Of God and Disasters and Televangelists

Reference to the wrath of God seems part of human nature in times of disaster, but the televangelists take it too far when perhaps they could be concentrating on helping rather than pontificating

Amidst the anguish and devastation that is Haiti it is difficult to ignore the consistent references to God’s role in all of this.

Headlines have included talk of Haiti’s angry God, of people being forgotten, cursed and of course punished by God. Even President Obama wondered aloud if Haitians may feel they have been forsaken.

Then there was that No.1 whackjob and televangelist Pat Robertson who blamed the destruction of Haiti on a pact Haitians had supposedly sworn to with the devil to wrest them free from oppressive and cruel French occupation at the country’s founding a couple of hundred years ago.

Philosophers have for centuries been preoccupied with the God debate. Be God reality or fantasy, loving or malevolent, forgiving or vengeful, it seems to be human nature to quickly evoke the role of a higher being in times of disaster.

How any loving God could allow such a calamity is the question that follows tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes – acts of God or acts of nature as the insurance industry prefers.

Robertson and his ilk – the self-appointed God squad – seem to be able to slap a bumper sticker explanation on disaster and walk away confident in their superior position. It’s the Sodom and Gomorrah explanation which from supposed ‘Christians’ sits uneasily in the 21st century.

The ancient philosophers like St Augustine considered natural disasters, physical defects, sin and suffering to be evil, but argued God could not be the author of such evil because he is perfect and not lacking in any good, which of course evil is. Taking that further good can exist without evil, but evil cannot exist without good because it has to have something to corrupt i.e. goodness – before it can exist.

Robertson’s satanic pact is so much easier to grasp, but it is an insult to the millions of innocents in Haiti. I suppose it also excuses Robertson, Rush Limbaugh and co. from feeling the need to donate a single cent of their multi-million dollar collection plates to help those who are now dying from the consequences of unattended broken bones. Perhaps the televangelists are financing food and water and medical supplies, but somehow I doubt it.

As the television footage and first hand newspaper photos and stories pour out of Haiti there’s a different twist on the God question – the consolation some are able to find in prayer. Amidst the pain and tears pockets of survivors are praying supposedly to the very God Robertson says has punished them.

Perhaps they see the good in the massive response from other nations to offer relief and try to get essentials to them, and the unrelenting efforts to rescue people still buried in the rubble. Perhaps they see their prayers answered each time someone is pulled out alive, despite lying injured and buried for days. How would Robertson explain that then?

While few of sane mind would argue anything humanly possible could have been done to prevent the actual earthquake from hitting Haiti’s most populated area, its horrifying aftermath can arguably be labeled preventable.

Because of the state of Haiti before the earthquake the relief is so long in coming and the death toll so shockingly high.

Talk of rebuilding Haiti is little more than a cliché because Haiti at 149th on the UNHDP’s index was already a disaster zone before the earthquake hit last week. No-one really wants to recreate a country that had little in the way of infrastructure, health or education facilities. Why hanker for the return of a country that has been so badly deforested in pursuit of charcoal that it is incapable of withstanding floods, and where employment is so elusive poverty and disease including HIV Aids have become endemic? In this Bill Clinton is right. He wants to build Haiti, not re-build what existed prior to January 12.

Watching Clinton and George W. Bush as Obama’s special envoys do the US Sunday morning talk shows was a little unnerving, particularly seeing ‘W’ back talking about disaster relief with Katrina’s woeful aftermath being part of his legacy. It was also a bizarre reminder of how ‘W’ grins so inappropriately while talking of such clearly unamusing issues. However, he did make the point that Haitians are going to need the world’s help long after the media attention has moved on to other issues.

Ironically, in the week that marks a year since Obama’s inauguration, the man responsible for crippling the US budget with war commitments is on the telly talking of the need for Americans to accept yet another long term commitment to a nation’s rebuilding – a nation whose constitutional democracy America has in recent history undermined.

But for now recriminations, blame and judgemental televangelists are glaringly out of step with Haiti’s immediate needs… the absolute basics of life which are now being fought over by groups and individuals desperate to survive and ensure their own families make it through.

If Robertson is the Christian he purports to be, he could be encouraging those who do believe to pray to their God for respite for Haitians. For those who don’t believe in a higher power, it is time to be true to the philosophy of just getting on with life, dealing with the actuality of the disaster and making the sorts of choices that relieve the chaos in even the smallest of ways. Forget the ‘why’ this has happened and substitute it with the ‘how’ we as fellow human beings can make things better for innocent people in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. No pact with Roberston’s devil required.