The Missionary Position

The Missionary Position

Although there has been a great deal of talk about Christopher Hitchen's work since his recent death, no book has been discussed more than his biography, of sorts, of Mother Teresa, The Missionary Position. It's a slim volume with a somewhat ridiculously sensationalistic name that has only one thesis: Mother Teresa was not a saint, and the work she did was not actually charitable.

The book makes two not entirely well supported arguments for this. First, Hitchens said, the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's order) have a lot of money that they keep in accounts and never use for poor people. The second claim is that the work that they do is so influenced by Catholic theology that it can't really relieve suffering.

Although some information has come to light about the finances of the Missionaries of Charity since Hitchen's book came out, the actual information about the finances of the Missionaries of Charity that Hitchens provides is not entirely convincing. He interviewed Susan Sheilds, a former Missionary of Charity but she she wasn't obviously able to provide bank account numbers or other independent documentation. The point of view of one eye witness is not enough to base a whole book on, although Hitchen sure tries.

The second argument Hitchens makes about the Missionary of Charity attitude towards suffering and the way it informs their choices in providing the care for the people entrusted to them certainly seems valid. However, it is written in some a hyberbolic way (did the Missionaries of Charity always re-use syringes and needles multiple times? That's a claim that doesn't even make logistical sense) that it's hard to take his claims seriously. Although Hitchens' book opened up the social room to question the work of Mother Teresa, the book less a feat of investigative journalism and a more a screed.