Monday, September 5, 2016

The miracle of Mother Teresa

Pope Francis made Mother Teresa a saint yesterday, on the basis of two miracles. But the real miracle is that people actually buy that bunk, here in the 21st Century.

Here's one of those 'miracles':
[Monica] Besra, who is from a tribal community in eastern India, was so sick she could barely walk when nuns from the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa, helped her to a small prayer room one day in 1998.

She paused by a photo of the nun and suddenly felt a “blinding light” emanating from the portrait, and it passed through her body. Later, other nuns pressed a religious medal on her belly, swollen from a tumor, and prayed over Besra as she lay in bed.

She says she awoke at 1 a.m., her body feeling lighter, the tumor seemingly gone.

“I was so happy at that moment I wanted to tell everyone: I am cured,” Besra recalled Wednesday during an interview at her home. ...

Mother Teresa was considered a living saint by many believers during her lifetime, but Besra’s story has always been treated with skepticism in India because doctors and the state health minister debunked it at the time.

They have long maintained that Besra had been suffering from a cyst, not a cancerous tumor. The doctors have said she recovered after she received tuberculosis treatment for several months at a government hospital in Balurghat, about 270 miles north of the city where Mother Teresa spent decades ministering to the destitute and dying.

“I’ve said several times that she was cured by the treatment, and nothing has happened,” one of the doctors involved, Ranjan Mustafi, said in a brief telephone interview.

But saints are big business for the Catholic Church - and very popular with their customer base. 'Mother Theresa' is also very popular, although she shouldn't be. But that popularity made it inevitable that they'd make her a saint.

Monica Besra probably believes what she says (although she's getting a lot of attention for this, and lying for attention certainly isn't unknown). Presumably, those really are her memories of 18 years ago (not that memories are reliable either, of course).

For what it's worth, her husband doesn't believe it:
All this irritates Monica's husband Seiku. "It is much ado about nothing," he says. "My wife was cured by the doctors and not by any miracle." He is peeved at his wife's fame, in part because the press is constantly at his doorstep. "I want to stop this jamboree, people coming with cameras every few hours or so." He concedes that the locket is part of the story of Monica's ordeal but says no one should suppose there was a cause-and-effect relationship between it and the cure. "My wife did feel less pain one night when she used the locket, but her pain had been coming and going. Then she went to the doctors, and they cured her." Monica still believes in the miracle but admits that she did go to see doctors at the state-run Balurghat Hospital. "I took the medicines they gave me, but," she insists, "the locket gave me complete relief from the pain."

Well, we all know faith-based people, don't we? Nothing will stop them from believing what they want to believe. And nothing will stop the Catholic Church from taking advantage of that.

The second 'miracle' accepted by the Catholic Church was that of a man who recovered from a brain infection after his wife supposedly prayed to Mother Teresa. (I've heard it called "multiple brain tumors," but it was apparently an infection that caused abscesses in his brain. That's how doctors diagnosed it, at least. There's always a question of how accurate any diagnosis might be.)

It was a serious condition, certainly. But the man was being treated for it in a hospital. Was the man's recovery remarkable? Perhaps. But was it miraculous? Why would you think so?

Think about this. When Catholics get sick, how many of them don't pray to get well? How many of their family members don't pray for them? And Mother Teresa has been very popular among Catholics for a long time.

Yet, given all this, the Catholic Church can only come up with two miracles (at least one of them extraordinarily dubious)? What about all of those people who prayed and their loved ones still died? What about all of those people of other religions - or no religion at all - who also had remarkable recoveries? Remarkable recoveries might be uncommon - since, otherwise, we wouldn't consider them to be remarkable - but they're perfectly normal.

There are seven and a half billion people in the world. Occasional remarkable recoveries - especially when under modern medical care - are exactly what we should expect naturally. There's absolutely nothing that points to a god here. Indeed, I'd say it's just the reverse. If praying to Mother Teresa - or anyone else - actually made a difference, it should be far more obvious than this!

After her death, we learned that even Mother Teresa doubted God:
Although she publicly proclaimed that her heart belonged "entirely to the Heart of Jesus", she wrote to the Rev Michael Van Der Peet, a spiritual confidant, in September 1979 that "Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and 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."

This is supposed to be a saint. How could she pray and find nothing but "silence and emptiness" if her god - this saint's god - really did exist? And yet, none of this makes any difference to true believers. Rev. Richard McBrien of the University of Notre Dame, for example, actually said, "This can only enhance her reputation as a saintly person..."

When even your saints can find nothing through prayer, and even that doesn't cause you to doubt your beliefs,... what would? Well, again, the faith-based tend to believe what they really, really want to believe.

And the Catholic Church will always use that (just as they use the Shroud of Turin, despite knowing for centuries that it's simply a medieval forgery, just as 'saints' don't even have to be real people).

I don't know. Maybe the celibate old men who run the church actually believe this stuff (being faith-based, themselves). Maybe they'll just cynically use whatever is popular with their customer base. I suspect that it's some of both.

But the real miracle of Mother Teresa is that people are still gullible enough to buy this bullshit. Even in our modern world, where scientific and technological advancements do cure people, there's still widespread superstition and just... astonishing levels of gullibility.

Well, it's easy to fool someone who really, really wants to be fooled.

Edit: I added the cartoon a few days after posting this. It was just too fitting.

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