August 23, 2007

Doubting Teresa

No, I'm not going to tell you that Mother Teresa was an atheist. I'm going to tell you that she was a humanist.

The headline on FARK overstates the article substantially -- Mother Teresa was not an atheist, as suggested, but she did have fifty years of very significant doubts about God's existence. A quote from her diary: "I feel that God does not want me, that God is not God and that he does not really exist." This does not sound like the kind of certain faith that many evangelicals (of all three monotheistic religions) profess to have.

I'm well aware that people of faith go through periods of doubt in their lives. But such admissions by the faithful usually end with descriptions of either significant life events or some sort of epiphany in which the crisis of faith is resolved and the doubter becomes faithful again. It appears that the reverse happened with Mother Teresa -- she had an ecstatic religious vision that motivated her to dedicate her life to a noble and selfless cause, and then her faith steadily declined for the rest of her life afterwards.

This is not, to me, a sad story at all and nothing in it diminishes my admiration for her. She never once wavered from her commitment to help and aid the poorest of Calcutta's poor, to relieving the misery and griding poverty that surrounded her. She never once stopped working, harder than most of us and longer than most of us, to make the world a better place. Nothing about this revelation about her diminishes the power of her charity, her love, and her generosity to others.

The only sad thing about it is that she seemed to be obliged to to continue wearing the cloak of religion in order to make it happen. After she became a worldwide celebrity, all the while feeling increasing doubts about the theology supporting her vocation, she must have felt like a gigantic hypocrite. But by then, she would have been trapped within the habit, unable to take it off for fear that if she did, the money and support she was getting from all over the world would dry up and the people who counted on her for sustenance, support, medicine, and shelter would be left with nothing. So that's sad, that she had to be something of a hypocrite in order to keep doing something good.

It's also sad if the funds and money and support really would have dried up had she admitted her own religious doubts. Whether she did what she did in Jesus' name, for Allah, Buddha, Shiva, Quezacoatl, Amen-Ra, or no deity at all, it would have still been a good thing to have done. In fact, if she wound up continuing to do it just because it was a good thing to do, that makes it all the more a noble thing to have done, in my mind.


Pamela said...

Thanks for sharing this TPL. I want to read the whole collection of writings when they are released.

zzi said...

Still waiting on that 500 word post on Islam.

Burt Likko said...

I don't know how to say this nicely, zzi, so I'll just be direct. This blog is my forum, not yours, which means that I set the agenda and you do not. I will write a post about Islam if I feel like it, and if so, when I feel like it, which may be tomorrow or it may be never.

If you think something needs to be said about Islam that I'm leaving unsaid, start your own blog and say it yourself. So thanks for the request, but I do not promise to fulfill it.

zzi said...

We will be checking from time to time.