Wednesday, January 13, 2010

For Shame, Mr. Robertson

Pat Robertson has a history of blaming the victims; as I recall, he said that the 9/11 attacks were caused by "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians" - not to mention the ACLU and People for the American Way. Funny, I thought it was because Osama bin Laden was pissed about American troops in Saudi Arabia.

Today, though, he chooses to blame the recent disastrous earthquake in Haiti on a "pact with the devil" that the Haitians made two hundred years ago, to get out from under "the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever." This, he says, is why Haiti has always been poor, and why it has just been devastated by a 7.0 earthquake. The Devil did it.

As a historian and a scientist (amateur but quite serious in both), I hardly know where to start. Let's start with the history. Robertson has the wrong damn Napoleon; he has no idea what the history even is. Napoleon III ascended the throne of France in December 1852, 49 years after Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared Haiti a free republic (Jan. 1, 1804). The "Napoleon" in charge at the time of Haitian independence was Napoleon III's uncle, the original and only "Napoleon."

Now the science. Haiti is located at the junction of two tectonic plates, the North American plate and the Caribbean plate. There isn't as much action there as there is along the West Coast, because the Caribbean plate is relatively small compared to the North American plate; but it's a strike-slip fault, just like the San Andreas Fault. It hadn't had any serious movement since the 18th century, but we understand why this happened, and the Devil had nothing to do with it. Haiti was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But Pat Robertson chooses to inform the world, during a broadcast asking for disaster relief, that the Haitians sold their souls to the devil in exchange for freedom from the French. They need to have "a great turning to God," he says. Somewhere in the afterlife, if there is an afterlife, I hope he meets the spirits of the men who bought Haitian independence with their blood. I'd like to hear what Toussaint L'Ouverture has to say to this.

In the meantime, I guess we have to put up with him; he owns his own television network, so we can't shut him up. But I want everyone who calls himself a Christian to look at Haiti, listen to Pat Robertson on the subject, and ask seriously: is this the man I want speaking for me? And if it isn't, why haven't we heard from you, reproaching him?


  1. Hedra,

    I think the easiest explaination is that Pat Robertson is an idiot. Either that or senility is setting in. Take your pick.

  2. Well, yes, Stephen. It still astounds me that, in the 21st century, even Pat Robertson can refer to "a pact with the Devil for their souls" with a straight face.

  3. "why haven't we heard from you, reproaching him?"

    It might just be that Robertson's so irrelevant, that just speaking up would legitimate his presence in a way that's counter-productive. Sometimes, it's better to let someone hang himself with his own words, than to dignify it with serious disagreement. It's like arguing with Elmer Fudd.

    What is true is that Haitian politics has been deeply corrupt for generations, and it's not likely to change. I disagreed with William F. Buckley on just about everything, but he did say once that, left to their own devices, most of the governments of Central and South America, would probably never achieve what we considered genuine democracy. He was trying to defend interventions, but my take on it would be that it proves that leaving them alone would have the same effect (the CIA would only make matters worse). Undoubtedly, we have a duty to help Haiti, as a humanitarian gesture. But the real problem there is the culture and politics. 10 years from now, it will certainly be as poor and desperate, over-crowded and messy as it was before the earthquake. Natural disasters come and go, but bad governance is self-perpetuating.

  4. Boggart7:55 AM

    Personally, I don't listen to the man, so I am pleasantly unaware of what he has said. No one else I know has mentioned him. So either I live under a very big, very nicely appointed rock with many other people or not everyone listens to him. In a more or less free society even bigots deserve their time at the mike. I suspect the people who believe him don't really need him to tell them what to think. They are delightfully narrow minded bigots all on their own. I've also long ago given up allying myself with the term Christian, which is why I expect very little from any Christian commentator. Actually, once anyone starts off with his or her religion as a reference for personal viewpoints, I pull my cynical cap out of my pocket right then and there. I expect bias.

  5. I certainly didn't hear him firsthand (in fact, I still haven't listened to the video clip - I read the excerpts). But I've gotten hooked on Facebook (and it is a mild addiction), and among my considerable friend list are enough indignant liberals that I'm regularly notified whenever some right-wing pundit says something particularly offensive.