Pat Robertson's latest outrage--attributing Haiti's perennial misery to a 220-year-old "pact with the devil"--dimly reflects a reality.
But first, some questions:
- What in Mr. Robertson's understanding of history leads him to believe that anyone would need a pact with the devil to defeat the French?
- What in Mr. Robertson's understanding of theology leads him to believe that the French, who ran Haiti as a particularly brutal slave colony, somehow had not by their enslavement of humans made a pact with the devil?
- In light of the well-known historical fact that the Haitian revolution against the French seriously frightened slaveholders in the United States, provoking even more brutality in their own practice of chattel slavery, how does Mr. Robertson see his own country as unsullied by diabolical pacts?
- Is Mr. Robertson a latter-day Manichean, who imagines one class of people who inherently belong to the darkness and another who belong to the light? Has he abandoned the notion that we have all seen that the fruit was desirable and taken it and shared it? that we all have hearts set on evil continually? that we have all sought to build a tower to make a name for ourselves? that we were all dead in our trespasses and sins? that unless we repent, we will all likewise perish?
- As Mr. Robertson calls for a massive turning to God among the Haitians, does he deny the turning to God in Haiti that is the fruit of generations of Christian missionaries and Haitian Christians themselves? We ask whether he, as we do, knows an impressive array of Haitian Christians--bright, educated, dedicated, selfless, courageous--who set aside the pursuit of their own safety and security to bring the Good News to their oppressed, distressed countrymen. If not, we ask why he hasn't been paying attention.
But enough. To the half truth.
It is entirely fair, in the SWNIDish view, to refer to Haiti's situation as Satanic darkness. We are not alone in drawing the conclusion that Haiti is a basket case socially and economically largely because of a cycle of degradation fueled by the culture of voodoo, teaching that where advantage can be taken of another, the taking of advantage is the assertion of spiritual power and so right and good. Couple this with the legacy of an especially cruel regime of slavery, and Haiti exists in a distinct, if not unique, situation of tragic, nearly intractable poverty. We again direct gentle readers to the seminal work of former State Department official Lawrence E. Henderson, whose analysis has convinced us and many of our Haitian friends.
If there is a Haitian "pact with Satan," it is not somehow magical and mystical. It is mostly the same pact that cruel, selfish humans make daily. Haiti is at the extreme end of the scale of effects of such diabolical dealing, but we make a smug mistake to think that the Haitian situation is somehow different in its essence from our own.
Just as Haiti is a product of a distinct set of historical circumstances, so is our Republic. The prosperity we enjoy is hardly a reward for exceptional righteousness. Rather, it is the consequence of generations of culture that internalized a portion of the wisdom of the Reformation and the political thought that it generated in the early Enlightenment: that human beings have natural rights and a natural proclivity toward selfishness and the aggrandizement of power, and so civic and political institutions must protect those rights and restrain that selfishness for the common good. Thus, an earthquake of similar magnitude in Northridge, California, had few of the terrible effects that the Haitian quake has wrought, as the opinionists at WSJ observed today. Our legacy of good governance has yielded prosperity that allows protective building codes that mitigate such disasters.
Nevertheless, none of us is beyond the reach of tragedy, pain and death. Their seemingly random attacks are the awful reminders that break through our delusions to tell us that because life is short, it is also urgent. When we realize that such urgency must drive us to find God, we have received the very message that we could never hear without such events. And the great irony is that the message we then find--or that finds us--tells us that tragedy and death do not have the final word.
We first visited Haiti in the early 1990s, as usual, to teach a group of people something from the New Testament. Our syllabus was 1-2 Peter; our locale, the Cite Soleil slum. About twenty residents came daily, many missing the chance to work and earn a little money for food.
Early in the week, a member of the class asked me--through my interpreter, Avenel Clersaint--"How can we say that God is taking care of us when we Haitians suffer so much?"
Flummoxed by the frank question, SWNID stumbled verbally. Mr. Clersaint responded, "Let me answer him. This is a Haitian thing." He then proceeded to give an impassioned, articulate response in Haitian Creole, of which I understood not a word. The student seemed more than satisfied and replied briefly.
"Avenel, what did you say?" was the SWNIDish response.
"I told him that God had taken care of him. Though he hasn't had work for over two years, he and his family have had food to eat. That's God's care for him."
"What did he say back to you?"
"He wants you to ask the American Christians to pray for Christians in Haiti because we face so many temptations."
Pray that way, as well as for God's work to alleviate the present suffering of Haiti.* Give to that end as well. But let us also take heed for ourselves.
*Avenel and his family are indeed among the safe in the Port-au-Prince area.