Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sacred Cow

I have learned, through bitter experience, that there are some things I dare not bring up at even the most boring of dinner parties. It is simply not worth it. It is not worth the inevitable tirades, the abuse, the threats and the eventual injured silences. Somehow, certain topics just seem to trigger it all off. Like ... Satanism, for example.

There, I have said it. I'm sure you won't be surprised to discover that all sorts of people, from all walks of life live in constant dread that their children and other loved ones are going to end up, unwittingly, in some terrible, bloody sacrifice to Satan, before which, they will attend raves, wear black, take drugs and burn a couple of crosses and bibles. The words to bandy about in this regard, are "pentogram", "coven" and "high priest" etc. Cats also seem to feature prominently and there is always someone who actually knows someone who was involved in this sort of thing.

On television, it gets one better. There you will find some rather begraggled looking creatures, with funny squares dancing all over their faces to protect their identity, saying how they were involved in a "coven" and then this and that happened and eventually, tired of drinking cat's blood, they saw the error of their ways and became converted to Christianity. You know the story.

Satanism is not a good topic at a dinner party, no matter how dispassionately you may hope to approach it. It is not worth taking the chance. It is probably better to avoid religion altogether.

Having said that, let me hoist myself on my own petard. Mother Theresa. Now there is a fairly safe religious topic if ever there was one. Or is it? The woman is now formally recognised as a Saint. She was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. If you are looking for an almost perfect example of what it means to live a life of self-sacrifice and Christian virtue, then you point at her.

I remember from my teenage charismatic days, how we were fed on a fairly solid diet of Something Beautiful for God a dewy-eyed 20 minute film made by Malcolm Muggeridge, on the exclusive subject of Mother Theresa. I remember thinking, even then, that it was a bit strange for us to be venerating a Roman Catholic nun - because at the same time, we were being told that the pope was the anti-christ and that Roman Catholics worshipped idols.

I now understand what the connection was between us and her. We were all in the business of furthering a very extreme form of fundamentalist and mostly fairly right-wing Christianity. So we could, for the moment, overlook the fact that she was in some way, connected to the pope. Maybe, even the pope was, in some way, connected to Christianity! It was all a bit contradictory as far as the pope was concerned - but not with Mother Theresa, about whom there was never any doubt.

Closer inspection, however, reveals some fairly unsaintly aspects to the Mother Theresa phenomenon. Like, for example, she seemed to pop up in support of extreme right-wing dictatorships all over the place - like the notorious Duvalier family in Haiti. Like the fact that she intervened to support the Irish Catholic Church during the divorce referendum, when it threatened to deny the sacrament to women who had been divorced. To her, it didn't matter what the circumstances were. You could be married to a man who beat you to a pulp and raped your children on a nightly basis.There would be no exceptions. That was the position of Mother Theresa, the Saint.

I remember when she arrived in South Africa, when apartheid was still in full swing. She made not a single statement about it (which for a Saint, you will agree, was a little bit odd). All she seemed interested in getting, was monetary support the house which she was setting up for her Order in the country.

Her Order, of course, is worth a fortune.Evidence from a former member of the Order, who was once in charge of Mother Theresa's bank accounts in New York, estimated then (and it was many years back!) that the account held in excess of $50m in that account alone. Now that, let us be frank, is not what would easily be defined as poverty.

But what was the money spent on? Maybe there we would find the clue to saintliness, despite the fact that public audits appear not to be easily available.

Well, the money is not spent on medicine, or drugs, or treatment of any kind. That is not what Mother Theresa was into at all. She was interested in providing a place for the poor to die with dignity. The point being, if you were doing anything other than dying, you would be in big trouble if one of the Sisters of Poverty got hold of you.

Mother Theresa had the view that the suffering of the poor is something very beautiful and that the world is enriched by the nobility of this suffering and misery. All this perceived nobility and stuff is the reason why Mother Theresa did not allow the use of something as basic as pain-relievers in her clinics, not medical treatment of any kind. Now, to my mind, that is not only horrible, it is downright evil.

This might be some of the reason why she herself might have been a little reluctant to go to one of her own clinics when she had a health problem. Her health problem required very sophisticated surgery and the very best of medical skill - which included, one can only presume, a pain-killer or two every now and again. She was reluctant to go to one of her clinics, because she didn't want to die in the same way she allowed others, who were less fortunate than she was. And all in the name of that noble cause called the suffering of the poor!

The truth of the matter is that the millions and millions of Dollars which she regularly received were not spent on relieving the suffering of the dying - well not in medical terms anyway. They appear to have been spent on the upkeep and guaranteed posterity of her Order so that more people like her could find some sort of crazy notion of nobility in the misery of the poor, who cannot afford the medical care which members of the Order receive as a matter of course.

It was a weird sort of saintliness, and frankly, I never bought it.

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