I’m sure the Bible backs me up somewhere…

Pat Robertson is cluelessWhen I see the lips on the public faces of American Christianity begin to move, I’m usually about to be deeply ashamed. Pat Robertson has done it again.

Haiti deserved it.
CNN reports that Pat has blamed the recent horror in Haiti on a probably-fictional pact with the Devil that Haitians of yesteryear made in order to free themselves of French tyranny.

Even if the Devil were listed in the Yellow Pages, how does Pat justify theologically the idea that the Devil is somehow sovereign over the rise and fall of nations?

Even if the Devil was contactable and the man for the job, why would God now be punishing the Haitians for a pact of centuries ago, when God specifically denies that his judgments are capricious in this way (Ezekiel 18; Jer 31:29-30)?

Even if God did punish nations for their naughty ancestry, Pat justifies his ridiculous and revolting opinions on judgment with the verse in the Old Testament about God vomiting rebellious people from his land. How do people still fail to see that America is not God’s Holy Land? God made a special covenant with his people in Canaan in the BC years. In the New Covenant, we belong to ‘another country’, to be sure, but it’s not America!!! The ‘New Jerusalem’, the City of God, is heavenly country, and it will only be our inheritance (in the terms of Revelation) when it descends from Heaven upon the New Earth. As the New Testament says time and time again, our citizenship is in Heaven, and we are aliens and strangers in the world. It would be forgivable if this were an obscure teaching derived from theological gymnastics, but this is the absolute basics. It’s theology for kids. Yet Pat gets it disgustingly, callously wrong for an international audience. Lovely.

Finally, Pat could even stick to the much loved teachings of Jesus in the Gospels and still find himself blatantly contradicted. Luke 13:1-5 provides a case study for the connection between judgment and disaster. Two disasters are cited (one a human injustice, and another a natural disaster), and Pat’s statement comes in question form. ‘Did these people suffer such a fate because they were worse sinners?’ The answer from Jesus is no! Jesus simply says, ‘Unless you repent, you will likewise perish’. Death and disaster still exists because the world is full of sin and remains unfixed. So everyone (yes you, Pat) needs to take warning from any disaster, because it reminds us all that death is the consequence of our own sin.

The people in Haiti died because the world is broken and in unrest. They did not die because of some ancient pact with Davy Jones. Using their pain as an opportunity to show that God hates bad people (so you’d better be good!) is just cold.

Will the non-crazy Christians please stand up?
Now, maybe Pat is genuinely insane. Maybe he’s just phenomenally ignorant about the faith that he publicly represents because he’s always had rubbish ministers. Perhaps he has a vitamin deficiency. I can understand that one person can be devastatingly wrong.

What I can’t understand is that America is packed to the rafters with doctored theologians. It’s chock full of intelligent, Bible-reading folk of all levels of study. It’s a country that willingly seeks out the opinions of Christians. Yet when Christians shame the rest of us with this kind of horrible theology, the good theologians and the well-known-and-respected evangelicals are never to be seen. Where are the John Pipers, the Rick Warrens, the Bill Hybels, the Don Carsons? Does the media refuse to publish their opinions, or are they just silent when they’re supposed to be saying something?

___________________________

Note: Robertson’s people have released a statement to say that he didn’t mean that the earthquake was God’s wrath (http://www.cbn.com/about/pressrelease_patrobertson_haiti.aspx). Apparently they’re just cursed. Oh.

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3 thoughts on “I’m sure the Bible backs me up somewhere…

  1. Hephaestion says:

    The people in Haiti died because the world is broken and in unrest. They did not die because of some ancient pact with Davy Jones. Using their pain as an opportunity to show that God hates bad people (so you’d better be good!) is just cold.

    Those many thousands of people died because of an earthquake (together with the fact that we are delicate meatbags and no match for falling masonry). According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the earthquake was most likely caused by a left-lateral strike slip faulting on the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault system. Haiti lies on the boundary between the Caribbean plate and the North America plate. Earthquakes are to be expected along such boundaries.

    Tsunamis and earthquakes are well understood in terms of the theory of plate tectonics. There is no need to pollute the understanding of these natural phenomena with religious superstition.

    Now, maybe Pat is genuinely insane. Maybe he’s just phenomenally ignorant about the faith that he publicly represents because he’s always had rubbish ministers. Perhaps he has a vitamin deficiency.

    It’s always difficult to tell with the devout. And yet how do we know he’s not right? Then again, how can we be sure that earthquakes are not the manifestations of an angry god?

    “Suppose we’ve chosen the wrong god? Every time we go to church we’re just making him madder.” Quite. Even Homer J. Simpson has his insightful moments.

    What we do know in 2010, with a high degree of confidence, is that natural processes can explain earthquakes (and tsunamis and volcanos and pretty much everything we observe), and that Pat Robertson is talking utter nonsense. Rather than question his faith or theology (shifting and nebulous targets at best) we should question his knowledge of plate tectonics.

    I can understand that one person can be devastatingly wrong. What I can’t understand is that America is packed to the rafters with doctored theologians. It’s chock full of intelligent, Bible-reading folk of all levels of study. It’s a country that willingly seeks out the opinions of Christians.

    It’s also chock full of people who believe the world was created less than 10,000 years ago, who think Adam and Eve were real people, and who think that daemons and gods are abroad and at work. Intelligence is no defense against superstitious thinking (nor confirmational bias, for that matter – seeking opinions from fellow believers only reinforces dogma).

    Learning about plate tectonics IS a defense. Learning about general relativity is a defense. Learning about evolution is a defense.

    As Adam Smith would have it, “Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.”

    We live on a thin layer of shifting crust atop a cooling ball of molten rock which in turn is orbiting at high speed around a massive nuclear fireball. We can expect danger. The more we understand how things work, the more chance we have of predicting these events and thus preventing such tragic loss of life. Blaming a broken world or an evil daemon is actually less then helpful, it’s retrogressive, unnecessary and detracts from the real causes and issues.

    Yet when Christians shame the rest of us with this kind of horrible theology, the good theologians and the well-known-and-respected evangelicals are never to be seen. Where are the John Pipers, the Rick Warrens, the Bill Hybels, the Don Carsons? Does the media refuse to publish their opinions, or are they just silent when they’re supposed to be saying something?

    And just how does one discern good theology from horrible theology..?

    (Rick Warren has sold over 30 million copies of The Purpose Driven Life alone; 189,000 church leaders subscribe to his weekly newsletter; his organisation claims to have trained 400,000 pastors in 162 countries. His voice, not to put too fine a point on it, is heard. More’s the pity. This is the man, after all, who had to be cajoled into speaking out against the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, a bill heavily influenced by American evangelical Christians and that actually proposed the death penalty for gays. Furthermore, Rick Warren’s understanding of plate tectonics is probably on a par with Pat Robertson’s. If he’s one of your respected evangelicals then Zeus have mercy upon us.)

    But why, for that matter, do we even care what theologians may have to say when it comes to natural disasters? After all, so few seem to have any idea what causes these disasters. The understanding comes from the earth scientists, and the emergency response largely comes from the military, UNICEF, the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières. The most helpful thing theologians could do would be to recommend that their followers donate their tithes to one of the organizations mentioned above.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      Hi Heph. Thanks as always for your comments.

      I think that most of us are aware of the mechanics of earthquakes. Allow me to borrow an analogy from Don Mackay. He reckons that describing natural mechanisms is something like plotting the electrical diagram of a board of flashing lights, and even describing the complex on-and-off patterns that the lights make. What the mechanics do not provide is the message that the lights are flashing. In other words, we can all agree that lights are flashing and we can all agree how they do this. However, some say that the flashing is meaningless, some say that the lights are saying something. [As such, providing an interpretation of the events is separable from the natural cause of the events — even ascribing meaninglessness to the events is an interpretation that may or may not negatively affect the response to the events. The more detailed metaphysic that we choose to follow also may distract from the ‘real causes and issues’, but it may not, and it may even motivate a more compassionate response.]

      I am fully aware that metaphysics can be an unwelcome and unjustified intrusion into reasonable discussion. However, it does not follow from a description of natural mechanics that the events are meaningless. They might be, but they might not. As I’ve argued before, I do not think that Judeo-Christian religion developed primarily as a means of understanding an inscrutable natural world (other religions might have, I don’t object if they did). There is a sustained emphasis on word over image. It is a religion that is founded on God’s verbal confrontation of man with a message. We believe because God intrudes with promise and command, not because a god-concept fills gaps.

      Hence, natural disasters have a theological explanation because God has spoken. We don’t suppose such an explanation because the events are otherwise impossible to understand.

      This is also why I object to Robertson — because he claims to be a Bible-believing Christian, but he speaks in ways that are ignorant of God’s message. This is why I’m also complaining about those men who are reputed to be pillars of American Evangelicalism (I do not personally have too much regard for Warren) — because they are the public figures who claim to follow God’s Word and have the greatest influence, yet they do not speak in defence of their self-defining message when it is publicly abused by their fellows.

      We don’t know for sure that we’ve chosen the right God or that there is Anyone out there — we believe strongly that He has spoken to us — but having chosen, the Robertsons of the world should at least acquaint themselves with the content and consequences of the message.

      • Hephaestion says:

        Metaphysical equivocations aside, you asserted that thousands of people have just died because the world is, as you put it, broken and in unrest (and by implication that we bring these things upon ourselves as befits Christian mythology). How is this any different to the made-up twaddle that Pat Robertson is peddling? You both make up vaguely religious reasons for why it is that people die in their thousands, and both with the confidence of someone who knows that they can’t be proven wrong. Even if it were true, blaming the victims does seem somewhat heartless. But why invoke a religious explanation at all when a perfectly valid natural explanation is at hand?

        We know why we die when a ton of masonry falls on us. We know why a ton of masonry collapses during an earthquake. We know why earthquakes occur. We know where they occur. All of these things we know, and all of them are a consequence of the laws of nature. Buildings collapse during an earthquake for no other reason than the laws of nature dictate that they must. These are the same laws that allow you to belch after a hearty supper and fart a few hours later, but I doubt you’ll invoke metaphysics to give flatulence meaning.

        There is a sustained emphasis on word over image. It is a religion that is founded on God’s verbal confrontation of man with a message. We believe because God intrudes with promise and command, not because a god-concept fills gaps.

        Hence, natural disasters have a theological explanation because God has spoken. We don’t suppose such an explanation because the events are otherwise impossible to understand.

        Monty Python couldn’t have put it better, whatever it means.

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