It is not easy to be a saint, and least of all in the sinful world of the 21st century - or so one might think. But this opinion is definitely not shared by Pope John Paul II. In fact, he has already manufactured no fewer than 474 of them during his stint at the Vatican. So there can be no complaints about his level of productivity. He has become an enthusiastic market leader in the saint-manufacturing business.
Commentary on the Channel Four Documentary Mother Teresa (October 25, 2003)
To put this achievement in its context, this Pope has created more saints than all his predecessors put together, in the course of more than 2000 years. And, despite his advanced years and delicate state of health, he is not about to give up on the job. He is currently planning to raise Mother Teresa of Calcutta to the ranks of the Saints, only six years after she passed away.
Here we have the secret of Pope John Paul II's impressive productivity record. Actually it is no secret at all. He merely follows the tried and true method of capitalist industry - the Speed-Up. You see, in the days before people had heard of productivity deals and time and motion studies they took their time over such things. Take Joan of Arc, for instance. She had to wait 600 years for sainthood. Now Mother Teresa is a done deal after just six. This means an increase of exactly 10,000 percent on the old system! What more could one ask?
The main reason why things used to take so long was that, in order to qualify for promotion to the Boardroom in the clouds, one had to satisfy a number of stringent (and rather old-fashioned) conditions. First, one had to have a good CV - a good story - one that makes people sit up and pay attention. Secondly (and here's the rub) a proven miracle, and, last but not least, the backing of a Pope.
Now in the old days when the pace of life was a lot slower and people had never heard of productivity bonuses, the Popes were a stick-in-the-mud lot who were a bit tardy in elevating people to the sainthood. Production methods were not at all streamlined. There was a lot of bureaucracy and red tape, all kinds of unnecessary tests and interviews to say whether the miracles were proven to the satisfaction of the Vatican or not. This was a serious disincentive to the enterprise culture and explains why so few promising aspirants ever made it.
Then in comes Karol Wojtyla - a thoroughly modern, no-nonsense, can-do, hands-on, business-oriented sort of Pope, completely in tune with the enterprise culture of the 21st century. Brushing aside all the red tape and bureaucracy, he liberalises and opens up the whole business. Miracles are approved wholesale. The number of saints increases by leaps and bounds. Sceptics and nay-sayers are downsized.
Mother Teresa, as everybody knows, is a soul sister of the present occupant of the Vatican. Both hail from Eastern Europe (the Pope being Polish, and Mother Teresa Albanian). Both are staunch anti-Communists, both have had intimate relations with reactionary politicians in Washington, and both are fervent backers of the most conservative sectors of the Roman Catholic Church, fanatically opposed to birth control and abortion.
Mother Teresa said "if a mother can murder her own children in her own womb, what is to stop you and me from murdering each other?" What this aspiring saint did not say is that in present day India millions of children are born into a life of misery, ignorance, hunger, disease and squalor that will send them to an early grave. This, too, is murder, a terrible murder perpetrated by the capitalist system - which she and her friend Wojtyla always loyally supported.
There would be no need for abortion if the social conditions that guarantee poverty and hunger for the masses were abolished. There would also be no need for abortion if free contraception were made available to everyone who wanted it. By opposing contraception the Catholic establishment creates the conditions that drive desperate women to abortion. But there are two kinds of abortion - that which has always been available to the daughters of wealthy families who have an "accident", and that which is available to women from poor peasant and working class families. The first takes place quietly in hygienic and well-equipped private hospitals, the second in squalid backrooms down back allies where ignorant old women probe with dirty needles, causing pain, injury and horrific death to a large number of unfortunate women and girls in India and many other countries.
Marxists stand for the rights of the poor and oppressed everywhere. We stand for the abolition of poverty and exploitation that makes such horrors inevitable. We also stand for the right of a woman to dispose of her body as she sees fit. The scientific use of contraception, and a proper sexual education for the young, free of religious mumbo-jumbo, hypocrisy and prejudice, is a precondition of a civilized attitude to the relations between men and women and for the freedom and equality of the female sex. Those who oppose this and place obstacles in the way of contraception are acting against the interests of women and above all of the most disadvantaged sections of society. Such reactionary attitudes are contributing to the perpetuation of poverty, the enslavement of women and the spread of aids, with all the horrors that means. In the context of an underdeveloped country like India it is nothing short of criminal.
According to the story assiduously cultivated by the media, Mother Teresa was a real saint walking on the face of the earth. She healed the sick (with the aid of the odd miracle), comforted the dying and cared for the poor. And all this was accomplished in that ghastly sea of human misery that is Calcutta. This myth owes its origins mainly to a BBC TV documentary of 1968 called Mother Teresa of Calcutta. This was the first recorded instance of a "miracle" performed on television.
The man responsible for this was the late Malcom Muggeridge - a well-known arch-Tory reactionary and fanatical Catholic. His interest in spreading the myth of the "saint" of Calcutta is perfectly clear. His whole demeanour in this programme was one of superstitious credulity and unctuous servility. This was wholly characteristic of the man, who is a byword for cheap TV journalism peppered with pretentious pseudo-philosophical gibberish.
It is not impossible that M.M. may have even believed in this mumbo-jumbo. If you go to Calcutta looking for saints, the chances are you will find one or even two. Or he may just have been cynically manipulated by the subject of his documentary. After all, Mother Teresa was always a shrewd businesswoman, and the reactionary old fool from London was predisposed to believe just about anything. Be that as it may, the content of this first documentary was seriously challenged by subsequent investigations.
The present case for beatification is based on an alleged miracle concerning a Hindu peasant woman, Monika Besra, who was supposed to have been saved from certain death by a miracle, There are one or two other cases, but these are of such a dubious character that even the new streamlined, liberalised procedures at the Vatican find them hard to swallow.
One such case involves an Englishman, Norman Imms, a paranoid schizophrenic form the North-East who claims that he was cured of mental illness after seeing a vision of Mother Teresa. The value of miracles involving mentally ill people has always been regarded as slight by the Vatican itself, for obvious reasons. Therefore it does not regard this case as a "bona fide miracle".
We are therefore left with the case of Monika Besra, who in 1997 was seriously ill, so ill that her family were forced to sell their land, having spent all their money trying to cure her. Finally, she was admitted to a local hospital, apparently dying. She had a cyst the size of a melon in her stomach. Local doctors diagnosed tubercular meningitis. Medicines seemed to be of no avail. But the sisters found a far more efficient method of dealing with the problem. They tied a medallion of Mother Teresa with a black string over the woman's stomach and prayed. The next morning, if we are to believe M.B. and the sisters, the cyst had disappeared.
Doctors were incredulous, as well they might be. A tumour of this size does not disappear between 5pm and 1am. They are also sceptical about the claim, pointing out that the woman did not have that much faith in the sisters and their medallions and prayers, since she continued to take the medicines. They suspect fraud, and say simply that the woman and the sisters are not telling the truth.
Why should people tell lies about this kind of thing? Well, for a start, there is a lot of money in the miracles business. Just look at Lourdes! A miracle can work - well, miracles - for business. A lot of people will come looking for cures for their illnesses, and that means more sales, more donations, more investments. In short, a miracle or two never did anyone any harm!
Or did they? Actually, it is very harmful to preach to poor uneducated people that what they need is not modern drugs from western pharmaceutical companies at affordable prices, but miracles and prayers. Such propaganda does not help these people escape from their poverty, disease and ignorance but, on the contrary, binds them still more further to their physical and mental slavery.
Sumita Kumar, Mother Teresa's spokesperson, certainly did not appear to be living in poverty when she appeared on Channel Four to justify these claims, sitting in a rather luxurious home in New Delhi. Clearly she herself was in no need of any miracles to solve her problems. A short drive to the bank would do just as well. Such well-to-do individuals find the likes of Mother Teresa and her "miracles" highly convenient, since they make high taxes for the betterment of the poor quite unnecessary.
But other people have a very different opinion of Mother Teresa. A documentary on Channel Four in 1994 completely exposed the myths encouraged by the earlier programme by Muggeridge. It showed how MT was not interested in alleviating human pain and suffering but only in saving their souls. Although there were plenty of painkillers available, dying people were left to suffer.
One of the persons interviewed on the programme, an Englishwoman, had been a great admirer of MT until she saw this with her own eyes. "I was shocked," she said. "They were regarded as souls, but not bodies." People were left in unnecessary pain, this presumably being good for the soul or at least a matter of secondary importance.
The role of religion in the history of colonialism is well known historically. The domination of the colonial peoples by imperialism was everywhere prepared and facilitated by religion. The white man came to Africa, India and Latin America with the bible under his arm. He took the land and gold from the natives and gave them the bible in return. Some people might well say that this was not a good bargain.
Bringing Christianity to these peoples had a clear purpose, to make transform them into obedient and submissive subjects, to accept their lot. This continues today in the face if imperialist oppression. And Mother Teresa and her sisters continued to inculcate this spirit among the oppressed layers of India.
Mother Teresa's successor Sister Nirmala has explained that, "poverty will always exist. We want the poor to see poverty in the right way - to accept it and believe that the Lord will provide." If this were accepted by the workers and poor then they would never fight back against the bosses, they would never organise in a trade union or political party. So while presenting themselves as helpers of the poor in reality they contribute to keeping them prisoners of this system which oppresses and exploits them.
One example helps to highlight this. In 1983, the US multinational Union Carbide's plant in India exploded, causing terrible deaths and injuring many others. This was clearly due to the company's policy of saving on safety measures. Mother Teresa's comment was: "This could have been an accident, it's like a fire [that] could break out anywhere. That is why it is important to forgive. Forgiveness offers us a clean heart and people will be a hundred times better after it." So instead of organising to fight back against Union Carbide the victims of this terrible crime of capitalism should merely accept their lot. That conveniently leaves the profits of Union Carbide intact and lets its owners off the hook. Of course, the victims could remain happy at having received aluminium medals of St. Mary from Mother Teresa.
Of course, people should have the right to adopt any religion they wish - or none at all. But what is objectionable is the spreading of the idea among poor, ignorant people that they can be cured by miracles, by prayers and by the tying on of medallions with black string. Even more objectionable - and dangerous - is the propagation of the idea that the use of contraceptive devices is sinful in countries where millions are menaced by poverty, starvation and Aids. This does not contain an atom of progressive content but is purely reactionary and directed against the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society.
Even if we leave aside these elements, the reactionary essence of MT and her like may be summed up as following: it is an outlook that would encourage people to leave the existing society intact, to leave the landlords, capitalists, moneylenders and other oppressors in possession of their power and privileges, and instead to look forward to future happiness beyond the grave.
The reactionary character of MT's philosophy and works has naturally earned her the enthusiastic support of the ruling class, and especially its most unsavoury representatives. She enjoyed close friendships with all kinds of characters, right wing regimes and dictatorships: not only Ronald Reagan and Robert Maxwell, but also "Papa Doc" Duvalier, the bloodthirsty dictator of Haiti. What matter if they were crooks, dictators, or even murderers - as long as they were rich!
All this is true also of her good friend Karol Wojlyla, who all his life has fought for the most reactionary causes and won the plaudits of the wealthy and powerful of this world. This hardened reactionary has a particular reason for promoting saints and miracles.
Superstition has always been present in the dark recesses of human consciousness from the Stone Age down to the present. All the marvellous discoveries of science have not succeeded in dislodging these age-old prejudices from the human psyche. Not only in the slums of Calcutta but in the well-furnished flats of the middle class in California and London, and even in university lecture halls, religion and mysticism is alive and well in the first decade of the 21st century.
Admittedly, organised religion has been having a hard time lately, especially in the developed capitalist countries. Fewer and fewer people go to church in Europe. In Catholic Spain the Church is finding it difficult to find a sufficient number of young men prepared to train as priests. In France the number of professional astrologers vastly exceeds that of Catholic priests. In the USA the Catholic Church has been rocked by sex scandals. Nor is the crisis confined to the Catholic Church. The Anglican Communion has also been torn asunder by the appointment of a self-confessed homosexual bishop in the USA.
As in the period of decadence in ancient Rome, not many people believe in the old gods, but instead there is a huge and growing number of sects from the East. These display a certain vitality that is lacking in modern western Christianity. Their mystical creeds appeal to the jaded palate of men and women who do not suffer from material privation but who feel that their lives are empty and meaningless, an endless drudgery of work and toil, a cultural poverty and a spiritual void.
Alienation and vicious egotism have turned "civilised" western society into a nightmare of crime, violence and insecurity in which people increasingly question the value of life itself. But they do not look to the traditional churches for succour and salvation. Organised religion in countries like Britain is withering on the vine. The attitude of most people to the scandals that rock the Churches resembles that of their ancestors in the 14th century, in the period of the decline of feudalism - cynicism, indifference and contempt.
As a militant religious reactionary, Wojtyla has no intention of giving up without a fight. Unfortunately, he lacks some of the most effective methods of persuasion used by his forebears: fire, the rack and other pleasant little items in the arsenal of the Holy Inquisition. But superstition is always a useful weapon. This explains the single-minded determination with which this pope has pursued the business of saint-manufacture.
But let no-one say that it is all a question of quantity. No! Pope John Paul II is very concerned about quality. Not everyone is accepted as good material for sainthood. The Pope scrutinises the list with the greatest care and attention, weeding out any candidate who lacks the necessary qualifications. Saints-to-be must have impeccable right wing references. Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, a progressive who was brutally murdered by right wing death squads and whose name has been repeatedly submitted by Catholics in Central America, has been unceremoniously rejected. Modern saints must be right-wingers. Anybody on the left need not apply!
On the other hand, Pope Pius XII, that friend of Hitler and Mussolini who maintained a complicit silence over the Holocaust, about which he was well informed, and who helped numerous Nazi criminals to escape to Latin America after the Second World War - is high on the list of those whom Wojtyla wants to make into saints. So is the founder of the right wing Catholic mafia the Opus Dei, Escriva, who was an active collaborator of the fascist dictator Franco.
The hidden agenda of the present Pope is all too clear. He wishes to reinforce right wing reaction everywhere, presenting these reactionary scoundrels as first-rate candidates for sainthood. No doubt he also hopes that he himself will then be seen as a priority case, to be fast-tracked to sainthood soon after he has gone to a Better Place.
But there is an even better reason for Wojtyla's enthusiasm for saint-manufacturing. The decline of organised religion in the West plays a role in the Churches analogous to that of overproduction in world markets. If there is a decline in purchasing power in Europe, one must look for an expanding market elsewhere. One must find an emerging market for religion!
Such an emerging market exists. It exists in poor countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In these areas the universal poverty makes people desperate. The message of the Church, which promises the poor of this world a future of heavenly bliss in the next life plays the role of a powerful drug, the more attractive because it costs rather less than the other drugs offered for sale on the high street, is freely available and, in most places, not illegal.
For many people in what is known for some reason or another as the "developing world" Christianity has the kind of exotic appeal that in Europe and America is usually associated with religious cults imported from the East. Here the usual rules of global trading apply: there is an interchange of imports between the "third world" and the "first world" - usually to the disadvantage of the former. The import of crazy cults into the west affect only the mental state of a tiny handful of eccentrics. But the import of Christianity to Asia, Africa and Latin America spelled the ruin of whole peoples, who were plundered and robbed not only of their wealth but also of their soul, their traditions and cultures.
The Pope, as a shrewd businessman, keeps an attentive eye on these emerging markets. In order to ensure that the Church of Rome maintains its market share (for there is keen competition from rivals like Islam and Protestant evangelists) the Pope has stepped up the production of saints from the aforementioned countries. It would seem that the procedure is approximately as follows:
The Pope goes to African/Asian/Latin America country x. Before departure, he is informed by the Vatican bureaucrats that in country x there is such-and-such a person (y - deceased) who meets the current criteria for beatification (right wing, reactionary, anti-birth control etc.). Upon arrival (or shortly before departure) the Supreme Pontiff announces to a rapturous crowd that y is up for sainthood. This is the way in which they try to influence millions of poor people to join them. It is not that the number of saints has increased but that the most reactionary wing of the Vatican, led by Wojtyla, is striving to lure a large number of people into the fold, and simultaneously to encourage a reactionary ideology.
These manoeuvres have an entirely cynical character. Many honest Catholics can see through them. How does it come about that more saints have been made in the last few years than in 2,000 years? This world has not become a more saintly place since the present Pope took office, but quite the opposite. The living standards of the masses have been cut, poverty has increased, there is one war after another. The root cause of this human catastrophe is the capitalist system that the Pope defends.
The founder of Christianity lived and worked among the poor. His followers had to give up all their worldly wealth as a condition for joining the movement. Today many Catholics, particularly in South and Central America, but also in places like the Philippines, are fighting against injustice and oppression. They want to defend the interests of the poor workers and peasants. These people have all our sympathy. But the princes of the Church (not just the Catholic Church) have long ago abandoned the creed of the early Christians. They have joined the ranks of the rich and powerful. They have handed the Church over to the same moneychangers that Jesus drove out.
They preach obedience and servility to the poor in order to guarantee the continuation of this ghastly system of exploitation and oppression. The "consolation" that they offer the victims of this system is a poor consolation that must wait until the grave. Of them it is truly said: "I asked you for bread and you gave me a stone." We say: let us unite to fight against exploitation and oppression. Let the working class take power and put an end to the rule of the overlords - material and spiritual. Let us build a paradise in this world.
London, November 3, 2003.