Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Pact with the Devil

So let's see. We have a disaster of near biblical proportions. So what do we do in the Church? Should we pray for the victims? Should we ask God to comfort those who mourn? Nahhhh, let's blame the victims instead! This week, Pat Robertson claimed that Haiti was cursed because the people made a pact with the devil in order to get freed from slavery.

Apparently Pat Robertson is the Deuteronomic writer of the Old Testament. For those of you who skipped seminary, Old Testament Scholars divide up the major sources in the Torah and the histories into four major groups generally identified by the letters J, E, P, and D. They even tend to talk about them as if they were single writers, though no one actually believes that. I'll spare you the boring details (Actually, it's kind of interesting, but if you get an O.T. scholar talking, they'll never shut up, so let's just skip it shall we?).

The important part here is that the D or Deuteronomic writer is the major source in the Old Testament of the notion that people who are faithful prosper and people who are not find their lives falling apart. And yes, a major place to find this kind of thinking is in the book of Deuteronomy--and, by the way, yes, I am suggesting that Moses did not actually write that book.

The D writer's thinking also permeates the histories. Just look at those kings: 'Then Schlmiel came to the throne. And because he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord, his rule ended after 78 years.' No, you won't find this line anywhere; it's an example. Notice how Schlmiel does not die of old age after ruling for 78 years but because of his unfaithfulness. That's the kind of writing D does.

But wait, you say. You have actually read past this part of the Bible. Someone forced you to look at the story of Job at some point. And doesn't that story tell us about a man who did absolutely nothing wrong in God's eyes but still suffered? You bet it does. It is said to be a part of the Wisdom literature (no, there is no W writer), and it comes later. In part it is a direct refutation of the ideas of the D writer. Believe it or not, there is more than one theological view in the Bible. Now you know why you've been so confused all this time!

The book of Job's climactic scene has Job demanding of God a reason for his suffering. God's response? I can do what I want because I am God (and you're not!). It is a little more complicated than that, but God does have to remind Job who is who here. "Where were you when I created, oh, EVERYTHING, bucko? So knock it off!"

To be fair God does then reward Job with twice what he has lost, so things do work out in the end. Hollywood should get a hold of this one; it even has the happy ending they so love.

But I digress. Job apparently is not in Pat Robertson's Bible. So, in order for him to feel satisfied, he has to come up with a plausible explanation for why things are to horrible in Haiti, time after time. Of course, that means a pact with the devil, apparently taken 200 years ago is the logical reason, not sitting in the middle of hurricane alley on top of a fault line.

There are so many problems with Robertson's argument that it is hard to keep on top of them. But let me try, just in case you were not quite prepared to do the research on all of it.

First of all, one should read the statement on his web page. There is a press release that attempts to explain what Robertson meant. Mind you, I thought he was pretty clear. Insane, but clear. Here's a quote from the press release; "His comments were based on the widely-discussed 1791 slave rebellion led by Boukman Dutty at Bois Caiman, where the slaves allegedly made a famous pact with the devil in exchange for victory over the French. This history, combined with the horrible state of the country, has led countless scholars and religious figures over the centuries to believe the country is cursed." (

I particularly love the way the statement makes clear that Robertson never says the earthquake is due to the curse. But wait a minute. Wasn't Robertson talking about Haiti in light of the newest disaster when he decided to go on this diatribe? Yes, he was. But we were not supposed to get the implication that the earthquake was a result? Come on!

So here's the problem. Dutty Boukman, so called in French because his nickname was "Book Man" was more likely a Muslim (The people of the Book, i.e., the Koran). In 1791, he did lead a service involving the sacrifice of a pig, considered an untamable spirit of the forest. And he did lead people in a prayer. Here it is:

"The god who created the earth; who created the sun that gives us light.The god who holds up the ocean; who makes the thunder roar. Our God who has ears to hear. You who are hidden in the clouds; who watch us from where you are. You see all that the white has made us suffer. The white man's god asks him to commit crimes. But the god within us wants to do good. Our god, who is so good, so just, He orders us to revenge our wrongs. It's He who will direct our arms and bring us the victory. It's He who will assist us. We all should throw away the image of the white men's god who is so pitiless. Listen to the voice for liberty that sings in all our hearts."

Notice, there is no pact with the devil. Significantly, in exhorting the people to cast aside the image of God of the White people who held them in slavery, he became an early liberation theologian.

The ceremony is largely considered to be the spark of the Haitian rebellion, and Boukman is revered in Haiti. Angry White Christians turned this story into a pact with the devil. Real Haitian scholars disagree, but they are not attempting to explain away why thousands of angry Haitians were able to win despite inferior weapons and they also are not trying to suggest the revolution was a bad idea (evil) like those so-called Christian scholars were.

And that, finally, is what makes Robertson's comments so evil. By claiming a pact with the devil, he ties himself to the rest of the history. He suggests the Haitians would not have been capable of winning their freedom. Worse than that, he accepts the notion that they should have accepted being slaves and that the Whites had a right to continue the oppression.

But you know, if you look at the video of Robertson speaking, what you really get a picture of is a man who is standing with one foot in the grave. The young woman beside him practically has to hold him up. Increasingly, the statements that come from him are becoming more and more bizarre. It's time to call it quits, Pat, before you actually start drooling on the stage.

Which is why I ultimately think what Rush Limbaugh had to say was far more evil. Robertson is a doddering old fool. Limbaugh is not (unless, of course, he's back on the pills. We never did hear how he manages his pain these days, did we?). Limbaugh suggesting that he was not giving money for Haitian relief because he pays taxes was just straight out crude, racist, and evil. He is ultimately without compassion for the poorest among us.

Yes, some of your taxes are going to Haiti. Clearly not enough to solve the problems, as it is still the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. And yes, the president has promised aid to the country after the earthquake; can you imagine what Limbaugh would have said it Obama had not done so? But every creature with half a brain knows this will not be enough money, and those with the slightest empathy wants to reach out. That statement apparently leaves Rush out.

So I'll go out on my own limb: Neither of these men has the slightest idea what Christianity is really about. Robertson is fighting a war against demons instead of embracing the New Jerusalem as an event that we are called to bring into being here on earth, while Limbaugh is holding on to American capitalism (i.e., Greed) as his religion. So yes, we have twin evils here; resist them, firm in your faith.

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