Saturday, January 16, 2010

No Time For Hating on Haiti

On Tuesday, 12 January around five in the evening, a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit southwest of the capital city of Port-au-Prince in Haiti, the western hemisphere's poorest country. Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and televangelist Pat Robertson were quick to offer their judgments. Rush said that there was no need to send any aid to Haiti because they supposedly get our tax dollars already. He (as well as teabaggers) even claimed that this tragedy is only going to make President Obama look good as he offers U.S. aid. Sounds to me like they are jealous...because Obama has the compassion to actually want to do something, rather than President Bush's ignoring the crisis in New Orleans for five days after Hurricane Katrina turned much of the overwhelming African American city into a lake.

Even worse, Pat Robertson gave a "history lesson" on his show, the 700 Club in which he explained to his ignorant viewers that the "reason" this earthquake hit Haiti is because the Haitian people in the 1700 or 1800s "made a pact with the devil" to liberate them from the French. He has a tendency to speak in a folksy manner and throws weird ideas out there in his monologues. I used to watch his show as a teenager to understand how televangelists con people into following them. Pat Robertson does come off as a likable grandfather type and he has a friendly laugh. I didn't see how he presented this information to his viewers, but I imagine that he was pretty casual, folksy, and probably even threw in a chuckle or two as he said it.

His comment did cause an uproar, though, and offended a lot of people. In fact, its the kind of comment that probably seals his fate as a not very credible religious figure (if he ever was). No one should be surprised, though. He's made plenty of whoppers over the years. This one, though, is way over the top and out of line. What the hell does he know about Haiti, anyway? Or did he mistake Haiti for Hades?

The picture above is a fascinating one because you can see the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, two countries which share the same island of Hispanola in the Caribbean Sea. On the left side without the trees, you see Haiti and the results when a nation clearcuts its forested lands. Is it a coincidence that Haiti has consistently ranked among the world's poorest nations for much of its history? The country is plagued by corrupt governments, entrenched poverty, environmental devastation, overcrowded slums, crime, drugs...and of course, the strange mix of Catholicism and Santeria (the voudou / voodoo religion, which came from African animist spirituality). On the right side, is the prosperous and forested Dominican Republic, which occupies 2/3rds of the island.

The official language of Haiti is French-Creole, a dialect of French. When I was in college, I volunteered as an exit pollster for the 1998 mid-term elections. One of the guys on my polling team had served a mission in Haiti in the mid-1990s. He was still fluent in French-Creole and I remember envying him when he told me that. I knew at the time that the Clinton Administration was looking for fluent speakers of French-Creole to work in the U.S. Government. Unfortunately, this guy had no ambition to work for the government. His knowledge of French-Creole was wasted on him! I wouldn't mind learning this dialect myself, though from the few people I know who have been to Haiti, it sounds like a very depressing place to go, not to mention unsafe. The crime in Port-au-Prince makes Johannesburg, South Africa look like Oslo or Stockholm (two of the safest cities on earth). When is the world going to do something about the chronic poverty in our world? Poverty, crime, disease, and disaster all seem to go in hand. Hades, indeed.

Above is a photo a few people digging out from the rubble of the disaster. How can one not feel a sense of compassion for these people? How heartless does one have to be to dismiss them outright, as Rush and Pat have done? Why do these conservative opinion-shapers hate them so much? What did the people of Haiti ever do to deserve such scorn and condemnation of those two men, who spew their poisonous bile to hoards of unthinking morons that accept their opinions as though they spoke directly for their God?

Because of the poverty in Haiti, many buildings are not built to withstand an earthquake. News reports are expecting the number of casualties to be anywhere between 50,000 to 100,000 people. That's a good sized town / small metropolis (like everyone in Spokane WA or Peoria IL being killed). This first disaster of the new year / new decade only reminds me of the Christmas 2004 tsunami that killed over 100,000 people in the Indian Ocean area. These natural disasters remind us of our powerlessness against the mighty forces of mother nature. Fortunately, most Americans have compassion and generosity, quick to set up relief efforts to move vital medicine, clothing, food, and money to the critical region. I wish those who have a heart, who might be loyal listeners of Rush or Pat but also feel moved to donate money or blood or clothing to the people of Haiti, that they realize the demagoguery of these charlatans of the right.

What Pat Robertson did not say in his comments about Haiti is the most obvious. He blames the disaster on some pact long-dead Haitian slaves supposedly made with Satan to overthrow the slaveholding French regime. The unspoken word was "voodoo." Yes...it is hard to talk about Haiti without acknowledging how thoroughly ingrained voudou / voodoo is among the populace. Time for a history lesson. Are you listening, Pat?

The French who established a colony in Haiti were Catholic. The Africans they ripped away from the motherland were animists (ancestor worship, with superstition, curses, demonic possession, and other weirdness thrown in). The slaves who worked the fields of Haiti blended their masters' Catholicism with animism. Santeria is the result. Most people know about voodoo dolls (I have one that I bought in New Orleans. Hey...its cute looking! I just use it as decoration), where you can supposedly make a person feel pain by afflicting it on a voodoo doll that contains a person's lock of hair. There's also the belief in turning people into the undead or zombies. And animal sacrifice. Since people can hide behind Catholicism, it would be hard to know who is a practitioner of voudou, though you'd probably not want to piss anyone off, just to be on the safe side.

Is Santeria really all that scary? When I visited New Orleans over New Year's 2003, I just had to visit the Voodoo Museum. In front of me were two young ladies who had bought a ticket but were afraid to enter the museum. One of them asked the other, "Is it scary in there?" It wasn't a Disney ride, ladies! Just a museum. How scary could it be? I learned quite a bit about Santeria. In fact, I even saw a cool painting by a Haitian artist that depicted a baptism among Santeria followers. There was even a video footage of a Santeria worship service that was pretty over the top for me. However, I was struck by the idea that it was exactly like the services that the evangelicals within my church loved to have. There were Santeria equivalents to the concepts of "speaking in tongues", "being slain in the spirit", and outward displays of emotions (such as hand waving high in the air). I've never been comfortable with this pentacostal type worship (I'm too much the modest Midwestern), but it occured to me: "How dare these evangelicals judge Santeria adherents to be Satanic! They worship exactly the same way!"

Satanism is the catch-all category for anything "weird", which Santeria falls under because of the above-mentioned practices. But seriously...who are Christians to freak out about the blood sacrifice of animals in Santeria ceremonies when Christians imitate the same devotion to blood sacrifice with the passing of communion (in which the bread represents the flesh of Jesus and the grape juice as the blood of Jesus)? Let's be consistent and real here. I hate hypocrisy...especially when one group condemns another group for doing the same thing as them. It only looks different because they call it by different terms and because their skin is darker than yours.
My joke on Facebook about wondering how much a human soul was worth and if Satan could stop torturing Hitler for a second to come make me an offer for mine that I couldn't refuse cost me a friend. Someone had defriended me after that status update. Gosh...can't take a joke? I still haven't figured out who dropped me but I have to laugh. I often say outrageous stuff because I think its funny. I don't even believe that Satan exists, so how is that joke offensive? Religious people are too uptight sometimes.

Anyhow, I learned a lot about how the fundamentalist views the world when I shared a cubicle with an Assemblies of God woman back in 2000-2001. She did not like my comments about Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, or Pat Robertson. To her, these men were God's mouthpieces on earth and any criticism against them is BLASPHEMY against God. Can you understand why I was in hell for a year sharing a tiny cubicle with a woman like that, who talked Bible, Armaggedon, and Israel non-stop?

I was glad that I was long gone from there when 9/11 happened so I couldn't hear her repeat Robertson's and Falwell's theory about why that tragedy happened. They used the attacks as an excuse to go after their favourite scapegoats: liberals, feminists, homosexuals, and the ACLU lawyers. When they made that "connection", it proved to me that they did not understand cause and effect. Even the CIA made the connection. They call it "blowback" and acknowledged that the attacks were the result of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East dating back to the 1950s when they helped the British overthrow the democratically elected president of Iran and installed the unpopular Shah, who conveniently signed away the Iranian government's right to oil to a British oil company. Osama bin Laden himself said that his anger against the U.S. was the result of the 1990-1991 Gulf War, when a half million American soldiers camped on sacred Saudi soil to wage war against another Arab nation. That's a connection of cause and effect. Our dependence on Middle East oil and support of unpopular autocratic governments creates a backlash. The 9/11 hijackers couldn't care less about the feminists, liberals, homosexuals, and Jewish lawyers at the ACLU. They struck at the heart of American finance and military operations.

Robertson is at it again. Now, he's blaming the Haitians of today for something he claims happened a few centuries ago. First...are people responsible for the actions of their ancestors? I, for one, will not take responsibility for my ancestors...and I might have a few slave-owning ancestors. No one wants to be held to events that happened before they were born. Its stupid to do so.

Second, how can one claim with a straight face that it is a historical fact that a group of people made a pact with Satan? Did Pat Robertson witness the event himself? Did he help broker the deal? If Pat knows a lot about Satan, doesn't that make him automatically suspicious? I've posted a few comments on various friends' Facebook pages about Robertson's comments: "Who said Robertson is a Christian? He's a capitalist who mistook the Almighty Dollar for God." Robertson is exactly the person Jesus warned his followers about: a false prophet who would use Jesus' good name for ill purposes. We would recognize these people by the fruits of their actions. All anyone has to do to learn Robertson's true allegiance is examine his statements and mission at Regents University and the Christian Broadcasting Network. He is a capitalist who exploits religion as an opiate of ignorant masses, who send him money. Falwell died a few years ago, Oral Roberts recently...and though I hate wishing it, I kind of hope Robertson will be next. The sooner he can be sent to hell, the better for our planet. Hopefully some Santeria practitioner will do a voodoo ritual on Pat Robertson. That shit would be hilarious!