On Tuesday, a catastrophe of almost unfathomable proportions struck Haiti. In the right wing (I won’t say “conservative”) press in the United States, the denunciations of the island nation and its people began at once. Screw ‘em, the message has been. Why should our socialist (or communist, depending on the commentator) President send even a dime of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to Haiti? These same sorts of people — the predecessors of the hysterical Fox news types — were far less concerned in decades past when successive US administrations sent millions of dollars to provide economic and military assistance to Haiti’s hereditary dictatorship, the Duvalier crime family, whose human rights abuses were, by even the most favorable appraisals, far, far worse than those committed by Castro’s dictatorship in Cuba in the same period.
Anyone looking for evidence of a civilization in decline need only spend a few minutes reading the nearest message board on any given news website. There you will find legions of the unthinking and semi-literate, handed a megaphone. Right now they’re shouting that we shouldn’t be sending money to Haiti when there are problems right here at home. And, indeed, there are such problems. But what, you ask, are they doing to help solve those problems? No doubt they’re planning to get right on it after a six-pack of Coors and the football game. Harsh, you say? Unkind? Elitist? Perhaps. But read the message boards and ask yourself if you’re really that concerned about declining voter turnout. Perhaps it’s best if some people don’t vote.
One such example would be the people who consider themselves the “flock” (that is, the sheep) of the “Reverend” Pat Robertson. Yesterday, Robertson offered these words of wisdom and comfort to his viewers in order to explain the Haitian tragedy:
"They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.' True story. And so the devil said, 'Ok it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another."
I won’t get into Robertson’s complete incomprehension of the history of the Haitian Revolution, a vast slave uprising which secured that nation’s independence from Napoleon Bonaparte’s France in 1804, and which did so on Jeffersonian principles. But this sort of thing is to be expected by now from Robertson, whose television program is watched daily by millions of American evangelicals and who has been kowtowed to by successive Republican presidents of the United States. I know that some among the faithful consider themselves subject to public ridicule for public expressions of their faith, but it is equally true there are priests, reverends, and imams who get away with saying the most hateful and even threatening things precisely because they claim and are granted a religious exemption from the requirement for public decency. If, for instance, I went about saying, as Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell did, that the September 11th attacks were God’s punishment for gay marriage and feminism and the separation of church and state, I would probably lose my job. Never mind that their position was essentially indistinguishable from those held by the people who planned and perpetrated the attacks, Robertson and Falwell, far from losing their jobs, gained millions of viewers.
Well, let us be clear. One of the most meaningful and practically important statements ever uttered in defense of the Haitian people was made in 1983 by the former Pope, when, on an official visit to the island nation, he said, “Something must change here.” Within three years the Duvalier dictatorship collapsed. And amongst the blood and mud and rubble of Port-Au-Prince right now are members of a dozen or more religious denominations who had devoted and ultimately gave their lives to help the people in this poorest of nations. What Robertson professes, by contrast, is not so much a religion as a political ideology he wields in the hopes of bringing about a theocracy, a kingdom of hell were Osama bin Laden would feel, in every significant aspect but one, perfectly at home.
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