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Christopher Hitchens - Hell's Angel

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Christopher Hitchens: All over this unhappy globe, there are heroic volunteers putting up a selfless battle on behalf of the wretched of the earth. But only one of these is considered to have invisible means of support, to be nothing less than a saint. What makes Teresa of Calcutta so divine? _ _ Reporter: Long before Mother Teresa's helicopter touched down the spot twenty past eleven this morning the crowds were gathering here at Knock. Priest: Among all of you who have made this pilgrimage to Knock this afternoon, we are privileged to have with us as a special guest at this mass a pilgrim who has come from afar. A woman who is worldwide symbol for goodness and holiness. Christopher Hitchens: Not many claims made by the Irish clergy are widely or uncritically accepted, even in Ireland. But the saintness of an Albanian nun named Agnes Bojaxhiu is a proposition that is accepted by many who are not even believers. Mother Teresa herself receives extravagant adulation as no more than her due. Cardinal: Of all the women in recent history, no one has captured the public imagination like Teresa of Calcutta. I’m not being facetious and I’m certainly making no comparison when I say that no woman has made such an impact here since our Lady herself appeared in 1879. (Applause) So, how did this auction of hyperbole and credulity get started? In that year of grace 1969, the scrupulously neutral and objective British Broadcasting Corporation committed that old fraud and mountebank, Malcolm Muggeridge, to pay a devotional visit to the Calcutta shrine. Malcolm Muggeridge: When after I met you in London, really the only thing I wanted to do was to come and see you and your work here. And I've seen it. and of course it's a… it's a shining light. (Babies crying) Himself arrogant, almost to the point of humility, Muggeridge became persuaded that he and his team had become the divinely appointed instruments of what he claimed was the first television miracle. Ken Macmillan: During “Something Beautiful for God”, there was an episode where we were taken to a building that Mother Teresa called “The House of the Dying” and Peter Chafer, the director, said “It’s very dark in here do you think we can get anything?” And we had just taken delivery at the BBC of some new film made by Kodak which we hadn’t had time to test before we left so I said to Peter “Well, let’s have a go” so we shot it. And when we got back several weeks later, a month or two later we are sitting in the rushes theatre at Ealing Studios and eventually up came the shots of the 'House of the Dying'. And... it was surprising: you could see every detail. And I said “That’s amazing, that’s extraordinary”. And I was going to go on to say, you know, “three cheers for Kodak” but I didn’t get a chance to say that though because Malcolm sitting in the front row spun round and said “It’s Divine Light! Mother Teresa! You’ll find that it’s Divine Light old boy!” And three or four days later I found I was being phoned by journalists from London newspapers who were saying things like “We hear you’ve just come back from India with Malcolm Muggeridge and you were the witness of a miracle”. (Choir) Christopher Hitchens: And a star... was born. This profane marriage between tawdry media hype and medieval superstition gave birth to an icon which few have since had the poor taste to question. It’s like... you’re actually seeing a living saint. Christopher Hitchens: Give a man a reputation as an early riser, said Mark Twain, and that man can sleep 'til noon. How does the reputation of Holy Mother Teresa look if, just for a moment, we switch off Malcolm Muggeridge’s kindly light? (City sounds) Mihir Bose: Mother Teresa is a Nobel prize winner, she’s a symbol, people in the West talk about her, so Indians adopt her at that level. The fact of what she does on the streets of Calcutta is really irrelevant to them, they couldn’t care about it and most of them don't even know, but Mother Teresa is the sort of figure you show to visitors. Christopher Hitchens: Mother Teresa’s flagship institution is her Home for the Dying a hospice, which purportedly sweetens the last moments of otherwise destitute lives. Mary Loudon: My initial impression was of all the photographs and footage I’ve ever seen of Belsen and places like that because all the patients had shaved heads. There were no chairs anywhere, there were just these stretcher beds and they were like First World War stretcher beds. There was no garden, no yard even, no nothing. And I thought “What is this?” This is... two rooms with 50 to 60 in men in one and 50 to 60 women in another. They’re dying, they’re not being given a great deal of medical care, they’re not being given painkillers really beyond aspirin and maybe if you're lucky, some brufen or something for the sort of pain that goes with terminal cancer and the things they were dying of. And I thought “What’s the point?” Mother Teresa: Right from the very beginning I wanted to serve the poor purely for the love of God. And to give them what the rich people get with money, I wanted to give to the poor for the love of God. Mary Loudon: They didn’t have enough drips, and the needles they use and reuse over and over and over, and you'd see some of the nuns rinsing needles under the cold water tap. And I asked one of them why she was doing it, and she said, “Well: to clean it”. And I said “Yes, but why you are not sterilising it? Why are you not boiling water and sterilising your needles?” She says: "There’s no point, there’s no time". Christopher Hitchens: Mother Teresa’s cult of death and suffering depends for its effect on the most vulnerable and helpless. Abandoned babies, say, or the terminally ill. Who supply the occasions for charity and the raw material for demonstrations of compassion. _ Mary Loudon: The first day I was there and I finished working in the women’s ward I went and waited on the edge of the men’s ward for my boyfriend who was looking after a boy of 15 who was dying, and an American doctor told me that she had been trying to treat this boy and that he had a really relatively simple kidney complaint that had simply got worse and worse and worse because he hadn't had antibiotics and he actually needed an operation. I don’t recall what the problem was, she did tell me, and she was so angry, but also very resigned which so many people become in that situation, and she said “Well, they won’t take him to hospital”. And I said “Why? All you have to do is get a cab, take him to the nearest hospital, demand that he has treatment, get him an operation". She said: "They don’t do it. They won't do it. If they do it for one, they do it for everybody”. And I thought, “But this kid’s 15". Christopher Hitchens: I ventured on my own pilgrimage to the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta in early 1980. Who could fail to be touched by the work of the orphanage? Not I. Though I did find myself a little put off by the mission’s motto: “He that loveth correction, loveth knowledge”. Bit of a workhouse ring to that, perhaps. But it was Mother Teresa herself who completed the wreckage of the effect. As we stood by the tiny cots she turned and said: “This is how we fight against abortion and contraception in Calcutta”. Now, it might be argued that a campaign against family planning is low on the list of Calcutta’s many pressing needs, but as a leading member of the Pope’s fundamentalist tendency on matters of sex and procreation, Mother Teresa has made this single issue into her global crusade. Mother Teresa: The greatest destroyer of peace today is the cry of the innocent, unborn child. If a mother can murder her own child, in her own room, What is left for you and for me? To kill each other. Christopher Hitchens: Tenderness about the unborn is an emotion that I share myself, but tenderness about the unborn also becomes an overly political matter when it’s preached by a presumably virgin who also campaigns against birth control. (Applause) Mother Teresa: Let us promise our Lady who loves Ireland so much that we will never allow in this country a single abortion. (Applause) And no contraceptives. Christopher Hitchens: Mother Teresa has no politics, so she maintains, and so many people believe, but when she came to London in 1988, ostensibly as an avocate for the homeless, she bent the ear of the Iron Lady and sought to steer her to the support a bill limiting abortion. The sponsors of that bill, who arranged the meeting, were in no doubt that her intervention was political. Mihir Bose: She’s not a party political figure but she’s a political figure in the sense that a) she is part of what may be called the Catholic agenda, the christian, broader christian, right agenda, and the Catholic Church has been following what is generally been considered a hard-line under the present Pope (John Paul II). Now, she’s part of that agenda and that is fairly political agenda, I mean, you know: no abortion, opposition to birth control. Ideas like that are fairly, you could say they would be contested in the political arena. And the second factor is that she is also part, if you like, of the Western agenda, the west as still part of the Third World. Christopher Hitchens: The rich world has a poor conscience. It wants, in fact it needs to think that someone, somewhere, is doing something about the Third World. And the Mother Teresa myth ministers to this desire. Mihir Bose: Here is a western woman who has forsaken her life, albeit whatever life she might have had in Albania, for sacrifice herself for the people of the Third World. It makes the West feel better, you know, this is one of us again once again rescuing the Third World. Christopher Hitchens: In the subliminal appeal that she generates there is something of the mission to the heathen, something of the old colonial outpost, and something of Florence Nightingale. While in the silent and abject demeanour of her patients, there is something of the deserving poor. The great white hope in this iconography takes on the big black hole. And the rewards are by no means all in heaven. For someone whose kingdom is not of this earth, Mother Teresa has an easy way with thrones, dominions and powers. Why do the rulers of this sinful and selfish world find her so awfully congenial? Is it because she returns the compliment? She may or may not comfort the afflicted but she has certainly never been known to afflict the comfortable. See her here posing with Ron and Nancy. Ronald Reagan: ... true essence citizens of the world. Mother Teresa is... Christopher Hitchens: The very hand that bestowed the medal of freedom on Mother Teresa armed and paid the death squads of Central America. Accepting the award, with her customary modesty, on behalf of all the world’s poor, she croaked: “I never realised that you loved the people so tenderly". I must say, I hadn’t noticed that either. Reagan’s proxies murdered, among many others, 4 American nuns and the Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador at the very moment that he was celebrating mass. But, visiting the slaughter house states of the region during that period, Mother Teresa found nothing untoward. "Everything was peaceful in the parts of the country we visited", she claimed, after touring the killing fields of Guatemala, adding for good measure: “I do not get involved in that sort of politics”. In 1984 a ghastly chemical spill from the Union Carbide plant in the Indian town of Bhopal took two and a half thousand lives and poisoned thousands more. This was an act, not of god, but of a negligent multinational corporation. Mother Teresa’s advice to the angry victims?: “Forgive, forgive”. Mihir Bose: What Mother Teresa's done, is she has accepted implicitly the idea that there’s nothing much you can do for the poor except take them off the streets. And you know: look after them. You cannot change their attitudes, you cannot make them feel that they have an ability they may even have the means to improve and change their lives. She’s not bothered with that agenda, she's only bothered with the agenda of trying to rescue their souls and make them a bit better before they go on to the eternal life, which is a very understandable, in fact a very old-fashioned Christian idea. It’s not a question of saying “How can we tackle the real problem of poverty?” Like most people who claim to be apolitical, Mother Teresa is in practice and in theory an ally of the status quo. And when the status quo is threatened, a trusted ally of the conservative forces. This places her in bold contrast to those, even among the religious, who have rejected the fatalistic and submissive conclusions about poverty that are promulgated by Catholic traditionalists like her. Jean-Bertrand Aristide: With our hands, with our life, with our love, we ask justice, we ask freedom, and we take justice. Because the justice is not like a gift which they give. No. Liberty, freedom: they don't give that. We have to take that, and in fact we go to the streets and we took our liberty, we took our freedom, asking for justice. Christopher Hitchens: The Roman Catholic hierarchy has never forgiven Father Aristide, the legally elected President of Haiti, whom it regards as a base heretic. For his efforts to chase the money-lenders from the temple, he was banished from his order and forbidden to serve mass. To the very last, the Vatican was the only foreign power to recognise the military junta that misruled Haiti. And the ground for this too was prepared by Mother Teresa. In 1980 she visited the island and accepted the Haitian Legion of Honour Award from 'Baby Doc' Duvalier. She found much to praise in his corrupt, dynastic regime, telling astonished reporters that she had, quote, "never seen the poor people being so familiar with their head of state as they were with the Duvaliers. It was a beautiful lesson for me", she simpered. “I’ve learnt something from it". The Haitian people, indeed, could not wait to get close to the Duvaliers, who in their turn moved forever to the French Riviera. Mother Teresa admires the strength of the powerful almost as highly as she recommends the resignation of the poor. When she visited her motherland of Albania, she appeared to take seriously St. Paul’s notorious assertion that “The powers that be are ordained of God” . The Albanian authorities had proclaimed the world’s first officially atheist state. They had persecuted all forms of worship except that of their leader, Enver Hoxha. No wit abashed, Mother Teresa laid a bouquet on Hoxha’s tomb. Not content with honouring a Stalinist murderer and death squad, she also bestowed a wreath on the monument of Greater Albania, a cause that was once smiled upon by Pope Pius IX and his friend Benito Mussolini. Albania is, for secular reasons, quite rich in orphans. So there was ample scope for an orphanage specialist to praise the institutions of the regime while keeping silent about its victims. If it sometimes seems that the Saint of Calcutta is never actually in Calcutta at all, this may be because she operates more as the roving ambassador of a highly politicised papacy. Vatican foreign policy has taken her from the shores of Lebanon, where the Roman Catholic militia perpetrated the mass murder of the Sabra and Shatila camps, to Nicaragua, where the Cardinal was the patron of the Contras, to Armenia, where she helped Mother Church gain a foothole in the Soviet Union. In return, the present Pope is known to have placed her on the fast track for canonisation. This is the kind of politics in which she does indeed get involved. Robert Maxwell’s genius self-promotion made a nice fit with Mother Teresa’s talent for fund raising. It became hard to decide which of the two was using which, or was it both? In the United States, Mother Teresa accepted well over a million dollars from Mr. Charles Keating, a right wing Catholic fundamentalist and anti-pornography crusader who was also a California savings-and-loan tycoon. Mr. Keating’s problem, was that he was using other people’s money. He’s now behind bars after the greatest scandal in American financial history. But while he was flying high, Mother Teresa flew right along with him. She got the use of his private plane, he got a personalised Mother Teresa crucifix which she used to store up treasure on earth. Why should the missionaries of charity have such a special vocation for work among the rich? And does Mother Teresa pick frauds because they need her help more than the honest billionaires? It’s not a question that she’s ever answered, but then, in the prevailing atmosphere of piety and adoration, it’s not a question that she’s ever been asked. The Teresa cult is now a missionary multinational with annual turnover in the tens of millions. If concentrated in Calcutta, that could certainly support a large hospital and perhaps even make a noticeable difference. But Mother Teresa has chosen instead to spread her franchise very thinly. To her, the convent and the catechism matter more than the clinic. Mother Teresa: Now we are in 105 countries and we have 500 convents all around the world without counting India, haha, beautiful. Christopher Hitchens: Modesty, simplicity, humility. By these canonical key words we are taught that we may recognise saints. Yet Mother Teresa regards herself as mandated by heaven, which is hardly modest. She lends spiritual solace to dictators and to wealthy exploiters which is scarcely the essence of simplicity. And she preaches surrender and prostration to the poor which a truly humble person would barely have the nerve to do. When she speaks about private or public morality, opposing family planning for example, or defining abortion as quite literally the greatest threat to world peace, she takes on the grim and tedious tones of the zealot and the fanatic. In a Godless and cynical age it may be inevitable that people will seek to praise the self-effacing, the altruistic and the pure in heart, but only a complete collapse of our critical faculties can explain the illusion that such a person is manifested in the shape of a demagogue, and obscurantist and a servant of earthly powers.

Video Details

Duration: 24 minutes and 22 seconds
Country: Colombia
Language: English
Director: Christopher Hitchens
Views: 12,213
Posted by: daosorios on Mar 29, 2010

Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice

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