Christopher Hitchens investigates whether Mother Teresa of Calcutta deserves her saintly image. He probes her campaigns against contraception and foeticide and her questionable relationships with wealthy religious and political leaders.

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Christopher Hitchens investigates whether Mother Teresa of Calcutta deserves her saintly image. He probes her campaigns against contraception and foeticide and her questionable relationships with wealthy religious and political leaders.

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8 November 1994 (UK)  »

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Hell's Angel: Mother Teresa of Calcutta  »

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„What, when the devil tempts you to do good …?"
16 November 2014 | by (Germany) – See all my reviews

There are certain people who seem to inspire sympathy and admiration by the sheer value of their reputation, even among people with whom they don't share creed, social-background or any other common denominator. To mind come the Dalai Lama, Ghandi or Diana Spencer, former princess of Wales. In simple terms, just hearing those names make most people convinced that they're automatically dealing with "the good guys" or some "messianic figures". Among those names is Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, an Albanian nun, who today is better known under her nome de guerre Mother Teresa.

As is often the case, people tend to celebrate the good sides while choosing to ignore the negative aspects. Surely, Ghandi was fundamental in the independence of India, but many would like to forget that he was an unrepentant racists who, would he have lived, might well have turned India into a backward, feudal-like nation. People remember the beautiful, media-savvy "Lady Di", disregarding that she was also a calculating hanger-on, whose main (if not only) real accomplishment was to sell more tabloids to bored housewives around the world.

It seems only fitting that journalist, author and one of the most militant Atheists of his time, Christopher Hitchens, should sink his teeth and sharp wit into the titular Hell's Angel, Mother Teresa. As one reviewer pointed out: don't expect an objective documentary. "Hell's Angel" is as objective as the documentary "Something Beautiful for God", which brought Mother Teresa into the limelight back in the late 1960's. However, what it lacks in objectivity, it compensates manifold with facts and common sense.

First, we see the "Home of the Dying", the hospices founded by Teresa in Calcutta. Here we see scenes that one participant likened to a concentration camp, where the poor go to die, although (often) simple medication could save their lives and nuns work with nothing more than a handful of aspirin and unclean needles. We are told that it is their job to "help the dying pass as peacefully as possible", not to cure or medicate.

We follow Teresa as she's being handed around the media-circus, being courted by statesmen, royalty, the rich and influential, but also the corrupt and bloodthirsty, megalomaniac dictators like Haiti's "Papa Doc" or Enva Hoxa in her native Albania. Teresa shakes all those hands without discrimination. There's preciously little talk about the poor or impoverished coming from Mother Teresa. Rather, like a tape-recorder set to eternal replay, she repeats her diatribes against contraceptives and abortion. Whether an official statistic is available I know not, but arguably her uncompromising stance has caused millions of deaths and much misery in the Third World alone. But Hitchens does not paint Teresa as an evil person, who hides behind the mask of piety. Rather, (perhaps not even realizing it completely), she is shown as a naïve and willing tool, who is used to promote the doctrines of her bosses in the Vatican. In essence, she was the definition of a zealot.

Had this documentary been shot a few years later, after Mother Teresa passed away, Hitchens could have added the attempts of the Catholic Church (no less fraudulent than above mentioned "Something Beautiful for God", but no less successful) at beatification and canonization of Mother Teresa. Of course such a beatification required a certified miracle. Such miracle was quickly found in India, where a woman named "Monica" claimed that the deceased nun had cured her of cancer in 2002. Opposing that claim were her husband (who claimed that medicine had cured her) and her physician (who claimed that the cancer wasn't a cancer but a cyst) – but such trivia didn't stand between Mother Teresa being declaring her "blessed" (a second miracle, which would make her a saint, is expected in the near future).

"If the devil tempts you to do good", reasons Richard III in Shakespeare's play. If you consider yourself living in the age of reason and don't believe in the devil, it could be argued that fanaticism, gullibility, ignorance and manipulation do just as good a job.

I'd give the documentary a 9/10, being short and straight to the point; it is just doubtful whether Mother Theresa fans and believers will enjoy it very much.


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