Tomorrow Mother Teresa becomes Saint Teresa, and therefore receives that Hotline to God that allows believers faster access to the deity if they go through her (just think of her as the Clinton Foundation, and Hillary as God). And all over the media there’s a big Mother Teresa LoveFest going on, with almost no journalists pointing out the darker side of Agnes Bojaxhiu.
The U.S.’s National Public Radio (NPR) is no exception. First, they had a credulous segment on the “miracles” that brought her to canonization, and then yesterday the “All Things Considered” show, with Ari Shapiro reporting, had a fulsome interview with a woman who knew Agnes, with the headline that the saint-to-be is “A saint for all of us.” (Even Jews?)
This is all part and parcel of the osculation that NPR regularly plants on the posterior of faith; and of course there was no mention of the problems with Mother Teresa, which, one would think, would be the “other side of the story” mandated by objective reporting.
The same went for Tom Wolfe’s new book, when, as I pointed out, NPR broadcast a segment by Scott Simon a week ago in which Wolfe claimed that “humans didn’t descend from animals”—without any challenge by Simon!
Well, I guess readers didn’t like the osculation of either creationism or Catholicism, and they let NPR know it. And so, on the network’s website, you can find two short segments of pushback and “other-siding”.
The five-minute bit dealing with Bojaxhiu is called “The Sainting of Mother Teresa brings up Calcuttans’ complex views of her legacy.” This one does note Christopher Hitchens’s criticism of the saint-to-be, as well as the views of two Indians that she not only failed to systematically attack poverty, but also (by Aroup Chatterjee, author of Mother Teresa: The Untold Story) that she was a “medieval ideologue” who constantly fought against abortion and birth control in one of the world’s most overpopulated nations. However, they again leaven the criticism with an ample dollop of Mother Teresa worship.
The 1.6-minute segment of reader reaction to Wolfe’s Darwin-bashing is called “We got your letters: Listeners puzzled by Tom Wolfe’s words on evolution.” As Scott Simon notes, his interview with Wolfe “sure struck a nerve” and that “we were surprised our inbox survived the onslaught.” (I did tw**t at them, but didn’t write.) Three angry listeners pull no punches in deeming Wolfe both uninformed in his pronouncement on human evolution and unqualified to discuss it. I agree!
You can find a lot more on Wolfe’s book and Mother Teresa’s sainthood on the internet, with the latter celebrated far more than the former. I doubt I’ll mention either again, at least for a while, but take a look at the online review of The Kingdom of Speech, written by Catilin Flanagan, that will appear in the hard-copy New York Times tomorrow (there’s already been a pre-review).
Sadly, Flanagan doesn’t come to grips with the book’s thesis, and her main criticisms are of Noam Chomsky’s activism and of Wolfe’s digressions, as well as that the whole topic of the evolution of language is BORRRING. But her review is just as disjointed as Wolfe’s book. She does, however, include have this zinger: “. . . but no matter, because consistent reading of this bewildering little book is rewarded by the fact that it does eventually end.”
Yes, but Flanagan’s own review ends with encomiums for Wolfe. I suspect she knows little about either evolution or linguistics, and didn’t bone up on them.
Wolfe has much in common with “Noam Charisma.” [Chomsky] Both men so deeply reshaped their fields that no one entering either profession can do so without being aware of the long shadow. One senses that Wolfe is as irritated by his omission from the roster of immortals as by Chomsky’s inclusion in it. But one also knows that a hundred years from now, the one whose work will still be read — whose work will remain imperishable in the face of any new discoveries — is Wolfe. In the long game, the kingdom belongs to him.
I doubt that The Kingdom of Speech will remain imperishable—it’s about as permanent as a mayfly.