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No Comfort in Faith

The recent revelation that Mother Teresa was a doubting Thomas almost the entire time she worked in India but yet remained faithful shows the lie that Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens would like to promulgate: belief in God is comforting.  (And here, I thought we were still struggling with Catholic Guilt.)

While I've no doubt that some believers gain primarily comfort from their belief, the religion that Jesus teaches isn't very comforting at all. "If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you."

And, of course, any Mennonite knows that Martyrs Mirror is filled with stories of people who endured a great deal of suffering. My own children have listened to the lives of many martyrs in the Orthodox lexicon of Saints, Nikolai Velimirovich's Prologue -- so many that whenever they hear the Emperor Diocletian's name mentioned, they can tell you the end of the story.

Perhaps some people make Christianity out to be a nice bedtime story, but anyone who pays attention to what Jesus said or what Paul wrote knows that any comfort offered isn't the whole story: we are called to live sacrificially.

Which is exactly what Mother Teresa did.

What strikes me most among discussions like this one is the idea that Mother Teresa had an obligation to announce her doubts to the world.  "She's a public figure" the thinking goes "and she kept this from us?"

Well, no, her struggle with doubt or the lack of God's Presence was her own and she kept it between herself and her spiritual confessors.  If she wanted to announce her doubt and be done with it, she could have done that without making her life any more uncomfortable.

Mother Teresa was doing something completely foreign to most of us.  Jack Welch was a better humanitarian.  Mother Teresa was not a humanitarian and Christopher Hitchen's was right to discredit this notion of her.  Jesus said "You will always have the poor" and Mother Teresa understood this to mean that we should be more concerned with loving the poor and having compassion for them than with giving them a handout.

"You take care of their tomorrows, I take care of their todays," she said.

Secularists who don't know Mother Teresa won't appreciate the way she chose to use her money.  Evangelicals won't appreciate her Gospel.  Atheists see her doubts as her hypocrisy.

But there is something else going on, also.  She identified with the poor in the same way Christ identified with us.  She emulated his compassion.

And of course isn't that the whole Problem of Evil all over again?  As Judas pointed out, the money spent on the perfume Mary poured on Jesus feet was a year's wages -- surely there was a more practical use for it.  Surely Jesus could have done more than forgive sins, couldn't he?  He was God, after all, shouldn't he have done more?

Mother Teresa is someone many people can admire from a distance.  Most will be repulsed by her, though, if they take a closer look.  She shows us exactly why true religion isn't comforting.


mother teresa

good thoughts...
it seems to me too that many people
have a tendency ,for deep and nor easily
eradicable psychological reason ,to undermine
their success to build with one hand and to
destroy with the other. we see it everywhere
in varying degree
I believe this is the case of mother teresa
but her heroism was in this that she did not
destroy her work but took the brunt inwardly...
without complaint.
it is possible to say that everyone should
be free from guilt and inner scars and therapy
should accomplish this...it is not however
always so simple at all...
It seems a later spiritual director did give
her peace to a considerable extent by putting
some insight into terms she could receive and
that this sense of absence is the presence also
of God etc
so anyway of course I agree that she is a saint
and a very important one for our time...I am
not fully happy with the use of purely spiritualized
terminologies about dark night of the soul etc for
what I would surmise to be considerably psychospiritual
...this reality of psychic woundedness is something
also that the church needs to accept I think.

Re: mother teresa

I am
not fully happy with the use of purely spiritualized
terminologies about dark night of the soul etc for
what I would surmise to be considerably psychospiritual
...this reality of psychic woundedness is something
also that the church needs to accept I think.

Hrm... I'll have thought that maybe people were taking the "dark night" a bit too far. I don't think St John of the Cross even thought it should be interminable.

But I do think there is something to her (lack of) experience. We do focus on experience ("Real Presense") so what do you say to people like Mother Teresa who lack it but deeply desire it.

I suspect, though, that the liturgical/mystical traditions (Catholic, Orthodox, etc.) have a leg up on those traditions that focus entirely on validating experience. The response of people in those traditions has been more akin to "Isn't this proof she wasn't a Christian?"


Re: mother teresa

I must confess in my most cynical moments I do question "why didn't some one adjust her medication?" You can see this sort of thing in other folks like Martin Luther, where there really does seem like a strong possibility that there was some sort of chemical imbalance!


Re: mother teresa

And in my more cynical moments, I wonder if we could deal with a few more of life's curve balls if we all had the courage of, say, Abraham Lincoln who faced his chronic depression and did great things.


Re: mother teresa

Did you get my other longer response to this?


March 2010

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