Researchers dispell the myth of altruism and generosity surrounding Mother Teresa

Mar 01, 2013

The myth of altruism and generosity surrounding Mother Teresa is dispelled in a paper by Serge Larivée and Genevieve Chenard of University of Montreal's Department of Psychoeducation and Carole Sénéchal of the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Education. The paper will be published in the March issue of the journal Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses and is an analysis of the published writings about Mother Teresa. Like the journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, who is amply quoted in their analysis, the researchers conclude that her hallowed image—which does not stand up to analysis of the facts—was constructed, and that her beatification was orchestrated by an effective media relations campaign.

"While looking for documentation on the phenomenon of altruism for a seminar on ethics, one of us stumbled upon the life and work of one of Catholic Church's most celebrated woman and now part of our collective imagination—Mother Teresa—whose real name was Agnes Gonxha," says Professor Larivée, who led the research. "The description was so ecstatic that it piqued our curiosity and pushed us to research further."

As a result, the three researchers collected 502 documents on the life and work of Mother Teresa. After eliminating 195 duplicates, they consulted 287 documents to conduct their analysis, representing 96% of the literature on the founder of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity (OMC). Facts debunk the myth of Mother Teresa

In their article, Serge Larivée and his colleagues also cite a number of problems not take into account by the Vatican in Mother Teresa's beatification process, such as "her rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce."

The sick must suffer like Christ on the cross

At the time of her death, Mother Teresa had opened 517 missions welcoming the poor and sick in more than 100 countries. The missions have been described as "homes for the dying" by doctors visiting several of these establishments in Calcutta. Two-thirds of the people coming to these missions hoped to a find a doctor to treat them, while the other third lay dying without receiving appropriate care. The doctors observed a significant lack of hygiene, even unfit conditions, as well as a shortage of actual care, inadequate food, and no painkillers. The problem is not a lack of money—the Foundation created by Mother Teresa has raised hundreds of millions of dollars—but rather a particular conception of suffering and death: "There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ's Passion. The world gains much from their suffering," was her reply to criticism, cites the journalist Christopher Hitchens. Nevertheless, when Mother Teresa required palliative care, she received it in a modern American hospital.

Questionable politics and shadowy accounting

Mother Teresa was generous with her prayers but rather miserly with her foundation's millions when it came to humanity's suffering. During numerous floods in India or following the explosion of a pesticide plant in Bhopal, she offered numerous prayers and medallions of the Virgin Mary but no direct or monetary aid. On the other hand, she had no qualms about accepting the Legion of Honour and a grant from the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti. Millions of dollars were transferred to the MCO's various bank accounts, but most of the accounts were kept secret, Larivée says. "Given the parsimonious management of Mother Theresa's works, one may ask where the millions of dollars for the poorest of the poor have gone?"

The grand media plan for holiness

Despite these disturbing facts, how did Mother Teresa succeed in building an image of holiness and infinite goodness? According to the three researchers, her meeting in London in 1968 with the BBC's Malcom Muggeridge, an anti-abortion journalist who shared her right-wing Catholic values, was crucial. Muggeridge decided to promote Teresa, who consequently discovered the power of mass media. In 1969, he made a eulogistic film of the missionary, promoting her by attributing to her the "first photographic miracle," when it should have been attributed to the new film stock being marketed by Kodak. Afterwards, Mother Teresa travelled throughout the world and received numerous awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance speech, on the subject of Bosnian women who were raped by Serbs and now sought abortion, she said: "I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing—direct murder by the mother herself."

Following her death, the Vatican decided to waive the usual five-year waiting period to open the beatification process. The miracle attributed to Mother Theresa was the healing of a woman, Monica Besra, who had been suffering from intense abdominal pain. The woman testified that she was cured after a medallion blessed by Mother Theresa was placed on her abdomen. Her doctors thought otherwise: the ovarian cyst and the tuberculosis from which she suffered were healed by the drugs they had given her. The Vatican, nevertheless, concluded that it was a miracle. Mother Teresa's popularity was such that she had become untouchable for the population, which had already declared her a saint. "What could be better than beatification followed by canonization of this model to revitalize the Church and inspire the faithful especially at a time when churches are empty and the Roman authority is in decline?" Larivée and his colleagues ask.

Positive effect of the Mother Teresa myth

Despite Mother Teresa's dubious way of caring for the sick by glorifying their suffering instead of relieving it, Serge Larivée and his colleagues point out the positive effect of the Mother Teresa myth: "If the extraordinary image of Mother Teresa conveyed in the collective imagination has encouraged humanitarian initiatives that are genuinely engaged with those crushed by poverty, we can only rejoice. It is likely that she has inspired many humanitarian workers whose actions have truly relieved the suffering of the destitute and addressed the causes of poverty and isolation without being extolled by the media. Nevertheless, the media coverage of Mother Theresa could have been a little more rigorous."

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More information: The printed version, available only in French, will be published in March 2013 in issue 42 of Studies in Religion / Sciences religieuses.

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antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (9) Mar 01, 2013
"Given the parsimonious management of Mother Theresa's works, one may ask where the millions of dollars for the poorest of the poor have gone?"

That's an interesting question - and one that should be asked earlier when the next 'saintly/humble' figure emerges.

Because the people who benefitted from her will certainly try this stunt again (and if not they then someone who was close to the organisation, and saw the windfalls, will).

That she wasn't all she was cracked up to be became clear with the publishing of the biography by her personal biographer in 2004.
frajo
3.5 / 5 (8) Mar 01, 2013
One can only hope that the PR stunt called "mother Theresa" fabricated by the right wing bunch of usurpers of power over uneducated masses within the RCC turns out to be a historic blow - overdue since centuries - against its inventors.
But it's quite interesting that the non-conservation of the rules of the beatification process happenend during the reign of an outspoken conservative pope (John Paul II, beatified himself by the outspoken conservative Benedict XVI).
Let's see whether they will need another 500 years (as in Galileo's case) to acknowledge the facts.
antialias_physorg
3.8 / 5 (10) Mar 01, 2013
One can only hope that the PR stunt called "mother Theresa" fabricated by the right wing bunch of usurpers of power over uneducated masses within the RCC turns out to be a historic blow

Don't count on it. Believer aren't noted for critical thinking abilities (or intelligence).
If they swallow a cry of "it's a miracle" without batting an eye then they'll swallow anything.
geokstr
2.1 / 5 (22) Mar 01, 2013
"The description was so ecstatic that it piqued our curiosity and pushed us to research further."

Gosh, I wonder when the leftists in media and academe will get curious about another prominent individual they worship but who has never been researched - Obama. Instead, they cover for him, excuse him, attack anyone who disagrees with him.

This "research" article is "science" related how exactly? It is just another thinly-disguised political attack on someone whose organization the left sees as a threat, and therefore must be destroyed. I'm a lifelong atheist, yet I can easily see the distortion and manipulation in this. Sure she wasn't perfect, but the Obamas are?

kochevnik
3.7 / 5 (10) Mar 01, 2013
Gosh, I wonder when the leftists in media and academe will get curious
As opposed to that sewer from which your thoughts spring?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.5 / 5 (8) Mar 01, 2013
Well the church was founded on a grand fiction - that some obscure traveling magician was also a god. Whether the man Jesus existed or not, his persona was imbued with the aggregate qualities of a number of earlier godmen, which hitchens, maher, and many others have shown.

So Jesus was a fabrication, a forgery, like so many of the books in the bible. And charlatans throughout the ages have taken the lead. Padre pio used to pour acid on his hands to make the rubes think he was channeling the Christ.

In knowing these things how can anyone believe the promises about wish-granting and immortality?

A nice rendition of the godman myth
http://www.youtub...a_player
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.5 / 5 (8) Mar 01, 2013
This "research" article is "science" related how exactly?
I would think that conservatives and liberals alike can be honest, reasonable people who are willing to examine the evidence and believe what it tells them. The evidence tells us that the bible stories didn't happen, that Jesus was a poor copy of earlier myths, and any religion based on these fabrications must be intrinsically corrupt.

Because in spite of the evidence, they all maintain that the books were written by omniscient gods who were the only source of goodness and moral authority, and so could not lie. So either these gods were less than omniscient and they lied through ignorance and pretense, or they intended to lie. Or more likely, they were invented for purely human reasons.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.9 / 5 (7) Mar 01, 2013
It is just another thinly-disguised political attack on someone whose organization the left sees as a threat, and therefore must be destroyed. I'm a lifelong atheist
-So then act like one. Examine the evidence, realize that the woman was a phony, and CONDEMN the religions which are corrupt enough to be willing to stage this sort of deception time and again, at the expense of the innocent and the weak.
http://www.youtub...a_player
kochevnik
3.7 / 5 (7) Mar 01, 2013
Jesus loved wine and the company of hookers. Somehow that message is lost on catholic pederasts
julianpenrod
2.8 / 5 (9) Mar 01, 2013
There is an article available through NPR right now asking where three quarters of the nearly hundred billion dollars to help rebuilding in Haiti went. I've mentioned it a numebr of times before, "charities" cannot be trusted to be the beneficent agencies they play themselves up to be. The money goes to the directors' salaries and what fraction goes to "the suffering" doesn't go to them, it goes to corporations to provide subpar "product" and substandard "services". Mother Theresa was an engineered entity. If she wasn't awarded the Nobel Prize for "charity", she would never get the notoriety she did. Like Barack Obama, coming out of nowhere to give the keynote speech at the Democratic Convention. This may cause this not to be printed or to be removed, but, all fabricated frauds, like September 11, "Hurricane" Sandy, the failing of the levees and, face it, Newtown.
MandoZink
5 / 5 (5) Mar 01, 2013
Damned strange article to appear in a science site, but then again Mother Theresa was a damned strange incongruity to appear as a religious icon. She was a highly regarded positive influence given the myth of benevolence and compassion, while the unseen reality was that she conveyed a thoughtless disregard and careless detachment from other's misery. She considered suffering to be a virtue and found purpose in gathering together and lording over the unfortunate in inadequate conditions. As a former Catholic, I found it to be an exercise in futility to inform her admirers of this glaring contradiction.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.1 / 5 (9) Mar 01, 2013
strange article to appear in a science site
"...a paper by Serge Larivée and Genevieve Chenard of University of Montreal's Department of Psychoeducation"
LARIVÉE, Serge, Doctorat de 3e cycle en psychologie...Épistémologie, fraudes scientifiques et pseudosciences.

-I think that in a real language this means he is a phd in psychology and he debunks frauds and pseudoscience. The scientific examination of fraudulent superstition is certainly appropriate subject matter on a science site.

Mother theresa was an agent of the institution which is content to treat the symptoms of poverty while condemning efforts to address the causes of it; those being the education of women and the promotion of family planning, contraception, and the right to choose abortion.

These factors are the only reasons that pop growth has stabilized in the west. Elsewhere the subjugation of women causes overpopulation, and with it suffering, oppression, and war; things which religions thrive upon.
julianpenrod
2.4 / 5 (11) Mar 01, 2013
It should be mentioned, though, that, despite the evident faults and flaws of Mother Teresa, identifying them does not necessarily make those attacking her any the more noble or ethical! A tragic mistake a great many make, opting for the "white hat/black hat" analysis of a situation. Depicting one person as evil autoimatically makes the person condemning them appear holy in many people's eyes. As here, it is often a case, rather of "two mad dogs". This is not so much a criticism of Mother teresa but, rather, a "science" based attack by proxy on religion. Note the condemnation of mistreating the sick, while denouncing her stance against abortion which is direct killing. She is attacked for being secretive about monies obtained, yet would the "researchers" attack major corporations for not revealing their total resources or Bush and Obama for maintaining secrecy? And, while she accepted a medal from Duvalier, Donald Rumsfeld was hugging Saddam Hussein.
Pratyeka
2.4 / 5 (7) Mar 01, 2013
"This "research" article is "science" related how exactly?

It's in the "social sciences" you moron.
cantdrive85
2.9 / 5 (9) Mar 01, 2013
Egotistical, greedy, sadistic bitch!
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.1 / 5 (11) Mar 01, 2013
identifying them does not necessarily make those attacking her any the more noble or ethical!
...wait for it...
while denouncing her stance against abortion which is direct killing
Whap. Religions make abortion necessary by restricting womens freedom and declaring contraception immoral. Religions are constructed to maximize growth and aggression by relegating women to the sole task of making and raising babies. Teddy roosevelt called it 'warfare of the cradle'.

In todays world the only alternative to abortion is war. ONE BILLION abortions in the last century, along with family planning programs, are the only things which have kept the west at peace.
http://www.johnst...tion/#SU

Julian would only have kids grow up to die in the streets or on the battlefield as they are at present throughout the religion-dominated middle east.

You want to end abortion julian? Then end the religions which make it inevitable. Which is ALL of them.
Shakescene21
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 01, 2013
This piece is only Science in the negative sense that it attacks an icon of the Catholic church, which many scientists consider to be an enemy of Science. That's a long stretch and it distracts from the many wonderful scientific articles in Physorg. Science is at its best as a positive force for improving our knowledge, our environment, and ourselves.
ValeriaT
3 / 5 (4) Mar 01, 2013
This piece is only Science in the negative sense that it attacks an icon of the Catholic church, which many scientists consider to be an enemy of Science
Why to ideologize historical facts? Of course, I wouldn't like such a articles at the PhysOrg too. It changes gradually into Google news, which work at quite different business model.
praos
2.6 / 5 (10) Mar 01, 2013
Such virulent attacks on anybody have nothing to do with science. Is this a science site or a rabid political rag?
Claudius
2.1 / 5 (7) Mar 01, 2013
It always is a shock to see these relatively recent religious figures exposed for what they are. Even more shocking is how so many allow themselves to be deceived.

It is only because their origins are lost in antiquity that the major religions have not been similarly exposed.
Neinsense99
2 / 5 (6) Mar 01, 2013
"Science is at its best as a positive force for improving our knowledge, our environment, and ourselves." Why do you not include in that rigorous analysis of institutions, movements and societal constructs that have real influence on the reality in which science must operate?
antialias_physorg
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 02, 2013
This piece is only Science in the negative sense that it attacks an icon of the Catholic church, which many scientists consider to be an enemy of Science.

So science should then be forbidden from analysing icons? Science should be forbidden from publishing results some people don't like?

There is no 'science in the negative sense'. Science is science. If you can't deal with the results then that is not science's fault.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (5) Mar 02, 2013
There is no 'science in the negative sense'. Science is science.
We know about many "evil scientists" cases from movie and books, which indicates, that the science isn't always positive factor. The ignorance of cold fusion on behalf of another research projects, which would maintain more jobs and research position in science is such an example of negative science. Another example is maintenance of potentially dangerous experiments with viruses or LHC collider at the Earth. The risk is high, the utility is very low in this case, the overall effect is negative.

For me the science and research is just necessary effort, which we must exert for to maintain the progress of human society in similar way, like the growing of plants and farming the animals. The science naturally drains the money from another human activities, so we should manage the money introduced into research as effectively as possible.
ValeriaT
3 / 5 (4) Mar 02, 2013
The rationalization of scientific research shouldn't be considered as the religious activity targeted against science. Actually it should be perceived like the introduction of more scientific approach into scientific research itself. This research currently has no safety or economical priorities - it just consumes as much of money, as it can get in given moment because such attitude just helps the lobby of scientists in its free uncontrolled growth. The contemporary grant agencies do support the project proposals not because they can be usefull for the rest of civilization, but because it can attract another people and money into research itself. The string theory isn't popular by its results, but just with the fact, it can bring the jobs for many mathematicians, which couldn't get such an employment otherwise. The science organized in this way doesn't serve the people, who are paying it,but the people who are getting the money

We have no science about science priorities developed yet
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (2) Mar 02, 2013
After all, the Holy Church passed such a historical evolution too. At its beginning it helped to save the European culture against attacks of Islam. But it did abuse this historical role gradually and it become an obstacle for further progress of European civilization. The situation of mainstream science with respect to latest findings (cold fusion, magnetic motors) is very similar to stance of Holy Church during the renaissance (Giordano Bruno, Galileo and many others) - it's over-occupation problem.
antialias_physorg
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2013
We know about many "evil scientists" cases from movie and books, which indicates, that the science isn't always positive factor.

That's the people - not the science.
People may be evil , and scientists are people.

It's like atheletes. There can be evil atheletes. Is what they do therfore no longer athletic (or 'evil athletitc')?

That there are issues people should refrain from (in sports and science) because it goes counter to ethics is not in question.

But UNCOVERING that someone goes counter to moral/ethics is not one of these issues. UNCOVERING the fact that some people/activities are a con is a SERVICE to humanity. Be it Mother Theresa, religion in general, or cold fusion.
isj
1 / 5 (1) Mar 02, 2013
To cite as example wikipedia "She was the recipient of numerous honours including the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. She refused the conventional ceremonial banquet given to laureates, and asked that the $192,000 funds be given to the poor in India. Her awards include the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, the Philippines-based Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Pacem in Terris Award, an honorary Companion of the Order of Australia, the Order of Merit from both the United Kingdom and the United States, Albania's Golden Honour of the Nation, honorary degrees, the Balzan Prize, and the Albert Schweitzer International Prize among many others."

For sure _all those_ are mentally impaired catholic fanatics, but hopefully the world have Ms. Serge Larivée who blessed us (opss) with his excellent analysis. A bit of critical thinking?
theskepticalpsychic
1 / 5 (2) Mar 02, 2013
My father was an agnostic and my mother was an Episcopalian with strong attachment to the figure of the Virgin Mary. Both recognized the sociological, ethical, and intellectual benefits of exposing us 5 kids to religion and permitting us to decide for ourselves how much or how little we wished religion to be part of our lives. Both also recognized the importance of giving us a good education in math, sciences, language, and history. All of us ultimately rejected organized religion, but 3 of the 5 of us adopted some form of spiritual belief and practice without contradicting or invalidating our rational interests. Just saying.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (2) Mar 02, 2013
That's the people - not the science. People may be evil , and scientists are people.
Because the science is always made with people, you cannot separate their negative aspects from negative aspects of science. Without it we could claim easily, that the catholicism, socialism or national socialism were basically correct ideologies - just the people involved made them wrong. After all, Mr. Jesus urged to love all people and His children, just Mrs. Theresa favored the Christian ones. She actually violated one of the primary Christianity rules in this way.
tbrt
5 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2013
"Don't count on it. Believer aren't noted for critical thinking abilities (or intelligence)."

Yeah right, Isaac Newton was such a moron.
verkle
1 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2013
I am not an avid supporter of Mother Teresa, and have some doubts about her. But this article is trash. It belongs in the opinion column of the Huffington Post.

antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2013
Without it we could claim easily, that the catholicism, socialism or national socialism were basically correct ideologies

For socialism I would claim this to be so. Catholicism -and religion in general- is based on untenable assumptions (so is nationalism, BTW)

Communism is great. Socialism is great. Even capitalism is great.

IF and ONLY IF done correctly.
feralblue
1 / 5 (1) Mar 06, 2013
I heard about "Mother" Theresa a long time ago. She would only treat people who accepted her religion or else they would be turned away. some saint !!!!!
i think it's a travesty that she has been sainted. although, if she is a saint to the 'church', it says a lot about them doesn't it!
Amaroq
1 / 5 (1) Mar 07, 2013
Researchers didn't dispel any "myth", so much as confirm the truth about altruism. It's a morality that calls for self-sacrifice. It calls for suffering. Is it any wonder Mother Theresa glorified suffering? It would have been in those peoples' self-interest for their suffering to be relieved. By letting them suffer, she was making them sacrifice, which was moral in her eyes. Like Jesus, she glorified them not for any happiness they could achieve, but only for what suffering they could achieve.

Nobody practices altruism anymore. Nobody can without dying a slow, poverty-ridden death. But we still glorify sacrifice as an ideal. Benevolence is not altruism. Even though we've rejected religion, we still haven't rejected religious morality. Businessmen are demonized for pursuing their self-interest, and anyone who suffers and dies for someone else's sake is glorified in our culture.

Question the morality of self-sacrifice, and check out Ayn Rand's morality of rational egoism.
Diana Ratnagar
not rated yet Mar 09, 2013
About 30 years ago, an animal welfare person wrote Mother Teresa requesting her to help stray dogs. Her refusal to do so would have been understood since her focus was on humans, but her writing that the dogs should be killed not only surprised us but made us wonder about her goodness. Saintly persons have reverence for all life, not only humans and their fetuses.