Cancelling Mother Teresa?

(Original Caption) Calcutta, India: Profile close up of Mother Teresa, founder of the Society of the Missionaries of Charity and 1979 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Thomas Griffin 12/10/20

St. Teresa of Calcutta, known mostly as Mother Teresa, was canonized a saint in the Catholic Church on September 4, 2016 and December 10th marks the anniversary of her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Her life as a nun and missionary to the poor has been viewed, without contention, as noble, just, sacrificial and loving. There is no other figure in recent history who has received more unquestioned acclaim and honor than this simple and smiling nun who spent her life serving the poor and dying in the slums of India. 

Despite the seemingly unanimous praise for this woman of faith and service, Christopher Hitchens (a British-American author and critic of religion) denounced her as a fraud and fanatic whose life glorified poverty and personified a child-like submissive belief in the fake-father God of Christianity. He believed that she took advantage of the position of the poor and used that as an avenue to convert the dying and most in need. Poverty was an opening for her beliefs to be imposed on others.

Hitchens even published a book entitled The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice in which he called for a complete rejection of the “cult” which surrounds her. His thesis is: if we actually knew who Mother Teresa was, through studying her words and life, we would cancel her. 

The details of her life, the words she spoke and the actions she performed will bring us the answer to whether or not our society should tear down Mother Teresa as a role model and person of sanctity. Let us investigate the facts of her life, through the lens of Hitchens and this cancel culture movement, in order to discover what side reigns true.

Originally born in Macedonia in 1910, she entered a religious order as a nun in Ireland at the age of eighteen. She took the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. She promised to live an existence of material poverty to learn how to better trust in God’s providence while also growing more dependent on him for all things. As a religious sister she promised to never enter a relationship with a man, or anyone else for that matter, which would involve the majority of her devotion and time. God would be everything, so she could bring God to everyone. She would never marry and never enter into sexual relations. As a nun she also promised to listen and do as her superiors asked, regardless of what they needed or whether or not she completely agreed. 

These were forever commitments which she kept for the entirety of her life; she never broke them. Our society values materialism, riches, and wealth as the highest priority and as the only route to happiness. Our culture values unbridled sexual relations as a given and right based on who we are as human beings. Radical obedience is seen as a form of oppression, a confiscation of one’s freedom. Modern men and women of our present culture have argued that Mother Teresa was the victim of sexism, inequality, and bigoted control who desired to impose those qualities on the poor, the needy, and the world through her platform.. Following her lead would bring others into an apparent economic dependence, sexual deprivation, and dictatorship of choice, they claim.

Hitchens would argue, specifically, that Mother Teresa’s decision to show up when and where she did was part of a calculated and theatrical intention to prove to the world that she was humble and simple. For him, Teresa’s life was part show and part religious bigot. She knew exactly how she desired to appear and she knew it would arouse interest and monetary donations. She also admitted that she desired to preach to the world what Hitchens calls the “fundamentalist views of Christianity” against abortion, contraception, and divorce. 

When she spoke at the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech she unequivocally noted that abortion is unaccetable for any nation because it destroys love and peace. “For if a mother can murder her own child in her own womb, what is left for you and for me to kill each other?” She noted that the nations which have legalized abortion are the “poorest of nations” in the world. These countries are poor because “they are afraid of the little one, they are afraid of the unborn child, and the child must die because they don’t want to feed one more child, to educate one more child, the child must die.”

At the moment when Mother Teresa received the indelible sign of peace, justice, and love she turned around and challenged the world’s conception of those same terms. She, along with Christ and his Church, believes that peace cannot exist when we kill the weakest among us and champion the cause of abortions, even in late-term cases, as celebrations in the victory of women’s choice and rights. Justice does not reign when laws are determined by the unhindered choice of the powerful over and above the smallest members of society. Love is not true when it destroys rather than sacrifices. 

Against an entire culture of death she stated:

“Today millions of unborn children are being killed. And we say nothing. In the newspapers you read numbers of this one and that one being killed, this being destroyed, but nobody speaks of the millions of little ones who have been conceived to the same life as you and I, to the life of God, and we say nothing, we allow it.”

Here, we encounter the crux of the matter. Cancel culture is defined as “the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” The keyword for this movement is “considered” to be objectionable. Anyone who speaks against the tide of contemporary times is subject to their removal. This mob rule mentality desires to instill fear inside anyone who stands for the forever virtues of faith and objective truth.

Of course Hitchens and others denounce Mother Teresa. She stood as a beacon of light and a sign of contradiction towards everything modernity triumphs. Not only did she live in an opposite fashion, she spoke loudly and bluntly against the failures of our culture. Anyone who speaks out from a large stage and violates the golden rules of unhindered freedom and moral relativism is shunned. 

Ultimately, and unfortunately, our culture is cancelling Mother Teresa for what her life stood for and what her words professed. Her religious faith, use of freedom, and sacrificial love is seen as too extreme, too judgmental, and too controlling. Holiness is often misunderstood though. It was for Jesus and it was for many of the saints. Mother Teresa was holy in the true sense of the word: she was set apart and called upon others to not be swallowed up by the fluctuating movements and morals of the present-day.

Thankfully, this cancel culture is showing its true colors of irrational bigotry towards anything they deem objectionable. Once again, they misunderstand historical facts and neglect to view the true, the good, and the beautiful. May these words of this humble woman stand as a witness to her legacy and a challenge for all people to learn from Mother Teresa’s powerful and earth-shaking existence. Not merely because she shouldn’t be cancelled, but because holiness is desperately needed, and to be holy means we stand and speak for the truth – no matter the cost.


Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife and son. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.


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