I’ve been thinking about Pat Robertson.
Yeah, I know, he’s an asshole, and he gives religion a bad name. Okay, that's obvious. That's shooting fish in a barrel. The thing I've been thinking about that makes me uncomfortable is how there's a part of him in all of us, the part that seeks to blame the victim, to find “reasons” for terrible things happening to innocent people, to make God over in our own image.
It makes me uncomfortable because it indicts me and my friends and all those who claim to be on a spiritual path, who search for reasons in the face of mystery.
Sometimes I’m as scared of what’s going to come out of the mouth of some New Age people I know as I am of the far-right fundies like Robertson. At least you can smell the right wing preacher-types coming. You don’t expect any better. But I think what he’s expressing is just fear, the fear that many of us feel when we’re confronted with the unfairness and seeming randomness and arbitrariness of the way suffering gets handed out in this world. The not-knowing when you and your loved ones kiss each other good-bye what will happen before you meet again. If you meet again.
In the face of this great dark cloud of not-knowing, in the face of our terrifying vulnerability, it is tempting to make up stories especially stories which have as a theme how we are better and different than those who suffer. Or how we would suffer better and differently than them--or better yet, how we would find some magical means of escape. Child's thinking. Sometimes it gets expressed as theorizing that said sufferers must somehow must have brought it on themselves, or how it's "karma".
Pat Robertson revealed the ugliest side of himself in public in the media. I’ve sometimes heard people say equally odious but more carefully-couched things in private, and I’ve also witnessed myself making ignorant judgments. It seems built in to the human psyche to look for cause and effect, which is fine--that's what brought us the discovery of gravity and keeping our fingers out of the fire, and ultimately to a moral code. But from there it's a slippery slope to thinking we can explain away all phenomena, that we can somehow reduce Life to a series of neat little theorems.
So while I agree that Pat Robertson is an asshole, I think most of us are at least partly implicated in this kind of reductive thinking as well. Which means we are at least part-asshole too. At the very least we have assholes, and perhaps the best we can do is learn not to talk out of them but use them for the purpose which God intended.
On another (hopefully more elevated) note, I did a little research and then gave my money through Partners In Health, Paul Farmer’s organization which he started with Ophelia Dahl twenty years ago. I chose them because they are already set up in Haiti, luckily in the provinces and not Port-au-Prince, and so their health clinic is intact and they have doctors already working on the scene. Plus I wanted Ophelia Dahl being interviewed by Katie Couric last night and she definitely knows what she is talking about.
Haiti is a complicated place and it really helps to have deep and expensive knowledge of the place before you go in and start helping. I think PIH will be able to deliver aid quickly and effectively and with cultural sensitivity. That said, if I didn't give my money to them, I would feel comfortable giving to Doctors Without Borders or Yele Haiti, or the International Red Cross.
It’s hard to focus on finishing a revision of The Recruiter—in fact it’s been impossible to focus. All I want to do when I’m in front of the computer is tune in obsessively to various news channels and read or watch interviews about Haiti. In my spare time I obsess about why i am worrying whether or not Massachusetts will pick a Democratic senator. I mean, my home state, Massachusetts! How could they not?
Then I listen to a pediatrician describe children dying of treatable wounds because they have no medicine—and the medicine is there, it just hasn’t been unloaded off the airplanes yet, because—because why? I don’t know. I don't know anything.