Monday, 4 June 2012

Malcolm Muggeridge : You're not invited to my dinner party.

"If we did a good act merely from the love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? ... Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God."
 - Thomas Jefferson

I just finished watching an excellent televised debate posted by the saints at AtheistMedia blog:  The Full 'Life of Brian' Debate (1979).  I order you to watch it.

The Pythons were in it, but there was nothing at all funny about it.  It was, however, like a microcosm exhibiting the tension between freethought and dogmatic religion.  The one wishing to explore, ridicule and question, the other wishing to suppress anything of the sort.

John Cleese and Michael Palin were being attacked, rather viciously, by Malcolm Muggeridge, who was always seen as a hero in our household if memory serves.  He looks like a rather unpleasant fellow - I wouldn't invite him to my dinner party.

Arthur Mervyn Stockwood (aka Anglican Bishop of Southwark) was Muggeridge's wingman in this all-out assault.  He looks like he meant to dress up for a Spanish Inquisition with this big gaudy cross around his neck.  To be honest, he looks like a rather fun guy and I might have invited him to a dinner party if I wasn't four years old at the time.

This debate's been covered a lot lately, so I'll just cut to a part that caught me by surprise.  Muggeridge was trying to demonstrate that the character Jesus was alive and well in present day (1979) and that he had a direct effect on Christians.  He points out that Mother Teresa herself is inspired by Jesus all of her life:
I once asked her what was the difference between what she did and what social workers do. And she said, "Well the point is that social workers - very estimable people - but they do something, they serve their fellows for an idea. I serve my fellows for a person. And if that person wasn't there or if that person were in some way discredited then my work is over."
You can find the original video wound to the right spot here.

I was listening to the video at work during my lunch break.  I wonder if they could hear the woosh sound of rushing air as my head imploded.  What she said confuses me on some levels.  I seems like she is saying that the only reason she helps others is her belief that Jesus exists.  If that belief should someday evaporate then - well, what's the point of coming into work that morning, eh?  Why not take the millions the Sisters of Mercy have collected and take off to Tahiti?

So what about these social workers?  Apparently some idea is motivating them to help others.  He doesn't elucidate what this idea is precisely.  Maybe she's referring to Humanism?  Human compassion? Did she not comprehend empathy for the sufferings of others?  Would she just not give a damn about the suffering of others if she had lost her faith in Jesus?

Well I found this article on Mother Teresa's charity versus Princess Diana's compassion at the Catholic Education Resource Center.  Here's a little excerpt:
Mother Teresa had a favourite anecdote that starkly clarifies the difference between the two outlooks. "I never forget one day when I met a lady who was dying of cancer and I could see the way she was struggling with that terrible pain. And I said to her, I said, you know this is but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close to Him on the cross that He can kiss you. And she joined her hands together and said, 'Mother Teresa, please tell Jesus to stop kissing me.' " 
Undaunted, Mother Teresa continues. "This is the joy of suffering, the kiss of Jesus. Do not be afraid to share in that joy of suffering with Him because He will never give us more suffering than we are able to bear."
You can see her recounting this as a joke to a Catholic audience on this video.

After reading Christopher Hitchens' Missionary Position and watching the film Mother Teresa - Hell's Angel, I've come to believe that she is no saint - far from it.  I think she was a little sick in the head.  It's a sentiment I've seen frequently, especially growing up Catholic.  It's valuing suffering for suffering's sake rather than trying to comfort your fellow man.  I believe it's a difference of philosophy between Catholicism and Humanism (yes, there can be humanist Catholics - but they are a different breed than Mother Teresa - or probably Pope Benedict).

I won't go much further into it. Hitchens' does it for me.  It doesn't give me pleasure or any kind of glee showing this side of Mother Teresa.  It's unpleasant to look at and I wish it weren't so.

Likely what these social workers have that Mother Teresa thought she didn't have was the ability to do goodness for goodness sake.  Ban Barker writes about it elegantly here.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that Mother Teresa said what she said.  But the conviction and zeal with which Muggeridge recounted the story - that anyone could see this as something good - threw me off guard.  Atrocious!  If I fell into a time vortex to 1979 and threw a dinner party you aren't on my guest list!


  1. Great and enlightening article. I watched some of the infamous Python debate yesterday. Mother Teresa's ancedote is really sickening.

  2. Different perspectives - Malcolm Muggeridge treasures the time honoured Christian 'symbol' the crucifixion of Jesus (belief of God's once and for all death in incarnated human form saving humanity itself) - as Python points out - actually the form of execution was a common death penalty of the time for the common thief etc. - a manner significant for Christians in it's then contemporary insignificance. The Python work strips away at the doctrine, the made so holy imagery and allows the Christian to marvel at how insignificant the 1st Century Nazarene's death was to the system in place at the time. How extraordinary that Jesus' own crucifixion remains important to our culture - unlike the many like the fictional Brian crucified. I hope this 1979 interview and movie highlights an opportunity for Christians to have the sense to look at themselves as others see them - MM has a rooted Christian Catholic 'sacramental' viewpoint of things 'outward visible sign of an inward spiritual grace' - so as all things in his life - the image of the crucifixion is such a sign too - precious - Python acknowledge great respect for the inward - and I think it's very relevant to question the outward. How else do we make contact? Python challenge Christianity to be aware that outsiders see the outward and don't necessarily connect it with the inward. It must have always been this way but in this generation Python etc. have been free to open up the debate in an engaging entertaining way. Humour can save sanity.

  3. Thanks for this insightful comment, James. I think I will go back and watch that debate again with the Pythons.


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