Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Haiti: The Fountain of Youth?

I was tempted to either begin or end this particular commentary by calling Southern Baptist minister Pat Robertson an insulting, vulgar, and potentially humorous name, and had even begun to narrow down my options. But it occurred to me that I’m thirty-five years old now and—at least chronologically speaking—almost certainly an adult. On top of that, one of the things I find most disturbing and offensive in current American society is our mindless, unbridled incivility, and it’d be awfully stupid and hypocritical of me to contribute to that.

This is not to say that I don’t find what Robertson recently said about the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, to be thoughtless, embarrassing (to him), and appalling (to me). In case you haven’t heard about this already, here it is:

If I’m hearing that right—and please feel free to correct me if I’m not—Pat Robertson is suggesting that the Haiti earthquake is a result if an alleged pact with Satan made by Haitian slaves during a 1791 rebellion against the French. Basically, he's implying that they're getting what they deserve—“cursed by one thing after another”—because they crossed God.

While it’s a bit hard to believe, post–World War II, that overthrowing the French would require breaking a sweat or even particularly rigorous pre-rebellion stretching, much less calling in special support from Satan, what I really wonder is this: How fucking long does Pat Robertson think Haitians live?

By my math, the revolt in 1791 happened 219 years ago. The oldest person in verifiable human history lived to be 122 years old; a Haitian born at the precise moment of the Haitian Deal With The Devil, if she’d lived to the same age, would have died almost 97 years ago.

If we’re willing to accept that a deal with the devil is actually possible, I suppose it’s no less unreasonable to figure that the dealmakers could have been crafty enough to con Old Scratch into giving them some sort of Highlander-style immortality in addition to their freedom.1 But while I generally don’t presume to speak for Pat Robertson, it seems pretty safe to say that this isn’t what he had in mind.

So assuming that Robertson believes that Haiti is populated with ordinary mortal Haitians, rather than 250-year-old immortal Satanists, he’s telling us that modern-day Haitians have been and are being punished—cursed, to use his word—for something they didn’t do.

My older brother and I weren’t exactly hellraisers as little kids, but we got into our fair share of trouble, sometimes on our own, sometimes while working as a team.2 I can’t recall a single time in all our years of acting stupid where I got a spanking for something my brother had done, or vice versa. Our parents, fair and thoughtful but far from omniscient, somehow managed to avoid punishing somebody who wasn’t to blame.

According to Robertson’s apparent worldview, though, either
(1) God is punishing Haitians for their naughtiness because He’s unaware that the actual guilty parties have been dead for a hundred years or longer,

(2) God knows no living Haitian had anything to do with this (probably mythical) deal with the devil, but doesn’t care whether He’s punishing the guilty or the innocent.

I don’t claim to know whether Robertson prefers to believe in an unaware God or an unjust God, but if he really believes that Haitians is being punished for the probably-imaginary actions of their long-dead ancestors, it’s tough for me to see a third option. I prefer to believe in a God that doesn’t behave like some sort of drunken cowboy, firing off bullets in all directions, hurting random people for things they didn’t do wrong.

I’m not trying to say that Pat Robertson is not without his redeeming qualities. He and his 700 Club folks are, for example, working to raise money for disaster relief in Haiti . . . which is more than I’ve done.3 And I’m going to resist writing what the childish part of me would like to write about Robertson, because I’m all grown up now,4 and instead tell Robertson—as if he actually had better than a billion-to-one chance of ever reading this—that it’s not too late for him to consider the possibility that God is more just, more reasonable, and a bit less mean-spirited than some of His children.

1. If you’re going to make adjustments to your standard deal-with-the-devil contract boilerplate, immortality is a good way to go. It’s way more useful than a golden fiddle, and at least as hard to come by these days.
2. At least one team effort involved sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night with several rolls of toilet paper in tow. That was a lot of fun right up until we found out our mom thought we’d been kidnapped and had called the police.
3. The tangled question of whether Robertson is defying God by helping these ageless Satanists—by interfering with the punishment he himself seems to believe God is meting out—is a topic for another day, probably one that will never come.
4. But if I did write what I wanted to write, it'd read “Pat Robertson is a dick.”


  1. When a person says something like that, the very difficult part for me to believe is why in the name of anything he gets put on TV with a microphone in front of him. This is an entirely different issue of why the 700 people on his show listen to him, and any others who happen to pay heed to his drivel. Maybe he made a pact with the devil to get his own TV show....

    By the way, kudos for posting something I entirely agree with! The downside is that the posts back and forth will be fewer.

  2. Seems to me that you've overlooked the #1 thing required when watching the 700 Club: SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF.

    Giving credance to Pat Robertson and his followers (or even acknowledging their existance) seems like believing the Inquirer: if you do it, then maybe YOU are the crazy one.

    Of course, not raging against ole Pat seems wrong too, for the simple reason that he may be the largest (to quote The Hangover) "re-tard" in existence...I'm starting to feel conflicted here...

  3. Turbo - of course you're right to be so scornful of Robertson. The thing I find scary is that large number of people in this country who not only listen to what he says but also take it as some sort of modern Gospel. His political power, achieved through his legions of followers, is indicative of one of the main reasons I fear for this country.

  4. I think it's obvious that deals with the devil are not only possible, but occur with some frequency. As evidence for infernal interdiction in human affairs I present the following piece of evidence:
    Jim Belushi Still Gets Work.

  5. Jim Belushi is a great example of this, and your comment brings to mind a Denis Leary quote on a different subject, but with a similar theme along the lines of how unfair it all is: "Stevie Ray Vaughan is dead, and we can't get Jon Bon Jovi into a helicopter."