Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti and Pat Robertson's Petty and Incompetent God

PHUTATORIUS


Pat Robertson says Haitians got their just deserts in the form of a 7.0 earthquake, because their ancestors "made a pact with the Devil" to get out from under the French. At risk of generalizing, I'll venture the notion that a lot of the time people say really stupid things because they don't think before they talk. This is the greatest of gifts to bloggers, because it allows us to do the thinking-through afterward, and so we end up with a fairly newsworthy post.

So let's get to what I believe to be the considerable flaws in Pat's thesis.
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There is some historical support for the suggestion that Haitians conducted a voodoo ritual in advance of the 1791 insurrection against French colonist occupiers:
This event was a Petwo Voodoo service. On the evening of August 14th Dutty Boukman, a houngan and practitioner of the Petwo Voodoo cult, held a service at Bois Caiman. A woman at the service was possessed by Ogoun, the Voodoo warrior spirit. She sacrificed a black pig, and speaking the voice of the spirit, named those who were to lead the slaves and maroons to revolt and seek a stark justice from their white oppressors.
See also Dutty Boukman's Wikipedia entry.

There is no evidence that the Haitians obtained the assistance of the Devil, necessarily, as their Lafayette, but we'll cut Pat a break on this point and assume he was taking some rhetorical license here. The upshot is that Haitians turned on the white Christians who were brutalizing and enslaving them, and they enlisted the aid of a god of their own. That god wasn't Pat Robertson's God, these Haitians weren't practicing as Christians, and so there's basis enough here for divine retribution 220 years later, in Pat's view. Fine. Done.

It's what happens next that doesn't make any sense. First, the Haitians win. That is, the side aided by the Devil triumphs over the Christian French, and the Haitians are awarded independence. You'd think Pat Robertson's God, if He were All That, could have nudged his army, better trained and resourced, to victory over this ragtag bunch of rebels with Ogoun/Satan backing them. But it's commonly the case that Satan presents counterparties to his contracts with earthly spoils, only to have them lose their immortal souls in the process. That's the way divine justice works, after all: win here and now, lose later and Elsewhere. That could well have happened in this instance.

Except it seems Pat Robertson's God was Heaven-bent on earthly retribution, and so, after stewing for some 220 years, PRG slapped this week's earthquake down on Port-au-Prince. These two centuries of delay might seem like the bat of an eyelash to the Embodiment of Eternity, but the practical effect of it is that none of the folks at the voodoo ritual were on hand to suffer the result of the quake. PRG, being omniscient, would have known this, and yet He acted anyway. This starts to look a lot less like justice than it does about revenge — particularly when you consider that God, being omniscient, would be well aware of the old saws that "justice delayed is justice denied," whereas "revenge is a dish best served cold."

But of course even in the case of revenge, you'd want to make sure that your act of vengeance was directed at the very persons who have offended you. Now it may be the case — Pat doesn't discuss this — that certain persons in Haiti continue to practice voodoo in lieu of Christianity. Maybe those folks could fairly be the object of PRG's transferred wrath. Still, though, an earthquake is a rather blunt instrument with which to knock out nonbelievers. One would think that Pat Robertson's God, being omnipotent, would be able to smite and strike down anyone he pleased, with perfect precision. Until I hear otherwise, I'm going to assume that not every victim of this earthquake had it coming, in Pat Robertson's terms.

(And what about folks in the Haitian Diaspora? Some 60,000 Haitian emigrés live up here in Boston, where the ratings for The 700 Club are low and dissipated liberal elites sleep in on Sundays? Why do the emigrés get off scot-free? Shouldn't the scourge have been sinner-centered, and not simply directed at a spot on the globe? God has to be better than this. Seriously: if this is how it works, Pat, don't be surprised to find Mithridates and me slaughtering a pig in your back yard tomorrow. Hey, everybody can dream . . .)

Which leads me to my next quibble with Robertson's thesis: why punish at all? One would think that Pat Robertson's God, being omnipotent, would not be overly concerned about whether folks down here are adequately crediting and revering Him for His works in this earthly realm. It seems to me that if You're not secure in Yourself, then You're not really all that omnipotent. I mean, geez: Your son forgave the Romans.)

Finally, I don't think Pat thought through the implications of his argument. If a nation-state can be so tainted by its close association with a non-Christian faith, then do we not have an obligation, as His agents on Earth, to follow PRG's example and destroy those countries with overwhelming force? Pat, are you endorsing a foreign policy by which we affirmatively act to obliterate all non-Christian nations? I don't think even you would say that out loud.

If Pat's arguments about Haiti are true, then he believes in an insecure, tottering, ham-handed God who holds grudges too long and acts erratically in discharging them. For my part, I think this says more about Pat Robertson than it does about God.

If you liked any of this, donate $100 to the American Red Cross to help the poor people in Haiti. If you didn't, donate $200.

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