Tuesday, January 19, 2010

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.


Anonymous said...

We didn't vote in a Democratic senator, and I can't believe it! I'm so so upset about it. How could it have happened this way/

Alison said...

Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.

Anonymous said...

i'll second that

shit, shit...

Gerry T said...

You ask 'how could they not elect a democrat in Massachusetts.' I think the problem is Ms. Coakley and her campaign was asking the same question. They thought they had it in the bag. It appears that her campaign pretty much just mailed it in, taking for granted that Massachusetts would always vote for a democrat. Turns out they were wrong.

Alison said...

Yeah, I heard she did not run a very exciting campaign. I also heard that the Prop 8 people poured a lot of money and support into the conservative republican candidate. So I think it is a combination of factors, including a well-organized republican machine determined to get the power back.

By the way when i originally posted I had not actually heard pat Robertson deliver his quote. I had just read it in the papers. I heard a clip of it today on the radio. If there were a stronger word than ignorant asshole I would use it. The supreme irony is that the Haitian people are the most spiritual that I have ever met. one young woman was just rescued from a crushed building today--8 days after the original quake hit. She spent 8 days without food or water with a wall on top of her and when they lifted her out on a stretcher she was singing hymns! Those are the people he denigrates as having made a pact with the devil.

Gerry T said...

The sooner people stop taking Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk seriously, the sooner they will be relegated to the scrap heap of irrelevency.

How's that?

Gerry T said...

And another thing. The Prop 8 people poured a lot of money into their campaign. There's a well-organized, well-funded republican machine determined to get power back. To both points I say...so what? What did the democrats do to prepare for this election? How well-organized and well-funded are the democrats? Coakley and the democrats were ill-prepared for an election they easily should have won. Instead of worrying about what the right is doing, liberals and democrats need to look at themselves in the mirror and ask the hard questions, and find ways to get better organized and prepared. Because if they don't...you're going to see a lot more of this in November.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The so called "pact with the devil" was most likely a return to their own form of religion and a rejection of traditional Christianity as proposed by their French occupiers I would speculate

Alison said...

Gerry, I totally agree with you. The Democrats fell asleep at the wheel. They--we--just didn't believe that Massachusetts of all places, could go Republican. It can be taken as a wake-up call for November, and from what I read in the paper, Obama is heeding it as such.

Yes, Robertson was referring to the Haitians' practice of voudoun, one of the most misunderstood religions around. It is not devil-worship.

Like the ancient Greeks and Romans, voudoun acknowledges that there is both "good" and "bad" in humans and in their divine counterparts, the loi, the gods, who can be benevolent or angry.

For a good read on the subject there is Maya Deren's book Divine Horsemen. Because voudoun is the religion of people who were not for the most part literate, it does not have a Scripture. The stories and especially the songs which are essential to the ceremonies are passed down through oral tradition. People experience God directly through revelation in voudoun, whether that happen in dreams, asleep or awake, or through spirit possession.

I have been privileged to attend voudoun ceremonies and they are powerful. There is no devil-worship involved, but plenty of singing, dancing, drumming, and deep deep faith. What else can you say about a people whose response to devastation is to sing sacred songs?