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The Missionary Position

Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice

By Christopher Hitchens
10-minute read
Audio available
The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice by Christopher Hitchens

The Missionary Position (1995) tells the true story of the famous nun known as Mother Teresa. These blinks explain how a convincing yet false myth formed around this historic icon whose work and motivations weren’t as noble as we’ve been led to believe.

  • People interested in Catholicism
  • Students of religion or modern history
  • All readers interested in the story the mainstream isn’t telling

Christopher Hitchens was an English author, debater and journalist. A self-proclaimed socialist, Hitchens often took controversial positions on famous public figures. In his later years, he became famous for his anti-religious writing and strong support for the Iraq War, before passing away in 2011.

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The Missionary Position

Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice

By Christopher Hitchens
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice by Christopher Hitchens
Synopsis

The Missionary Position (1995) tells the true story of the famous nun known as Mother Teresa. These blinks explain how a convincing yet false myth formed around this historic icon whose work and motivations weren’t as noble as we’ve been led to believe.

Key idea 1 of 6

Mother Teresa’s rise to media stardom was based on incorrect information.

Have you ever heard of Agnes Bojaxhiu? Well, you might know her better by a name she adopted later in life: Mother Teresa.

She was born in Albania in 1910 to a religious Catholic family. At 18, she became a nun and, one year later, moved to India. By 1948, she was opening homes and hospices for the poor, the sick and the dying, first in Calcutta, then across the globe.

Teresa’s work with the poor was the subject of widespread praise in the Western press throughout her life, but, upon closer inspection, it’s clear that this fame rests on false premises. Here’s how.

Her initial rise to international fame followed the release of a 1969 BBC documentary featuring her work. However, the film was based on the incorrect assumption that Calcutta was one of the vilest places on earth. This idea was propagated by the wide dissemination of images depicting people asleep on sidewalks and trudging through overcrowded streets.

The reality was very different. Calcutta was no worse than other cities of comparable size in India or other developing nations. It was crowded and poor, but it was also full of hardworking people, excellent universities and vibrant culture. Nonetheless, the film’s depiction of the city as a living hell served to reinforce the saintly image of Teresa’s work at what she called her “House for the Dying.”

Not just that, but the same documentary depicted a supposed miracle, which was definitely not what it seemed. This so-called divine event occurred when a mysterious light, with no discernible source, appeared in a scene filmed in a darkened room at Teresa’s House for the Dying.

The narrator of the film, Malcolm Muggeridge, was sure it was a divine light and the first recording of a miracle performed by Teresa. This story was widely spread by the media and rapidly launched Teresa into stardom.

Years later, the cameraman, Ken Macmillian, said that the light was simply caused by new Kodak film, but by then the miracle was firmly planted in the public conscience, and Teresa was a household name in the West.

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