St Teresa And The Miracle Of Kindness
Yesterday afternoon, while 1,500 homeless people in Rome were served a pizza lunch by some 250 nuns and priests of the Sisters of Charity order to celebrate the canonisation of Mother Teresa, I happily joined in with my own takeaway pizza meal. It may strike odd to find an atheist, and one of the non-spiritual variety at that, raise a glass of water-miraculously-turned into-the good stuff later the same evening to St Teresa.
After all, this was the woman whom I had issues with in my early manhood because I held her (and Roland Joffé, the director of City of Joy) responsible for turning my hometown Kolkata into one single meme for Third World urban poverty. But much water-neverturned-miraculously-into-wine has flowed under the bridge since Princess Di met Mother T. And since the great essayist-journalist Christopher Hitchens attacked the nun in her blue and-white bordered sari in his withering essay, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, a title that sounded quite innocuous to most of us even in 1995 when it was published in book form.
St Teresa helped the poor and the destitute using religion as her calling card-cum-pick-up line.
This, for many of her critics, has been her fundamental vice: using Christ as a brand ambassador and pity and suffering as raisons d’être. Or, as her critics quite rightly would have it: by glorifying poverty and suffering in terms that inhibit any attempt to remove that poverty and suffering.
But to understand why despite that legitimate charge, St Teresa deserves to be toasted, one must turn to St Marx, that neo-Old Testament prophet found these days only on T-shirts.
Everybody loves quoting Master Karl’s famous line “Religion is the opium of the people” to diss religion as that medieval thing that television serials, modern sex and nationalism or internationalism (take your pick) should have sent packing to the dodos.
But what they leave out, cunningly or ignorantly (again, take your pick), is St Marx’s full quote. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless word, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people,” he had written in 1844.
Religion has its fair share of snake oil merchants, whether goons and murderous supremacists or arbiters of club rules in the name of ‘cultural practices’ to put people they don’t like the smell of — or women whose smell they are intrinsically scared of — in their places. But to mark religion, the most fantastical and successful of imaginative creations, as dangerous and obnoxious as a whole is like finding love distasteful since it is also the cause of so much ruin and agony — and in the case of The Iliad (and I suspect the Ramayana too), war.
Gentlemen like the venerable scientist Richard Dawkins railing against religion, and less smart folks still taking snipes at St Teresa for using religion as a baby rattle, could again do well to listen to St Marx, “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”
Sure, Mother Teresa had no qualms about taking largesse from despots to fund her hospices and care centres. That just makes her a Robin Hood cleverly making money work for a better purpose in her granny costume rather than in green tights. Sure, critics may be right at finding the conditions of some of the places where her Missionaries of Charity took care of the dying, many cases without medicine, horrific. But clearly, these critics are miraculously making those spaces under flyovers and inside tarpaulins where people suffer and die without any care, never mind medicine, disappear. St Marx’s point of making people snap out of religion being only possible when the causes for holding on to its sari-end has been removed is why the sainting of Teresa deserves a hurrah. Because the secular state — socialistic or otherwise, trickle-down or bottoms up — in India has not been able to deliver ‘real happiness’ for far too many people.
So, till that day comes — and we don’t require to tell children that Santa doesn’t exist — there should be more people inspired by St Teresa to help reduce human suffering regardless of the pitch they are making. Just look out of your car window at a traffic crossing and you’ll know that we’re still waiting for the miracle of not needing religion and other fairy tales.
Source : http://www.speakingtree.in/