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Sinner or Saint?

Entry 1810, on 2016-09-07 at 22:30:53 (Rating 4, Religion)

Giving a blog post a title like "sinner or saint" might seem a bit odd for someone like myself who thinks neither really exists, but I think in this case it is appropriate because the person I am posing the question about is Mother Teresa, or "Saint Teresa of Calcutta" as she will be known in future.

Recently Pope Francis (who, as fas as Popes are concerned, I quite like) canonised Mother Teresa (who died in 1997) after a process started by his predecessor. Was this justified? Many people just naturally believe that she was a great person who helped the sick and poor, but she also has some very vocal critics, one of whom was Christopher Hitchens, a person who I really admired (and who we unfortunately lost to cancer in 2011).

So which is it: sinner or saint? Well I think it was a bit of both.

First, let's get the silly idea of her literally being a saint out of the way. A saint must have been involved with a miracle (specifically a prayer to her after her death must have resulted in a miraculous cure) and this must be checked by a special group from the church. Needless to say, the supposed miracle is totally absurd and no sensible person would take it seriously.

But the miracle is largely irrelevant. Was her well known work with the poor and sick in India genuine? Well fundamentally it seems that she did set up hospitals to treat the sick and organisations to help the poor. And she raised a lot of money to help fund these missions.

So that sounds quite good. Maybe she was a saint in some way, even if she wasn't in the strictly religious sense. Well yes, maybe, but there was the dark side to her activities as well.

First, the miracle. The claim is that a Bengali woman, Monica Besra, saw a beam of light emerge from a picture of Mother Teresa and cure a cancerous tumor. But the woman's doctor had a slightly different story, because there was no cancer. The problem was a tubercular cyst which was cured by a course of prescription medicine. But the church's team didn't even talk to the doctor, so it is not surprising they reached the wrong conclusion. Of course, if they thoroughly investigated every case there would be no saints.

Second, the money. A lot of the funding she gained was from very corrupt sources and it is quite unclear where a lot of it went. There were no good records of spending so this could not be investigated properly.

Third, the standard of care. Standards in the centers where the sick were treated were very poor, with stories such as syringes being re-used and other poor health practices being common.

Finally, her attitude. The ultimate motivation for her work seemed to be more conversion to Catholicism than anything else. And she did not support women's rights, birth control, or other progressive changes India really needed.

Would the world have been a better place if Mother Teresa hadn't existed? I don't know. I'm tempted to be generous here and say that at least she made some positive difference, despite the clear problems. And maybe calling her a saint is OK too, but why not just make people saints when they do good in the world and forget the ridiculous pretence of these silly alleged miracles?

Mother Teresa was a human being like the rest of us. Not a sinner or a saint. Just a flawed person who did some good things but probably did a lot of bad things as well.

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Comment 2 (4529) by OJB on 2016-09-08 at 22:17:29: (view earlier comments)

Yes, well as I said in my post, I think she probably did some good so calling her a "complete fraud" is probably a bit harsh. There have been a lot of questions about the money although she seemed to have a very simple life herself so I'm not sure what she would have wanted a lot of cash in the bank for.

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Comment 3 (4530) by Richard on 2016-09-09 at 10:07:59:

Your last sentence sums the concept up well re 'sainthood' Owen, although perhaps the definition of 'sinner' is unclear, when you say she was not a sinner, but probably did a lot of bad things as well. :)

I think even if there were some bad things that could be attributed to her legacy, I think we have to admit that overall, the 'lasting' impression that most people have when they think of Mother Theresa, is one of humility, compassion for the needy, and serving others etc - all good impressions to leave. The notion of actually declaring someone a 'saint' is of course a Roman Catholic thing, and just quietly, not actually a biblical notion at all. But then if they like to honour people they think did good things in some way as an inspiration to others, that's entirely up to them I guess.

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Comment 4 (4531) by OJB on 2016-09-09 at 14:23:41:

Well, to be a sinner you have to have sinned, and sins are a religious moral idea. Some traditional sins are bad and some are good, so I tend to reject the idea completely. The same applies to sainthood. I realize that only a few Christian sects recognize the idea and that, like many Catholic ideas, it has questionable relevance to scripture. I also agree that the most common reaction to MT was that she was a humble, compassionate person. I was just trying to get past that to a more realistic appraisal. I didn't want to take it as far as some do though, hence my balanced judgement at the end.

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Comment 5 (4532) by Richard on 2016-09-09 at 18:37:41:

I do understand your claim re a religious definition of the word 'sins', which specifically requires a 'moral crime against God' and if you deny that there is a God / moral lawgiver to commit a moral crime against then you are quite right - nobody can be either a 'sinner or a saint' - as you indicated.

But there are still two problems with claiming she wasn't a sinner but did bad things. Firstly, If you wish to reject the notion of 'sinners', in order to do that you have to accept its religious definition - which of course leads unavoidably to the correct (biblical) conclusion that MT and in fact all of us are sinners after all.

In addition, if you want to use that definition in order to reject its application to MT (because she can't be 'sinning' IF no God exists), then by introducing the idea that no God exists then you are also obligated to reject completely the notion of her 'doing bad things' entirely - as of course without any external 'moral law giver' - there can be no truly 'bad things at all' to apply to MT. Either way there are problems with stating someone does bad things but is not a sinner. Sorry. ;)

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Comment 6 (4533) by OJB on 2016-09-10 at 09:58:11:

From a Biblical perspective she was a sinner because everyone is. That is one of the most insidiously evil things about Christianity: how it degrades people to control them. My point is that in reality sin (in the religious sense) doesn't exist (because gods don't exist) so I can reject the religious definition.

However "sin" is often used in a more general way just to mean doing something bad. Of course the idea of "bad" has no objective source, it is merely the consensus of the current thought of balanced, socially adjusted humans.

I'm afraid good and bad, moral and immoral, etc are difficult concepts with no set meaning. Without a god there is no absolute right or wrong, but as I have said in the past it's better to accept that than pretend there are absolute morals based on a fictitious god, and possibly even better than accepting absolute morals from a god that actually did exist because how do we know god's laws are truly good.

We've had this discussion before, right? :)

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