One Cheer (Amid a Chorus of Boos) for Pat Robertson

January 14, 2010

Many condemnations have been made of Pat Robertson through the years — all of them richly deserved. Robertson is the object of scorn once again for his recent claim that the people of Haiti made a "pact with the Devil" in order to gain independence from the French in the early 1800s. Robertson was so sure of his facts that he emphasized this point by saying: "true story." As a result of this pact, Haiti has been visited with many problems and natural disasters, including the recent devastating earthquake.

Robertson’s intimate knowledge of Satan’s contracts makes one wonder whether he’s ever worked in Satan’s legal department, but I’m not here to ridicule Pathetic Pat (why pile it on?) but to thank him for being honest and forthright about God.

In recent years, in response to increased critical examination of religion, many liberal religious apologists have claimed that these critiques of religion have it all wrong. There is no all-powerful, personal God, overseeing and intervening in our world, who guides hurricanes away or toward land depending on His will. Instead, there is only some nebulous spirit or life-force that fills us with joy, and makes us want to join hands and sing "Kumbaya." In fact, some scholars, such as Karen Armstrong, argue that religion is not about belief in a personal God at all, but about commitment and activity.

For the ordinary believer this is all rubbish. Ordinary believers – and they do believe – have faith in a robust God, who can deliver them from evil (or not). Pat Robertson reflects the views of the ordinary believer. You see them all the time on TV being interviewed after some natural disaster. They claim they prayed to God to spare them from the tornado/hurricane/earthquake and God answered their prayers. Notably, the people who died can’t speak to the issue of why their prayers were not answered, but Robertson at least tries to offer an explanation. The victims were cursed for some reason, and in the case of Haiti it was because of an imprudent pact with the Devil. (Is there ever a prudent pact with the Devil?)

Of course, Pat Robertson’s claim is absurd. But his claim usefully underscores the absurdity of religious belief in general, instead of obscuring it with a veil of touchy-feely doubletalk. So, one small cheer for Pat Robertson.

But he’s still a jerk.