The Urban Legends of Mother Teresa

Haven’t we all been caught up in urban legends? Be honest. Most of us have been caught forwarding on a message of untruth to save our friends from impending doom. We were likely corrected by friends, but it didn’t help our feeling of embarrassment.

Calcutta Slums

For most of us, the error taught us three valuable lessons:

  1. Check your sources.
  2. Be a skeptic.
  3. Doubt yourself first.

Then there’s the friend who breaks all of these, like the guy who’s hating on Mother Teresa. He won’t let up. From behind his wife’s iPad and Facebook account, “Joel” has written nearly a book insisting Mother Teresa was a heretic. He hasn’t learned the three lessons most everyone else on the planet learned about urban legends.

Normally, I’d drop such foolishness and get back to life. I have better things to do. But I honestly feel that underneath this foolish Facebook exchange of the past couple days lies lessons that are worth remembering. If anything else, it’ll put to rest some floating lies about Mother Teresa.

1. Check Your Sources

Joel’s rant started with my wife. Wendy posted a quote from Mother Teresa that she read for her sister’s memorial service. Wendy had thought it helpful — and 99 percent of the people who read it probably did, too — but that didn’t stop Joel’s wife from publicly reminding Wendy that Mother Teresa was a “heretic” and a perpetrator of a “false gospel.”

Yesterday’s post goes into that, and you can dredge through that here.

Wendy and I (and quite a few other friends of Wendy’s) tried to correct Joel with simple FB responses, and it should have ended there. I thought Joel would go back to his wife’s iPad and perhaps check his sources. No, he didn’t. He doubled down and insisted that we (and most everyone else on the planet) didn’t know the “truth” about Mother Teresa.

As Bill Cosby said, sometimes you just have to give the ridiculous a try. Joel left a hyperlink to an external site that he claimed “explains Mother Teresa with her own words.” He insisted that this source would convince me and everyone on the wrong side of this Facebook debate. So I gave Joel the benefit of the doubt, and I visited the site, the one with Mother Teresa’s own words of heresy. Maybe Mother Teresa was really a heretic, and this site would set me straight.

Mind you: This was an honest-to-goodness, wholehearted attempt to take Joel seriously. I’m not being facetious here. This is how debaters think: they crawl inside the head of their opponent and try to see the world through those eyes. His link, according to Joel, would set me straight and prove to all my Facebook friends that Mother Teresa was evil.

Nine minutes. That’s how long it took me to see through the lies. I’m not sure why Joel didn’t. I actually grew angry as I read. I am troubled with this: how can anyone with an ounce of reason in their brains believe this crap?

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Seriously, nine minutes and I had the page — the one that would make me believe — torn to shreds. I tried, but I could not validate one of the site’s claims. Not one. It was hearsay and gossip. “Someone heard Mother Teresa say such-and-such”…and the reader was supposed to blindly believe. Even the so-called direct quotes (actually, there was only one) was nowhere to be found on a Google search. No citations or links to validate any of the site’s claims. Just links to other conspiracy sites.

I figured out why there were no citations. The author is a plagiarizer. A liar. The opening quote, the sole direct quote from Mother Teresa herself, was lifted from another site and pasted as her own. Total, utter, get-yourself-an-F theft of intellectual (or lack thereof) property. The “emphasis mine” is not hers, folks. She’s a thief and a liar.

And this author has hundreds of subscribers. That irritates me.

See where evidence fabrication gets you, boys and girls? This kind of rubbish gets you thrown from debate tournaments, or should. Being wrong isn’t a big deal, but insisting that you are not wrong by using fabrications and lies is insane, which I’ll get to in a minute. But first, a lesson that I believe should be considered by all reasonable thinkers…

2. Be a Skeptic.

Joel’s link convinced me of this: people believe what they want to believe. It seemed to not matter if this web page was full of lies. It validated Joel’s prejudices and he wanted to spread it far and wide. And in the name of Jesus.

I get myself into hot water sometimes when I insist that skepticism isn’t such a bad thing. People mistakenly think I mean doubt the bible or some tenant of the faith or some already-proven truth of some sort. They think I’m trying to lead people astray by claiming “doubt” to be okay.

Um, they’re right. I am encouraging doubt. Always question your thoughts and opinions and what you think is true. I have come to realize that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but rather fear. And those who wall themselves up within a barricade of so-called truth that cannot be questioned are really full of fear.

Perhaps to some, encouraging doubt is heresy. I suspect Joel is one of these “doubters of doubt.” Who knows, maybe he’ll double down yet again by attacking me with secluded bible verses about how bad it is to doubt. (I have a reply to that, by the way, where “unbelief” is different than doubt, but I digress.) My point now is this: Without doubt, you confuse belief with faith, and often end up victim to the most outlandish lies.

Joel should have doubted this site. It would have saved him some humiliation, and it would have saved me the time necessary to validate that which he should have done himself. But a deeper doubt should have set in, which is the third and final lesson of this drama…

3. Doubt Yourself First

I admittedly am getting worked up over this, but here’s why this is so important: Way too many Christians do this. They so desperately believe in that which is not true that they wall themselves up in prejudices, pride and falsity. When they claim to have the validation from God’s word (or, in Joel’s case, conspiracy websites), they are perpetuating lunacy.

Yes, lunacy. This is insane. Functional thought does not continue to wind itself up around an axle of fabricated lies. Somewhere in Joel’s line of thinking, the truth didn’t matter. All that mattered was the sacred belief that manifested on a wobbly lie — that Mother Teresa was a heretic of a false gospel — and he felt called to spread the lie as far as his fingers could type.

I’m writing this article with my audience in mind — subscribers to this site and typical folks who enjoy “training the mind for action” (1 Peter 1:13). Joel probably isn’t a subscriber, but he will likely read this post, or at least I hope he does. My criticism of you, Joel, is not because you’re a bad guy. I’m sure you and I would have a nice conversation if sitting around a campfire enjoying one another.

But you have been duped along the way. What you have insisted on believing is a genuine problem in the Christian community at large, and you are perpetuating the problem with your insane logic and conspiracy theories.

This is why I teach debate: to train young people the strategy of proper thought.

I was extremely proud of a few of the commentators in the Facebook thread. The ones who made the most sense were debaters. I love to gloat about the debate community I love because time and time again, debaters shine through as the stable, rational, persuasive ones in the bunch.

Perhaps some of them will take after the likes of Mother Teresa. The world would most certainly be a better place with more “heretics” like her.

Click on the following to view the exchange…

A final thought on Mother Teresa: she’s one of the most misquoted figures in current history. Check this website put together by her order of nuns, their attempt to set the record straight:

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Caleb DeLon

    I’ve been trying to post this comment on the other post regarding Mother Teresa, but it doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe it’s just my browser. Anyway, I decided to try this post instead. If it eventually ends up posting in both places, know that I’m not trying to spam. Just trying to overcome those bothersome technical difficulties.

    Chris, perhaps this article from Tim Challies will meet your credibility requirements. The following three paragraphs are an excerpt from the article, with the URL at the bottom.

    If you choose to read the article, and feel that it cites Mother Teresa’s words accurately, please also consider whether you owe Joel an apology for saying that he was only “choosing to believe”
    what he wanted to believe, saying that he was using a “strawman”, accusing him of “stirring up quarrels” and mocking him for being self-justifying behind an iPad (all these from your comments on Facebook). Chris, your behavior throughout this entire fiasco profoundly saddens me. I read many of the comments by others and see no disrespect toward you at all. Then I read your responses and see ridicule, mocking, and a seeming lack of love. I have no stake in this discussion. If you choose to vilify me I lose nothing. But for the sake of love and for the sake
    of your Christian witness, I entreat you to interact with the others as human beings created in the image of God and thus worthy of your respect. In my humble opinion, your treatment of this lady and her husband has been far worse than their treatment of Mother Teresa–even if you are totally in the right and they are totally in the wrong. Please, examine yourself.

    [Begin quote from Tim Challies]

    While she worked with the poor, Mother Teresa was adamant that any type of evangelism was unnecessary. In her book, Life in the Spirit: Reflections, Meditations and Prayers, she says:

    “We never try to convert those who receive [aid from Missionaries of Charity] to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men — simply better — we will be satisfied. It matters to the individual what church he belongs to. If that individual thinks and believes that this is the only way to God for her or him, this is the way God comes into their life — his life. If he does not know any other way and if he has no doubt so that he does not need to search then this is his way to
    salvation.” (Pages 81-82)

    With such a statement we can only be left believing that she was more than a Catholic, but was a Universalist, believing essentially that all religion leads to the same God. Time and again we see her expounding such universalist beliefs. In an interview with Christian News a nun who worked with Mother Teresa was asked the following in regards to the Hindus they worked with, “These people are waiting to die. What are you telling them to prepare them for death and eternity?” She replied candidly, “We tell them to pray to their Bhagwan, to their gods.”

    [End quote]


    • Thanks for finding the original source. It shows the plagiarizer plagiarized a plagiarizer. This article plagiarized this article that plagiarized this article.

      This somehow validates the conspiracy theories toward Mother Teresa?
      And I should apologize?
      For being mean?

      Caleb, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I don’t believe my words were poorly chosen.
      Drivel. Crap. Hatred. This is how I size up these sources.

      I can see how you think my word choice is ridicule or mockery, because it has been hard to control it. I think of it as a punctual and accurate rebuttal to mob-like gossip and slander toward a woman who is no longer alive to defend herself, and who only has her haters trying to take her loving work down. She doesn’t deserve this, and neither do her supporters who are surviving and continuing her good work.

      I’d do the same for you.

      • Caleb DeLon

        I understand where you’re coming from. I still think your replies have been a bit too caustic and have not shown the loving emphasis of your posts overall, but I’ll pursue the subject no further.

        So what’s your opinion of the Challies article? He quotes directly from one of her books and then from a magazine interview she did. Do you think Challies is fabricating sources, or would you accept their validity? If she truly did say, “We never try to convert those who receive [aid from Missionaries of Charity] to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence….”, how does that affect your opinion of her? While it doesn’t confirm what you call “conspiracy theories”, wouldn’t that at least indicate that she leaned toward universalism and didn’t necessarily place a high priority on sharing the gospel in order to convert those she ministered to?

        • I read the Challies article and think, “Surprise: Mother Teresa was Catholic.” The first half of the article attacks her for believing basic tenants of Catholicism. This isn’t revolutionary.

          I don’t own the book he references, and I couldn’t find it online (I found the plagiarized pieces from postdated articles when searching), so I’m not able to validate the words or the context of the words. Even so, I have two responses:

          1. I don’t trust the judgment from the article. He’s out to get Mother Teresa from the get-go, prove she’s a myth. The author, like the plagiarizers I exposed, stretches to site secondhand witness accounts, too, to prove the so-called universalist beliefs of MT. (Which, btw, MT never labels herself.)

          2. This quote is not nearly as damning as the author assumes. Okay, she doesn’t proselytize the starving people in her care centers, that isn’t a carnal offense. So, if this author read MT’s entire book and this is the worst he can come up with, I give MT a pass.

          • Caleb DeLon

            True. The first half of the article is largely irrelevant to the current discussion.

            How do you know that he made up his mind before he went and researched? Just because the article title comes first doesn’t mean he decided that beforehand, right? Otherwise you would be equally “biased” because you are out to support Mother Teresa from the get-go, based upon your article title.

            Okay, let’s disregard the secondhand accounts for the sake of argument, although I don’t think they can justifiably be ignored. If Challies does quote reliably from Mother Teresa, would you accept that as evidence in favor of her being a universalist?

            2. I agree that it isn’t a carnal offense. Doing good without proselytizing is still doing good. But it does confirm the point that she didn’t share the gospel, correct? Which, I think, is truly the main issue. If she didn’t share the gospel, we must not merely emulate her good works but also make sure that we (sometimes) share the gospel as well.

            Question: In your view, is meeting thousands of people’s temporal needs but never telling them how they can escape from eternal destruction truly loving? (Hypothetically, even if we end up deciding that Mother Teresa did share the gospel.)

  • Gary L Condon

    Interesting. I wonder if M T’s accuser was ever in Calcutta. I was and I saw and I believed. First hand info trumps all else.

    • Really? I’d love to hear more.

      • Gary L Condon

        1. The morning devotion time is a wonderful spiritual experience in which the Sisters sit on the floor and meditate, sing choruses (some of which I knew) hear a devotional from a Father. M T instructs the Sisters to stay until they have met with Jesus and are ready to face the day’s work. I always called it “waiting for Jesus”. The morning time usually last one to two hours. The nuns leave as they have “met….” 2. We visited, daily, and helped with the babies. And entertained older kids who were crippled and sick. The nuns are wonderful to be with and good to the kids. 3. M T’s work is validated in Calcutta by the close association with a large Assembly of God Church nearby. The AG’s have a hospital and school and other services. They have linked their work with the Sisters of Charity. I visited the place for an equivalent of three weeks over three separate occasions. The ministry is valid.

        • Wow, thanks for posting, Gary. I’m floored.

          Do you have a hyperlink that I can follow? There are a lot of phony stuff out there, but I’d appreciate a link to the real deal.