Mother Teresa: Are Saints As Perfect As They Used to Be?
Mother Teresa will be canonized this Sunday, September 4th. What does it take to become a saint, and is the Vatican mistaken to not address Mother Teresa's flaws?
Saints are the highest tier of role models. In the early days of the Roman Catholic Church, Biblical heroes like Noah, Moses, and John the Baptist were shoe-ins for sainthood because of their great acts of faith. Later Christian heroes like Stephen (who was the first Christian martyr), Augustine (whose writings largely influenced modern Christianity), and Patrick (the missionary who brought Catholicism to Ireland) also easily fit the criteria for sainthood. Their deeds were without reproach. But today? Either people simply aren’t as perfect, or information is more accessible. Take Mother Teresa.
According to The New York Times, on Sunday September 4th Mother Teresa will officially be recognized as a saint by Pope Francis. The nun and missionary is best known for her feeding and providing basic medical care to poor children in Kalkota (formerly Calcutta), India. She also founded religious orders in over 130 countries to continue helping the poor and has inspired people all over the world with her deeds. She certainly sounds like a saint.
However the process of canonization, or officially recognizing someone as a saint, is more complicated than that. There are three criteria candidates have to meet before being officially considered for sainthood by the church, according to Free Republic.
Candidates need to be dead for at least five years in order to let any contrary evidence come to light (Pope John Paul II waived that requirement for Mother Teresa, reports the Portland Press Herald)
Candidates can’t have been officially worshipped as a saint
Candidates’ personal documents must be examined to ensure they faithfully served God
Once those criteria are met, there are several steps to becoming a saint. I found the best summary of them here.
Servant of God: As soon as the person is accepted for consideration, she’s called a Servant of God.
Venerable: After the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints determines that the servant of God lived a life of heroic virtue, she is granted the title of venerable. Heroic virtue doesn’t mean a person was perfect or sinless, but that she worked aggressively to improve herself spiritually and never gave up trying to be better and grow in holiness.
Blessed: After the Church establishes one miracle, the venerable person’s cause is presented to the pope to see whether he deems her worthy of being called blessed. This step is called beatification and is the next-to-last step.
Saint: Another miracle and the blessed person’s cause is presented to the pope again for his judgment. If he determines that the evidence is clear and that contrary reports aren’t credible, he may initiate the canonization procedure. If all goes well, the candidate is publicly recognized as a saint
Mother Teresa has gone through the entirety of that process thanks to Reverend Brian Kolodiejchuk. Kolodiejchuk is a Canadian priest and member of the Missionary of Charity Fathers. Since her death in 1997, Kolodiejchuk has acted as her postulator, an advocate who gathers evidence and pleads the candidate’s case. “They’re quite strict on these things,” Kolodiejchuk explained in The New York Times piece cited above.
He was specifically referring to the miracle verification process, which is rigorous. “In the India case for Mother Teresa [her beatification miracle], there were 11 doctors consulted, and only one was Catholic. The rest were Hindu. You don’t ask the doctors whether they think it’s a miracle. You only ask them “Can you explain this medically?”” If the doctors can’t, then the church declares the act a miracle. Because both miracles need to be performed posthumously and verified independently, doctors’ opinions can make or break a case for sainthood. “In Brazil, a postulator I knew on another sainthood cause received the news that the miracle he had put forth was rejected,” Kolodiejchuck told The Times, “so it isn’t automatic.”
Both Mother Teresa’s miracles passed scrutiny, but she still has her detractors. One doctor who doesn’t quite believe her is Dr. Aroup Chatterjee, a Kolkata native who now lives in London. Growing up in Kolkata, he was “bothered by the narrative surrounding Mother Teresa, beginning with the city’s depiction as one of the most desperate places on earth, a “black hole”,” according to The New York Times. Dr. Chatterjee’s experience of the city was completely different, “cosmopolitan, even moneyed,” he told The Times. His later work in the city’s slums also didn’t reflect the image of servitude cultivated by Mother Teresa: “I never even saw any nuns in those slums I used to work in,” he told The Times. “I just thought that this myth had to be challenged.”
So he spent hundreds of hours doing his own research. That research culminated in the 2003 book Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict. His findings were upsetting. For starters, he wrote there was a “cult of suffering” in the homes run by Mother Teresa’s Missions of Charity organization, “with children tied to beds and little to comfort dying patients but aspirin,” reports The Times. “Mother Teresa took her adherence to frugality and simplicity in her work to extremes, allowing practices like the reuse of hypodermic needles and tolerating primitive facilities that required patients to defecate in front of one another.”
That research inspired Dr. Chatterjee to make a documentary about Mother Teresa’s work. Titled Hell’s Angel, the film would ultimately be a scathing exposé presented by renowned skeptic Christopher Hitchens. For the next year, Dr. Chatterjee traveled the world and conducted over a hundred interviews. The Times reports that “Dr. Chatterjee heard volunteers describe how workers with limited medical training administered 10- to 20-year-old medicine, and blankets stained with feces were washed in the same sink used to clean dishes.”
There are also reports that Mother Teresa befriended “dictators like Enver Hoxha in Albania and Jean-Claude Duvalier of Haiti,” in order to obtain funding for her operations, The Times reports. Kolodiejchuk and the Vatican Congregation investigated all those allegations. “We have to take them seriously,” Kolodiejchuk said in The Times piece. “But some of it is mistaken information. Mother never took any money from Duvalier.” The team also discovered that the visit to Enver Hoxha was protocol for all foreign visitors.
Regarding the unsafe medical practices permitted by Mission of Charity, Kolodiejchuk and the Vatican team interviewed Christopher Hitchens, referencing “his movie” Hell’s Angels. They did not speak to Dr. Chatterjee, who conducted the interviews and gathered the information. The Times piece gives no reason why.
Despite being ignored by Kolodiejchuk and the Vatican team, Dr. Chatterjee's persistence in voicing his criticisms is paying off. The Missions of Charity have been literally cleaning up their act. “Several nuns have undergone training to ‘spruce up their medical background’ and the general upkeep of facilities has improved,” reports The Times. “Speech therapists and physiotherapists are regularly consulted to look after patients with physical and mental disabilities. And nuns say they frequently take patients who require surgery and more complicated care to nearby hospitals.” The reuse of needles was eliminated after Mother Teresa’s death.
Still, that the Roman Catholic Church wants to hold Mother Teresa up as a role model for the ages without having spoken to her largest critic is troublesome. By focusing on Mother Teresa’s image of caretaker to the poor rather than publicly addressing her flaws, the church seems old-fashioned at best -- and outdated at worst. With attendance in worldwide decline according to Pew Research, the Catholic church could do more to inspire its congregation. Painting its role models as people who did great things despite being flawed would be a great start. They missed an opportunity with Mother Teresa. Hopefully, it won’t be the last opportunity they get.
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.
Welcome to the world's newest motorsport: manned multicopter races that exceed speeds of 100 mph.
- Airspeeder is a company that aims to put on high-speed races featuring electric flying vehicles.
- The so-called Speeders are able to fly at speeds of up to 120 mph.
- The motorsport aims to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector, which could usher in the age of air taxis.
Credit: Airspeeder<p>To prevent crashes, Airspeeder is working with the companies Acronis and Teknov8 to develop "high-speed collision avoidance" systems for its Speeders.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"As they compete, Speeders will utilise cutting-edge LiDAR and Machine Vision technology to ensure close but safe racing, with defined and digitally governed no-fly areas surrounding spectators and officials," Airspeeder wrote in a <a href="https://airspeeder.com/news/2020/9/7/airspeeder-worlds-first-flying-electric-car-racing-series-partners-with-cyber-protection-leader-acronis-34g4k" target="_blank">blog post</a>.</p>
Credit: Airspeeder<p>Beyond motorsports, Airspeeder hopes to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector. This sector is where companies like <a href="https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/business-aviation/2020-01-07/hyundai-and-uber-announce-evtol-air-taxi-partnership" target="_blank">Uber, Hyundai</a>, and Airbus are working to develop air taxis, which could someday take the ridesharing industry into the skies. By 2040, the autonomous urban aircraft industry could be worth $1.5 trillion, according to a <a href="https://www.morganstanley.com/ideas/autonomous-aircraft" target="_blank">2019 report</a> from Morgan Stanley.</p><p>Still, many technical and regulatory hurdles remain. Matt Pearson, Airspeeder's founder and CEO, thinks the futuristic motorsport will help to not only speed up that process, but also pave the way for self-driving cars.</p>
Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.
Minimoons<p>Scientists have confirmed just two prior minimoons. One was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_RH120" target="_blank">2006 RH120</a>, which orbited us from September 2006 to June 2007. The other was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_CD3" target="_blank">2020 CD3</a>, which got stuck in the 2015–2016 timeframe, and is believed to gotten away in May 2020.</p><p>2020 SO, the new kid on the block, is expected to arrive in October 2020 and pop out of orbit in May 2021.</p><div id="37962" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4c0fc8a2cba6536ea4cd960ebed3e6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307729521869611008" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 - May 2021. Current nominal trajectory shows shows capture… https://t.co/F5utxRvN6Z</div> — Tony Dunn (@Tony Dunn)<a href="https://twitter.com/tony873004/statuses/1307729521869611008">1600621989.0</a></blockquote></div>
Identifying 2020 SO<p>The first clue 2020 SO isn't your ordinary asteroid is its exceptionally low velocity. It's traveling much more slowly that a typical asteroid — their <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank">average rate of travel</a> <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>is 18 kilometers (58,000 feet) per second. Even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rock" target="_blank">moon rocks</a> sent careening into Earth orbit by impacts on the lunar surface outpace pokey 2020 SO.</p><p>For another thing, 2020 SO has an orbital path very similar to Earth's, lasting about one Earth year. It's also just slightly less circular than our own orbit, from which it's barely tilted off-axis.</p><p>So, what is it? <a href="https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/" target="_blank">NASA estimates</a> that the object has dimensions very reminiscent of a discarded Centaur rocket stage from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Surveyor 2 mission</a> that landed an unmanned craft on the moon. Back in the day, rocket stages were jettisoned as craft were aimed toward their desired position. This stuff, if released high enough, remains in space. It appears that this Centaur rocket, launched in September 1966, is now making its way back homeward, at least for a little bit.</p><p>When 2020 SO arrives at its closest point in December, the rocket is expected to be about 50,000 kilometers from Earth. Its next closest approach is much further: 220,000 kilometers, in February 2010.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzMDk3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODg1MTQ1MX0.HGknDwqp0GmeuczKY_AS7vrPG7KMFUc_XO95tNoI2xo/img.jpg?width=980" id="e5cda" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="85eb1f790d8c3ee5b261f7ba13eaa5e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Centaur rocket stage" />
Centaur rocket stage
What we may be able to learn<p>Earthly space programs being as young as they are, scientists would love to know what's happened to our rocket during a half century in space.</p><p>While 2020 SO won't get close enough to drop into our atmosphere, its slow progress has scientists hopeful that they'll still get some kind of a decent look at it.</p><p>Spectroscopy may be able to reveal what the rocket's surface is like now — has any of its paint survived, for example? Of course, being out in space, it's likely to have been hit by lots of dust and micrometeorites, so the current state of its surfaces is also of interest. Experts are curious to know how reflective the rocket is at this point, valuable information that can help planners of future long-term missions anticipate how well a craft out in space for extended periods will remain able to reflect sunlight.</p>
From cryonics to time travel, here are some of the (highly speculative) methods that might someday be used to bring people back to life.
- Alexey Turchin and Maxim Chernyakov, researchers belonging to the transhumanism movement, wrote a paper outlining the main ways technology might someday make resurrection possible.
- The methods are highly speculative, ranging from cryonics to digital reconstruction of individual personalities.
- Surveys suggest most people would not choose to live forever if given the option.
Immortality and identity<p>The paper defines life as a "continued stream of subjective experiences" and death as the permanent end of that stream. Immortality, to them, is a "life stream without end," and resurrection is the "continuation of that same stream of experiences after an arbitrarily long gap."</p><p>Another key clarification is the identity problem: How would you know that a downloaded copy of yourself really was going to be <em>you? </em>Couldn't it just be a convincing yet incomplete and fundamentally distinct representation of your brain?</p><p>If you believe that your copy is not <em>you</em>, that implies you believe there's something more to your identity than the (currently) quantifiable information contained within your brain and body, according to the researchers. In other words, your "informational identity" does not constitute your true identity.</p><p>In this scenario, there must exist what the researchers call a "non-informational identity carrier" (NIIC). This could be something like a "soul." It could be "qualia," which are the unmeasurable "subjective experiences which could be unique to every person." Or maybe it doesn't exist at all.</p><p>It's no matter: The researchers say resurrection, in some form, should be possible in either scenario.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If no 'soul' exist[s], resurrection is possible via information preservation; if soul[s] exist, resurrection is possible via returning of the "soul" into the new body. But some forms of NIIC are also very fragile and mortal, like continuity," the researchers noted.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The problem of the nature of human identity could be solved by future superintelligent AI, but for now it cannot be definitively solved. This means that we should try to preserve as much identity as possible and not refuse any approaches to life extension and resurrection even if they contradict our intuitions about identity, as our notions of identity could change later."</p>
Potential resurrection methods<p>Turchin and Chernyakov outline seven broad categories of potential resurrection methods, ranked from the most plausible to most speculative.<br></p><p>The first category includes methods practiced while the person is alive, like cryonics, plastination, and preserving brain tissue through processes like chemical fixation. The researchers noted that there have been "suggestions that the claustrum, hypothalamus, or even a single neuron is the neural correlate of consciousness," so it may be possible to preserve just that part of a person, and later implant it into another organism.</p><p>Other methods get far stranger. For example, one method includes super-intelligent AI that uses a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyson_sphere#:~:text=A%20Dyson%20sphere%20is%20a,percentage%20of%20its%20power%20output." target="_blank">Dyson sphere</a> to harness the power of the sun to "power enormous calculation engines" that would "reconstruct" people who collected a sufficient amount of data on their identities.</p>
Turchin<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The main idea of a resurrection-simulation is that if one takes the DNA of a past person and subjects it to the same developmental condition, as well as correcting the development based on some known outcomes, it is possible to create a model of a past person which is very close to the original," the researchers wrote.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"DNA samples of most people who lived in past 1 to 2 centuries could be extracted via global archeology. After the moment of death, the simulated person is moved into some form of the afterlife, perhaps similar to his religious expectations, where he meets his relatives."</p><p>Delving further into sci-fi territory, another resurrection method would use time-travel technology.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If there will at some point be technology that allows travel to the past, then our future descendants will be able to directly save people dying in the past by collecting their brains at the moment of death and replacing them with replicas," the paper states.</p><p>How? Sending tiny robots back in time.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"A nanorobot could be sent several billion years before now, where it could secretly replicate and sow nanotech within all living being[s] without affecting the course of history. At the moment of death, such nanorobots could be activated to collect data about the brain and preserve it somewhere until its future resurrection; thus, there would be no need for forward time travel."</p>
Pixabay<p>The paper <a href="https://www.academia.edu/36998733/Classification_of_the_approaches_to_the_technological_resurrection" target="_blank">goes on to outline some more resurrection methods</a>, including ones that involve parallel worlds, aliens, and clones, along with a good, old-fashioned possibility: God exists and one day he resurrects us. </p><p>In short, it's all extremely speculative.</p><p>But the aim of the paper was to catalogue known potential ways humans might be able to cheat death. For Turchin, that's not some far-off project: In addition to studying global risks and transhumanism, the Russian researcher heads the <a href="http://immortality-roadmap.com/" target="_blank">Immortality Roadmap</a>, which, similar to the 2018 paper, outlines various ways in which we might someday achieve immortality.</p><p>Although it may take centuries before humans come close to "digital immortality," Turchin believes that life-extension technology could allow some modern people to survive long enough to see it happen. </p><p>Want a shot at being among them? Beyond the obvious, like staying healthy, the Immortality Roadmap suggests you start collecting extensive data on yourself: diaries, video recordings, DNA information, EEGs, complex creative objects — all of which could someday be used to digitally "reconstruct" your identity.</p>But odds are you're not interested. Although Turchin and other scientists are bent on finding ways to avoid death and extend life indefinitely, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/may/16/dying-still-taboo-subject-poll" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">surveys</a> <a href="https://quillette.com/2018/03/02/would-you-opt-for-immortality/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">repeatedly</a> <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutesvanity-fair-poll-the-afterlife/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">show</a> that most people would not opt to live forever if given the choice.