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Action Alert: Protest Mother Teresa Stamp

The U.S. Postal Service announced with great fanfare in January that among the 2010 stamps it is releasing will be one honoring Mother Teresa. What's wrong with honoring this nun with a U.S. postage stamp? Plenty. Only about 25 new commemorative stamps a year are selected using 12 criteria. It is against these postal regulations to "honor religious institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs."

Over the years, the highly-politicized Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee has made some strange decisions. For instance, it refused requests by many women's groups to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, the world's first organized call for woman suffrage in 1848. Instead, in August 1998, the Post Office debuted a series of stamps celebrating monsters in movies. Frankenstein made the cut; Elizabeth Cady Stanton et. al., was cut. If Elizabeth Cady Stanton didn't qualify for a stamp on the sesquicentennial of this momentous all-American gathering, why should Mother Teresa be so honored? America's disproportionately powerful Roman Catholic influence undoubtedly accounts for this turn of events. Mother Teresa is on the fast-track to sainthood and the Catholic Church is pulling out all the stops to beatify one of their own.

Mother Teresa (Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu) is a bad fit to appear on a stamp based on other postal criteria. The fact that Pres. Clinton made her an honorary citizen in 1996 gets around one obvious objection, but criterion No. 6 also should have been a stumbling block: "Stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor fraternal, political, sectarian, or service/charitable organizations." The organization she ran and was inextricably identified with, Missionaries of Charity, was both sectarian (Roman Catholic) and a service/charitable organization.

The press release by the USPS tries to avoid a description of this nun as a Roman Catholic figurehead by describing her as a Nobel Peace Prize winner and humanitarian. The Nobel Committee may choose to honor religious figures, but according to its own rules, the USPS absolutely may not. This is a wise policy to avoid the appearance of the US government favoring one religious figure over another or one religious denomination over others.

Here's another objection: Mother Teresa used almost every public occasion, including her acceptance speech for the Nobel prize, to promote Roman Catholic dogma, especially its antiabortion ideology. Even during her Nobel acceptance, the nun delivered a gratuitous tirade against abortion.

(Take a moment to read her Nobel acceptance speech. It is a disturbing, befogged religious rant. In talking about the supposed beauty of a god sacrificing his son to propitiate the "sins" of others she draws the lesson: "And so this is very important for us to realize that love, to be true, has to hurt." She blamed moral decay on abortion, and minimized the suffering of starving children by comparison: "I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing—direct murder by the mother herself. . . . Many people are very, very concerned with the children in India, with the children in Africa where quite a number die, maybe of malnutrition, of hunger and so on, but millions are dying deliberately by the will of the mother. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today." (She not only preached against legal abortion but against contraception.)

While her antiabortion views did not need to detract, per se, from her lifelong philanthropic accomplishments, Mother Teresa faced serious criticism on her methods from various critics, including the editor of the medical journal The Lancet, Dr. Robin Fox, who found in a 1994 visit to her operation in Calcutta that the curable and incurable were not distinguished in treatment, that physician care was largely absent, nor was pain control adequate: "Along with the neglect of diagnosis, the lack of good analgesia marks Mother Teresa's approach as clearly separate from the hospice movement," he wrote in The Lancet (Sept. 17, 1994). (When Mother Teresa was ill, she received cadillac-style care.)

Christopher Hitchens, Mother Teresa's best-known critic, memorably notes a filmed interview of Mother Teresa in which she recounts  an anecdote of a dying Indian moaning in pain and being told by the nun that "You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you." He pathetically replied: "Then please tell him to stop kissing me" (p. 41, The Missionary Position, 1995). Promotion of religion and stealthy baptisms of the dying were always the deepest objects of her charity. Hitchens summed up her charity as promulgated on a "cult based on death and suffering and subjection."

The USPS press release said: "Well respected worldwide, she successfully urged many of the world’s business and political leaders to give their time and resources to help those in need." The release fails to mention her unwavering support for (Roman Catholic) Charles Keating of the Keating Five, even after his arrest for fraud and corruption, and of her support for the infamous (Roman Catholic) Duvalier family of Haiti, among other political miscreants.

Of course, you can vote with your pocketbook, and boycott these stamps by selecting other 2010 releases for purchase (such as Katharine Hepburn, whose views are publicized in the Foundation's freethought bus campaign. Hepburn said: "I'm an atheist and that's it. I believe that there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people." )

If this choice of a polarizing Roman Catholic figurehead or the Post Office's flagrant violation of its own policy distresses you, let the Post Office know (by mail or e-mail below). Or make this the subject of an educational letter to the editor, or simply use this opportunity to enlighten friends and colleagues about the darker side of Mother Teresa's religious activism. Send blind copies of your letters or e-mails, if you like, to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


(Needless to say, the U.S. Postal Service encourages correspondence by mail)

Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
c/o Stamp Development
U.S. Postal Service
1735 North Lynn St., Suite 5013
Arlington VA 22209-6432.
Consumer Advocate
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Rm. 10433
Washington DC 20260-2200

E-mail Form (click on Problem or Suggestion and fill in form)

To view the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee website and stamp selection criteria, click here

Aroup Chatterjee of Calcutta has written Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict, with some chapters available to read online: http://www.meteorbooks.com/index.html

Action Alert by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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