RSS chief's remark on Mother Teresa: She would have probably agreed with Mohan Bhagwat
The RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, is under fire for questioning Mother Teresa's motives in serving India’s poor, for which she received a Nobel prize for peace.
The RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, is under fire for questioning Mother Teresa’s motives in serving India’s poor, for which she received a Nobel prize for peace. Among other things, Bhagwat said: “People like Mother Teresa did good work and service. But the aim was to convert the poor to Christianity. This kind of service is devalued if conversions are done in the name of service or work,” he said.
This statement drew criticism from the usual suspects, the politically “secular” elite, but two points are worth making in this regard.
First, motives may vary from individual to individual, and so if one does good work with a narrow motive, it does not automatically become tainted. I may help someone with the aim of going to heaven or to gain plaudits, but that does mean my act is, by definition, wrong or questionable. However, it would be right to point out my motives – to the extent they are important to understand why someone is doing something. This way we can discount the level of altruism in one’s acts.
Second, the question we really need to ask is this: would Mother Teresa herself have disagreed with what Mohan Bhagwat said about her motives? It is no secret that she believed fervently in the church and its message, and she was clear about her loyalties. She was, for example, opposed to contraception, divorce, etc, because the church taught her so and it was against god’s law. But she certainly did not believe in conversion by force or inducement.
The best way to understand what she stood for is to read her in her own words. An interview published by India Today in 1983 throws light on what she would have made of Bhagwat’s comment about her motives. She did not claim neutrality in her service to the poor. Asked to choose between the Church's Inquisition and Galileo, she unhesitatingly said she was with the church. She is unlikely to have disagreed too much with Bhagwat.
I am quoting parts of the India Today interview verbatim for the reader to draw her own conclusions (read the full interview from the archive here).
As a Christian missionary, do you adopt a position of neutrality between the Christian poor and other poor?
A. I am not neutral. I have my faith.
Do you believe in conversion?
A. To me, conversion means changing of heart by love. Conversion by force or bribery is a shameful thing. It is a terrible humiliation for anyone to give up religion for a plate of rice.
Just as the caste system in Hinduism is a fetter, do you feel that the labyrinthine regulations of the Catholic Church too are a fetter?
A. I never felt that way. Nor did I feel the necessity to change the rules of the Catholic Church. It is not relevant, too. In the hour of death, we are going to be judged by what we have done to the poor. We have consecrated our lives to give wholehearted and free service for the poorest of the poor.
Can the Church do any wrong?
A. No, as long as it stands on the side of God.
Mother, if you were born in the Middle Ages, and were asked, at the time of Galileo's inquisition, to take sides, which would you have chosen - the Church or modern astronomy?
A. (Smiling) The Church.
Given her controversial stand, Mother Teresa did not lack for critics, with many of them suggesting that her reputation far exceeded her actual achievements in the service of the poor. Serge Larivie and Genevieve Chenard, writing in the Studies in Religion/Sciences Journal, probed her reputation and concluded that it did not stand up to scrutiny.
The Daily Mail quoted Prof Larivie in one of its reports as saying that the ecstatic references to Mother Teresa everywhere prompted them to examine her record, for which the Vatican beatified her in 2003. The researchers studied nearly 300 documents and found many things wrong with her Missionaries of Charity, including “her rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce.”
Dr Larivie noted Mother Teresa’s “parsimoniousness” and apparent unwillingness to offer the poor and disaster-struck real material succour – and opting for prayers – when she had more than enough resources for it. He said: “Given the parsimonious management of Mother Teresa's works, one may ask where the millions of dollars for the poorest of the poor have gone?”
The tabloid said “her image may have been built upon a meeting in 1968 with the BBC's Malcom Muggeridge, an anti-abortion journalist who shared her right-wing Catholic values” – a point made by Mother Teresa’s most trenchant critic, Christopher Hitchens (Author of God is not Great).
In a devastating article in Slate.com after the Vatican beatified her, Hitches called her a fanatic, a fundamentalist and a fraud.
Nobody should go as far as Hitchens in criticising Mother Teresa, but one cannot but conclude that the Church was as important to her as service to the poor. That she was motivated by a love for Jesus is for sure, but it is not likely that she would have worked for the poor purely for social motives. The church and her faith were probably above all else.
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