To the left: Earthquake Aftershocks in Haiti (Picture by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times/ January 20, 2010) A man duckes under police tape warning passerbys to avoid ruins of the Notre Dame Cathedral of Port-au-Prince after a 5.9 magnitude aftershock shook the Haitian capital on January 20, 2010.
Possibly a million Haitians are homeless and thousands upon thousands are dead or hurt. Televangelist Pat Robertson declared to his viewers of the 700 Club that the Haitians had been punished by God for "having made a pact with the devil". Apparently, this theological claim is based on the "Black Jacobin" slave revolt in the late 1700s which resulted in Haiti becoming the first non-white colony to win independence from a Europen power, in this case France. Robertson stated: "They (Haiti's rebels) said, we will serve you if you will get us free from the French--true story. . . and so, the devil said, okay it's a deal."
Fellow right-winger Rush Limbaugh also added his voice criticizing President Obama for supposedly "politicizing" the disaster by offering prompt and substantial American assistance. He discouraged people from making contributions. "We've already donated to Haiti. It's called the US income tax."
Fortunately, there was little indication that Americans had heeded Robertson or Limbaugh. The response of most persons seemed to be summed up by Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman who characterized them as "utterly stupid."
But the fact that Robertson and Limbaugh could even speak as they did in light of the enormous tragedy is mind boggling. This is a natural disaster and it is not parallel to the Holocaust, a man-made tragedy. Human intent is eliminated from the equation in Haiti. And yet, the impact of the comments are as evil in all ways as comments of people who wish to deny the Holocaust of Jews in World War II Europe. They are evil because they deny and dismiss glibly the very real pain, suffering and death that annihilation of populations experience.
In the case of Robertson who cloaked his comments in theological language, the evil is compounded by promotion of a God who is vindictive, unloving . . . the Great Disciplinarian. Robertson fails to understand the great lesson of Job and of most of human experience: You cannot explain suffering by using the category of God and if you try, you will diminish yourself, the sufferer and God. Better to shut the hell up and just be silent before the tragedy and before the Holy One.
For myself, I follow a gentle and forgiving Jewish rabbi who cared when he came into contact with hurt and brokenness. When I read of him, I do feel it is Good News. What good news is in Robertson's comments? Who gets comforted by his statements?
Everytime there is a huge natural disaster these far right preachers and pundits love to make statements like Robertson's and Limbaugh's. Remember, we heard similar stuff about New Orleans when Katrina happened. Such a difference between this and this Episcopal Prayer on the Occasion of a Natural Disaster:
Compassionate God, whose Son Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus: draw near to us in this time of sorrow and anguish, comfort those who mourn, strengthen those who are weary, encourage those in despair, and lead us all to fulness of life; through the same Jesus Christ, ou, r Savior and Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen.