Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pat Robertson blames Haiti's woes on pact with the devil

Televangelist Pat Robertson is in trouble again after he blamed Haiti's earthquake and other woes on a pact that Haitians made with the devil a long time ago. Check it:

This is only the latest of a number of highly idiotic utterances to emanate from the man. He previously described the stroke suffered by Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2006 as a punishment from God, and in 2005 basically urged people to assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Suffice to say the version of God that Robertson follows is a fairly mean-spirited one. That said, Robertson is still involved in raising donations for the afflicted, which is more than a lot of people are doing, so kudos to him for that. Still, his perspectives on the workings of the Lord are poisonous.

I wonder how Robertson's brown-skinned co-presenter on "700 Club" felt about his "history lesson", in which a the world's only successful slave rebellion against white oppression is seen as being the work of Satan. And I wonder about the effect his little tale had on relief donations (the number was on the screen as he spoke), when he more or less blamed the Haitians themselves for this natural disaster.

But don't think that Robertson invented this story. It's actually a story that comes from Haiti itself, and is commonly rehashed by Haitian preachers in attempting to explain why the island seems plagued by troubles (it is the poorest and most chaotic nation in the Western hemisphere). A 2005 article here details this phenomenon.

So given that Robertson is merely recounting a Haitian folk tale, is that OK then? No. Firstly, to present the story as fact (without even a "it is said that..." ) is ridiculous broadcasting. Secondly, there is a difference in context between a story Haitians tell to themselves, and a story an outsider uses to effectively condemn them. And thirdly, to tell that story in the context of raising donations for Haiti is irresponsible and counterproductive.

Interested in a more studied social and historical explanation about why Haiti has suffered so much while the Dominican Republic (on the other end of the island) has done comparatively well? Read this article by one of my favourite authors, Jared Diamond. It's quite illuminating. Or there is this saddening essay by Bob Corbett from 1986 which illustrates in fascinating detail the way that so many factors have conspired to make Haiti the way it is.


  1. That guy needs to sit the eff down. Gah! I knew I was gonna be angry when I read the post title!

  2. I don't know whether the story of whether the Haitians actually made a pact with the Devil is true. But a people's Weltanshauung, or worldview, does matter in determining their societal outcomes.

    Will a pantheistic people subdue the earth in order to have dominion over it? I think not. Build a dam? Why, that would be to offend the god that is the river itself! Clear land? Goodness me, we can't have that -- chop down the god who lives in the trees?! And so on and so forth. Pantheists will worship the nature around them, not tame and subdue it for the purpose of advancement.

    And as to advancement, a people's Weltanshauung will determine whether such a concept even makes sense. If a certain Weltanshauung holds to a cyclical view of history, will it enjoin advancement? But what the heck does "advancement" mean within the framework of such a worldview? The concept is inadmissible from the get go.

    The concept of advancement presupposes a linear view of history, that it is teleological -- that history is headed in a specific direction, toward a certain culmination. Thus, man is *progressing* in *that* direction, towards *that* end.

    To a worldview with a cyclical view of history, the idea of history heading in a certain direction, toward a certain end, is nonsensical; it is meaningless. And so the concept of *progressing* towards somewhere, some certain end, is inapplicable.

    If a people has not tamed and subdued the nature around them because of their worldview, will they then be more subject to the whims of nature? A hurricane will devastate one society, wreaking death and damage; while the very same hurricane, while wreaking material damage, will barely cause much loss of life. And in the latter society, recovery will be relatively swift and easy, while the former society will likely be left mired in its poverty, awaiting nature's next onslaught.

    I don't know too much about Voodoo, but I do know that 80% of Haiti's population are practitioners of this particular worldview. And I seriously doubt that this worldview teaches the concept of taming and subduing the earth around oneself for the purposes of *progress* and an *advancement* of history towards a certain end.

    Having said that, I do know the Haitian general, who I think was its first leader, when founding the nation tried to ban such worldviews as Voodoo, to replace it with Catholicism. So I don't think such a "Faustian bargain" was made while this leader was at the helm -- assuming the "deal", if it ever happened, was made within the context of Voodoo.

  3. Correction:

    "A hurricane will devastate one society, wreaking death and damage; while the very same hurricane, while wreaking material damage, will barely cause much loss of life."

    It should read:

    "A hurricane will devastate one society, wreaking death and damage; while the very same hurricane, while wreaking material damage, will barely cause much loss of life in a neighboring society that happens to subscribe to a different worldview, one that is more teleolical in its understanding of reality."