One byproduct of natural disasters like the Haitian earthquake is that they tend to expose the utter insanity of some Religious Right leaders. While some, like Rick Warren, have openly condemned Pat Robertson’s grotesque remarks, others have taken the opportunity to double down on the crazy and expand on Robertson’s claims that a “deal with the devil” in 1825* brought a heavenly curse upon the nation of Haiti. First up, we have Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mohler begins a piece entitled “Does God hate Haiti?” with something that comes frighteningly close to factual information, at least for him:
The earthquake that will forever change that nation came as subterranean plates shifted about six miles under the surface of the earth, along a fault line that had threatened trouble for centuries. But no one saw a quake of this magnitude coming.
Okay, good, Mohler does seem to understand that plate tectonics cause earthquakes, as opposed to God gritting his teeth or something. Incorrect, though, is the contention that “no one saw a quake of this magnitude coming.” In fact, a geoscience professor stated just last week that he was far more worried about a devastating earthquake on the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault, the one which runs through Port-au-Prince, than he was about a “big one” devastating the West Coast anytime soon. Another seismologist explained that this fault has been “locked” for around 200 years, causing pressure to build. Indeed,**
Geologic groups have been monitoring the area for decades, and a University of Texas team has been keeping a close eye on the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden Fault. Two years ago at the 2008 Caribbean Geological Conference, the Austin-based group asserted that there was enough stress built up to cause a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, Nature News reported (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group).
So, no, Albert Mohler, this is not a surprise. Then again, I don’t expect that Albert Mohler reads much Scientific-American. But here’s where Mohler decides to scrap the science and out-Robertson Robertson:
In truth, it is hard not to describe the earthquake as a disaster of biblical proportions. It certainly looks as if the wrath of God has fallen upon the Caribbean nation. Add to this the fact that Haiti is well known for its history of religious syncretism — mixing elements of various faiths, including occult practices. The nation is known for voodoo, sorcery, and a Catholic tradition that has been greatly influenced by the occult.
No, Albert. It only “looks like the wrath of God” to people who cling to an illiterate nomad’s concept of natural disaster, where every lightning bolt or clear day is a sign of the wrath or favor of the gods.
Haiti’s history is a catalog of political disasters, one after the other. In one account of the nation’s fight for independence from the French in the late 18th century, representatives of the nation are said to have made a pact with the Devil to throw off the French. According to this account, the Haitians considered the French as Catholics and wanted to side with whomever would oppose the French. Thus, some would use that tradition to explain all that has marked the tragedy of Haitian history — including now the earthquake of January 12, 2010.
Does God hate Haiti? That is the conclusion reached by many, who point to the earthquake as a sign of God’s direct and observable judgment.
“Some would use that tradition”? “That is the conclusion reached by many?” Many who, Albert? Because by my count, it’s you, Pat Robertson, Gary Cass (more on that in a minute), and a few other wingnuts on Twitter. The rest of us understand that natural disasters strike due to natural causes, and are easily explained by science. But I’ll remember that the next time disaster strikes in an area full of fundamentalist Christians.***
God does judge the nations — all of them — and God will judge the nations. His judgment is perfect and his justice is sure. He rules over all the nations and his sovereign will is demonstrated in the rising and falling of nations and empires and peoples. Every molecule of matter obeys his command, and the earthquakes reveal his reign — as do the tides of relief and assistance flowing into Haiti right now.
Again, no. Earthquakes reveal plate tectonics at work.
Does God hate Haiti? God hates sin, and will punish both individual sinners and nations. But that means that every individual and every nation will be found guilty when measured by the standard of God’s perfect righteousness. God does hate sin, but if God merely hated Haiti, there would be no missionaries there; there would be no aid streaming to the nation; there would be no rescue efforts — there would be no hope.
Oh, if God merely hated Haiti, he wouldn’t have sent missionaries or humanitarian aid. Isn’t that sort of parallel to an abusive husband who says he’s sorry and brings flowers and promises never to do it again, at least until next time? Gross. I could go on deconstructing Mohler’s words line-by-line but your blogger is on pain medication right now, so he doesn’t really have the patience. But if you want more crazy from Al Mohler, read that whole piece, and then click here to read the additional bat crazy things Mohler said on the radio today.
Okay, so as I said before, Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission also opened his mouth to defend Pat Robertson today, and it wasn’t pretty. You ready? Go:
Gary Cass, chairman and CEO of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, issued a statement saying that while Robertson’s comments made him an “easy target” for criticism, they are essentially theologically sound.
Cass suggested one reason Robertson’s message is so unpopular is that it forces people to face the spiritual dimension of their lives.
“As long as everything is going well we live as if we are never going to die,” he said. “Then crisis hits and death slaps us in the face. Rather than humbling ourselves and searching our hearts like the Pilgrims did, we lash out at God and anyone who dares insinuate Him into our lives.”
“A simple reading of the Bible shows how God uses natural disasters to further his purposes,” Cass said. “Earthquakes, floods, famine, locusts, etc. they’re all there, but man hates it. Rather than humbly acknowledging that God’s ways are not our ways, man rails against and accuses God. The last thing they will do is cry out for his mercy in Jesus Christ.”
Uhhhh, no. The reason Robertson’s message is unpopular is because Robertson decided that a natural disaster where tens of thousands are dead and millions are homeless would be a good time to pour salt in the wound and start criticizing the religious beliefs of the society currently suffering. Robertson’s message didn’t “force people to face the spiritual dimension of their lives,” it forced people to face the fact that iron age religious dogma is still with us, and even Pat Robertson’s co-religionists are embarrassed.**** And yes, it’s true that when you read the Bible, you find stories about God punishing people with natural disasters. But that claim is no longer valid, since we now understand that weather patterns cause hurricanes and tornados, trouble in the water cycle causes droughts, and shifting plates cause earthquakes! It doesn’t have a damn thing to do with voodoo! I actually think it’s beyond obscene that, in the year 2010, I’m actually writing a blog post to counteract these sorts of ideas. And I really don’t know what bizarro parallel reality Gary Cass lives in, but I don’t see a lot of people shaking their fists at the heavens over this, as he seems to think. Rather, people are acknowledging that tragedy can strike anywhere, and that when it happens to others, especially “the least of these” (some guy said something about that, I seem to remember), you step up and do what you can to help your fellow man, because it could have just as easily been you.
Also? The comment about the Pilgrims “humbling” themselves is cute, considering the fact that the first American settlers began a campaign of genocide against the native American peoples, the results of which are still strikingly obvious to anyone who’s ever studied the history of the American Indians.
Anyway, rant over. If you’re like me, your teevee has been on a lot the past couple of days, showing scenes of devastation and injured, suffering people. I contributed earlier to Doctors Without Borders/M?©decins Sans Fronti?®res (MSF), and if you have anything to give, I encourage you to do so, either to them or a number of other wonderful organizations.
*Man, that God holds a grudge for a long time! He’s so Joe Lieberman in that regard…
**That Scientific-American link is really interesting, by the way. It even states that, according to some scientists, the Port-au-Prince quake may not have been the biggest one the Caribbean could face in coming years. It also discussses other vulnerable areas around the world, with large, active faults and populous cities which really aren’t prepared, such as Tehran and Lima, Peru. So you should read that link.
***Actually, no, I won’t. Because I have a human soul. If something awful and tragic happens in an area near and dear to Christian Fundamentalists, I’ll get out my debit card and make a donation to Doctors Without Borders, the American Red Cross, and whatever else I can do to help the relief effort. And I’ll encourage others to do the same, without trying to score religious or political points off of other people’s suffering.
****Seriously, get on Twitter and search “Pat Robertson.” Every other message is a Christian making sure everyone knows that Pat Robertson does NOT speak for her, and encouraging people to support and pray for the people of Haiti.