I was reluctant to read my first Christopher Hitchens work, a thin volume that bore the decidedly loaded title The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. I figured the flap copy told me all I needed to know about the author’s point of view, and that he’d written the polemic more as an exercise in contrarianism than a genuine attempt to alter our view of a then-living saint. I mean, who could possibly pick on a woman who had dedicated her life to helping the sick and needy?
Yet I gave The Missionary Position a go, and I’m so glad I did—the book is a masterclass in how to counter emotion with logic, a feat made possible by Hitchens’ legendarily deft way with words. I didn’t come away from the experience thinking that Mother Teresa was some sort of monster, but I did see her as thoroughly human—which, caustic title aside, was really Hitchens’ point. This line, in particular, is something that I’ve ended up turning to again and again, as perhaps the most insightful passage ever written about our species’ penchant for cloaking our true intentions:
All claims by public persons to be apolitical deserve critical scrutiny, and all laims made by those who affect a merely “spiritual” influence deserve a doubly critical scrutiny. The naive and simple are seldom as naive and simple as they seem, and this suspicion is reinforced by those who proclaim their own naivety and simplicity. There is no conceit equal to false modesty, and there is no politics like antipolitics, just as there is no worldliness to compare with ostentatious antimaterialism.
Above all, Hitchens was a true pro—a man who banged out top-notch copy with such stunning rapidity that he made all other writers seem like layabouts. In life he was envied; in death he’ll be missed.