Thursday, January 14, 2010

Earth Quake in Haiti and Our Responses: Or what is truly troubling about Robertson's remarks

I admit that I am having difficulty getting my mind around the devastation in Haiti after the earthquake. And my heart and prayers go out to the Haitian people and all effected and all who will be helping in the recovery. I am heartened by the responses from the global community, from relief organizations, and the overall good will that seems to be going out the the people of Haiti. And yet I have questions: not so much about the earth quake, itself but about the the poverty that was already in Haiti.

A 7.0 quake is going to be devastating anywhere, but it does seem that a quake of this magnitude, would be less devastating say in California, where there is money for infrastructure, technology and building design to withstand to some degree quakes etc. This is not the largest earthquake to have happened around the world in the last several years (most in poorer countries). Some have been larger and less destructive, some just as destructive. It's an interesting bit of research to follow the links from the Wikepedia article on the Richter scale to various Magnitude 7.0 and larger earthquakes in recent years. I know enough to recognize that the location of an epicenter effects how much devastation and death toll an earthquake leaves. Yet it does seem as well that the ability to have a decent infrastructure that can with stand and coordinate around a disaster also has something to do with it, that is in the end it has to do with wealth or poverty. So it seems to me that in the end there is in the midst of all of this a mater of injustice, one that goes beyond this particular moment, one that reaches back into the past and stretches into the future. The injustice woven into this situation is then at least in part responsible for the extent of the devastation we are seeing. The global economy our economy is bound up in this injustice, our response is not just compassion but also because in fact this is our collective responsibility.

This leads me to Pat Robertson's remarks on Haiti, and the uproar over his remarks. Frankly I am a bit puzzled by what people seem to be focusing on: Robertson's claim that Haiti is cursed. I am puzzled not because I think Robertson's remarks are simply fine, or even true as he conceives them, (I find just about everything he says in the clips provided by the AP video bellow deeply troubling) but because I think most people are misinterpreting Robertson. (I recomend watching the video before continuing, especially if you haven't actually heard or read his remarks.)

First about the remarks that seem to have everyone in a tither: that Haiti is cursed. For the moment lets set aside the racial, economic, and patriarchal power dynamic, I'll get to that in a moment, but I think we need to hear what Robertson is actually saying as well as what he is not saying. He is not saying that Haiti is under God's judgment (at least not in this clip). He says that the Haitians seeking their freedom from the French 200 years ago made a pact with the devil. A strange claim perhaps (and possibly a reference to the Vodou ceremony performed by Vodou priest Dutty Boukman in 1791)It should be clear though from this that the actor in this from Robertson's perspective is not God but Satan, the devil. He then goes on to say that since then the Haitian people have been "cursed by one thing after the other.." Note they are not cursed by God. God does not appear until the end when he hopes for a great turning to God (freedom from the curse) for the Haitian people. I may not agree with the theology here but it isn't about God's judgment, rather he is naming a demonic and satanic stronghold, a curse, held over the nation of Haiti. One may think this is dangerous nonsense but please correctly identify the theology. This is not a twisted uber-Calvinism with God as sovereign over everything using suffering and natural disasters to judge people and/or bring them to God's self. For Robertson Satan, and the demonic, is very active in these things. Also, if I understand the theology out of which this statement is made, a curse is not something God does, but is only the work of Satan and demons. Rather, God is in the habit from this perspective of breaking curses not cursing people. However the only way to break a curse is for one to come under the protection of the Blood of Jesus Christ. So Robertson was not saying that this was God's judgment on the Haitian people for what their ancestors did under the French, but that the curse that the Haitians laid upon themselves through this pact with the devil continues to have its impact and is the explanation for the over all tragedy of the Haitian people of which this earthquake is the most recent and obvious example. I don't defend this theological perspective and it may not in the end be much better, but people listen to what he is actually saying.

And in listening to what he is actually saying I find his capitalist and patriarchal mindset more troubling than this theory of Haiti being cursed, though the two may be linked. Pat Robertson articulates a hopefulness that from this destruction Haiti can be rebuilt as a more prosperous nation, as though somehow starting from scratch, having to rebuild most everything, would suddenly create a viable economy in Haiti. Bill Horan of Operation Blessing (which Robertson founded) deflects the optimism, probably actually knowing better, and having some sense of the complexities in the the very least, and possibly also knowing Haiti's problems are not just Haiti's. Robertson is aware of the poverty but treats it as if it isn't related at all to the Global economy and the politics of that economy and the injustices inherent in our current system. This is where the curse idea elides with his captivity to our current economic system: the idea of the curse and pact with the devil explains Haitian problems without needing to look at the political and economic realities outside of Haiti that give some account for Haiti's poverty. Yet, it seems to me if Robertson was not captivated by the idol of our current international economic and political system, his theory would lead him to reflect on the ways in which this demonic and satanic curse is bound up with the political and economic realities of colonialism and post-colonial global economy (not to mention that Haiti has been occupied by the US). It seems to me that if Robertson would let his theory do its actual theological work, it could undermine his trust in the present economic system, where resorts that exist for those of the wealthier nations somehow equals economic prosperity. From a Biblical perspective if the Haitians made a pact with the devil (and I am not saying they did), why would they have done so except in recognition of the fact that Satan has control over the nations and powers and wealth of the world (cf. Jesus' temptation after his Baptism, Matt 4:8-10 and Luke 4:5-9). And yet, Robertson seems not to recognize the ways in which he may have his own pact with the devil as since here appears pretty aligned with the world system (which is Satan's to give to Jesus if Jesus will only worship Satan, and since he seems to have relegated Satan to the realm of curses that somehow has effect on economy and politics etc. but only that of the poorest nations, and not the wealthy. This pact has perhaps created a certain blindness. We perhaps focus on the ideas of cursing because they seem outlandish, and perhaps because we too still put a great deal of hope in our nations, our ability to create a just economy and the ability of the global economic order to do the right thing. Perhaps we have all made a pact with the devil.