Life is good. One of the things that makes it good â€“ or better â€“ is taking time to record whatever we find satisfying. These are not necessarily highlights. They are, more simply, whatever resonates with us. So that is what Iâ€™m going to do this evening. I will reinforce the nice feelings I had today by writing what I am about to write. If this makes someone else feel good too that would be a bonus. My apologies in advance to MSMom. This is not going to be short.
As I write this, I am looking out a window in the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in MontrÃ©al, straight up Boulevard RenÃ© LÃ©vesque. I am here to speak at a conference, having flown in from Calgary this afternoon. On the plane, I got a lot of work done, had a nice meal with a glass of wine, and a nap. Great afternoon. As soon as I arrived at the hotel, I went down to the gym to get the blood circulating through my old body. I was tired from reading technical material most of the way out on the plane, and so did not bring any with me down to the gym. Rather, I picked through the hotelâ€™s magazines for something to keep me company on the exercise bike, and was attracted to the September 3, 2007 issue of Time, as a result of Mother Teresaâ€™s picture on the cover. As I rode, I learned about her 50 year long crisis of faith that has been recently made public by the Catholic Church as a result of the publication of her extensive private correspondence with various spiritual mentors (all male, btw) within the Catholic Church who attempted to assist her travail.
The book is called â€œMother Teresa: Come Be My Lightâ€. It is the rough equivalent of the Mormon Church publishing Spencer Kimballâ€™s diaries and private letters (were there such) in which he indicated (if he did) that he had felt nothing that remotely resembled communication with God while serving as Godâ€™s prophet.
This brief article fascinated me for a variety of reasons. I kept thinking about it as I swam for about half an hour after getting off the exercise bike. And it stayed with me as I enjoyed about an hour of mildly endophine enhanced walking up and down Saint Catherines Street, MontrÃ©alâ€™s social center, and while hanging out in a coffee shop to enjoy a late evening chai latte and the crowd’s energy.
As an aside, MontrÃ©al is one of my favourite cities. Second only to QuÃ©bec City, it is the most European place in North America. Tonight is Halloween night. In Canada, that generally speaking means â€œcoldâ€. But Saint Catherines Street was not-quite-crowded with people wearing light jackets on this Wednesday evening. Some of the sidewalk cafÃ©s still had their tables out. People watching is not quite the sport here as it is in Paris, but you can see that influence. I love the feeling of diversity and energy in this place. I love the old architecture. I know something about QuÃ©becâ€™s history and unique culture, and the older I get the more interested in that kind of thing I become.
Until roughly the 1960s, this was the most Catholic, religious place in North America. Then came a societal rupture caused by radically increasing flows of cultural information into this backwater. Sound familiar? Now, the birth rate in QuÃ©bec is the lowest in North America, and it is one of the most secular of places. That is what sometimes happens when a weird social eddy gets too far out of touch with the mainstream perception of reality. Are you listening Gordo?
Many of the people from QuÃ©bec I have met who are one generation older than me went through experiences with Catholicism that are remarkably similar to the one that I went through with Mormonism. This, perhaps, is what makes me feel a kinship with this place and its people. In it, I see my future’s shadow as well as my childrens’.
Back to Mother Teresa. She was, of course, Catholic. MontrÃ©al still bears Catholic markings on almost every corner. MontrÃ©al, however, has reinvented itself. It followed the example of Paris and countless other European cities in that regard. Mother Teresa, on the other hand, was faithful to the end – sort of. That is what her recently published letters are about.
The Times article is titled â€œHer Agonyâ€. It starts by contrasting two statements she made a few weeks apart in 1979. The first typified her public persona, and was part of the speech she made upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. She said: â€œIt is not enough for us to say, ‘I love God, but I do not love my neighbour,’ because in dying on the cross, God â€œ[made] himself the hungry one â€“ the naked one â€“ the homeless one.â€ Jesus hunger, she said, is what â€œyou and I must findâ€ and alleviate. She condemned abortion and bemoaned youth drug addiction in the West. Finally, she suggested that the upcoming Christmas holiday should remind the world that â€œradiating joy is realâ€ because Christ is everywhere â€“ â€œChrist in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and the smile we receive.â€
This is contrasted with something Mother Teresa wrote three months earlier in a letter to one of her spiritual advisors within the Roman Catholic hierarchy. In that letter she wrote â€œJesus has a very special love for you [referring to her advisor] but as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great … I look and do not see, — listen and do not hear â€“ the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speakâ€¦ I want you to pray for me â€¦.â€
The letters published in this book excerpt a roughly 50 year long stream of angst of the type indicated above. Surely this was punctuated with contentments of various kinds. But if we are to believe Mother Teresa’s most private, personal correspondence, she was in a spiritual wasteland. One at least one occasion, her letters record concern that she would become a â€œJudasâ€ â€“ doubt as to whether she had the strength to continue doing her work without and maintaining Christian faith in the absence of any subjective evidence of Christâ€™s satisfaction with her, awareness of her or even of his existence.
Ironically, this feeling of darkness started in Mother Teresa’s life shortly after she began to experience success in her ministry to the poorest of the poor in India.
During her rise to prominence within the Catholic Church and in secular circles, Mother Teresa kept her struggles for the most part to herself. However, she developed relationships with a series of mentors within the Catholic hierarchy each of whom attempted in different ways to be of assistance to her. Only one, it appears, was of great assistance. She thanked him profusely for his advice, which was as follows: (1) There was no human remedy for her feelings of separation from God and that therefore she should not feel responsible for this; (2) that feelings of intimacy or connection to Jesus are not the only proof of his being; and (3) that her very craving for God was a â€œsure signâ€ of his â€œhidden presenceâ€ in her life and that this absence was in a mysterious way part of the spiritual side of the work that she was doing for Jesus. She came to interpret her sense of separation from Jesus as a taste of what she believed that he experienced when while on the cross he said â€œmy God, my God, why have you forsakenme?â€
Mother Teresa attempted to have the letters that have now been published destroyed, but was overruled in that regard by the Catholic Church. The compiler of the book is a prominent Catholic priest, who is one of those who has been agitating for mother Teresaâ€™s elevation to Sainthood. He and many others believe that the tenacious fashion in which Mother Teresa continued with her ministry in the absence of the kind of spiritual connection most people assumed she had to God or Jesus is one of the things that makes her remarkable, and that the lesson contained in her letters may become Mother Teresaâ€™s most enduring legacy. These letters, they say, rank with the most profoundly moving to ever have been written by Catholic saints, and because they relate to a person whose life has been so well-known and documented, will have an even more profound impact. The lesson, for the Catholic (and other) faithful, is that even the Saints doubt, and yet they are faithful. In this, Mother Teresa epitomizes modern sainthood, and hence believerhood. In a doubt drenched world from which she was not immune, nothing could overcome her faith though she struggled with this issue throughout the most productive part of her life.
Time magazine canvassed various views with regard to why Mother Theresa experienced what she did, and why she reacted to that experience as she did. Christopher Hitchens, for example, indicated that Mother Teresa probably â€œwoke upâ€ but could not admit it. He compared her to the diehard Western Communists late in the Cold War who suffered huge amounts of cognitive dissonance as they watch the Soviet Union and other communist countries collapse. To admit that communism was a failed theory would have rendered their lives meaningless. Rather than do this, they found reasons to soldier on.
Richard Gottlieb, a teacher at the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, who has written extensively about Catholicism, thought that perhaps Mother Teresa had imposed this punishment on herself. â€œPsychologists have long recognized that people of certain personality types are conflicted about their high achievement and find ways to punish themselves.â€ Gottlieb notes that Theresaâ€™s ambitions for her ministry were tremendous. He is fascinated by her statement, â€œI want to love Jesus as he has never been loved before.â€ Yet her letters of full of inner conflict about her accomplishments.
These explanations are, of course, rejected by religiously oriented people. For them, God, Christ and the various metaphysical propositions related to them are real and beyond questioning, and therefore all of reality testifies to their truth. This includes Mother Teresaâ€™s remarkable and painful life. As one commentator puts it: â€œEverything sheâ€™s experienced is what average believers experience in their spiritual lives writ large. I have known scores of people who felt abandoned by God and had doubts about Godâ€™s existence. And this book expresses that in such a stunning way that shows her full of complete trust at the same time. Who wouldâ€™ve thought that the person who is considered the most faithful woman in the world struggle like that with her faith? And who wouldâ€™ve thought that the one thought to be the most ardent believers could be a saint to the sceptics?â€
The Time article concludes with the following passage.
â€œConsistent with her ongoing fight against pride, Teresaâ€™s rationale for suppressing her personal correspondence was â€œI want the work to remain only His.â€ If the letters became public, she explained, â€œpeople will think more of me â€“ less of Jesus.â€ The particularly holy are no less prone than the rest of us to misjudge the workings of history â€“ or, if you will, of Godâ€™s providence. Teresa considered the perceived absence of God in her life as for most shameful secret but eventually learned that it could be seen as a gift abetting her calling. If her worries about publicizing it also turn out to be misplaced â€“ if a book of hasty, troubled notes turns out to ease the spiritual road of thousands of fellow believers, there would be no shame in having been wrong â€“ but happily, even wonderfully wrong â€“ twice.â€
As I rode the bike, swam and then walked the streets of MontrÃ©al feeling the wonderful energy of this community, the passages I have just quoted and many others rolled around in my head. I think that in Mother Teresa and the way in which this book is now being published, we can gain some fascinating insights into the differences between various types of religious institutions, and worldviews. The following is little more than a stream of consciousness in that regard. I do not have time tonight for more than that, and Iâ€™m going to post these notes as they are since I do not expect that I will have time to reread or improve them any time soon.
The Catholic Church is a much older, and more mature religious institution that is Mormonism. It is accustomed to dealing with the difficulties of its history. It has learned the lesson to a much greater extent than Mormonism that it is best to deal with reality in an upfront manner, while of course putting the best possible interpretation on it. The only thing remotely resembling Mother Teresaâ€™s book that weâ€™ve seen come out of Mormonism is Richard Bushmanâ€™s â€œRough Stone Rollingâ€. It deals with more of the reality of Joseph Smith than any other Mormon church sanctioned publication before it, and it is apologetic in much the same fashion as is at least the commentary emanating from Catholic apologists with regard to Mother Teresaâ€™s letters. If the Mormon Church continues to mature, we can expect over the course of at least decades but more probably centuries, its behaviour to gravitate toward what is currently demonstrated by the Catholic Church with respect to Mother Teresa. Again, just imagine the Mormon Church publishing all of Joseph Smithâ€™s secret correspondence and journals let alone the mountains of other documents they have with respect to various aspects of Mormon history. This would take a confidence in both itself and its membership that is still not comprehensible within the context of the Mormon institution as it is now.
As I indicated above, for a person who is certain that a god of a particular type exists and that the metaphysical details of life after death, etc., are known as a result of dogmatic religious faith, everything that happens can be interpreted in a manner consistent with those beliefs. Perceived miracles are evidence of Godâ€™s blessing. Lifeâ€™s trials are evidence of Godâ€™s admonitions and his attempts to purify us and prepare us for celestial glory. But in Mother Teresa story, this kind of logic is taken to a new pinnacle. That is, the profound and persistent feeling that God is not present is taken as evidence for godâ€™s existence, and even worse, of a kind of twisted love that he has for a particularly faithful believer. Finally, the very craving the institution has installed in us for a connection to god is evidence of god, though that craving goes unsated. The same could of course be said of any crazy idea, such as those installed in the head of Truman in “The Truman Show” through a different kind of socialconditioning.
This point is worth a bit more thought. What if we applied Mother Teresa’s faith to the structure of the solar system or the age of the earth? Neither evidence for nor evidence against should be allowed to change our beliefs. What our tradition says is, is. That is that. Accordingly, Galileo, Copernicus and Kepler were all wrong. Modern geology is well intended, but incorrect.
A more rational approach, of course, is to go with the evidence and to attempt to interpret the evidence in the most reliable fashion possible. This leads us to not take seriously our subjective impressions. Those can be manipulated by circumstance and hence by the people who control our circumstances, far too easily to be reliable. These subjective impressions are the bedrock of countless conflicting religious beliefs. Why should we trust our own impressions of this kind anymore than we are prepared to trust the similar impressions other people have that lead them to beliefs that are inconsistent with our own?
And, what does the persistent unsuccessful seeking for evidence of something generally indicate? What if that were evidence that the Noah’s Ark existed, or that the earth is indeed about 6,000 years old? Eventually, the rational person adds up the abundant evidence that suggests something different that what we believed, and the absence of evidence in favor, and allows belief to change.
To be fair, I should not talk in terms of rational and irrational people. The evidence is crystal clear in this regard. We have a limited ability to overcome the beliefs we inherit and with regard to which we are sufficiently conditioned within our dominant social group. Some scholars refer to this as “bounded rationality”. If our perspective is limited, then certain conclusions that from a broader perspective might be considered ridiculous are, in our limited case, rational. And once we have held particular beliefs for long enough, and those beliefs are practically speaking important enough to the way in which we live our lives and get along every day within a particular kind of social group, they are extremely difficult to change. Our brains have literally wired around them, like the way in which kitten raised in a world without veritical lines cannot see things like table legs.
In the case of the nature of God and his/her/its relationship to man, people like Gordon Kaufman at Harvard, Philip Clayton and Claremont University and the late Arthur Peacocke have developed theologies that are much more consistent with the evidence both found and not found than traditional belief systems. For example, Kaufman’s position is that God is whatever we eventually come to understand is the creative force that underlies all nature. He accepts that this conception of God probably means that God is utterly unaware of us and accordingly did not create the universe, or this earth, with us in mind. This belief system is much closer to deism than theism, and is completely consistent with science. It is a kind of naturalized belief, which most believers indicate guts their personal belief system. It is increasingly, however, the resort of the professional clergy and many of the most thoughtful people who attend religious services of various kinds on a regular basis. I expect that it will become the bridge of choice for many young people who are raised within religious communities, while at the same time being exposed to the full range of secular, rational information about the way the world works and in particular, the way religious communities work. This will allow them to reduce the cognitive dissonance that would otherwise exist between their religious and secular worldviews.
As indicated by the spiritual confidant whom Mother Teresa credited with bringing balance back into her spiritual life, â€œFeeling Jesus is not the only proof of his beingâ€. So, it is possible to have oneâ€™s cake and eat it too. If you feel Christâ€™s presence, that is great evidence of his existence and love for you. If you donâ€™t feel his presence, that is evidence of his existence too and that you are so special that you have to be tested in a particularly severe way. Hmmmm.
This idea seems to me to be derivative from the self abusive tendency within Catholicism and certain other religious traditions. This tendency within Christianity comes from the abominably crude and backward idea that we need the sacrifice of other living things for our own metaphysical redemption. If God would, in effect, torture his most beloved son to death in order to do something good, then our own self torture and other kinds of self abnegation are in some bizarre way virtuous. Joseph Campbell and others have indicated that these ideas probably have their roots in humankind’s early recognition that life depends on death. Sacrificial rites were probably part of a complex suite of psychological coping mechanisms that enabled our ancestors to find a uneasy truce with their need to kill other things, and ultimately to face death themselves. That is where Christ’s sacrifice comes in. Thankfully, our dawning consciousness allows us to simply reject these antiquated, dysfunctional notions. Death may be a necessity, but it is death. Life is sacred in the sense that all living things are connected, and to kill another thing is in a sense to take something from ourselves. I heard on the radio a few days ago about the massive jellyfish blooms that are now dominating vast tracts of our oceans. Wherever sufficient overfishing or other ecological damage occurs to weaken the ocean food chain to a particular point, jellyfish become the only creatures that are able to survive and multiply. And then they take over, making it all but impossible for the formerly dominant ecosystem to reestablish itself. We do indeed need to become more sensitive to the sacred nature of life, and everything that supports it. Our disconnectedness from the death that is required to sustain us makes it easy to eat fish, for example, without awareness of what their overharvesting has done to our oceans. Likewise, when we cut into a nice steak we do not feel the trauma of branding and castrating calves, let alone the horror of the feedlot and slaughterhouse. Slowing down and returning to something that connects us to the reality of what it is to be alive remedies this to an extent. Each year, largely for that reason, I return to my roots and spend a day wrestling with calves as they are branded, dehorned (the worst part, for them) and castrated. I take as many of my children with me as I can. I want them to understand as much as they can about this process. At a minimum, it changes their relationship to what they eat. But I digress.
Most people build their religious faith on subjective experiences. I have written elsewhere about â€œemotional epistemologyâ€ (google my name and â€œdenialâ€) â€“ that is, the practice of knowing that something is real as a result of the feelings that one has. Religious institutions play this game to a tee by setting us up to experience strong feelings in a context where the institution can take credit for those. Marriages; baby blessings; healings; mission farewells and welcome homes; etc. Strong feelings are almost guaranteed to be present, and the institution is right there to take the credit. And, it gets better.
For example, imagine a teenage girl who is just had a terrible fight with her mother about something like how short her dresses are. She then goes off to a Mormon youth conference, and while there under the influence of talented, cool college kids who run these programs, is put into a position where she appreciates all the things that her mother and family have done for her, and has a profoundly moving emotional experience that culminates in her bearing her testimony (after a bunch of other kids have done same) mostly about how she feels with regard to her family, but also with regard how she feels with regard to Mormonism since those two things are inextricably linked in the minds of young Mormons. As a result of this experience, she has one of those rare epiphanies probablyh caused by her sympathetic and parasympathetic systems (that is, the systems that relate to the fight or flight response on the one hand, and the quiescent system on the other â€“ I can never remember which is which) are both high functioning at the same time. This is a rare and wonderful experience. One of the other times at which human beings experience this miracle is during lovemaking. It is arguably the most profoundly moving mental and emotional state we can experience. So if a person stumbles into that as a result of something that happens in a religious setting, it is not surprising that they will associate that profoundly moving state with the religious institution that has created the experience. One of the ways this can be done is by combining a sense of agitation or grief or fear (think â€“ horrible fight with Mom) with a sense of relief (think â€“ I just realized that I love my Mom and we can get along). Why do you think sermons that are movingly presented with regard to the terror of sin, hell, etc. and the wonder of grace through Christâ€™s redemption are so effective? Or how about grieving the loss of a loved and accepting the concept of salvation and life after death, which brings instant relief and as a result of what I just noted,an epiphany.
These are among the many ways in which powerful emotional experiences tend to be manufactured within the context created by religious institutions, with the result that people have subjective or emotional experiences on the basis of which they believe that they have had a direct experience with God or his influence. Experiences of this kind are, in general, the pillars of religious faith.
Back to Mother Teresaâ€™s experience. After she overcame the intransigence of the Catholic institution and establish her missionary program in India, her life became flat. She did not have the kinds of emotional experiences Iâ€™ve just described. And now we have been provided with the explanation â€“ that the absence of the type of emotional or subjective experience upon which most people wrest their religious faith does not justify a lack of faith. In fact, Mother Teresaâ€™s sanctification sends a clear signal that the most pure kind of faith is the type that does not rely upon subjective, emotional experience. Raw, completely dogmatic faith in the absence of justifying evidence is, following the example of Mother Teresa, the most creditworthy faith of all. As I said before, here we see religion having its cake and eating it too. Note the conservative tendency – it does not matter what the evidence says, do not change what you beleive.
Hitchens indicated that Mother Teresa â€œwoke upâ€. While I agree with some of the other things he said, I don’t agree with this.
The human mind is far too sophisticated to allow a person to wake up if that will put them in a position that is untenable. This has to do with the distinction between the conscious and subconscious minds, or as Jon Haidt so wonderfully put it in â€œThe Happiness Hypothesisâ€, the rider and the elephant. Larry Iannaconne explains how this works by using concepts drawn from economics. He talks about spiritual or social capital, and the influence that this capital has on our subconscious decision making processes. He notes, for example, that economists have illustrated how when making decisions we engage in a subconscious cost-benefit analysis, and then consciously justify the decision that has been reached in this regard. When considering the decision-making behaviour of people who are presented with information that might incline them to leave a religious tradition, Iannacconne illustrates how useful this concept is.
For example, the older a person is when confronted by this kind of information, the smaller the benefits to be realized by leaving the religious institution. It takes time to make new friends; it takes time to integrate into a new community; older people have less energy and less flexibility; etc. On the other hand, the costs that an older person would suffer upon leaving a religiously oriented community tend to be larger than those that a younger person would suffer. The longer a person is within a religious community, the more embedded they become in their friendships, social relationships, etc. Presuming that their reputation is good, the more important and useful that reputation becomes as time passes. In addition, many people perceive rightly or wrongly that they make more contributions to their community then they take out in withdrawals, and therefore that many people owe them favors. They know the songs; they know the rituals; they know the rules and procedures; they know the small â€œpâ€ politics withinthe group; they know the groupâ€™s history; they have the respect of other group members; they know how to use the group to do all kinds of things that are useful to them; etc. The longer a person is within the group of this kind, the more significant these assets become.
For a person like Mother Teresa, who was not only a member of a religious group but was a leader of the group, the situation is compounded. She is subject to the â€œsaying is believingâ€ bias referenced in the â€œdenialâ€ essay I mentioned above, as well as the confirmation and other biases. These are exacerbated as a result of her position as a leader within the group.
In short, Mother Teresa did not wake up. Rather, while she was focused on the goal of creating her missionary movement, that goal justified her existence and kept her focussed on something other than the absence of communication with god. In fact, the enlivening influence that the pursuit of this goad had on her made her feel in some cases like she had received communication from god. The more successful she became, the less challenging and engaging she found her task. She habituated to her success and to the horrifying nature of much of what she confronted on a daily basis as a result of for ministry, and life became flat. This is all consistent with the basic propositions of human social psychology.
It does not appear that Mother Teresa had a large â€œGod Spotâ€ in her brain. In this, she is in contrast with someone like Karen Armstrong about whom I will say more below. I also probably have a large God Spot in my brain. This part of the brain lights up during particular kinds of emotional or spiritual experiences. I have had more profoundly moving spiritual experiences than you can shake a stick at. Another way to put this is that I am easily excited or emotionally moved. I am the kind of person who cries during movies, becomes very excited about new pieces of art, or new books, etc. Iâ€™m willing to bet that Mother Teresa is not that kind of person. Accordingly, she did not have the kind of subjective, emotional experience on which most people build their religious faith. In the absence of those experiences, she still had to deal with the cost-benefit equation related to a renunciation of her faith. That wouldâ€™ve been done at the subconscious level. She found a way to rationalize her experience with her beliefs, and so soldiered on.
The single most moving autobiography or memoir I have read is Karen Armstrongâ€™s â€œThe Spiral Staircaseâ€. Armstrong is one of the worldâ€™s foremost religious historians. She was a Catholic nun for many years, and after a crisis of faith quite different from the one Mother Teresa suffered, Armstrong left the Nunnery. She was later diagnosed as having mild temporal lobe epilepsy, which means that she had a massive one spot in her brain. This probably accounted for the abundant, moving spiritual experiences she had from an early age, which led her to enter the convent. Her wonderful memoir tells the story of how this faith gradually came undone, how she entered a deep depression, eventually left the convent and rebuild her life on the outside. She has published many books, the most recent of which is called â€œThe Great Transformationâ€, and is about how the Golden rule arose well prior to Christ simultaneously in the four major cultural centers around the world during what is called the axial age, between roughly 900and 200 B.C. Her book with regard to Buddha is a classic. Her book â€œA History of Godâ€ was one of the first that I read after my Mormon faith shattered. Her book â€œThe Battle for Godâ€ is another one that I found profoundly helpful.
I wonâ€™t have the time to do this, but it would be very interesting to read the book containing Mother Teresaâ€™s letters and Karen Armstrongâ€™s â€œThe Spiral Staircaseâ€, back to back while wondering about the reasons for which their experiences and reactions to their experiences could be so different. Off the cuff, Armstrong had far more evidence of Godâ€™s presence in her life than Mother Teresa ever had. However, Armstrongâ€™s personality was such that the discipline oriented and relatively sterile life of a nun did not work for her. It was killing her a bit at a time. Eventually she collapsed into depression and that led her to leave. Had she been in a different circumstance as a Nun, the combination of her profoundly spiritual nature with her now legendary academic gifts might have turned her into a Catholic saint of a different kind. She left the convent when she was relatively young, and therefore the cost-benefit equation with which her subconscious wrestled with have been radically different than the one withwhich Mother Teresa began to wrestle after she had achieved significant success within the Catholic hierarchy.
Now, to be fair to Mother Teresa, we should wonder what she might have done had she left her successful, but still nacsent ministry in India many years ago as a result of her perception that God no longer called her. Where would she have ended up? Her drive, ambition and toughness are legendary. Might she have taken on child proverty world-wide? Or maybe she would have stayed in India and helped to deal with birth control there, before launching that internationally. Or maybe ecology would have caught her attention. She might have had a much larger impact outside, then inside, her faith community.
This is the kind of thinking that won’t be done inside the religiously faithful world re. Mother Teresa, just as few there are likely to wonder about the differences between Mother Teresa and Karen Armstrong. We each see what we need or wish to see in ambiguous data. And there are few kinds of data more abiguous that those related to religious belief.
In summary, I am encouraged that the fact that the Catholic Church would publish Mother Teresaâ€™s letters. This is the kind of thing I expect to see as human culture with regard to religion continues to evolve. The fact of the matter is that doubt and healthy scepticism are increasingly important parts of the mental equipment with which most educated human beings are equipped. It makes sense not to deny this, since a large percentage of the people who are thoughtful with regard to their faith are going to reach that conclusion on their own. And remember what happened in Quebec in the 1960s. It was a conservative Catholic backwater, and it blew up. Are you listening Gordo?
Mother Teresa was legendary before her death, and will rapidly rise to the status of Saint within the Catholic Church. The fact that she achieved what she did within Catholicism while doubting as completely as a skeptic can doubt is remarkable, but understandable on the basis of the principles I have noted above. That does not prove the existence of God, however, any more than Fidel Castro proves that communism is the true political way. It simply provides more evidence of how powerfully the behaviour of those by whom we are surrounded influences our own. I expect institutions like the Catholic Church to use examples of this kind to their advantage. The reconciliation of doubt of the kind experienced by Mother Teresa and her continued fidelity to the Catholic dogma and way of life requires a Herculean effort that will become more commonly required if the Catholic Church is going to continue looking like it wants to look. I predict that other religious groups will follow the Catholic lead on this one, and offer this option to their faithful â€“ it is OK to doubt as long as you are discrete about it, and as long as you still obey.
Mother Teresa was of course doing a lot of good. Some (including Christopher Hitchens) have questioned this, but even taking what has been attributed to her with a significant grain of salt, and then cutting it in half, what she accomplished his remarkable.
Life is full of ironies of this kind. Off to bed. Tomorrow will another fine day.