Faith and Religion: Reflecting on Mother Teresa’s Apparent Crisis of Faith

– By Matt Crawford 

        Is faith the key reason for the existence of religion? Is faith even necessary for religion? The answers to these questions can be both yes and no. Religion is an institution created by humans to express their beliefs, but I feel more importantly to assist families in the education and upbringing of the youth. The Church and the Bible which it abides by teach many life lessons, morality and family values. This is not to say that atheists lack morality and family values, because it is the family from which a child receives the greatest education. The Church enforces the family, but it is possible for a family to be strong without it. I am sure we have all, here at Villanova, heard in our theology classes that the family is the domestic Church. Thus, the family has some of the same functions as religious institutions do; the faith component though is not always present. So, can many people congregate as a whole and as part of a religion without faith being present, just for the sole purpose of doing good and teaching the youth? Most likely, no. People join a religion because they agree with the faith that backs it and that faith addresses their needs and feelings in life. Or they join that religion because they were born into it. Some people switch religions during life because they feel stronger about the beliefs and teachings of one religion than the other. In this modern world where there is so much hardship and despair, some people find their faith lacking or non-existent.

         One of those people was Mother Teresa, which, as you will see this article is about. However, in order to discuss Mother Teresa’s post-mortem disclosures, one must understand faith and religion as being separate, although a symbiosis or mutual dependence may exist. I am a Roman Catholic, and still a believer to some extent. However, questions of waning faith and religion in this modern world must be addressed. Church attendance is down especially in the Northern Hemisphere, and the number of atheists is slowly rising. Societies and their governments are becoming overwhelmingly secular. Many people use the phrase “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Interpreted, this means, to give an example that “I believe in a spiritual being, but do not go to Church or follow the rituals of my religion.” I, on the other hand, feel completely opposite to this statement. In this world today, it is much easier for me to support the religion and all of its lessons as an institution of good than to believe in the faith. What does believing in one’s faith entail? One can believe in God, but perhaps not take all the stories of the Bible literally as historical fact. This is increasingly becoming the view of many Christians. However, Mother Teresa’s faith was apparently lacking even in the existence of God.

“I have no faith…I call, I cling, I want and there is no One to answer. I feel that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.” These are the words of Mother Teresa, found in a new book titled Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light which consists of her correspondence to friends and acquaintances over the last 66 years of her life. Mother Teresa encountered a crisis of faith in the last almost 50 years of her life. I was interested by this topic at first when I saw it as an editorial in my home newspaper. “Saintly, Whether or not She Becomes a Saint” by Mark Drought appeared in the Greenwich Time over my Winter Break. It is almost certain that she will still become a saint, although some, including herself in her diaries and letters, have labeled her as a hypocrite. Was she still a good Christian? I say, yes, of course. She helped millions of impoverished and hungry people in India. She deserves sainthood, above any other modern human. Although some feel she should not be a saint because she did have faults, it is important to note that Saints are also humans.

          Furthermore, it is also easy to see why Teresa felt spurned by God. She dealt with the downtrodden, impoverished people of India. She was helping them and God was not. A strong believer would counter by saying that what she failed to realized was that it was God who gave her to the people of Calcutta. Here is Mother Teresa, a faith-less women who still went to Church and helped millions for no profit. She still saw the good in the institution of Christianity and felt the need to help people. I feel that Christians can still be good Christians without believing. One might still attend mass without the purpose to praise God, but instead to listen to the educational lessons of the Bible which enforce morality and family values. A faith is still necessary to unite the institution of religion, but as I see it becoming weaker in the modern world, I feel something must be done to keep religion strong. Not everyone will be like Mother Teresa and strive to be a saint without any faith.

         Finally, I would like to say that Mother Teresa should definitely be a saint, for reasons made most clear in Mark Drought’s editorial. He writes, “But Teresa, spurned by God, dedicated her life to caring for the poor anyway. There could be no pragmatism or self – interest in this, because she’d effectively lost faith in heavenly rewards. How much more of a saint is she than someone who ministers to others to obtain a ticket to heaven or avoid punishment in hell?” So, it appears that those amazing people such as Mother Teresa who lacked in faith may be the closest to reaching altruism. Mother Teresa will soon become the Saint for all of those of us who lack piety, and Lord knows she deserves to be one.

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3 responses to “Faith and Religion: Reflecting on Mother Teresa’s Apparent Crisis of Faith

  1. Matt – I have lots of reactions to your piece here, but I thought I would quickly run through some, maybe I’ll have a chance to go into more detail later on.

    First and foremost, I was caught pretty offguard by your comment “, on the other hand, feel completely opposite to this statement. In this world today, it is much easier for me to support the religion and all of its lessons as an institution of good than to believe in the faith. ” As a philosophy student, this completely caught me off-guard. The basis of religion is faith – what you are talking, faithless intitutions teaching good life lessons, seem to be the very secular organizations you were opposed to in the beginning. You seem to say that you would take the expressed, live actions outlined in the Bible, over an internal, truly professed faith in the spiritual, metaphysical, philosophical committments that Christianity, and especially Catholicism, entails. Maybe I am misunderstanding, but it strikes me that you want the behavior, not necessarily the belief.

    Also, I think Mother Theresa’s struggle with faith is understandable, and expected of anyone who engages their faith on the level she did. I don’t think it should be surprising, and I don’t believe it should overshadow the actual contributions she made to Catholocism.

    That being said, she was a bit of a bitter old hag, believed that people reached God through suffering, and a lot of the squalor you see her and the people she ministered to living in were a direct choice of hers. But that’s all for a different time.

  2. I agree with your comments, and you are correct in your evaluation of the content that caught you off guard. You say, “Maybe I am misunderstanding, but it strikes me that you want the behavior, not necessarily the belief.” I do want the behavior, the institution of religion, to continue on Earth and in society no matter what happens. It is important to our value system and the way we live our life. The reason my emphasis is not necessarily on the belief is because it appears it is more difficult for people to fully believe in modern days. Even religious people have doubts; I am sure most people have some doubts. If belief in God eventually ceases to exist, which I hope it does not, but I fear for this possibility, what will happen? Will people continue to have religion as an institution for its innate goodness? Or will a belief in some other form of power begin? Or will religion completely end? Perhaps I am underestimating the strength of religion today, but one must admit that it is on the decline.

  3. Matt —

    Thanks for citing my article in your blog p0sting. It looks like you got the point of it, which is more than I can say for quite a few of the readers who wrote to me afterward. And it’s good to hear from someone from my hometown … I graduated from GHS many years ago.

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