Review: “The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice”

Every Wednesday, Culture Clash will feature a few must-reads across different genres. Dive in with a good book. (Illustration by Kathy Hagedorn)

Every Wednesday, Culture Clash will feature a few must-reads across different genres. Dive in with a good book. (Illustration by Kathy Hagedorn)

Ryan Mancini

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Last week Mother Teresa was canonized by the Catholic Church, making her a saint. She was known to many for having lived a life dedicated to stopping poverty and recognized for being charitable.

The late British journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, however, saw Mother Teresa differently. Her work and her dedication to the poor had a sinister purpose, Hitchens believed.

Published in 1995, the provocatively titled “The Missionary Position” starts with Hitchens’ criticism of Mother Teresa accepting an award from the authoritarian regime of Haiti. He stressed the hypocrisy of such a respected individual who reportedly called for tolerance being welcomed and uncritical of Haiti’s leader, Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Following this, he criticizes a BBC documentary that favors the notion that Mother Teresa had involvement in a miracle. This was later understood to be an accidental effect of a new Kodak camera.

Subsequently, he follows this with criticism on the efforts made by Mother Teresa and other Catholic nuns who helped the suffering people of Calcutta, India, many of them dying from terminal illnesses such as AIDS. The health conditions were so horrendous that he suggests Mother Teresa favored poverty and did almost nothing with her international donations to make poor places better to live.

The example of unsanitary medical equipment led Hitchens to further question Mother Teresa’s ethics and actions on behalf of God.

Not only did she have international acclaim from world leaders, ranging from Ronald Reagan to Princess Diana, she also issued in front of the United Nations a formal condemnation against abortion and contraception. As someone in favor of both of these, Hitchens saw this as demoralizing and debilitating to comprehend.

He believed that countries with a growing mortality rate and increasing poverty was tied to population and healthcare, including abortion and contraception. To Hitchens, Mother Teresa’s vehement opposition was against everything she purportedly stood for, but was in alignment with the Catholic Church.

Hitchens followed this book with the polemical documentary “Hell’s Angel,” which can be watched here on YouTube.

Hitchens’ writing and reporting are clear and eloquent. Having read a large majority of his material, this book is highly recommended for its ability to maintain a thorough argument against a consistently beloved human being.

Though it is a short read, there is an ongoing ferocity with each page, making each revelation about Mother Teresa the more damning. His criticism was not about having fun against someone, but the proper thing to do against someone he insisted was a fraud.

This book can easily be recommended for religious studies majors, as well as political science students with a focus on interest groups and policymaking.