More Hitch and Terri

One or two items from Christopher Hitchens’s The Missionary Position.

When Malcolm Muggeridge did his 1969 BBC documentary about Ma Teresa, one day they were taken to what MT called ‘the House of the Dying.’ It was badly lit, and the director was doubtful they could film inside, but they had just received some new film made by Kodak, and the cameraman, Ken Macmillan, a very distinguished cameraman, Hitchens says, known for his work on Kenneth Clark’s Civilization, said let’s try it, and they did. Then when they got back to London and were watching the rushes they were surprised when the shots came up: they could see every detail. And Macmillan said ‘That’s amazing, that’s extraordinary,’ and was about to go on to say ‘three cheers for Kodak’ but he didn’t get a chance to say that. Muggeridge, in Macmillan’s words (page 27), “sitting in the front row, spun round and said: ‘It’s divine light! It’s Mother Teresa. You’ll find that it’s divine light, old boy.'” In a few days journalists started calling him saying they’d heard he’d witnessed a miracle. That’s good, isn’t it? Kodak comes up with a new film that works brilliantly in bad light – and Muggeridge declares it’s divine light. That’s like that all-too-typical incident Chris Whiley mentioned in a comment the other day, where doctors save a guy who was critically ill or injured by, you know, using their skill and knowledge and technology, and when the guy wakes up he thanks – the people who prayed for him. You’ll find it’s divine light, old boy.

Then there is what Dr Robin Fox, editor of The Lancet, said about his visit to the MT operation in Calcutta in 1994 (pp 38-9). He went, remember, expecting to be favourably impressed. But doctors were there only occasionally…

I saw a young man who had been admitted in poor shape with high fever, and the drugs prescribed had been tetracycline and paracetamol. Later a visiting doctor diagnosed probably malaria and substituted chloroquine. Could not someone have looked at a blood film? Investigations, I was told, are seldom permissible…Such systematic approaches are alien to the ethos of the home. Mother Teresa prefers providence to planning: her rules are designed to prevent any drift towards materialism.

Emphasis added, by Hitchens. But that’s quite something, isn’t it. And there’s more.

Finally, how competent are the sisters at managing pain?…I was disturbed to learn that the formulary includes no strong analgesics. Along with the neglect of diagnosis, the lack of good analgesia marks Mother Teresa’s approach as clearly separate from the hospice movement. I know which I prefer.

She had tons of money; money poured in in an avalanche; it wasn’t poverty that caused this kind of primitive treatment; it was principle. And this is saintly? What would devilish be then?

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