Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pat Robertson, Satan and Vodou

A great deal of attention has recently been paid to Pat Robertson's claim that
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 ... 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 the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another.
Unsurprisingly, many people are outraged by Robertson's comments, seeing them as "anti-Vodou." Yet in many ways Robertson's worldview is not so different from that of a Haitian Vodouisant.

In the New York Times David Brooks, quoting Lawrence Harrison, said that "the voodoo religion... spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile." Both Brooks and Harrison miss the point: for most poor Haitians life really is capricious and planning futile. Vodou does not reinforce that message but acts as a practical counter to that harsh reality.  It offers the promise that you can better your position if you propitiate your spirits and seek their aid.  It postulates a world where spirit is intimately involved with matter and with believers. It does not present life as capricious: it claims that the spirits reward those they favor and punish those who do not pay them sufficient attention. And if you think that Vodou considers planning futile, you try putting a fet together sometime! 

Like Vodouisants, Pat Robertson believes that God is intimately connected with the mundane world. His God cares so much about his followers that he personally intercedes to cure hernias, hemorrhoids, varicose veins and flat feet. And his God punishes those who anger him. After the 9/11 attacks, during a CBN broadcast in which Jerry Falwell blamed pagans, feminists, abortionists, gays and lesbians and the ACLU for offending God, Robertson offered this prayer in an attempt to appease his angry spirit:
We have sinned against Almighty God, at the highest level of our government, we've stuck our finger in your eye. The Supreme Court has insulted you over and over again, Lord. They've taken your Bible away from the schools. They've forbidden little children to pray. They've taken the knowledge of God as best they can, and organizations have come into court to take the knowledge of God out of the public square of America.
Haitian Vodouisants believe that angry spirits may wreak vengeance on individuals who have offended them: in some cases, they may even take their wrath out on family members or loved ones. Robertson's spirit won't be satisfied with just killing your child or ruining your marriage: he won't rest until he kills thousands of your countrymen with an earthquake, rams a plane into your skyscrapers or smites your city with a hurricane. He may accuse Haitians of conspiring with the devil, but most Vodouisants would run screaming from the bloodthirsty djab he serves.