Friends of poverty. Suffering as a gift of god? The context for Hitchens attack on Mother Teresa was certainly sensational, down the sexual innuendo of the title Missionary Position. But, the broader context of Mother Teresa and the role charity plays in society was not alluded to. Perhaps his anti-clericism invigorated by a predisposition to shatter the dogmas of faith corraled his energies to the exclusion of the role of charitable giving within secular society which effectively reinforces the Veblen theory of invidious comparison and the economic strengthening of social stratification. Charity as a leisure activity designed to confer status and distinction on the giver and the elaborate maintenance of dependence needed to enshrine the role of giving as another form of predatory activity. Its a form of the capitalization of culture where the brand is burnished through conspicuous waste. It is this that Hitchens alludes to in his article: the notion of conspicuous vicarious waste. It is irrelevant if if Mother Teresa operates in a cesspool and millions are unaccounted for. In fact, it conforms perfectly with Veblen’s assertion that, ” in order to be reputable it must be wasteful.” Where the Church should be held more accountable than the shenanigans of other charity industries is not explained:
Christopher Hitchens:I think it was Macaulay who said that the Roman Catholic Church deserved great credit for, and owed its longevity to, its ability to handle and contain fanaticism. This rather oblique compliment belongs to a more serious age. What is so striking about the “beatification” of the woman who styled herself “Mother” Teresa is the abject surrender, on the part of the church, to the forces of showbiz, superstition, and populism….
It’s the sheer tawdriness that strikes the eye first of all. It used to be that a person could not even be nominated for “beatification,” the first step to “sainthood,” until five years after his or her death. This was to guard against local or popular enthusiasm in the promotion of dubious characters. The pope nominated MT a year after her death in 1997. It also used to be that an apparatus of inquiry was set in train, including the scrutiny of an advocatus diaboli or “devil’s advocate,” to test any extraordinary claims. The pope has abolished this office and has created more instant saints than all his predecessors combined as far back as the 16th century.
As for the “miracle” that had to be attested, what can one say? Surely any respectable Catholic cringes with shame at the obviousness of the fakery. A Bengali woman named Monica Besra claims that a beam of light emerged from a picture of MT, which she happened to have in her home, and relieved her of a cancerous tumor. Her physician, Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, says that she didn’t have a cancerous tumor in the first place and that the tubercular cyst she did have was cured by a course of prescription medicine. Was he interviewed by the Vatican’s investigators? No. (As it happens, I myself was interviewed by them but only in the most perfunctory way. The procedure still does demand a show …
The Veblen theory, or rather the unfolding of the mechanism occurs when conspicuous consumption of other material consumables such as cars, houses, art, ceases to provide the same initial impact on status that another another niche, another sphere of the distinction game must be created to which conspicuous waste and consumption framed as value to the individual. Charity and philanthropy fit this need since the actions can be publicity bundled – Bono and Louis Vuitton for example- and accorded status by the people helped. Charity is an industry where money and celebrity can aspire to be the the most loved, caring and benevolent- the kiss the hand of the emperor syndrome- and given the Veblen template, it all about, in our present context, about nourishing narcissism in a society that valorizes narcissism, a corrupted romanticism that can be reinforced across multiple media platforms. The giver can feel adored and prestige accumulated by conspicuous waste such as the Madonna scandal in Mali and so on. Or even, at its extreme the Jerry Sandusky case where the nature of the charitable dynamic is not in question, but the actions of one individual who will be replaced by another disreputable in the guise of charitable activity.
…What was needed, she maintained, was more work and more faith, not doctrinal revision. Her position was ultra-reactionary and fundamentalist even in orthodox Catholic terms. Believers are indeed enjoined to abhor and eschew abortion, but they are not required to affirm that abortion is “the greatest destroyer of peace,” as MT fantastically asserted to a dumbfounded audience when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize *. Believers are likewise enjoined to abhor and eschew divorce, but they are not required to insist that a ban on divorce and remarriage be a part of the state constitution, as MT demanded in a referendum in Ireland (which her side narrowly lost) in 1996. Later in that same year, she told Ladies Home Journal that she was pleased by the divorce of her friend Princess Diana, because the marriage had so obviously been an unhappy one …
This returns us to the medieval corruption of the church, which sold indulgences to the rich while preaching hellfire and continence to the poor. MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money
d all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?…
What is most intriguing is that in Veblen’s theory, even the medium and poorer classes are complicit in practicing publicized waste. A trickle down theory in which they reinforce the practices at the top. So, everyone becomes involved in a shallow form of giving, which is amplified at times like Christmas where there is a pre-ordained, scheduled, programmed sense that spiritual awareness,commodified, will be aroused given the heightened anxiety and desires in play over the conjunction of religion and commerce at this time.
…The rich world has a poor conscience, and many people liked to alleviate their own unease by sending money to a woman who seemed like an activist for “the poorest of the poor.” People do not like to admit that they have been gulled or conned, so a vested interest in the myth was permitted to arise, and a lazy media never bothered to ask any follow-up questions. Many volunteers who went to Calcutta came back abruptly disillusioned by the stern ideology and poverty-loving practice of the “Missionaries of Charity,” but they had no audience for their story. George Orwell’s admonition in his essay on Gandhi—that saints should always be presumed guilty until proved innocent—was drowned in a Niagara of soft-hearted, soft-headed, and uninquiring propaganda. Read More:http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2003/10/mommie_dearest.html