Pick Your Battles

The folks at the Freedom From Religion Foundation have a complaint. It’s just this: Mother Teresa was a nun! I’m not making this up.

There are certain things in this life that no sensible person wants to waste his time and energy arguing against. Things like mom and baseball and apple pie.

And high up on that list—perhaps at the very top of that list—is Mother Teresa. You may get the occasional crank like Christopher Hitchens trying to debunk the selfless nun, but most people justly honor and revere her memory. Her legacy of love and service is an inspiration all over the world.

Which makes it all the more incredible that the Freedom From Religion Foundation is going after her now. The Foundation is arguing against an upcoming stamp planned by the U.S. Postal Service honoring Mother Teresa. And if it is issued, they’re promising a boycott.

Foundation spokeswoman Annie Laurie Gaylor told a reporter, “Mother Teresa is principally known as a religious figure who ran a religious institution. You can’t really separate her being a nun and being a Roman Catholic from everything she did.”

You may be surprised to hear that I agree with Gaylor on that point. As my colleague Kim Moreland wrote on our blog, The Point, “Actually, their charge against her is exactly right—you can’t separate [Mother Teresa’s] faith from her humanitarian actions. It was that faith that gave her the strength and grace to carry on loving the least of these.”

But that’s what makes the Freedom From Religion Foundation think they’ve found a loophole that could defeat the Mother Teresa stamp. They’re arguing that post office regulations prohibit primarily religious stamps. What they’re not taking into account, of course, is the current existence of stamps honoring figures like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Father Flanagan, and even the Virgin Mary.

Like Mother Teresa, these were Christian people who acted out their worldview. The world may not honor someone like King primarily because of his faith, but it does honor him for thoughts, words, and actions that sprang from his faith. So it is with Mother Teresa. The faith and the deeds are inseparable.

That leaves Gaylor and her organization in the unenviable position of lashing out at the deeds of one of the most admired women the world has ever known.

But that doesn’t stop Gaylor, who complains that Mother Teresa managed “an extremely wealthy charity” that could have done more than it did to help people, that she was only trying “to promote religion,” and that she had a “dark side”—namely, her well-known opposition to abortion.

Frankly, Mother Teresa is not the one who’s being made to look unappealing in this situation. (I wonder how many lives Ms. Gaylor has saved, and whether she saved them in order to help people or only to promote the cause of atheism?)

Well, the Freedom from Religion Foundation probably has no interest in my advice. But if they did ask it, here’s what it would be: Pick your battles.

If you hate religion so much that you can’t bear to see a person like Mother Teresa honored, you might need to take a long walk in the woods, breathe in some deep air, and at the same time take a hard look at your own worldview and what it’s done to your sense of compassion.

As for me, I can’t wait to buy a Mother Teresa stamp.

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