Abortion, Mother Teresa and El Salvador

‘Mother Teresa is a perfect example of the way in which a good person, moved to help others, can have her moral intuitions deranged by religious faith. Christopher Hitchens put it with characteristic bluntness:

[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.

While I am in substantial agreement with Hitchens on this point, there is no denying that Mother Teresa was a great force for compassion. Clearly, she was moved by the suffering of her fellow human beings, and she did much to awaken others to the reality of that suffering. The problem, however, was that her compassion was channeled within the rather steep walls of her religious dogmatism. In her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, she said:

The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion…. Many people are very, very concerned with the children in India, with the children in Africa where quite a number die, maybe of malnutrition, of hunger and so on, but millions are dying deliberately by the will of the mother. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today. Because if a mother can kill her own child—what is left for me to kill you and you kill me—there is nothing between.

As a diagnosis of the world’s problems, these remarks are astonishingly misguided. As a statement of morality they are no better. Mother Teresa’s compassion was very badly calibrated if the killing of first-trimester fetuses disturbed her more than all the other suffering she witnessed on this earth. While abortion is an ugly reality, and we should all hope for breakthroughs in contraception that reduce the need for it, one can reasonably wonder whether most aborted fetuses suffer their destruction on any level. One cannot reasonably wonder this about the millions of men, women, and children who must endure the torments of war, famine, political torture, or mental illness. At this very moment, millions of sentient people are suffering unimaginable physical and mental afflictions, in circumstances where the compassion of God is nowhere to be seen, and the compassion of human beings is often hobbled by preposterous ideas about sin and salvation. If you are worried about human suffering, abortion should rank very low on your list of concerns. While abortion remains a ludicrously divisive issue in the United States, the “moral” position of the Church on this matter is now fully and horribly incarnated in the country of El Salvador. In El Salvador, abortion is now illegal under all circumstances.

There are no exceptions for rape or incest. The moment a woman shows up at a hospital with a perforated uterus, indicating that she has had a back-alley abortion, she is shackled to her hospital bed and her body is treated as a crime scene. Forensic doctors soon arrive to examine her womb and cervix. There are women now serving prison sentences thirty years long for terminating their pregnancies. Imagine this, in a country that also stigmatizes the use of contraception as a sin against God. And yet this is precisely the sort of policy one would adopt if one agreed with Mother Teresa’s assessment of world suffering. Indeed, the Archbishop of San Salvador actively campaigned for it. His efforts were assisted by Pope John Paul II, who declared, on a visit to Mexico City in 1999, that “the church must proclaim the Gospel of life and speak out with prophetic force against the culture of death. May the continent of hope also be the continent of life!”

Of course, the Church’s position on abortion takes no more notice of the details of biology than it does of the reality of human suffering. It has been estimated that 50 percent of all human conceptions end in spontaneous abortion, usually without a woman even realizing that she was pregnant. In fact, 20 percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. There is an obvious truth here that cries out for acknowledgement: if God exists, He is the most prolific abortionist of all.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 13-14


8 thoughts on “Abortion, Mother Teresa and El Salvador

  1. “Mother Teresa is a perfect example of the way in which a good person, moved to help others, can have her moral intuitions deranged by religious faith.”

    And atheism is the act of taking something beautiful and trying to make it ugly.

  2. Reading the entire article is sometimes a prerequisite to understanding the gist of said article.

    As for “making things ugly”, is there any point to that statement? That is to say, I presume it is going to develop into an argument?

  3. I did read the whole article. It is an attempt to be an armchair moralist, arrogantly attempting to tear down Mother Teresa in order to try to advance a pro abortion agenda.

    Mother Teresa was right, when women cannot even respect and value the life within them, that makes a statement about the kind of society we are moving towards.

  4. if God exists, He is the most prolific abortionist of all.” – If someone wants to know about abortion on a grand scale, one need only go to the Bible’s description of the conquest of the Levant, where the Bible’s god ordered babies to be ripped from their mother’s bellies and slaughtered.

  5. Mother Teresa Did Not Feel Christ’s Presence for Last Half of Her Life, Letters Reveal

    Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who has been put on the “fast track” to sainthood, was so tormented by doubts about her faith that she felt “a hypocrite,” it has emerged from a book of her letters to friends and confessors.

    Shortly after beginning her work in the slums of Calcutta, she wrote: “Where is my faith? Even deep down there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. If there be a God — please forgive me.” In letters eight years later she was still expressing “such deep longing for God,” adding that she felt “repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal.”

    Her smile to the world from her familiar weather-beaten face was a “mask” or a “cloak,” she said. “What do I labor for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.”

  6. And atheism is the act of taking something beautiful and trying to make it ugly.” – I will grant you that the primary purpose of delusion is as a defense mechanism, intended to make life seem more beautiful than reality will often allow, but I contend that atheism simply involves removing the veil of delusion, revealing the reality beneath, and whether or not one sees reality as “ugly,” is largely a matter of perspective.

  7. Firstly, when you read up on some of the papers, essays and comments that have been published about abortion over the past twenty or thirty years, you will find that many liberal scientists, philosophers and journalists have expressed great concerns on the ethical problems related to abortion. And rightly so.

    You might, for instance, be surprised to learn that people like Christopher Hitchens were opposed to abortion; Sam Harris is also critical, he calls it an “ugly reality” and supports a number of measures to reduce the need of abortions in the US. Indeed, Harris is also very concerned that American girls are four to five times more likely to become pregnant, and consequently to have a baby, or to get an abortion – all as a result of conservative attitudes to sex education and the resulting taboo culture surrounding sex itself.

    Secondly, it is clear that – and especially when it comes to complicated ethical issues like abortion – there are no moral (and thus relevant) concerns brought forward by religious organisations in this debate. Consider the following “theological” problem:

    Embryos at this stage occasionally split, becoming separate people (identical twins). Is this a case of one soul splitting into two? Two embryos sometimes fuse into a single individual, called a chimera. You or someone you know may have developed in this way. No doubt theologians are struggling even now to determine what becomes of the extra human soul in such a case. Isn’t it time we admitted that this arithmetic of souls does not make any sense? (Harris 2006.)

    Thirdly, without wanting to underestimate the importance of having a scientific debate about the ethical problems concerned, consider the phrase “The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion”. Now, this is an unsound statement made by an ignorant and (with regard to this case) immoral person. – Suffering is not a gift, wretched poverty and dread disease are nothing to be pleased about; anyone who says otherwise is clearly not concerned with relieving fellow human beings of unspeakable misery. And whether your motives for doing so are dogmatic or psychotic, they are not worthy of consideration. Whether you think it is morally defendable or not when, for instance, a women has 150 cells (1/667th of a fly’s brain) surgically removed after she has been raped by her troglodyte half-brother – abortion is not the greatest destroyer of peace on earth.

    Had you read up on any of the above, you would probably not have argued that Harris is trying to “advance a pro abortion” agenda, quite the contrary. Instead, if anything, you would probably have come to the conclusion that Agnes Bojaxhiu was trying to advance not merely an anti-abortion agenda but also trying to uphold a misogynist culture set in the misery of inhumane poverty.

    Of course, we know that organised religion thrives in such desperate circumstances, and it is probably true to say that there will always be people like Agnes who will try to perpetuate that misery. And in doing so, no doubt there will be many people who, again like Agnes, will also try to make a solid load of cash to feather their own nests at the expense of the uneducated, illiterate, weak-willed and severely ill.

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