Monday, May 05, 2014

Pecunia non olet. Really? Money does not stink?

Through my early teenage years, I was impressed with the work that Mother Teresa was doing in Calcutta, as the city was known then.  So much so that during my first or second year of the undergraduate program, I wrote to the organization inquiring about volunteering there over the summer break.  I never got a reply, which, in retrospect, was a good thing.

As I systematically turned my intellectual inquiries away from engineering and attempted to understand the world around me, many of the data points about Mother Teresa that I had previously dismissed began to bother me.  Especially about the money.  Years later, it was, thus, all the more an enjoyable read when Christopher Hitchens laid it all in his usual, blunt, style, in the context of her canonization:
MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan.
Apparently, MT, which was Hitchens' way of bringing her down to this terrain where the rest of us mortals walk, did not care where the money came from.  Pecunia non olet!  Which is Latin for money does not stink.

It is funny that I should learn that Latin phrase thanks to a post at the business publication, Forbes, and that too in an analysis of the now notorious Donald Sterling and his philanthropic contribution to UCLA:
Donald Sterling’s foundation pledged $3 million for kidney research at UCLA and made an initial payment of $425,000 ... Now, not surprisingly, UCLA has decided to return the money. “Mr. Sterling’s divisive and hurtful comments demonstrate that he does not share UCLA’s core values as a public university that fosters diversity, inclusion, and respect,” the university said in a press release.
The godly MT did not think that a dictator's money stank, but a secular UCLA returned a racist's money. Go figure!

Meanwhile, an export from India, which brings the country more than two billion dollars apparently does stink, according to one leading contender for the prime minister post:
Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has attacked the current government over India's position as one of the world's biggest beef exporters.
Indian exports account for about 20% of the global supply and while economically this might seem to be a good thing, in India, the cow is revered as holy by Hindus, and so the consumption and sale of beef always sparks fierce political and religious debate.
I know what you are thinking: India exports beef?  What about the holy cow?
[It] is not cows but the less revered water buffaloes that mostly make the cut for meat-processing factories.
Half of the world's buffalo population is in India, and global demand for buffalo meat has become a source of revenue and brought in a lot of money for the country.
Both buffalo meat and meat from cows are known as beef internationally.
It turns out that MT was, as they say in India, a non-veg person, if that is a relevant data for you to contemplate on Pecunia non olet.


Ramesh said...

Very few posts make me froth at the mouth. This one unfortunately does.

I will call Christopher Hitchens many unprintable names but will not defile your blog by such crudity. Mother Teresa never claimed to be godly. She would be the first to admit she wasn't perfect. But to do such a hatchet job on somebody whose good deeds far far outweighed the not so good is simply the act of a (insert any unprintable word).

In all this frothing, the main idea of your post, which is a good question is lost. I shall froth for the rest of the day and by tomorrow come back to my highly respectable self :)

Sriram Khé said...

Why all that frothing? ;)

Hitchens, whose writings I miss every single day since his death when I read about some strange development or the other, did his homework. His questioning of the saintliness of MT was not without facts and logic. The Slate essay that I hypernlinked to gives you an idea of Hitchens' main arguments. His book is an expanded treatment, with the supporting documentation. (The book, provocatively titled, is The Missionary Position.

I hope by now the frothing has eased, and that you are ready to comment on whether or not money can stink.

BTW, it was only in his rah-rah support of the Iraq War that I completely disagreed with Hitchens. Otherwise, as my blog shows, there are plenty of posts where I have referenced him (

Anne in Salem said...

Bravo for Mother Teresa turning "dirty" money into miracles for the poor, sick and dying. Immoral and amoral rich people have attempted to compensate for their bad deeds by buying good deeds for centuries. Nothing new in that. I'm glad I don't have to pass a morality test to donate to my church or university.

Sriram Khé said...

I am mighty glad I don't have a gazillion dollars to give away ;)

It appears that Anne says that money has no stink--at least, it did not stink as far as MT was concerned :(