By now you have seen or heard this, from The Reverend Pat Robertson, probably a number of times since yesterday. This from huffingtonpost.com.
“Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it,” he said on Christian Broadcasting Network’s “The 700 Club.” “They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. 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 so, the devil said, okay it’s a deal.”
Robertson said that “ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other” and he contrasted Haiti with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic.
The actual legend, according to Slate.com, is that one of Haiti’s 1804 revolution’s leaders sacrificed a pig to the voodoo spirits as an offering for victory. It is unclear whether Robertson’s magnification is his own dramatic doing or what he has been told. Either way, Robertson’s ‘history lesson’ is of the same stripe and the same bold sweep as the biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, (“And they got together and swore a pact with the devil.”) In either of the cities (or the Five Cities, as is also referenced) the only virtuous people are Lot’s family in Sodom. In all of Gomorrah not one person is salvageable. Not one. No newborn baby, no frail grandmother stolen by Alzheimer’s, no laughing child with Down Syndrome. And God had done this before, on a global scale, with the Great Flood. And at that time, everyone with the exception of one family – everyone – deserved the darkest of Divine destruction. Robertson’s Christianity informs him that millions of Haitians – real, living, breathing, people who have walked the earth along with us – are nothing more than characters in a story.
God also committed this indiscriminate slaughtering when He visited death upon the firstborn son of every family in Egypt – celebrated in the Passover. One would think there were some firstborn sons of Egypt who, as well, had Downs Syndrome, or who were abolitionists, or in love with a Jewish slavegirl. But in the sweep of the story, they are treated no differently than their slaveholding, slavebeating neighbors.
This is the root of prejudice. The unwillingness to see people as individuals. The laziness – even supported by the Abrahamic God – of letting your mind settle into the expediency of storytelling: “And they got together…” As well, in the Bible: “…the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house.”
Kurt Vonnegut unsuccessfully proposed as his college master’s thesis an explanation of how Western storytelling destroys our empathy for humanity – the stories we are raised with and compelled by divide people into major characters – those we care about; and minor characters and background characters – those whom we don’t have a direct connection with, who are unworthy of our concern, unreal, and therefore only there to advance the plot, our plot – the pretty young woman found slain in a kinky sex position at the opening of most CSIs, the extra in the landing party beamed down along with Kirk, Spock, and others we can name.
We can be sure babies born Tuesday in Port-au-Prince were killed under concrete in hospital nurseries and in their mothers’ arms. Alzheimer sufferers’ memories finally vanished in a horrifically painful incomprehensible moment. And we know several UN peacekeepers and other purehearted aid workers perished.
But to the Reverend Pat Robertson – and with Evangelical Christians I have known – the language of storytelling is more real than living people. I have been told that all the world is just an epic movie unreeling for God. The sweeping simplicity of the word that Robertson has imbued himself in his entire life has overwhelmed an understanding of the true energy of life, the truth that we all are individuals, each person in this world as full and ripe with life and memory as he is. And as you are.
I feel ashamed that I have to turn away from Haiti’s horror. The Reverend Pat Robertson chuckles.