The article that appeared in this blog called Pat Robertson’s Blasphemy, Accuses God of Terrorism has got me a fair amount of private email, and several readers of this blog left comments. Because of these private emails comments posted here, there are a few more things I wish to say about Robertson and this tragedy.
In the past few days, it has become quite obvious to me that many, and probably most, Christians completely disavow Pat Robertson’s pronouncements, which seemingly blame the Haitians themselves for this tragedy. It’s not just us atheists who are offended. Many decent Christian folks have also taken exception.
For example, Pastor Royal Ferris of the Life Connection Church in Euless, Texas makes some pretty strong Bible-based arguments repudiating Pat Robertson’s comments as being un-Christian in three blog postings, which you can read by clicking here, here, and here.
In his third blog article, Pastor Ferris recounts the popular legend of how the Haitian revolution began. In 1791, a group of several hundred slaves met in a woods and held a Vodou ceremony. This was the prayer that the Vodou priest Dutty Boukman and Vodou priestess Cécile Fatiman uttered, begging to God for liberation from the cruel and heartless slavery of their tormenters:
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 speaks in all our hearts.
Today, Haitians number the Mambo Cécile Fatiman and Houngan Dutty Boukman as being among the founding parents of Haiti. (The USA had founding fathers, whereas Haiti had founding parents). You can read more about this story and prayer on the Haitian history website The Louverture Project. Another interesting web page on Haitian history is one that some Haitian residents of Miami put together to celebrate Haiti’s 200th anniversary called The Haitian Bicentennial Site.
Personally, had I been the one to translate this prayer from Kreyol (Creole) into English, I would have capitalized the word “God” in that quote, because to my ears, that sounds like the same god that Christians, Muslims, Baha’is, and Jews pray to. This prayer certainly was not offered up to any deity or being that even vaguely resembles the figure of Satan in Christianity.
Nor is Pastor Royal Ferris the only one to take umbrage to Pat Robertson’s un-Christian attitude.
Check out this ABC News video on the earthquake’s aftermath and Robertson’s Christian critics.
Now here’s some free advice to Pat Robertson and those who defend his outrageous statement:
It’s best not to comment on someone else’s religion if you don’t know anything about it. And if your criticism of or comments about another religion show gross ignorance about its teachings easily available on the Internet, you will look damn silly, especially if you falsely equate the religion you criticize with devil worship.
So now you, Mr. Robertson, with all due respect, sound like an ill-informed, sanctimonious purveyor of hate speech.
You obviously do not understand that Haitian Vodou is based on a west African religious tradition that is monotheistic at core, a religion at least as ancient as Judaism, many times more ancient than yours, a religion that has roots going back at least 6000 years, a religion that bears more than a few similarities to Christianity.
Now you don’t need to become a Vodou theologian to avoid sounding stupid when you discuss it. All you need to do is just learn a little about it before opening your mouth and testifying about it. Just spend 5 minutes doing a bit of research on it, okay?
You’ll discover such facts as that devil worship is not part of Vodou and that, as is the case with Christians, Jews, and Muslims, many adherents of Vodou are decent, upright, and moral people. Many find deep spiritual meaning in this ancient religion that you slander in your ignorance.
To begin your 5-minute introduction in simple plain English, check out these introductory remarks on Vodou that Bob Corbett, an instructor in Haitian religion at Webster University, a nondenominational Christian institution, wrote for his students. He starts with these sentences:
First and foremost Voodoo is a religion. It is the dominant religion of Haiti. Many of the practices and descriptions of Voodoo belief may sound to us like rank superstition, but then, imagine the beliefs of Christianity to people who know nothing about it. Tell them about the trinity or the resurrection, or the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Any of these practices which very intelligent Christians believe in the fullest would seem no less superstitious to someone unfamiliar with Christianity.
Thus I urge you to recognize that Voodoo is Haiti’s religion, it is taken very seriously not merely by unlettered peasants, but many intelligent and learned members of the Haitian society believe as sincerely in Voodoo as do German theology professors in their Christianity. In no way do I expect you to believe in Voodoo; no more than I would expect you to convert to Islam if I taught a course on that religion. But, please do recognize that it is every bit as real a religion as the major religions of the world.
When nations engage in a war against other nations, the politicians and generals usually say their cause is found in righteousness or God is on their side.
Bush said God is on our side in the war against Iraq, Afghanistan, and various terrorist groups. Likewise, those against whom the United States makes war say they fight for the cause of righteousness and Almighty God. During World War I and II, our own civil war, the Vietnam war, everybody said they were fighting against the forces of evil, for holiness, or for the good of humanity.
Mr. Robertson, have you ever noticed the odd fact is that nobody ever claims they’re fighting for evil, for the devil, or to set back civilization? Not even Hitler or Pol Pot claimed to be in favor of a new dark age. Where is the army that holds high the banner of wickedness?
Don’t the Taliban, al Qaida, and the terrorists say they fight in God’s name, against corruption and evil?
Notice that all the politicians and generals on every side of every war claim they’re fighting for justice, against the forces of darkness. Never do they tell the truth, that war is about control of marketplaces, resources, and labor.
It seems that the generals and politicians who, in the comfort of campaign headquarters, rain fire and destruction on people’s lives, making widows of millions of women, making orphans of millions of children—the generals who pour young bodies into the hungry maws of a merciless war machine that sups on their blood and then spits out dead, wounded, disabled, blinded, crippled and broken veterans do it all for the greater glory of God.
Tell me this, Mr. Robertson: In your most private, unspoken moments, doesn’t this tragic spectacle ever make you doubt a bit? Or do you lack the compassion to dwell on it for more than a furtive second.
Naturally, the French fighting the Haitian revolutionaries claimed they were fighting evil incarnate. This is the origin of the “pact with the devil” myth. The French certainly did not say they were attempting to crush a national liberation struggle.
After all the education you claim, Mr. Robertson, haven’t you noticed that calling your enemy’s religion a false religion, slandering it, claiming the enemy has no regard for decency is a classic part of psychological warfare? War is a brutal and violent business, and it makes it easier to fight “the enemy” if you think they are less-than-human devil worshipers.
Here are the facts: After the French revolution, the French Republic ended up abolishing slavery in Haiti as the French commissioners Sonthonax and Polverel fought against royalist whites plantation owners. Later on, the French revolutionary National Convention, under the influence of the Jacobins, abolished slavery in all French colonies.
But then, when the French government was no longer under Jacobin control and the plantation owners had more say, Bonaparte sent his brother-in-law, the general Charles LeClerk, to reestablish slavery. Black Haitians had just been freed from nearly 200 years of slavery, and they revolted at the idea of again being enslaved. To get French soldiers to fight against Haitians so soon after their own radical revolution required a heavy dose of propaganda, in part calling the Haitians evil black devil worshipers.
Pat Robertson, you apparently still buy into this racist lie 220 years later. Sir, I think this shows a shocking lack of imagination on your part, as well as your more familiar and lamentable lack of historical knowledge.
As I was doing research for this article, I came across a brilliantly funny letter to the editor in the January 21, 2010 issue of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that illustrates the idiocy of the idea that Haiti is in league with the devil. It is in the form of a letter Satan sends to Pat Robertson:
Dear Pat Robertson,
I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I’m all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I’m no welsher.
The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth — glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake.
Haven’t you seen “Crossroads”? Or “Damn Yankees”? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there’d be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox — that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it — I’m just saying: Not how I roll.
You’re doing great work, Pat, and I don’t want to clip your wings — just, come on, you’re making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That’s working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.
LILY COYLE, MINNEAPOLIS
Thanks Lily Coyle,
You’re an excellent satirist!
You may download a printable PDF of this article by clicking here.