August 26, 2007

You know, there’s nothing like some news or interesting development on the classical religion front to show just how ignorant the mainstream dino-media is when it comes to organized religion in general, and Christianity in particular. For a long time now, I’ve come to expect nothing from Time Magazine worth even lining the botton of a bird cage with, but whenever they try and handle anything serious to do with Christianity, it’s always worth a read if only to be amused at both their take and the ignorance of their writers.

Take this article by David Van Biema published at and headlined “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith”, in which the writer discusses a soon-to-be-published book “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light”, containing all kinds of personal correspondence between Mother Teresa and several of her confessors – some of which provide new details of her long and dark years of struggle and despair with her faith and her God. Van Biema seems genuinely shocked – shocked, I tell you! – that someone as devout and Christ-loving as Mother Teresa could actually have periods of time where she (gasp!) struggles with her faith:

On Dec. 11, 1979, Mother Teresa, the “Saint of the Gutters,” went to Oslo. Dressed in her signature blue-bordered sari and shod in sandals despite below-zero temperatures, the former Agnes Bojaxhiu received that ultimate worldly accolade, the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance lecture, Teresa, whose Missionaries of Charity had grown from a one-woman folly in Calcutta in 1948 into a global beacon of self-abnegating care, delivered the kind of message the world had come to expect from her. “It is not enough for us to say, ‘I love God, but I do not love my neighbor,'” she said, since in dying on the Cross, God had “[made] himself the hungry one — the naked one — the homeless one.” Jesus’ hunger, she said, is what “you and I must find” and alleviate. She condemned abortion and bemoaned youthful drug addiction in the West. Finally, she suggested that the upcoming Christmas holiday should remind the world “that radiating joy is real” because Christ is everywhere — “Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and in the smile that we receive.”

Yet less than three months earlier, in a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. “Jesus has a very special love for you,” she assured Van der Peet. “[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak … I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand.”

The two statements, 11 weeks apart, are extravagantly dissonant. The first is typical of the woman the world thought it knew. The second sounds as though it had wandered in from some 1950s existentialist drama. Together they suggest a startling portrait in self-contradiction — that one of the great human icons of the past 100 years, whose remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God and who was routinely observed in silent and seemingly peaceful prayer by her associates as well as the television camera, was living out a very different spiritual reality privately, an arid landscape from which the deity had disappeared.

That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta, and — except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated. Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture” she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. “The smile,” she writes, is “a mask” or “a cloak that covers everything.” Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. “I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love,” she remarks to an adviser. “If you were [there], you would have said, ‘What hypocrisy.'”

If Van Biema had stopped there and used the despair and darkness Mother Teresa wrote about as a way to compare her life with other notable saints and mystics throughout the Church’s history who had also come to know what the 16th century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross [Ed. note: my all-time favorite saint, BTW] called “The Dark Night of the Soul”, that would not only have been understandable but expected. But no, Van Biema feels the need to use Mother Teresa’s inner turmoil as justification for bringing up the works of another writer, well-known athiest Christopher Hitchens (whose work, BTW, I also enjoy greatly) and his own recently-published book polemic against organized religion, “God Is Not Great”:

[Christian apologists and her supporters] assume that Teresa’s inability to perceive Christ in her life did not mean he wasn’t there. In fact, they see his absence as part of the divine gift that enabled her to do great work. But to the U.S.’s increasingly assertive cadre of atheists, that argument will seem absurd. They will see the book’s Teresa more like the woman in the archetypal country-and-western song who holds a torch for her husband 30 years after he left to buy a pack of cigarettes and never returned.

Says Christopher Hitchens, author of The Missionary Position, a scathing polemic on Teresa, and more recently of the atheist manifesto God Is Not Great: “She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself.” Meanwhile, some familiar with the smiling mother’s extraordinary drive may diagnose her condition less as a gift of God than as a subconscious attempt at the most radical kind of humility: she punished herself with a crippling failure to counterbalance her great successes.

I’ve bolded one of Van Biema’s sentences to simply call attention to the obvious anti-Christian slant he simply can’t resist dropping will-nilly into an otherwise thoughtful article. I mean, heaven forbid if any writer at Time – or any major mainstream media outlet in this day and age, for that matter – should ever write about religion (especially Christianity) or religious people without including some kind of snide remark or aside, or giving our atheist friends their own dagger to insert. After all, isn’t that what “fairness” and “diversity” is all about in the minds of the liberal elite?

A simple, more thoughtful response to the upcoming book comes from Michael Novak of National Review Online’s Corner blog, who writes:

To understand her condition better, as reported in Time, it is well to recall her two great predecessors in “the dark night,” those two Doctors of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux. It was for them that she was named, to mark her out early, as called to follow in their lineage. Virtually all serious Christians know this desert, and come to love it, as a place without illusions, and the best of all locations to stand in the darkling presence of God, who can neither be seen nor touched, heard nor smelled, tasted nor even imagined.

The nun in school stood over a five-year-old, asking her what she was drawing. “God,” the child looked up simply. “But no one knows what God looks like.” “They will now.”

The early Teresa (Spanish) and the later (French) are named Doctors of the Church for being, along with St. John of the Cross, the teachers nonpareil on the faith of adults, called to come especially close to God. It is like passing through fire.

The difference between mock journalism, as Van Biema employs in his Time article, and true journalism, as Novak practices is in getting the story straight and right, and communicating it both simply and succinctly. One reading of the two sentences I have bolded from each provides simple and ample evidence as to who is the purveyor of the ideal, at least in this case. Methinks Time and Mr. Van Biema could learn a lesson or two from Mr. Novak.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:19 | Comments Off on Time Shows Its Ignorance
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