Matt also mentions this amusing Christopher Hitchens column lambasting the beatification of Mother Teresa. I was going to mention it yesterday afternoon but, well, couldn’t.

During the deliberations over the Second Vatican Council, under the stewardship of Pope John XXIII, MT was to the fore in opposing all suggestions of reform. What was needed, she maintained, was more work and more faith, not doctrinal revision. Her position was ultra-reactionary and fundamentalist even in orthodox Catholic terms. Believers are indeed enjoined to abhor and eschew abortion, but they are not required to affirm that abortion is “the greatest destroyer of peace,” as MT fantastically asserted to a dumbfounded audience when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize*. Believers are likewise enjoined to abhor and eschew divorce, but they are not required to insist that a ban on divorce and remarriage be a part of the state constitution, as MT demanded in a referendum in Ireland (which her side narrowly lost) in 1996. Later in that same year, she told Ladies Home Journal that she was pleased by the divorce of her friend Princess Diana, because the marriage had so obviously been an unhappy one. . .

This returns us to the medieval corruption of the church, which sold indulgences to the rich while preaching hellfire and continence to the poor. MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been–she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself–and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?


Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions.

Since Hitchens wrote an entire book on this subject, his reaction is unsurprising. But enjoyable reading nonetheless.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    It never ceased to amaze me the simple minded fools who argue that because a church has standards of some type it is bad.

    Why have a church if they do not set a moral example? One of the primary knocks on both the Pope and MT is that they are “fundamentalists.” — Well if that means actually believing in their religion then I guess they are.

    It is like the people who constantly trash the Pope for not letting women be priest, letting priests marry, etc etc etc.

    Well… Why not just get the Pope to support sex, drugs and rock and roll? Why have any rules at all?

    Would be be a “better” pope if he said we really could kill each other and still go to heaven? Hardly.

    The purpose of a church is to set a moral example. If you don’t do that, why have a church at all?

    If Hitch had stuck to the argument of hypocrisy he might have a stronger argument. But as it stands he looks like all the other bitter church bashers who don’t want to live their lives according to church teachings but blame that on the teachings and not their behavior.

    If you want to live a life the church considers immoral, FINE. But don’t bash the church for not changing their rules just to suit you. That is the hight of arrogance.


  2. James Joyner says:

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to challenge public figures for upholding their deeply held beliefs if doing so is harmful. Very prominent people believed in slavery, Jim Crow, and all manner of evils at one time or another.

    For Teresa to take all those donations–which were intended to feed and give medical treatment to the people whose misery she was exploiting–and spend it on little shrines to herself is outrageous.

  3. Paul says:

    as I said James- He he stuck to hypocrisy his argument would be mush stronger.

    But knocking someone for their beliefs in general weakens his point , not strengthen it.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Unless the beliefs are, themselves, demonstrably stupid.

  5. Paul says:

    ummmm– maybe I missed your point– I hardly think belief in God is “demonstrably stupid.”

    Am I missing something?

  6. James Joyner says:

    No, belief that the poor and sick should just suck it up and view their suffering as a blessing from God–even when money has been donated that could be used to alleviate their suffering.

  7. Paul says:

    OH, you are assuming Hitch’s mischaracterizations are true.

    She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women…

    That right there should have told you he was more interested in his agenda than truth James.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Sometimes, that language is simply feminist claptrap, usually meaning “abortion.” In Hitch’s case, I think, “the empowerment of women” is a shorthand for something empirically meaningful: the right of women to have control over their reproduction (not even abortion, just the ability to say “no” and to limit the number of kids they have), have property rights, etc. The corrolation between those things and national prosperity is staggering. We’ve seen that time and again in various Third World aid programs.

    See the academic papers that come up Googling “empowerment of women” poverty. A couple promising looking ones:



  9. Paul says:

    And that is the “only known cure for poverty?”

    Come now.

    And sure James, if you type “’empowerment of women’ poverty” into google you will find things related to that.

    You have proven google is a search engine.

    I did a search for “only known cure for poverty” and all I got was his piece. So apparently he is the only one on the planet who knows how to cure poverty.

    You would think if it were such a universal truth more people would know.

    Many of the world’s wealthiest nations have little if any “woman empowerment” going on.

    It is a silly, biased argument without merit. And as you well know, making it an absolute moves it from a weak argument to moronic.

  10. James Joyner says:

    He didn’t call it the only proven cure, just the only known one. It’s a magazine column, not a journal article, so he isn’t going to cite footnotes and a review of the literature. But it’s demonstrably true that those reforms are virtual necessities to cure poverty in the developing world. We’re not even talking Western-style “women’s lib;” we’re talking basic human rights for women. Most of the world lacks those.

  11. Paul says:

    James, he called it the “only known cure” yet he is the only one in the world that knows it. (see google)

    If that is the criteria, I can type that the only known cure for poverty is putting your finger in your ear and I will have the same amount of credibility.

    It is a patently silly argument. There is a much stronger correlation between the number of people in a country who speak english and wealth. If there is an “only known cure” surely that is it. Should we teach them all english and expect the wealth to magically appear?

    Or what about the fact that people in all the wealthy nations wear blue jeans. Does the choice of apparel make you create wealth?

    It is nonsense.

    You are dodging/missing the point. He makes patently absurd arguments, claims them to be absolutes then claims they prove his agenda.

    Certainly, someone with your training knows better.


  12. Paul says:

    P.S. I’ll restate my point to be clear. If he wanted to bash MT he could have done a much better job. As it stands, he just looks irrational and bitter.

    (In other words… Mostly like your typical liberal 😉

  13. James Joyner says:


    I suspect the training fills in a lot of the gaps for me. Hitchens is, frankly, brilliant and much more widely read than I’ll ever be. His argument is shorthand for one that’s pretty widely established in the literature; perhaps it’s a bit too hyperbolic. But I know what he’s saying here and believe he’s essentially correct.

    Take a look, for example, at the case studies of what the U.N. did in Mozambique a few years ago. They made some rather remarkable transformations, doing numerous things of course. But one of the keys was changing the cultural status of women. Societies where women are viewed as sub-human are virtually (I qualify out of safety; I know of no counter-example) all in abject poverty. There’s certainly some directionality issues there. But it’s pretty reasonable that giving women some say-so in whether to have another child limits the number of children. Having a 15th kid is seldom a good thing for a poor family. Writ large, it’s disastrous for society.

  14. Paul says:


    I thought I was done with this thread, but lemme toss you a few more thought/ideas since your reply intrigued me.

    I have always liked the story of the emperor and his new clothes. Perhaps it is because I came from a family of over (possibly even hyper) educated siblings who could not reason their way out of a paper bag. I have a sister who is widely respect in her field. She has been published more times than I can name. To say she was a dingbat would be an understatement.

    I have never found Hitch to be particularly brilliant. He uses a technique that I blame Rush Limbaugh for (re)popularizing. He makes dubious statements and then draws a conclusion from them. The problem is that using weak arguments only builds your hypothesis on a house of cards. (at least Rush uses it the “here we go again” sense.)

    While I did not want to belabor this argument, lemme use it as an example. I strongly disagree that you can make the case the Mother Theresa supported making women “sub-human” in some way. Mother Theresa was vocal in her opposition to abortion. Hitch thinks this somehow causes poverty. Were we in poverty before 1973 and Roe V Wade? No. The only poverty we have known was the Great Depression. Would you like to make the case abortion got us out of it? (it is the only known cure you know.) There are many was to raise a people from poverty. Anyone ranking as brilliant would understand that. This was not about fact, it was about slamming Mother Theresa for her views on abortion.

    But that is only a single example. We got wrapped up in it but I used it as a single example to illustrate that he was more interested in his agenda than reality. I think the whole piece supports my point, right down to the title. I don’t think being able to make dubious statements and call names makes one brilliant.

    You may think him brilliant. I read the piece and I see a whole bunch of name calling and some very dubious facts. Maybe I am being a tad histrionic but have always thought of him as a cut above Michael Moore. (Who by the way is even wider read than Hitch which show ya that popularity don’t prove much today.)

    Maybe if he just dropped the name calling and the whining I could take the piece more seriously.

    I’ll stand by my statement that knowing your background and reading your thoughts for the last few months I am somewhat surprised you hold this technique in such high regard.


  15. I’m not usually a big fan of Hitchens. But he’s bright; I’ll grant you that.

    James is right: giving women property rights, some freedom of movement, and (most importantly) some say in family size (and the timing of babies) correlates very strongly with countries pulling themselves out of poverty. And I think it is fair to infer some causality, since large families are quite simply harder to feed and a greater drag on societal resources.

    As far as the argument over Mother Teresa is concerned, I’m skeptical about the charge that she spent money for the poor on “shrines to herself.” I’d definitely need to see more data on that–preferably from someone less strident than Hitchens.