Skip to content

Mother Teresa (4) vs. Sun Myung Moon

For yesterday, I’ll have to go with Gandhi, the original badass of nonviolence. Zbicyclist found this quote, “He propagated that . . . we should take only that which is required, in minimum quantity. We should not eat to appease our taste buds,” which implies that Gandhi shouldn’t pick the caterer—but that’s not an issue, we never have any special food with our seminars anyway.

Jonathan argued in favor of Kubrick based on this quote: “Well, you don’t make it easy on viewers or critics. You’ve said you want an audience to react emotionally. You create strong feelings, but you won’t give us any easy answers. That’s because I don’t have any easy answers.”

But, as a Bayesian, I do want easy answers, so this line of argument doesn’t work for me.

And now for today we have two people who’ve done a lot, but might not be very articulate seminar speakers. The nun is seeded #4 in the Religious Leaders category; Sun Myung Moon is listed under Cult Figures. For sheer spectacle, ya gotta go with the Moonies. On the other hand, with Mother Teresa we might see a documented miracle. According to Wikipedia, “In 2002, the Vatican recognised as a miracle the healing of a tumor in the abdomen of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, after the application of a locket containing Mother Teresa’s picture.”

It’s been 13 years, so maybe Teresa is up for another miraculous cure?

P.S. As always, here’s the background, and here are the rules.


  1. Nick says:

    Very interesting juxtaposition of a religious leader who was worth a fortune and thought himself divine versus one who lived a life of poverty and wrestled with her own faith. Mother Teresa has the better story and makes it though to the next round.

  2. Jonathan (another one) says:

    I would donate a life-critical organ to be able to watch a full-on debate between Mother Teresa and Christopher Hitchens, Unfortunately, I think the rules specify but one resurrection per seminar, although if Jesus had won his first round match….

    So let’s go with the Rev.

    • zbicyclist says:

      Christopher Hitchens would be another interesting nominee for a future brackets. Maybe we could have a famous religious skeptic category and put Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, and The Amazing Randi in there. Maybe skeptics and magicians so we could add Penn Jillette and Harry Houdini.

      I have to go with Moon. Mother represents the type of religious charisma I’m more familiar with (growing up Catholic). I never understood Moon’s appeal at all, and maybe this would explain it.

  3. Ken says:

    Moon’s wikipedia page describes him as a “religious leader, businessperson, political activist, and media mogul.” In my experience people with “rock star” status like this make for bad seminar speakers because they tend to be full of anecdotes and fluff, and light on rigorous empirical evidence. A famous but humble speaker like Mother Teresa may not be super rigorous, but she sure is more likely to have pretty compelling narratives and qualitative evidence. So I am going with Mother Teresa. And there is the added possibility that merely shaking her hand might shake off a grad student’s bout of writer’s block.

  4. paul alper says:

    I know very little about Sun Myung Moon but I speak from personal experience when I say that criticizing Mother Teresa in any manner is a sure way of getting people to edge away from you in a hurry. Nevertheless, here is some material most Americans are totally unaware of.
    Riccardo Orizio, an Italian journalist, wrote an intriguing book with the fittingly evocative title, Talk of the Devil [Secker & Warburg, London, 2003]. The book has interviews with seven deposed dictators–Amin, Bokassa, Jaruzelski, Hoxha, Duvalier, Mengistu and Milosevic. A recurrent theme with all of the fallen, is that they felt they did nothing wrong and–simultaneously–they were forced to do it. In a way, the book is disappointing because there is no index and it is hard to tell in what years the individual interviews were carried out. I had heard Orizio interviewed several times on the radio and his oral recounting of what it is to be in the same room with such monsters is more gripping than his writing. But what caught my attention was his casual mention on page 102, as if we are all aware of the circumstances and no elaboration is needed, of Mother Teresa’s connection with dictatorships. The author is talking with Enver Hoxha’s widow, Nexhmije Hoxha, in her prison cell:
    “I reminded her of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Albanian-born Roman Catholic nun who had made several controversial visits to the ‘eagle’s nests’ [Hoxha’s residence] under the Hoxhas. Mother Teresa was also a frequent guest of another infamous dynasty, the Duvalier of Haiti. In both cases, the saintly and venerated nun had had only smiles for her hosts, refusing to speak against them or their repressive regimes, one ferociously Stalinist, the other corrupted and capitalist.”
    ‘Mother Teresa was a true patriot. A great Albanian,’ said the Widow.”
    Then on page 111,
    “Mother Teresa, the pro-Hoxha and pro-Duvalier nun who lived among the lepers of Calcutta was dead, but her religious order had secured the right to open a branch in Tirana, next door to a Muslim charity. Her former protector Jean-Claude Duvalier was in exile in the South of France. The Albanian Socialist Party–founded by the Hoxhas in 1944–was about to be returned to the poor in its moderate, progressive and pro-European reincarnation.”
    The outstanding critic of Mother Teresa is Christopher Hitchens. His 1994 video can be found at The following question was put to him by Matt Cherry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, shortly before her death: “According to the polls, Mother Teresa is most respected woman in the world. Her name is a by-word for selfless dedication in the service of humanity. So why are you picking on this sainted old woman?”
    Why indeed? Hitchens says it is “the problem of credulity…in every sense it is an unexamined claim.” Among other charges leveled at her is that she has received “over a million dollars from Charles Keating, the Lincoln Savings and Loan swindler, even though it has been shown to her that the money was stolen.” As to her famous hospitals, “The care facilities are grotesquely simple: rudimentary, unscientific, miles behind any modern conception of what medical science is supposed to do.” And, “the facilities she runs are as primitive now as when she first became a celebrity.”
    But if not to the hospitals, where does the money go? A former worker for Mother Teresa’s organization alleges that it “collected at least $100 million per year.” According to that worker, country audits are either incomplete or not done. “One of the recipients is, however, always Rome.”
    Hutchen’s wrote a book in 1995 entitled, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, and made a television program delineating his criticism of her. The book–the title is a triple entendre according to Hitchens–received scant attention in America despite the subject matter. The television program was aired in the UK but never in the United States due to her untouchability. In fact, Hitchens says “it never will be. You can make that prediction with absolute certainty; and then you can brood on what that might suggest.”
    In her Nobel Peace Prize award speech she famously put abortion as the world’s number one enemy. “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.”
    As I wrote, I know very little about Sun Myung Moon.

  5. Tom says:

    With Moon we run the risk that we might all get accidently married to the person next to us. On the other hand, if we can invite a whole bunch of rich, good looking people to intersperse in the crowd where’s the bad?

    Moon all the way.

  6. Mark says:

    Moon, all the way… “t- t- t- talkin’ ’bout my generation”.

  7. Matt says:

    “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” ―Mother Teresa

Leave a Reply