Valerie Tarico: Mother Theresa's Masochism: Does Religion Demand Suffering!
to keep people passive? With a new Pope at the helm, the Catholic hierarchy has set about to polish its tarnished image. Can an increased focus on the poor make up for the Church's opposition to contraception and marriage equality, or its sordid financial and sexual affairs? The Bishops can only hope. And pray. And perhaps accelerate the sainthood of Agnes Gonxha, better known as Mother Teresa. In the last century, no one icon has improved the Catholic brand as much as the small woman who founded the Missionaries of Charity, whose image aligns beautifully with that of the new pope. In March, a team of Canadian researchers noted the opportunity: What could be better than beatification, followed by canonization of Mother Teresa to revitalize the Church and inspire the faithful, especially at a time when churches are empty, and the Roman authority is in decline? The question, however, was more than a little ironic. The team of academics from the Universities of Montreal and Ottawa set out to do research on altruism. In the process, they reviewed over 500 documents about Mother Teresa's life, and compiled an array of disturbing details about the soon to be saint, including dubious political connections, and questionable management of funds and, in particular, an attitude toward suffering that could give pause to even her biggest fans. Passive acceptance, or even glorification of suffering, can be adaptive, when people have no choice. As the much loved Serenity Prayer says, "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change." This attitude of embracing the inevitable is built into not only Christianity, but also other religions, especially Buddhism. But passive acceptance of avoidable suffering is another thing altogether, which is why the prayer continues, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. By even her own words, Mother Teresa's view of suffering, made no distinction between avoidable and unavoidable suffering, and instead cultivated passive acceptance of both. As she put it, There is something beautiful in seeing the poor to accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ's Passion. The world gains much from their suffering. Or consider this anecdote from her life: One day I met a lady who as dying of cancer in a most terrible condition. And I told her, I say, "You know, this terrible pain is only the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close to Jesus on the cross, that he can kiss you. And she joined her hands together and said, Mother Teresa, please tell Jesus to stop kissing me!