Hemley Gonzalez: The Truth About Mother Teresa
[Note: Please welcome Hemley Gonzalez to Daylight Atheism. Hemley is the founder of Responsible Charity, a secular non-profit organization serving the poor of Calcutta, which was a past beneficiary of the Foundation Beyond Belief. In this interview, he discusses his time as a volunteer with Mother Teresa's supposed charitable organization, how he became disillusioned, and how it inspired him to start a better alternative. See also my past post on the same subject. —Adam]
You used to be a volunteer with Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. What originally inspired you to volunteer? What did you think of her back then?
After the real estate market collapse of 2007, I decided to take some time off and get in touch with my compassionate and creative side. In 2008 I took a backpacking trip for several months throughout India. Before leaving the US I had read one of the authorized biographies on Mother Teresa which portrayed the organization as a beacon of hope, and I decided to split my time in India between backpacking and volunteering, giving them two months of my time and energy; it was then that I discovered the serious medical negligence that had been taking place for quite a while inside the organization and began to document and report the abuse I witnessed.
When did you first start to become disillusioned with her organization? What were some specific things you saw that changed your mind about them?
It happened almost instantly, literally on my first day volunteering. I was shocked to discover the horrifically negligent manner in which this charity operates and the direct contradiction of the public's general understanding of their work. Workers wash needles under tap water and then reuse them. Medicine and other vital items are stored for months on end, expiring and still applied sporadically to patients. Volunteers with little or no training carry out dangerous work on patients with highly contagious cases of tuberculosis and other life threatening illnesses. The individuals who operate the charity refuse to accept and implement medical equipment and machinery that would safely automate processes and save lives.
What, if anything, did you learn subsequently that cemented your opinion?
After further investigation and research, I realized that all of the events I had witnessed amounted to nothing more than a systematic human rights violation and a financial scam of monumental proportions. Not once in its sixty-year history have the Missionaries of Charity reported the total amount of funds they've collected in donations, what percentage they use for administration and where the rest has been applied and how. Since its inception, defectors of the organization and other journalists have placed the figure upwards of one billion dollars (and counting). The mission currently operates over 700 homes and maintains an average of 4,000 workers while consistently failing to provide statistics on the efficacy of their work.
What have you done to publicize your views about Teresa's organization since then? Has there been any kind of response?
When I returned home, I immediately began speaking up about all the negligence I had witnessed; I created a Facebook page so I could post the photos and notes of all that I documented during my time there and within months I was contacted by FORBES-India, who interviewed me last year and published a serious article pertaining the monumental medical negligence of this organization and as a result "the home of the dying" was immediately closed for "renovations" after the national circulation of the article.
Here's the link to the article: http://business.in.com/article/on-assignment/mother-teresas-legacy-is-under-a-cloud/15932/1
And the link to Kalighat before: /a>
And the link to a photo album of Kalighat now closed: /a>
What would you advise atheists to say when confronted by people who hold up Mother Teresa as a model of virtue?
Regardless of your personal beliefs; adoration of suffering, medical negligence and financial fraud are human right violations.
Mother Teresa's was NO ONE'S mother. This supposedly celibate nun's name was Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, an Albanian native who lived most of her life without speaking to her own family and proselytizing her religion under the disguise of charity. There is absolutely nothing normal or "saintly" about this.
Standing firm against planned parenthood, modernization of equipment, and a myriad of other solution-based initiatives, Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor but rather a promoter of poverty.
It was Mother Teresa's own admission during an interview that more than 23,000 people had died in the halls of the particular home I had worked in, as if boasting at the figure and missing entirely the point of the enormous compilation of unnecessary deaths.
Mother Teresa also repeatedly admitted that she was not a social worker, and her followers continue to assert the same to this day. So under what motives do they tend to the poor, you may ask? The mantra of the operation rests solely on the belief that suffering and poverty are ways of loving God, a seriously troubling statement to say the least.
How would you describe your personal beliefs today?
Disgusted and disappointed by my experience with the Missionaries of Charity, I began working in the slums alongside other friends and volunteers who also felt their efforts were positively and effectively changing the lives of those disadvantaged families we came into contact with.
After returning home, I began a campaign to raise awareness about the issues I experienced and the challenges the children of the Park Circus face daily, and thus Responsible Charity was born. Through a homegrown network of friends, family and volunteers in different regions of the world we are now beginning to gather donations which we can track and report on our website and show exactly the progress and help such funds allow us to administered to those in need.
Unlike some religious-based organizations which have no progressive plans in effect to educate and empower the children, women and men out of poverty, Responsible Charity would like to make advances in areas of education, planned parenthood and self employment.
I returned to Kolkata at the beginning of December last year. I felt a bit overwhelmed with the amount of necessity and tasks which Responsible Charity needed to take on to truly make a difference in the lives of several families in a slum in the City of Joy. But after a few days and a slow but sure readjustment to the pollution, weather and constant noise, things started to become clearer.
In the last 10 months, we have been able to gather a great wave of support from freethinkers, atheists and just plain compassionate human beings from around the world thus bringing their attention to the conditions on the ground for some of the children and their parents.
There are a lot more details than what I've listed below, please browse the albums on our Facebook page where we document our work and feel free to add and choose any of the tasks we've performed over the last 10 months.
Here's a quick list of all that we've accomplished thus far:
Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.
- Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
- Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
- Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.
Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco!
Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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