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Monday, January 25, 2010

The devil on television

I have been thinking about recent comments made by the television evangelist Pat Robertson. My first thought is that people should read this excellent piece by Natalie Hopkinson, in which she does much to correct the false and narrow, and I think, racist views expressed by Roberston. Link to the article:

My other thoughts have to do with Robertson’s view of God.

Robertson sees a devastating earthquake as the product of God’s wrath against the people of Haiti. This tells us that he sees God as an angry and violent holder of grudges, who will use pain, death, and terror to wreak revenge, not on the perpetrators of this supposed “pact” with the devil, but on people living hundreds of years later. This is a scary God.

If we believe that God is all powerful, and is “hands-on” in every aspect of nature, and of human history, then it follows that we hold God responsible for everything that falls under the category of “act of God” on insurance policies- every disaster, every weather event, every shift of tectonic plates that leads to earthquakes and tsunamis.

If God is all powerful, and is “pulling all the strings”, and literally making all these things happen, then we want to know why. (This is out of fearful self-interest- so we can avoid doing or saying whatever it as that brings down that kind of punishment.)

All through human history, cultures have looked for human causes to explain why God would act so maliciously. What people have usually done is blame the victims.

Is this the God that Jesus talked about? Is this a god of love?

In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 13, we can read part of a conversation between Jesus and some of the people he taught. The topic seems to be the question of whether or not disaster befalls people as punishment for their sins.

"Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

Jesus rejects the idea that those who died when the tower in Siloam fell were somehow “more guilty”, or more deserving of punishment than anyone else.

Robertson, and many other preachers over the centuries have tried to scare people into accepting their version or “brand” of faith. Often the “sales pitch” has included the not-so-subtle hint that “believers” will be protected from the kind of harm that befell the people in Siloam, and Haiti.