Posts Tagged ‘The Ethics and Public Policy Center’

Religion’s love affair with bad weather and seismic disasters is still very much alive and well


manicstreetpreacher rolls his eyes at the latest verdict of divine retribution.

Crackpot US televangelist demagogue and all round nasty piece of work, the “reverend” Pat Robertson last week dubbed the recent earthquake in Haiti as “a blessing in disguise” and was God’s punishment for the Haitian slaves’ revolt against their French colonial masters in 1791 which only succeeded because they entered into “a pact with the devil”.  Robertson made his comments on his ghastly outlet of religious bigotry The 700 Club on 13 January 2010:

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it…  They were under the heel of the French.  You know, Napoleon III, or whatever.  And they got together and swore a pact to the devil.  They said, we will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.  True story.  And so, the devil said, okay it’s a deal.  And they kicked the French out, you know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free.  But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor.  That island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle.  On the one side is Haiti, on the other side is the Dominican Republic.  Dominican Republic is, is, prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc.  Haiti is in desperate poverty.  Same island, uh, they need to have, and we need to pray for them, a great turning to God.  Out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come, but right now we’re helping the suffering people and the suffering is unimaginable.

This is not the first time the “good reverend” has made a link between seismology and morality.  In 2005, the Dover District school board who forced Intelligent Design into school textbooks and were sued by several students’ parents in the Kitzmiller –v- Dover District P A “Intelligent Design trial” were voted out of office by the schools’ parents before the judgment was handed down by the court.  Robertson told the town of Dover not to expect the protection of God if something bad happened in their neighbour because they had forced God out of their lives:

I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city.  And don’t wonder why he hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin.  I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city.  And if that’s the case, don’t ask for His help because He might not be there.

In a written statement, Robertson later “clarified” his comments:

God is tolerant and loving, but we can’t keep sticking our finger in His eye forever.  If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin.  Maybe he can help them.

This is just the latest episode in religion’s love affair with natural disaster.  Many fundamentalist Christians saw Hurricane Katrina as a punishment from God for our sin and rebellion from God.  Odd that the historic red-light district was left relatively unscathed, just as the fact that the largest and most devastating earthquake in San Francisco was in 1906: decades before it ceased being a heterosexual city.

Of course Robertson himself was credited (if that’s the right word) with saying that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment on New Orleans since it is the hometown of lesbian actress Ellen DeGeneres who was hosting the upcoming Emmy Awards ceremony that year.  Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion speculates whether this story could be true given Robertson’s track record.  However, it is most likely an invention of the website Dateline: Hollywood that has passed into urban myth.

Let’s not forget that former Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Reverend Graham Dow pronounced the summer 2007 North Yorkshire floods as:

[A] strong and definite judgment because the world has been arrogant in going its own way.  We are reaping the consequences of our moral degradation, as well as the environmental damage that we have caused.

We are in serious moral trouble because every type of lifestyle is now regarded as legitimate.

In the Bible, institutional power is referred to as “the beast”, which sets itself up to control people and their morals.  Our government has been playing the role of God in saying that people are free to act as they want.

The sexual orientation regulations [which give greater rights to gays] are part of a general scene of permissiveness.  We are in a situation where we are liable for God’s judgment, which is intended to call us to repentance.

[The problem with] environmental judgment is that it is indiscriminate.

As the Hitch rightly pointed out in his debate against Christian theologian Alistair McGrath at Georgetown, Washington, shortly after the Bishop’s comments:

If there was a connection between metrology and morality, and religion has very often argued that there is, I don’t see why the floods hit northern Yorkshire.  I can think of some parts of London where they would have done a lot more good.

Writing in The Independent, Thomas Sutcliffe compared the Bishop of Carlisle to the attempted suicide bomber who drove a truckload of explosives into the side of Glasgow Airport at the same time as the floods:

That wannabe martyr – his 72 expectant virgins currently tapping their fingers impatiently in Paradise – had a head wreathed in fire and a Molotov cocktail in his hand.  The Bishop of Carlisle is a diocesan bishop in the Church of England, not a sect commonly associated with acts of terror, while the as-yet-unnamed jihadi is, one guesses, an adherent of Wahabi Islam, a sect which very much is. And yet, on a spiritual level, it seems that they do share one thing.  They both believe in a vindictive God…

The logic of this seems to suggest that God is prepared to kill innocent people in order to get his message across.  And if the Bishop is right, it isn’t just us that God is disappointed with.  He’s furious with the people of Pakistan, where serious flooding has left 900,000 homeless, and Afghanistan, where 80 have died in recent storms, and Kansas and Texas, too, where floods have devastated communities and left people homeless.  Then again, with a killer this “indiscriminate” about collateral damage, only a bishop could be sure what the message is.

Of course, there are important differences between the bishop and the Glasgow attacker.  The bishop restricts himself to condoning the actions of a terrorist God, while the human fireball appointed himself as a direct tool of divine wrath.  It’s hardly a distinction to be sneezed at in these dangerous times.  But it’s not quite enough to quell the sense that the bishop finds himself in a distant intellectual kinship with the suicide bomber – both worshippers of a God who communicates through the deaths of innocents.

One of the objections I constantly come up against in debates is the argument from “that’s not my God or my religion you’re attacking” from believers who accuse atheists of taking scripture too much at face value.  Religious moderates may not take stories such as Noah’s Ark and Sodom and Gomorrah literally, but there are plenty of hardcore religious believers who do!  They are the people who clearly believe in Richard Dawkins’ assessment of the God of the Old Testament: “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

And they are the people I would rather be kept out of my newspapers or on my television set.


While proofing this piece, I came across Miranda Celeste Hale’s superb response to Rex Murphy’s piece on the National Post website.  Murphy had condemned Robertson for providing Dawkins and Hitchens with more ammunition:

He, Robertson, fulfils every agitated secularist’s caricature of a “dedicated” Christian.  If Pat Robertson didn’t exist, Richard Dawkins (with a little midwifery from Christopher Hitchens) would have to give birth to him.

Hale’s rejoinder to Murphy beautifully captures the “Oh, atheists just pick on the worst case example” card from religious moderates I eluded to above:

Robertson is no caricature.  Quite the opposite, in fact: he embodies and espouses the contents of the Bible on a daily basis.  Self-proclaimed “enlightened” Christians can try to deny this all they like.  They can claim to be the “real Christians,” the ones who understand that the Bible, when interpreted “correctly,” teaches that God is actually a loving and benevolent deity.  In a self-serving manner, these Murphy-ites choose to ignore the violent, sadistic, and cruel nature of the God of the Old Testament, arguing that Robertson and his ilk just don’t get it and that they provide a convenient and easy target for those writers and commentators who are brave enough to question and criticize the automatic and undeserved privilege, respect, and power that is granted to Christianity in public and political discourse.  This claim allows Murphy to casually dismiss with a wave of his smug hand the multitude of completely valid criticisms that these writers (and many others) have made…

How, exactly, does Murphy know who is a “real” Christian and who is not?  If Murphy is going to play the “real Christian” game, then I’ll play, too: if anyone’s a “real” Christian, it’s Pat Robertson, the living, breathing embodiment of the Bible.  The Murphy-ites can deny it until they are blue in the face, but the simple fact is that Robertson perfectly personifies and unashamedly displays the contemptible attitudes and the nasty characteristics of their shared imaginary friend.

Try as they might, those who claim to be “enlightened”, “real” Christians cannot, in the end, distance themselves from the vile and vicious God of their “Good Book” without practicing a galling level of intellectual dishonesty.  In that sense, Robertson is the honest one here.  He’s an utterly contemptible and awful person to be sure, but it cannot be said that he does not practice exactly what he preaches.

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