Mother Teresa: Perhaps No Saint After All

Mary Johnson’s memoir An Unquenchable Thirst came out in paperback last week. It’s a compelling read.

When she was 17, Johnson spotted a picture of Mother Teresa on the cover of Time magazine1, and thought she’d found her calling. She was still a teenager when she joined Teresa’s organization, the Missionaries of Charity, becoming a nun and thus a “bride of Christ.” Soon, however, doubts began to plague her.

The L.A. Times summarizes:

Over time, Johnson began to chafe at the political maneuvering and less-than-holy behavior of her superiors, several of whom she names in the book while disguising rank-and-file nuns and priests with pseudonyms. Even Mother Teresa herself doesn’t escape Johnson’s sharp eye and sense of injustice. While Johnson clearly loved the “living saint” and admired her life’s work, Mother Teresa comes off as a control freak who senses her chance at sainthood under the congenial Pope John Paul II and strictly adheres to the rules set by Rome, including several of the Catholic teachings that have kept women in a place of powerlessness.

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It’s still an altogether more charitable depiction of the Albanian nun than the one painted by the late Christopher Hitchens, who famously called her “a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud,” and who published The Missionary Position, a book that takes Mother Teresa to task for allegedly promulgating poverty rather than fighting it.

To bolster his case, Hitchens offered, among other things, such damning Mother Teresa quotes as:

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.

And

The greatest destroyer of peace today is the crime of the innocent unborn child [abortion]. If a mother can murder her own child in her own womb, what is left for you and for me to kill each other?

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Hitchens, while also not a fan of abortion, nevertheless pointed out that Teresa’s life-long opposition to abortion, and even to “non-natural” birth control, inevitably resulted in bigger families and more mouths to feed — and therefore, in more poverty, hunger, and sickness. He wrote:

Tenderness about the unborn is an emotion that I share myself. But tenderness about the unborn also becomes an overtly political matter when it’s preached by a presumable virgin who also campaigns against birth control.

If the word presumable seems a bit unkind, Hitchens might in fact have been wise to the forbidden sexual peccadilloes that were hardly uncommon at the Missionaries of Charity. This is where we return to Mary Johnson’s memoir, and to the L.A. Times‘ summary of it:

What overwhelms Johnson [is her] battle against loneliness and the lack of emotional and physical intimacy. Although Missionaries of Charity nuns are forbidden any physical contact — even a friendly hug — Johnson engages in sexual relationships with other nuns on several occasions, including one affair with a sexual predator that the Missionary of Charity leadership knew about but chose to retain on the roster.

After 20 years, and more religious misbehavior — including sex with a priest — Johnson left the Missionaries of Charity. She ultimately also abandoned her Catholic faith.

On her website, she explains why and when she decided to write her book: it was

the day my youngest sister phoned to say she was about to marry a man she’d met twice; their guru had decided the two “could contain each other.” We human beings sometimes do odd things, especially when religion is involved. Odd and interesting and “not discussed in polite company” things. But it seems to me that what happens when we surrender our wills to religious figures — or deny our sexual natures or believe the Creator of the Universe speaks to us — are things that need to be discussed.

As you can tell from her tone, Johnson can hardly be categorized as disgruntled. Today, she experiences the world differently: no longer through the curious, distorted prism of religious faith, but free from bitterness.

It seems to me that we damage ourselves and our communities when we claim infallible conclusions based on subjective spiritual experience or ancient tradition. I don’t consider myself a religious person today. I believe in living life to the fullest. I try to live mindfully and to treat others and myself well. I believe in the power of love and in the importance of exploring the world around us and of speaking honestly about what we find.

Works for me.
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P.S.  I just discovered that there’s a brand new study, by Canadian academics, that takes a dim view of Mother Teresa’s efficacy as a helper of the poor. The Huffington Post has more, under the headline Mother Teresa Humanitarian Image A ‘Myth,’ New Study Says. A slightly better (more methodical and factual) look at the study is here.
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1À propos the Time cover, that was in 1975. Mother Teresa made the cover of the magazine again in 2007, years after her death, when long-suppressed documents showed that she struggled with her belief in the divine, and suffered in a spiritual void of which she dared tell no one.

[Mother Teresa image via Picsdrive]

Parallels: the Dubious Dealings of Scientology

Lawrence Wright is the author of a new bestseller about Scientology, Going Clear. He’s an ace reporter who is plenty familiar with the topic of religious craziness, having previously written the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Looming Tower, a history of al Qaeda and the road to 9/11 (highly recommended).

I’ve yet to read his latest, but remembered that Wright had published a lengthy exposé about Scientology a couple of years ago, in The New Yorker. I just re-read that piece, and was struck by the parallels between the case of Maricica Irina Cornici, the killed-by-her-peers Romanian nun I wrote about yesterday, and that of Lisa McPherson, a Scientology member who, 18 years ago, likewise died a terrible death at the hands of her co-religionists.

In Wright’s words, McPherson was

…a Scientologist who died after a mental breakdown, in 1995. She had rear-ended a car in Clearwater, Florida — where Scientology has its spiritual headquarters — and then stripped off her clothes and wandered naked down the street. She was taken to a hospital, but, in the company of several other Scientologists, she checked out, against doctors’ advice. (The church considers psychiatry an evil profession.) McPherson spent the next seventeen days being subjected to church remedies, such as doses of vitamins and attempts to feed her with a turkey baster. She became comatose, and she died of a pulmonary embolism before church members finally brought her to the hospital. The medical examiner in the case, Joan Wood, initially ruled that the cause of death was undetermined, but she told a reporter, “This is the most severe case of dehydration I’ve ever seen.”

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Deep psychological problems (possibly schizophrenia), check. A mental breakdown, check. Failure of fellow believers to seek or allow medical help, check. Multi-day practical imprisonment ‘for the victim’s own good,’ check. Dehydration and physical collapse, check. Death, check. (Note: Forensics experts hired by Scientology disputed some of the official autopsy’s findings.)

But there’s also a key difference between the two cases. People went to jail in Romania after Cornici died. By contrast, not a single Scientologist was ever properly held to account in McPherson’s death.

Scientology is still dogged by accusations that it holds members captive who wish to leave, and/or who have mental problems. Here’s such a report from just last week.

 [Lisa McPherson photo via Facebook]

Try Some Group Sects

Readers of Moral Compass might be interested to learn, as I just did, of another blog that casts a wary eye on the unsavory side of Christianity. It’s called Group Sects, and it’s clearly written by a kindred spirit:

No church wishes to admit that the darkness has overcome them and they have transformed from a church of followers of Jesus Christ into a sect skewed by the teachings of influential yet ethically bankrupt men and women who create victims instead of helping them. But this is a reality that must confronted before people start thinking that having group sects is normal. …

[I]f you believe your church or Christian organisation is being treated harshly here, then don’t grizzle to me about it. Fix your church, and then I won’t have anything to write about.

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Group Sects is, however, not a cold, cynical place:

Some of the most wonderful people I have met and observed have been Christians, and some of the worst wankers I’ve encountered have also attached the label ‘Christian’ to themselves.

That mirrors my experience to a T.

Anyway, if your Moral Compass begins to bore you, feel free to engage in a little Group Sects. Heh heh.

[image via flickr]

Church Elder Charged with Son-in-Law’s Murder

Not yet sure what transpired here. Maybe the good pastor had a reason to shoot — to protect his daughter. Then again, maybe he could’ve tried a little intercessory prayer?

A local pastor accused of shooting his son-in-law is now being charged with murder. According to court affidavits, 53–year-old Michael Scott Elder fired a weapon at 27-year-old Gary Davidson when he was trying to pull Elder’s daughter out of a moving pickup truck. Davidson died of injuries he sustained from the shooting. Elder is a pastor of the Cross Baptist Church in southwest Oklahoma City.

Quote of the Day

“You can twist the Bible any way you want. We overemphasize sexual morality, as if God puts a premium on what we do in the bedroom over what we do at the bank.” —Jeff Chu

Nun Gagged, Crucified, Killed by Fellow Believers

The acclaimed Romanian movie Beyond the Hills, which opened in New York this past weekend, is based on two “nonfiction novels” by Romanian writer Tatiana Niculescu Bran. The books offer a window onto a real-life tragedy that took place in a Romanian Orthodox monastery near the Moldovan border, eight years ago.

A 23-year-old novitiate nun began hearing voices, which she believed were the Devil talking to her. After efforts to solve her problem failed, her fellow believers bound her to a cross, gagged her with a towel and left her for three days without food in a damp and chilly room at the monastery, where she died of suffocation and dehydration.

The BBC reported at the time that the young woman, Maricica Irina Cornici, suffered from schizophrenia,

and the symptoms of her condition caused the priest at the convent and other nuns to believe she was possessed by the devil. “They all said she was possessed and they were trying to cast out the evil spirits,” police spokeswoman Michaela Straub said.

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Father Daniel [Corogeanu, in photo], who is accused of orchestrating the crime, is said to be unrepentant. “God has performed a miracle for her, finally Irina is delivered from evil,” AFP quoted the priest as saying.

He was subsequently sentenced to 14 years in prison.

[image via radiolasi]

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Virginia pastor Haden Conrad was probably hoping to hear how his rod and his staff comforted the 14-year-old girl he thought he was propositioning (Psalms 23:4).

A Chesapeake pastor recently arrested for computer solicitation committed the crime at the church he worked at, according to deputies. In an affidavit obtained by WAVY.com, a Spotsylvania County sheriff’s deputy and detective conducted an undercover chat investigation July 18, 2012. The deputy went into a Yahoo! chat room and was messaged by a user with the screen name “chiefmojorisin420.”

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At first, the chatting was not criminal, the affidavit said. The suspect, later identified as Haden Conrad, said he was a married man who lived about two hours away from the deputy, who was posing as a 14-year-old girl. The suspect was told he was speaking with a teen.

Later,

[Conrad] exposed himself via webcam and performed a sex act on himself…

before eventually trying to arrange to meet the fictitious 14-year-old for sex.

[image via WAVY]

Kind of a Shitty Thing To Do

Good thing the toilet-paper company didn’t use Koranic texts, or we’d see a million Muslims go through spasms of righteous rage right now.

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A Finnish toilet paper maker has removed quotes from the Bible, including the words of Jesus, that it inadvertently placed on its rolls, after protests from some Norwegian church leaders. Metsa Tissue was trying to convey messages about love but accidentally included lines from the Gospel of Matthew and First Corinthians on toilet paper sold in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. The firm selected the quotes from Facebook submissions, including one from Jesus: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It only realized its mistake when it received feedback.

“People like to read small, happy messages while sitting on the toilet,” Christina von Trampe, a spokeswoman for Metsa Tissue told Reuters. “The vast majority of the feedback has been positive. Our intention was to spread love and joy, not religious messages.”

I actually really love that last line. It probably wasn’t meant as a slap, but regardless — well put, Christina.

[image via bradleycorp]

Honor Killings? What ‘Honor’ Would That Be?

A young American woman named Samya fled an arranged marriage and a Muslim father who threatened to kill her if she ever brought non-Muslim friends home, male or female.

The biggest crime that Samya committed — in the eyes of her father, her uncle, and her brothers — wasn’t to leave home, but to leave Islam. She no longer believes in God, and now lives incognito in a big U.S. city:

In the two years since [she left], Samya has learned to drive, manage a checking account and hold a job as a restaurant hostess. She takes college courses when she can, and changed her name to shield her from her uncle or other family members who might try to find her. …

Samya has joined a local atheist group. The members embraced her immediately, raising $1,000 and taking her shopping for clothes and meals. One man donated the $1,500 it would require to legally change her name.

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Samya still lives in fear that her male relatives will track her down and murder her. Violent death is often the fate of women who “bring shame” upon Muslim families.

There were at least 5,000 honor killings in 2000, according to a U.N. report. In 2010, a British newspaper estimated the number as high as 20,000. Most honor killings involve the murder of one family member — usually a female — by other family members who believe the victim has somehow disgraced them.

In the U.S., where there have been at least five documented honor killings, teenaged sisters Sarah and Amina Said were shot and killed in 2008 by their Egyptian father, Yaser Said. He was reportedly upset that the girls had non-Muslim boyfriends. Said remains at large and authorities believe family members are helping to hide him.

Times five thousand. Or twenty thousand. No one knows.

[image via religionnews]

Message From Jesus: Wash Your Car

Evidently, Jesus is bored with appearing on toast and taco shells. Now he’s appearing in bird poop on windshields of believers.

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Jim Lawry insists this is a picture of Christ. I think it looks more someone wearing a novelty dog snout, but who am I to argue with the faithful?

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and I shall poop on your windshield.”  – first draft of 2 Peter 3:10

Mormons Misbehaving

Bountiful, Utah:

A former employee of the Mormon church has been sentenced to two years in the Davis County Jail for sexual offenses involving two children. Timothy Bothell of Centerville drew the sentence Friday in 2nd District Court after earlier pleading guilty to one felony count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a child and one misdemeanor count of lewdness involving a child. … The plea was part of a deal so the sisters, ages 11 and 13 at the time of the abuse, would not have to testify.

Parker, Colorado:

The investigation into [Mormon scoutmaster Brian] Robbins began in January. Cut to around noon on Tuesday, when detectives from the PPD, along with helpers from the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office and the Douglas County Pattern Crimes Unit, executed a search warrant on Robbins’s home, on the 22000 block of Pensive Court in the Canterberry subdivision. The Parker cops [located] a slew of child-pornography images — reportedly hundreds of them. Shortly thereafter, Robbins was booked on two counts of sexual exploitation of a child; his bond was set at $50,000.

Mesa, AZ:

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The murder trial of Jodi Arias has been filled with salacious details of phone sex, graphic text messages, and an erotic sexual relationship between her and her devout Mormon ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. Arias, 32, converted to Mormonism when she began to date Alexander, then 29, in 2006. Though they were both outwardly devout, they immediately developed a sexual relationship. … Arias is on trial for murdering Alexander, whom she dated for a year and then continued to have sex with for a year after that. Prosecutors allege she killed him in a fit of jealousy in June 2008, after taking graphic sexual photos with him and having sex earlier in the day.

[image via Daily Beast]

Snake-Oil Charmers

Who better to advise the flock on investment opportunities than the same church-authorities-cum-businessmen who say you won’t go to heaven if you disobey them?

Two leaders of a Bay Area church with a controversial past are under investigation for an alleged real estate scheme, KPIX 5 has learned. Some members of the General Assembly Church, with congregations in Vallejo, Union City, Moreno Valley in Southern California and two other states said the promise of eternal life cost them dearly. “It was a nightmare,” said Horace Gill. He was the pastor of a former branch of the church in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Gill said in 2002, pastor Lacy Hawkins started preaching about a real-estate investment opportunity.

Members of the congregation, prodded by their then-pastor, put a fortune into real-estate deals run by Hawkins’ second-in-command under the business name ‘Daystar.’ Questions were not allowed. Recalls former church member Julio Ramirez,

“Anytime we used to ask questions we were told that you are in a bad spirit, what is wrong with you?”

God did, however, quietly perform a miracle, and made all the Daystar investors multi-millionaires.

Nah, just kidding.

Daystar suddenly closed its doors in 2006. Stunned church members asked for their money back, only to find out it was gone.

But that’s nothing compared to what a business-minded leader of a church with one million gospel lovers can do. Just think of the riches that so many faithful people can produce! David Yonggi-Cho sure did.

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The founding pastor of the world’s largest Pentecostal congregation is being indicted on charges of breach of trust for costing the church more than $9 million in a stock scheme gone awry. South Korean news sources report that prosecutors have indicted David Yonggi Cho, founder of Yoido Full Gospel Church which has more than 1 million congregants, for a stock scheme in which he arranged for the church to buy his son Cho Hee-jun’s stock “at a rate three to four times [the] market value.”

Other church leaders, too, are having a spot of trouble with that whole Biblical values thing.

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A former West Michigan church deacon accused of taking cash from the weekly offertory basket has pleaded guilty to larceny. Joseph Finnigan made the plea Friday in Ottawa County Circuit Court. The 73-year-old pleaded to two counts of larceny over $20,000.

Our favorite story in this roundup happened just yesterday, when

A meeting of church members at the New Covenant Baptist Church on East Beard Avenue on Syracuse’s South Side ended with police swarming the sanctuary. Church-goers on the street told CNY Central’s Ken Chapman that they were there to vote on whether or not to oust Pastor Colette Matthews, saying she has been having an affair with a married member of the church. …

Syracuse Police say things got out of hand when some members tried to stop others from entering the church. Officials say police responded to the church three times on Sunday. Two calls were for yelling and shouting. A third call was for a man with a gun, which was an unfounded claim. Eventually, Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler came to the church and ordered the assembly to clear out.

[David Yonggi-Cho photo via hani.co.kr; Joseph Finnigan photo via WGVU]