The Failings of Religion (Chantal Babin)

  (24 March 09)

The Failings of Religion


Chantal Babin ponders the (lack of) ethics
behind a recent book on Mother Teresa.



If not the tangible proof of a god, high moral values, one would have thought, should be what religions have to bring. But it ain’t so.


Amongst the highest moral values there are respect and honour. Respect follows consideration; when it comes to relating to another human being, it is wise to respect them, even more so if one wants to be honoured and respected in return. Indeed, respect works best as a value applied reciprocally.


Restricting the notion of honour to honouring only one’s father and mother, as advised by the Ten Commandments, is obviously narrow. Honour as a moral value should apply to all relationships: friendships, intimate relationships, work relationships etc… Likewise, respect can sustain all human relationships. All one needs is to honour and respect another’s basic humanity. These two moral values of honour and respect belong to human ethics for those human beings who lead a balanced life. Moving through life with honour and respect as our core ethics is a guarantee to tread sensitively in our relationships, personal or social, in our immediate environment and in the larger world.


My pondering over higher values such as honour and respect was prompted by Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk’s book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, a compilation of Mother Teresa’s letters to her confessors and superiors, letters that she had specifically asked to be destroyed. Probing into Mother Teresa’s private letters to her confessors with such a lack of honour and respect raises concern about the ethics of religions’ representatives.


Growing up as a Roman Catholic myself, like Mother Teresa did, from a very young age I was made to confess my sins to a priest. I remember being terrified beforehand: confessing having pinched an extra lolly from the pantry behind my Mum’s back when she had said “Enough!”, was called stealing. Having told a friend who wanted to borrow a schoolbook that I had left it at home (for fear of needing it myself) when it was in my school bag, was called lying. These were my sins, at least the only ones I could think of.


Stealing a lolly was a capital sin, or so I was told, one for which you burn in hell. I was frightened, but I was also reassured that after confessing my sins to a priest I would be absolved. It took courage to confess to a priest, to present oneself in the raw, but I was assured of confidentiality. All my sins would remain known only to god, to my confessor and to myself, but no one else. I was told I could trust my confessors, so I did.


The chances are that Mother Teresa was told the same from a very young age, and that she trusted too. Although, for her to have made a specific request for her letters to be burned after her passing she obviously was losing trust, doubting her confessors’ ethics ] and it appears her doubt was justified.


The fact that Mother Teresa helped the down]and]out for many years feeling a complete absence of God makes her mission even more remarkable. After all, losing faith would be easy, living daily amongst leprosy, poverty, starvation etc. Working at the heart of such an ill]fated people’s community, one must question the presence of God, as well as his/her role. It is understandable that Mother Teresa’s religious beliefs were shaken.


I can remember meeting many people whose faith has been shaken by less; my own faith, for instance, was shaken by far less. Mother Teresa, after having lost faith, kept to her mission diligently for many years. How noble! If God was not with her it proves that she acted purely from her good human heart. Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk failed to see that; so did all of Mother Teresa’s confessors and supervisors who divulged her letters and betrayed her – I think this can be called betrayal. If respect were a moral value at the core of Mother Teresa’s confessors’ ethics, her shaken faith would have remained unknown to us; it would have been kept as a secret between God, her confessors and herself.


The fact that she is dead should not make a difference. Even beyond the grave, as someone’s memory lives on, higher moral values of honour and respect should still prevail. Do we not bestow awards posthumously?


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