[Editorial Note: The following is an edited version of the discussion that took place spontaneously on Mago Circle from March 1, 2013 for about two weeks. It was an extensive, heated, yet reflective discussion, now broken into four parts to fit the format of the blog. We thank each and all of the participants for your openness, generosity, and courage to stand up for what you believe and think! Some are marked as anonymous. As someone stated, something may have been “written in the heat of the moment” and some might like to change it at a later time. So we inform our readers that nothing is written in stone. As a matter of fact, the discussion is ongoing, now with Magoism Blog readers. Please comment and respond as you wish.]
Part I: Why are we talking about Mother Teresa?
[The conversation began among Anne Wilkerson Allen, Helen Hwang, and Wennifer Lin in a personal message and editor’s group. We agreed that Mother Teresa’s Western (Albanian) identity is hardly taken into consideration in the public perception of her as a secular and religious leader. Then, we decided to bring the topic to the Mago Circle.]
Anne Wilkerson Allen: [A] posted this today and I think it is discussion worthy.
Mother Teresa: Anything but a saint…
The myth of altruism and generosity surrounding Mother Teresa is dispelled in a paper by Serge Larivée and Genevieve Chenard of University of Montreal’s Department of Psychoeducation and Carole Sénéchal of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education…
Anne Wilkerson Allen: It is not my desire to bash the Church – I think everyone here is fully aware of the evils of patriarchy and the way the Church has used women, abused and killed women…but Teresa is an icon in the West, in particular, of saintliness. Even non-Catholics love her. Why? And is what she did really worthy of role modeling?
Anne Wilkerson Allen: This was also on the thread. Not a huge fan of Hitchens, and I think calling her work a “death cult” is extreme, but I am interested in your opinions please.
Christopher Hitchens – Mother Teresa: Hell’s Angel 
In 1994, three years before her death, journalist Christopher Hitchens made this documentary asking if Mother Teresa’s reputation was deserved…
Anne Wilkerson Allen: I would also like to talk about altruism and some of the areas we have touched on before…at what point is my “help” an imposition in a third world country? Is my desire to “help” spurred by years of programming or heart? I honestly don’t know anymore.
Anne Wilkerson Allen: There is also a part of me that wonders if this deflection of blame and highlighting of Teresa’s faults now is yet another “Let the women take the fall” action.
Anne Wilkerson Allen: NOT that I find her blameless – her advocacy against contraception and abortion is decidedly anti-female, but there is so much focus on the Pope and the priests now….I keep wondering when the abuses of the nuns is going to come to light.
Anne Wilkerson Allen: I think Ireland recently had something in the news about this…
Ireland apologizes for Catholic laundry scandal
Ireland’s premier has issued a state apology to the thousands of Irish women who spent years working without pay in prison-style laundries run by Catholic nuns.
Former residents of the now-defunct Magdalene Laundries have campaigned for the past decade to get the government to apologize and pay compensation to an estimated 1,000 survivors of the workhouses.
Two weeks ago the Irish government published an investigation into the state’s role in overseeing the laundries. It found that more than 10,000 women worked in 10 laundries from 1922 to 1996, when the last Dublin facility closed down…
Anne Wilkerson Allen: One of my friends was one of these girls.
[Z]: I have wanted to bring attention to this issue for a long time but did not have a chance or was biting my time. Now Anne is pointing out some of the crucial issues about her, Mother Teresa, I am so thankful for this opportunity for us to sort out and think collectively. Thank you Anne!
[Z]: Yes, the Catholic Laundry Scandal was shared here too!!!
Anne Wilkerson Allen: It’s hard. She is iconic for many women. I did not know the sordid details or the horrors – not that it excuses anything….but when I was young, I saw her as someone to emulate….and thus became immolated….
[Z]: I have been thinking all along the way that she should not be a role model for women. Can you believe that I did even as a once Catholic Sister?!!! I know that many religious women out there will agree with me too.
[Z]: My critique is not much on her as a person. But the fact that she represents morality for especially women makes me mad. Oh, there seems a lot more about reasons why we should debunk the mystique of Mother Teresa.
Anne Wilkerson Allen: One of the things Hirchens pointed out was that it made Westerners feel good that this wonderful white woman was helping the poor in Calcutta….though she rarely seemed to be in Calcutta.
Another friend told me that he knew one of the sisters of charity and that she told him they were encouraged to flog themselves on a regular basis….sick sick sick
Anne Wilkerson Allen: This is why I have a problem with the mentality that says evil exists to teach us something…..that suffering exists to highlight our joy….there is just something WRONG with that.
Anne Wilkerson Allen: We are all dark and light and in-between.
[Z]: I am not surprised. Yes, definitely. What a waste of time and intelligence if not already damaging many turning the navigation backward!!!
[Helen Hwang calls out the individual names to join the discussion, and is responded by what follows.]
[B]: In Minneapolis there is a charity founder, Mary Jo Copeland, who helps the homeless & hungry. She just received an award from the President. She seems selfless, like Mother Teresa did (at least in media representations), but also comes from a very religious point of view. She even washes the feet of homeless people. Yet, I’ve heard, if you don’t accept her Christian prayers/view of the world, she does not extend her charity to you. (Not that you have to convert.) To my mind (admittedly American/Western/privileged), there is some hidden reward when people want to give of themselves selflessly for decades. We are all worthy!
Glenys Livingstone: I have heard negative stories about Mother Teresa from members of her community in the 1970’s … she was of course a human woman with dualistic patriarchal paradigm – hmmm. It is possible to put poo on just about anyone … pity it is not done more often to so many great men … what about Ghandi?! yikes!
[B]: I think Mary Daly has a great critique of Gandhi. Don’t have my book to check on it though.
[D]: For years I have been saying “I am not Mother Teresa” this image of women to be so sacrificing… the church cashed in on her.
[E]: Will read. I had a negative experience with one of her orphans a few years back. No one could believe it because people saw her as saintly just from being around her. I don’t know to what extent she was but she was really messed up. That’s really all I know of her but something to think about as I have quoted her on my page.
[E]: I think it will take a while for the mainstream public (even non Catholic) to accept. Nearly all the comments were extremely negative. I don’0t know. I guess nothing really surprises me anymore. Not a Christopher Higgins fan, so I don’t think I will read that. Working on a collective article with the god article on some of this, so I will likely chew on this.
[E]: I think it is interesting what sort of women role models each religion has. I think that’s what attracted me to Islam. Khadija, Aisha and Rabia of Basra were all so lively and outspoken! I don’t really relate to these passive women Christianity tries to force feed us with – Mother Teresa or Virgin Mary. Patricia Lynn Reilly has a great passage about this in one of her books. Probably don’t have time to go type it out and I don’t think it’s online but there’s a great longer passage about Mary. Just finished The Goddess in the Gospels, which was sort of strange at times but very interesting.
[E]: @ [D], I remind my kids of something very similar all the time. There is this image of the self sacrificial lamb of woman and mother that I completely reject. I remind my kids all the time that a family is a partnership where ALL contribute and mother does not equal slave.
[D]: The real leveling point, ask your daughter if she wants your life… and ask them if they want Mother Teresa’s life.
Anne Wilkerson Allen: Her answer would be “NEITHER!!!
[E]: I often ask my kids to put themselves in my shoes – and also with my daughter when I don’t like the way she is treating me. My ex is in a relationship with a woman with older daughters that don’t treat her very well, and my daughter mimics them sometimes. It is very frustrating. My son is actually the sweeter of the two. Never once had an issue with him sassing me or doing anything that comes close to making me feel bad.
[Z]: It is just not enough to ignore her in my view. This is something that we in Mago Circle raise a voice of dissent. She is not just benign but pernicious for women and humanity considering what she was and what she said. She has gone too wrong for me, unfortunately.
Max Dashu: Mother Teresa is a sad case of how church dogma twists someone with genuine spiritual aspirations. The code of self-abnegation got her. Her obedience to the pope made her a tool of the forced-birth faction, denouncing women for abortions while appearing with dictators like Duvalier. Salvation (interesting, i started to type slavation) and palliative measures replaced actual change that would eliminate the causes of so much of the suffering she was trying to address. The worst of it, for her anyway, was revealed in her letters after her death. She was in a state of spiritual despair, suffering from a lack of connection to the Divine, and chained to the status quo by her fame and her instrumentalization as an icon of female service to the church.
[E]: I think it is very important for our kids to see their mothers as strong role models who deserve respect, love and everything everyone else wants. It is a balancing act though because I also want my kids to have complete freedom of expression and to be able to say when something does not work for them. That said, there are ways to do that without shitting all over the other person. So I hope they can grow up balancing all of that.
[Z]: Yes, well stated, Max! I believe that:
“She was in a state of spiritual despair, suffering from a lack of connection to the Divine, and chained to the status quo by her fame and her instrumentalization as an icon of female service to the church.” She totally betrayed!”
Max Dashu: She betrayed women, but was herself betrayed by the church.
[Z]: Well, she conspired with the church to the degree of self-annihilation… Yes, she was deceived by the church after all. Not very smart! Where was her intelligence and integrity???
Anne Wilkerson Allen: When I read about her spiritual crisis I could relate to what it felt like to have believed that you were once in the presence of God and somehow abandoned. Where were her options, Helen? I know that so many of you had an awareness much younger in your lives, but I was 50 before I even thought to look elsewhere…..
[Z]: You can say what you feel and think deep inside, Anne Wilkerson Allen. She could not, I believe. She had lots of options I believe. But she did not have courage to stop the train that she was riding…
Anne Wilkerson Allen: I used to whisper, “Are you really there?” because I was so convinced I would be hit by a lightning bolt. lol. I’ve never met a stupid priest or nun, now that I think of it. I’m sure they had more exposure than I.
Anne Wilkerson Allen: I can’t decide if I am more upset by the hypocrisy of the Church or just its toxic effect on so many people it touches. (No pun intended). There are deeply spiritual people I know who find great solace in it…..and there are deeply blinded people who will never see the evil.
Anne Wilkerson Allen: And I wonder why I can’t just say Pffft and walk away……I can’t because I was part of it, I suppose.
[F]: With reverence I offer that I know very little about Mother Teresa… but the phenomenon/archetype of Martyrdom running like a hidden River flowing below the River of Humanity strikes me as an ominous concept at best.
Antonia McGuire: Many men in the church like attention, I suppose they might say that they sacrifice themselves for the church and Jesus Christ, but she sacrificed more than them and was hailed a saint. I imagine a mardy boyish syndrome and jealousy. It is proved that a woman can do a job as well as a man and possibly in many cases better, but that was what they didn’t want or like, so that put her in a particularly difficult position.
Anne Wilkerson Allen: It is part of patriarchal control…given a cause to “die” for, we become patriots and war mongers. It serves their coffers
[Z]: Role of leaders is immense, especially of religions. There should be no excuse for them… Patriarchal institutions are inherently incapable of leadership by definition. People are confused and hurt in them…
Antonia McGuire: “Mother Teresa Prayer”
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered;
… Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
… Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
… Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
… Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
… Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
… Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
… Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
… Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
We can do no great things – only small things with great love.
Although commonly attributed to Mother Teresa, who kept a copy of this prayer on the wall of her Calcutta orphanage, this prayer was actually written by Kent Keith.
Max Dashu: Well said [F]. I see MT as a hostage of the patriarchal church. She lived in a different time when it was harder to get out. Some did, but not as many as in later decades of 20th century. She was originally inspired by compassion but church dogma corrupted this. “Mother Teresa started with a school in the slums to teach the children of the poor. She also learned basic medicine and went into the homes of the sick to treat them.” Later this went over to hospice of the poor, and that is where her service really got branded with the more callous soul salvation doctrine, according to various accounts i’ve seen.
[Z]: I thought she did not read the sign of time. She thought she lived in the medieval era??? When one continues to be influential inside the church, one cannot but conspire.
Donna Snyder: I have never been a devotee of MT precisely because of her cozying up to dictators like the dictator in Romania (forget his name) because of his anti abortion laws, as well as Duvalier. I saw her always as a gender traitor, and as corrupt in her willingness to accept the friendship of those guilty of mass murder while condemning victims of rape. My attitude has never been well received, so I an interested to see studies being done.
[Z]: I love the way you wrote, Donna Snyder. It is not that I will write a paper on her. I am focusing on my reconstructing work on Magoism with my creative energy! FB is a good place to give the evaluation that she might have escaped otherwise. I like the word, “gender traitor.” Overwhelming smell of negativity if not necrophilia, ghostly…
Anne Wilkerson Allen: Gandhi too? Oh, well, ask me if I am surprised. I just wonder how much of our judgment fails to be contextual. Much to think on.
[Z]: Right! Mary Daly wrote in detail about Gandhi who had to prove his detachment from sexual desire to sleep with a woman (or women) whose husband was known as extremely uncomfortable. The idea of proving one’s sexual freedom itself is a bit childish, isn’t it? Moreover, sexual freedom is not the same as sexual abstinence…
Mary Daly would pick on any big male figure regardless of race and class and would research to debunk the mystique involved, largely inflated and overestimated.
Max Dashu: My favored term is “female quislings.” But yeah, it is medieval, and older than medieval. The church propagated Roman law and its patria potestas mores. Many have not seen their way out of those power structures; it may have been especially hard for someone born Albanian in the early 20th century and then was relocated via that closed convent system to India before she was fully adult. She used to make me angry because she did collaborate, but after her death, i saw her despair and pain, because she could not see her way through, to let go of those oppressive doctrines. She soldiered along joylessly, and the perks she got must have been like sawdust in her mouth given her existential pain.
Glenys Livingstone: Thanks Max and all. Yes great discussion. I think it wise to have compassion … bring it all out, but with recognition of what she was caught in – if we can’t do that in this group, who can?
Suzanne Santoro: Compassion is great. Let’s keep it under control… but i think it’s really significant that we can be very subtle and so as not to get caught up in binary thinking. feminism has given us this new possibility.
[Z]: Okay we are doing two things about her. Yes, personally why not compassionate for her life and death just like any other being of her rank? I am compassionate and do believe we feminists or those who have heart/mind to dream for social change have compassion, which motivate our action in the first place.
I am also far more compassionate for those who are confused and suffering because of her role as a model gone without challenge from feminists. That is the part that I can’t let it go.
As a role model, she is far more influential than the pop of any era. Don’t we need to keep the blade of our mind sharp and clear so that it can cut the deadening part out for all those who can’t seemingly do it themselves?
Will read the above threads and come back at a later point. Have a great day. Is it too late to ask her to undo some of things that she did mistakenly???
[Z]: Yes, it is important that we are not caught in binary thinking. However, that is also unavoidable; feminism is derived from the very binary thinking. I suggest gynocentrism in place of feminism when we bring everyone regardless of gender, race, class, and sexuality, etc. Magoism is a gynocentric rubric and I intend to overcome dualism.
Suzanne Santoro: It’s hard and i hope not too unavoidable! Feminism binary, i guess your right. It drives men crazy too!
Anne Wilkerson Allen: I don’t know what you mean by “binary” – do you mean linear?
Max Dashu: This came into my email synchronously:
“The missions have been described as “homes for the dying” by doctors visiting several of these establishments in Calcutta. Two-thirds of the people coming to these missions hoped to a find a doctor to treat them, while the other third lay dying without receiving appropriate care. The doctors observed a significant lack of hygiene, even unfit conditions, as well as a shortage of actual care, inadequate food, and no painkillers.
The problem is not a lack of money-the Foundation created by Mother Teresa has raised hundreds of millions of dollars-but rather a particular conception of suffering and death. “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering,” was her reply to criticism, cites the journalist Christopher Hitchens. Nevertheless, when Mother Teresa required palliative care, she received it in a modern American hospital.
Mother Teresa was generous with her prayers but rather miserly with her foundation’s millions when it came to humanity’s suffering. During numerous floods in India or following the explosion of a pesticide plant in Bhopal, she offered numerous prayers and medallions of the Virgin Mary but no direct or monetary aid, the researchers said. On the other hand, she had no qualms about accepting the Legion of Honour and a grant from the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti.”
Myth created by Vatican: Mother Teresa’s altruism – Full Text of study by Serge Larivee et al | Bhar
Suzanne Santoro: Binary: like a train… i see it that way… it either goes in one direction or the other. Just these two ways. It’s either this or that and no in betweens.
(To be continued in Part II.)
- (Call for Contributions) Story Your Goddess Feminist “Me Too” Insights for the coming year! on
- (Song) The Tree of Life by Genevieve Vaughan on
- Our Contributors on
- (Poem) Murder of Crows by Majidi Warda on
- (Prose) Tlachtga by Deanne Quarrie on
- (Essay) Memory: Mnemosyne by Susan Hawthorne on
- (Poem) Samhain by Annie Finch on
- (Prose) Transformative / holistic / experiential education by Nane Jordan on