Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pat Robertson, The Devil And Me

Pat Robertson made headlines yesterday in a comment about the massive earthquake in Haiti, stating that the cause of the earthquake was a pact that the African slaves made with the devil in order to get his assistance in freeing them from the French, and that Haiti had been cursed ever since:

Needless to say, the Left had a field day with this. No less than Obama commissar Valerie Jarret pronounced Dr. Robertson's comments 'stunning'.

And of course the raa-a-aa-cism card came out...ironic since the comments were made during an appeal to Robertson's listeners for donations and prayer to succor the Haitian people. In fact, Robertson and his ministry had already raised millions of dollars in aid for Haiti's poor even before the quake hit, and are in the process of raising millions more, while aid teams from Robertson's ministry are already en route to join the ones that were already on the island.

The whole thing has become an exercise in 'hey lookit the dumb cracker hillbilly Jee-sus peddler' so that the spotlight can be taken off the meltdown of Obama's poll numbers as the Democrats prepare the consummation of the backroom ObamaCare heist.

Do I agree with what Pat Robertson had to say? Not at all, but I also know that he's not the idiot people would have you believe, and I understand where he's coming from even if his timing was abysmal and some of his historical facts are questionable.

Here's a spoiler..the following discussion deals to some degree with theology and speculation. I love dealing with ultimate issues like this, but not everyone does, so consider yourselves warned.

Aside from the fact that Napoleon was not in power at the time of the Haitian slave revolt ( and Napoleon III hadn't even been born yet) the 'pact with the devil' Robertson is speaking about was an actual historical event that took place in 1791 at Bois Caiman, where the oppressed African slaves gathered in the hills one evening under the leadership of Boukman Dutty, a voodoo houngan ( priest) and indulged in a voodoo oathing ceremony that involved drinking the blood of a pig and swearing to kill every white on the island, after which they revolted. That was the beginning of the Haitian revolution that eventually rid them of their French masters.

Now was it a pact with the devil as Robertson says? Doubtful, although it depends on how you define the devil.

I know a bit about voodoo, and its basic central elements are the magical philosophy that like affects like (i.e. the famous voodoo dolls) and that various spirits (loas) in the voodoo pantheon can be bribed by material gifts and ceremonies by supplicants to help with the involuntary manipulation of people and things in the physical world for reasons of financial gain, love, lust, and hatred. An oathing ceremony, as this appears to have been, is normally a way of binding people to an enterprise and usually involves partaking of a potion made up of blood,urine, semen or other organic substances while making an offering to a loa - in this case probably Ogoun,who traditionally presides over matters of war.

Was that enough to curse Haiti for all time?

If one believes in an omnipotent G-d ( and I definitely do) then one also has to believe that He is master of this world, that nothing happens without a purpose and that He ultimately controls the cosmos and everything in it.

There's no half way. G-d either controls it all or He doesn't. And that, incidentally, includes ol' Scratch, AKA the devil.

That's one of the places where Robertson and I likely part company.Unlike Christianity, Judaism never embraced the concept of Satan as an 'adversary' to G-d, preferring to believe that evil in mankind was a product of man's yetzer harah, the evil inclination that came from misuse of man's Free Will.

In the Book of Job, G-d essentially gives Satan carte blanche to do whatever he likes with Job to prove that Satan has no power over the truly righteous. Satan takes away Job's wealth, family and even his health, but the key to Satan and G-d's real relationship is that after each incidence, the Book of Job tells us explicitly that Satan was required to report what had happened to G-d. And as you know, one doesn't 'report' to one's equal, but to one's superior.

This concept of the devil being required to report to G-d - and in effect, being his servant - is quite different than the typical picture of how Satan operates.But it is consistent with the idea of G-d being omnipotent.

So the idea that the Haitians would make a pact with the devil, who operates under G-d's command and then be cursed by G-d for centuries for doing it simply makes no sense theologically if you truly believe in an omnipotent G-d. I simply don't think it works out that way, especially over centuries in the Great Holy Ledger In The Sky. I simply don't see G-d doing business that way.

Now where Robertson may have a few things somewhat right, even if he's wrong about a curse by G-d causing the quake is in his remarks on how poor and unfortunate Haiti is.

That may partly be a direct result of the hold voodoo has on part of the population of the island,because of its emphasis on manipulation and temporal power,at least at its most basic. Such attitudes can make a society selfish, corrupt and wasteful. For example, the other half of the Island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic is touristy and developed but still well forested and the farm lands are intelligently cultivated. One can even do eco-tourism there and observe the rain forest first hand. In Haiti, large tracts of forest have been clear cut and not replanted, wasteful slash and burn agriculture is still practiced and a lot of the farm land is either fallow or misused.

To me, it's significant that a defrocked Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide , the Haitian politician Bill Clinton devoted so much energy to keeping in power was the first Haitian president to legalize voodoo as an official state religion, and was a committed marxist. He was so corrupt and disruptive to the country's economy that he was thrown out twice by his own people.

Before him, the last real rulers Haiti had were the Duvaliers, Papa Doc and Baby Doc ruling them, both of whom claimed voodoo as part of their power. That's particularly true of Papa Doc, who was identified by many Haitians as the living embodiment of Baron Samedi, the loa who rules the underworld and the passage between the worlds of the living and the dead. Papa Doc was also popularly rumored to make zombie slaves out of those who opposed him.

After everything that's happened to Haiti and the Haitian people, their island home was a destitute wreck even before the quake and it will take every bit of their legendary resilience to make things right.

And as for the quake....oh, yes, I know what you're thinking. If G-d controls everything in this world, what about the quake? What about the innocents who've died or lost everything?

My answer is that the earthquake, just like the ocean or the night sky is of this world and thus under His control. If G-d is in fact omnipotent, then the earthquake is definitely part of G-d's plan, hard as that may be to take. He has His own reasons, and I would not even speculate as to what those might be, although I flatter myself to think I have the glimmer of an idea.

Just as good does not exist in the absence of evil, renewal does not exist in the absence of destruction. They are two sides of the same coin, both necessary to each other. Nor can one rebuild on a flawed structure. You have to start from the basic beginnings.

Here's some food for thought - as I write this, countries all over the world, even countries with major issues between them are now working together and sending volunteers and supplies to help Haiti, and people worldwide are donating money and supplies, even in these dire economic times. Haiti is a small, poor country that normally no one thinks about, but this disaster has put the tragedy of Haiti on the world's television screens and reminded all of us that Haiti exists.

Even more, Haiti has little strategic value and no major resources, so the massive efforts by the peoples of the world to save the Haitians have no ulterior motives except our common humanity. And yes, as a manifestation of G-d's love that lies within us all.

This in itself is a tremendous power, and an idea that is indeed worth thinking about.

-selah -

By the way, here are a few carefully selected ways to help:

  • The Salvation Army via: Online Credit Card Donations at 1-800-SAL-ARMY or you can mail them at: The Salvation Army World Service Office
    International Disaster Relief Fund
    PO Box 630728
    Baltimore, MD 21263-0728
    (*designate checks and money orders to ‘Haiti Earthquake’)


Joaquin said...

We Americans have the right of free speech, religion, and assembly. We also have the often-used right to make an ASS of ones self.
Mr. Robertson is Exhibit A.

Right Truth said...

To everything there is a season...

As with the cycles of the earth, the Isralites went through cycles. They were faithful, they strayed/sinned, God brought some event/tragedy upon them to make them realize their failures and their need to return to G-d, they repented and were faithful, and the cycle begins again.

G-d is in control of this world and of the Devil. As the Bible clearly states, we mere humans do not understand or see clearly the will and mind of G-d. We are simply called upon to have faith and to live our lives as G-d would want.

The Haitian people will be helped and those who are faithful will know they are doing G-d's will.

Nice article. Voo Doo is a vile and evil practice and Aristide was deep into it. Interestingly, he volunteered to return to Haiti after this earthquake.


"Molobi said former Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide had not yet received an invitation to return home. Last week, Aristide, who came to live in exile in South Africa with his family following his ousting as president in February 2004, publicly expressed a desire to go home.

Molobi said Aristide would need to receive a formal invitation to be allowed home, and would not be involved in politics once there.

“When he goes back, he is not going back to a political office.

“He will just be going there to contribute through academia and civil interventions,” said Molobi. — Sapa"

Unknown said...

The comments of Pat Robertson and Danny Glover about the earthquake in Haiti have caused reactions from all areas of the blogosphere. The Orthodox Jewish attitude is expressed in this e-mail message. That is, whenever tragedy strikes, one is supposed to regard it as a reaction to a sin. However, one is supposed to regard it as a reaction to one's own sins and not the sins of others.

I received permission from Rabbi Shafran to post this email that I received.
---------- Forwarded message

Rabbi Avi Shafran

To any early 20th century Polish Jew, Japan could as well have been Neptune.

The distance between the shtetl and the Far East was measurable not merely in physical miles but in cultural and religious distance no less. Yet when, on September 1, 1923, a powerful earthquake hit Japan’s Kanto plain, laying waste to Tokyo, Yokohama and surrounding cities, killing well over 100,000 people, news of the disaster reached even the Polish town of Radin. That was the home of the “Chofetz Chaim,” Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, the sainted Jewish scholar renowned around the world even then for his scholarship, honesty and modest life.

Informed of the mass deaths in Japan, the 85-year-old rabbinic leader was visibly shaken, immediately undertook to fast and insisted that the news should spur all Jews to repentance.

Yes, Jews to repentance. Jewish religious sources maintain that catastrophes, even when they do not directly affect Jews, are nevertheless messages for them, wake-up calls to change for the better. Insurers call such occurrences “Acts of G-d.” For Jews, the phrase is apt, and every such lamentable event demands a personal response.

It is, to be sure, a very particularist idea, placing Jews at the center of humankind. But, while Judaism considers all of humanity to possess seeds of holiness, Judaism does in fact cast Jews as a people chosen – to embrace special laws, to be aware of and serve G-d constantly and, amid much else, to perceive Divine messages in humankind’s trials.

Like the Haitian earthquake now feared to have brought about the deaths of twice the number of human beings who perished in the 1923 Japanese quake.

Our government and, prominently, Israel’s, have responded with an outpouring of aid, as have countless individual citizens, including Jewish ones.

From a truly Jewish perspective, though, there is more that we must do in the wake of a disaster as terrible as the recent one in Haiti. We must introspect, and make changes in our behavior.

The 2004 tsunami in Asia occurred during the same period of the Jewish year’s Torah-reading cycle as the recent Haitian disaster, a period known as “Shovavim Tat,” an acrostic of the initials of the weeks’ Torah portions. It is a time considered particularly ripe for repentance. After that cataclysm, a revered contemporary Jewish sage in Israel, Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, pointed out that the revered Gaon of Vilna identified a particularly powerful merit at this time of year in “guarding one’s speech” – avoiding the expression of ill will, slander and the like. That, Rabbi Steinman added, is a merit especially urgent “in these days, when the evil inclination puts all its energies into entrapping people in this sin… [when] it is almost impossible to find someone who hasn’t fallen into the ‘mud’.”

Cut to save bandwidth

Jews can take positions. Indeed we are charged with standing up for Jewish principles. But personalizing disagreements or slandering individuals is – or should be – beyond the pale.

Had we only eyes like the Chofetz Chaim’s, we would discern that hatred and the misuse of the holy power of speech are not small evils. We would understand that they shake the very earth under our feet.


[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

All Am Echad Resources essays are offered without charge for personal use and sharing, and for publication with permission, provided the above copyright notice is appended.

davidshem said...

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