both engaged and disengaged at the same time? That's the nub.

Over to you, dear readers.

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