It matters when Mother Teresa doubted God's existence

by Visakha Kawasaki, Kandy, Sri Lanka, The Buddhist Channel, Dec 16, 2007

Many thanks to Ven. S. Dhammika for his thought-provoking article on “Dhamma, Doubt, and Mother Teresa,” a cogent discussion of some important questions about blind faith and the possibility of morality without a creator god. Such questions are always relevant, especially for Buddhists.

The letters disparaging Ven. S. Dhammika’s article tend to distract from his pithy observations about the nature of religious belief, Christianity in general, and Mother Teresa in particular.

Of course, it mattered to Mother Teresa whether there was a God or not! For most of her life, she was plagued by doubts of God’s existence, and, for someone whose vocation and entire life was supposed to be “Christ-centered,” God’s existence was not irrelevant. In 1955, she wrote, "The more I want him — the less I am wanted." A year later she sounded desolate: "Such deep longing for God — and ... repulsed — empty — no faith — no love — no zeal. — [The saving of] Souls holds no attraction — Heaven means nothing — pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything." (Quoted from the review in Time Magazine)

Mother Teresa did not help the poor because she wanted to help the poor. She did it for Jesus, to whom she was “married.” She established the Missionaries of Charity because she had been “ordered” to do so and for his “greater glory.” Some might call this exploitation of the destitute and dying. In a letter to Jesus, she wrote, “If this brings You glory — if souls are brought to you — with joy I accept all to the end of my life.”

From a Buddhist point of view, wrong view is not a minor matter. It is disingenuous to sweep these issues under the rug of political correctness, claiming that we shouldn’t examine or discuss other religions, or intention, or faith vs. confidence. No believer of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Hinduism really believes that another religion has the same answer or an equally valid one; nobody supposes the old saw about all roads leading to the same mountain peak applies to his faith.

Buddhists should examine and question everything. After all, we have a charter of free thinking – the Kalama Sutta.

For those of us who have cheerfully dispensed with the oppressive, illogical, and unnecessary concept of a creator god, Mother Teresa’s doubts are perhaps the most appealing aspect of her life.

As a Buddhist and an internationalist, I feel no compunction in criticizing her work, her tyrannical manner, her dubious fund-raising, or her approach to social work and medicine. I have long believed that anyone who could look at the miserable bustees of Kolkata and condemn birth control must be either insane or malevolent. But isn’t the Judeo-Christian conception of God either incompetent or unspeakably evil?

Ven. S. Dhammika’s comparison of a believer to an alcoholic is telling. There is no refutation for those determined to believe; everything counts as proof for those who are cannot face their doubts honestly.

Buddhists are fortunate that the Teacher never traded in illusions, promises, or panaceas. He taught us to look at the nature of things directly in order to understand it as it really is. What will we see?

The world is swept away.
It does not endure.

The world offers no shelter.
There is no one in charge.

The world has nothing of its own.
One has to pass on, leaving everything behind.

The world is insufficient, insatiable,
A slave to craving.
--Majjhima Nikaya (82)
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