On Sunday September 4 2016, Catholic nun Mother Theresa was canonised by Pope Francis for her work amongst the poor and sick in Calcutta, and two miracles attributed to her involving the apparently inexplicable curing of cancers.
As part of the celebrations the poor of Rome were treated by the Pope to a lunch of pizza, which, as a few of us agreed on Twitter, can be deconstructed to loaves and fishes if it contains anchovies.
It was with some disbelief that I watched media reports of this event showing great crowds of people rejoicing. There are still so many enslaved by religious delusion? I had thought it largely replaced by reality TV.
My chain of association led me next to Karl Marx:
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.*
I don’t know that anyone has put it better: the demand to give up illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions. How many situations are there to which that insight might be applied?
Mother Theresa did not always enjoy good press. The late Christopher Hitchens, for example, was scathing, claiming in a piece titled “Mommie Dearest” that it wasn’t the poor she was interested in but rather poverty itself, which she used as a vehicle for her extreme right-wing religious views. Her habit of ensuring the dying were baptised into her church, no matter what their religious beliefs or lack of them, did not endear her to many of the living.
For me, the term “canon” refers to a patriarchal hierarchy of literary works, or, with two “ns” the final crescendo of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Associations here lead me back to the time when my sons were young and the 1812 was used by the defence forces in a recruitment drive. This didn’t fool those boys who sang in joyful unison whenever the advertisement interrupted their favourite shows: “Join the army get your balls blown off.”
I often think of this for comfort, when I torment myself about having been a bad mother. One way or another, I nurtured pacifists who from an early age could see through (some) illusions. I recall as well the time their father took them on an expedition to the public viewing of a warship and I refused to go. That ship was built to kill people, you know, I yelled as they went out the door, in an effort to counteract what I felt as an undermining.
The canonisation of humans as “saints” requires ” proof” of at least two “miracles” performed directly or indirectly by those “saints.” That the Catholic church persists in these delusions is hardly surprising, given its attitudes to priests who molest and sexually assault children in their care. Their entire system is delusional.
The emphasis on an after-life that validates suffering in real life, while not peculiar to Catholics, works in the service of the privileged who live off the efforts of those they exploit. Just as the glorification of war advantages arms dealers and politicians, who never set foot in its theatres of carnage.
In the same way that morphine lifts me above my pain so that I’m still aware of its presence but far less troubled by it, religion and other delusional beliefs lift people above the daily pain of an unfulfilled existence, without addressing the underlying condition.
There are many discouraging circumstances in the world, but I don’t know that I’ve felt quite the same sense of weariness about them that I felt at the spectacle of Theresa’s sanctification, which brought home to me the domination of opiates over human life, and I’m not referring to the chemicals.
Aside: As I wrote this a gaudy cross, part of my much-loved collection of Mexican kitsch, fell off the wall where it’s hung for years. However, a gaudy heart, part of the same collection and hung beside it, remains. Make of that what you will.
*Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right