The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice – Reviewed

200px-Missionary_Position_book_Mother_TeresaIn this book Christopher Hitchens presents a portrait of the beatified and saintly character known as Mother Teresa.  Then he uses his keen intellect, his wit and his powerful insight as a brush to strip away decades of misrepresentation, misunderstanding and a general inability to see the Virgin of Calcutta in the light of truth.  The image that remains is, in a word, appalling.

To be clear, Hitchens isn’t suggesting that Mother Teresa had endeavoured to deceive anyone.  No, in fact he very carefully and clearly points out that she has never asserted anything but the truth about her motives and methods. Except possibly in failing to admit the nature of some of her associations over the years.  With this caveat included, I think the New York Press’ indictment on the back cover more than a little uncalled for: “If there is a Hell, Hitchens is going there for this book.”  Not that such a threat would have in any way affected the secular giant that was Christopher Hitchens.

Though I do have a complaint to level about this book.  As with several other titles by Hitchens, this book is a prime example of the intellectual snobbery for which Hitchens was so famous.  He refused to dumb-down the language or to dilute the metaphors in order to make his work more appealing to the masses.  This has endeared him to the New Atheist movement, which as a rule, venerates such elitism.  It’s unfortunate though, that the great power of Hitchens’ insight into the failings of religion, especially that of the Catholic Church, remains inaccessible to a large section of society.  A section that would benefit from a clear and concise valuation theism.  This isn’t to say that his work is unreadable, no, not at all.  With a little effort and a vigilant eye, his ideas are well understood, but this effort isn’t likely to be undertaken by those without a vested interest in the subject matter.

The Missionary Position is an important book, if diminutive.  To my knowledge, it is the only unbiased study available on the actions and words of a woman who was canonised by her congregates long before her death in 1997.  You may claim that Hitchens was anything but unbiased, and there might be some truth to that, but despite his personal feelings about the fraudulent reputation of Albanian born Anjezë Bojaxhiu, turned Catholic sister, turned religious visionary and champion of “the poorest of the poor, the lowest of the low”, his treatment of the subject remained even-handed throughout.

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Martin J. Clemens

Writer, Canadian, Fortean Addict...and lover of science and history. "As for me...I know only, that I know nothing..." I also blog at www.dailygrail.com and mysteriousuniverse.org
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  • Thomas van Andel

    Made into a saint…Ho boy !