the shadow saint


Eric Partridge has informed us that “the missionary position” is an expression of South Sea islander coinage. If Christopher Hitchens did not share the widespread misapprehension of blasphemous intent in his grand remonstrance against Mother Teresa, he could scarcely have chosen to present it under a rubric so resounding with echoes of pagan disdain for piety’s disabling effect upon investigative curiosity. Hitchens would have little cause to boast or blush if he were indeed the blasphemer that he mistakes himself to be. It is by no means a certainty that blasphemy is a trespass that much disesteemed by the Maker of Heaven and Earth. His complaints to Isaiah against the stiflings of His nostrils by incense powerfully suggest zests for the combat mode that would much prefer contending with Athalia’s heartful Baalist conviction to coughing with the smoke of Saul’s unfelt oblations. But Hitchens’s stirrings are so far from blasphemous as almost to resonate with the severities of orthodoxy. He came to scoff, but the murmurings that recurrently rise from his place in the pew unmistakably imply the man who has remained to pray. Mockeries suffuse his tones; but their charms, seduce us though they may, cannot conceal the fierce purpose of their employment, not in God’s despite but on His behalf. The compelling impulse in The Missionary Position‘s heartbeat is not to make fun of a holy woman in her wither but to chastise a heretic.

more from Murray Kempton’s review of Hitchen’s Missionary Position here.