Pat Robertson Gets it Wrong

Enough ink has already been spilled objecting to Pat Robertson’s comments describing Haiti’s disastrous earthquake as the result of a pact they made with the devil 300 years ago. If you’re unfamiliar with the comments you can view the video below. Not only are the remarks insensitive and ill-timed, but they bespeak an flawed mentality common in biblical times that Jesus himself moves away from. I’d like in this post to examine the passages where it seems clear that Jesus himself would have something of a rebuke for Mr. Robertson.

First, just a few facts. Whatever pact Mr. Robertson thinks Haitians made 300 years ago with the Devil, the current population of Haiti is overwhelmingly Catholic and Christian. Approximately 80% of Haitians are Catholic. It is true that there are vestiges of voodoo intermingled with the Catholic Faith of some Haitians. Haitians who observe some voodoo rituals still think of and refer to themselves as Catholic. The Catholic Church to be sure condemns this intermixing of ancient voodoo with Catholicism though it persists in some places, especially in rural areas. But voodoo is not satanism. The Church condemns it as idolatry, not as satanic. False or imperfect  religious practice and intermixing of idolatry are not unique to Haiti. But lets be clear the vast majority of Haitians are Catholic Christians, even if some are imperfectly so, they are NOT worshippers of Satan.

Now, let’s return to Pat Robertson’s remarks. The premise of them seems to be a philosopy not uncommon in biblical wherein those who suffered catastrophic loss must have been guilty of some sort of sin for this misfortune to have happened. Perhaps they were born blind, then their parents must have sinned. Perhaps they were killed in a sudden accident, then they must have sinned. At least this was the thinking.

Now such a thinking carried forward into Jesus’ times  and he both encounters and deals with the attitude. In effect he sets such thinking aside or at least dispenses with the notion that God singles out certain people or groups out for punishment. Let’s look at these texts.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. (John 9:1-3)

Note how the disciples manifest the typical attitude of the day that it must have been the sin of the man or his parents that he is blind. But Jesus says that he is not blind sue to the fact that he sinned and then goes on to set forth an entirely new understanding that suffering is often an opportunity to manifest the glory of God shining through our human weakness. Suffering and the cross lead to glory. But it is clear that Jesus does not accept the notion advanced by his disciples that link this man’s suffering to his or his parents sin. Hence, even if we were to accept Pat Robertson’s rather questionable historical data that the ancestors of these Haitians made a pact with devil it hardly follows from Jesus’ teaching that they are suffering today due to that. Let’s consider another text:

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.” (Luke 13:1-5)

Here again Jesus refers to the attitude that those who suffer calamities are worse sinners than the rest. He refers to it only to reject it. But then Jesus turns the tables on those with such an attitude and warns them that something far worse than the physical loss of life will await them if they do not repent. He warns them that they will perish unto hell. This much is clear  for he goes on to tell a parable (not reproduced here) of a fig tree that comes under judgement. It will be spared for one year more but it still does not bear fruit it will be cut down and thrown into the fire (cf Luke 13:6-9). So here again, Mr. Robertson’s theory that the Haitians have suffered due to some sin that makes them as the parable puts it worse sinners than all the others,  is rejected quite explicitly by Jesus.

Further, consider the over all approach of Jesus toward the crippled, the lepers, the blind, deaf and others with similar physical maladies. Jesus does not say to any of them that they have these problems due to sin that they or their ancestors committed. He heals them without mention of sin being the cause of their distress. There is one exception to this in the paralyzed man let down through the roof (cf  Mark 2:1-12). When healing him Jesus says, have courage son, your sins are forgiven. This causes a stir among the Pharisees who declare that God alone can forgive sins. To prove his power to forgive sins Jesus heals the paralyzed man. And this seems to be the general context of the passage which is more an affirmation of Jesus’ power to forgive sins than a teaching that the man was paralyzed due to his own sin.

Finally, a couple of disclaimers. Jesus teaching does not exclude ANY relationship between sin and suffering. First of all, in a general sense,  ALL suffering is traced back to Original Sin which brought suffering and death into the world. Secondly there are surely some sufferings we experience in relationship to sins committed. Maybe it is a hangover from too much drinking, or a sexually transmitted disease from fornication, and so forth. But it is not as though we can claim that everyone who suffers anything is guilty of some sin or that God singles some people out for special punishment. These are things we cannot know, especially in the case of natural disasters that affect so many people.

Let’s be honest, most of us have never gotten the the punishment we really deserve. If God were “fair” we’d all be in hell. As it is he is merciful, thanks be to God! To point to others in a disaster and say, “Look at them, they must have sinned” is to invite disaster upon ourselves. Because as Jesus in effect says above “If you think they are worse sinners than you, wake up, I’ve got something coming for you that might be far worse if you don’t shape up.”  So careful Pat Robertson, not only are you at odds with the New Testament and Jesus himself, you also risk a stern warning from Jesus that you repent or experience something far worse.

Pray for the people of Haiti right now.

24 Replies to “Pat Robertson Gets it Wrong”

  1. Thanks, Msgr., for a strong and biblically-centered rebuttle to Robertson’s remarks. Horrific events, such as this earthquake, can lead one to think about God’s purpose or presence – but never would I have thought that these poor people were being punished for their ancestors’ “pact with the devil”. I imagine that some people will assume that Christians share his views.

    None of us can see into his mind, but do you think Robertson’s comment reflects just an incorrect and outmoded theology; or, perhaps, a hint of anti-Catholicism? Or do many “evangelicals” share Robertson’s outlook in general (not his specific comments on Haiti)?

    1. I am not sure how representative Robertson’s view is of other Evangelicals. They are by nature a disparate group. I am not sure if Robertson’s comments are anti-Catholic either. There could also be racially tinged views at work here along with politics. I suspect it is all but I do not know of Robertson well enough to say any of this as something I am sure of.

  2. IMHO Pat Robertson’s remarks on the diaster in Haiti is a cloaked form of anti-catholicism – I could be wrong.
    Protestant sects have been intensely proselytizing in all countries with historical / colonial Catholic ties. I see his comments furthering that agenda. The attitude being: “We need to free these poor people from their popish superstitions and bring them the true faith of the Bible” to avoid the wrath of God.

    God help the people of Haiti in their greatest hour of need.

    1. All of what you have said may well be factors. Alot of Evangelicals seem to connect voodoo with Catholicism. It is a fact that some Haitians have tried to meld the two but there are distinctions to be made with what the faithful do and what the Church teaches. Evangelicals don’t always get this right. But all this may feed into the anti-catholic views some of them have.

  3. Thank you for this post. I have friends who are being deployed to Haiti today to help. Please pray for them as well.

    I have unfortunately seen the attitude where people think those who suffer calamity are worse sinners firsthand. I have never been through a natural disaster but I have had losses of other sorts. If what Pat Robertson implied is true, then I guess I am a huge sinner because of all I have seen and been through. I do see how some suffering should happen as say, a result of getting drunk, as you mentioned. One priest told me that God does not simply let all these bad things happen. God is there to help us through it and give us strength. And if I did not have my faith I would not be where I am today.

    1. Yes, God’s allowance of things is somewhat mysterious to us but we must never forget that God is good and he is just. That God is singling people out is something Jesus rebukes

  4. Certainly, Pat Robertson’s remarks (and the related statement by Rush Limbaugh) are highly objectionable. Catholics can best show their objection by doing something positive to help the suffering people in Haiti. I imagine there will be some temptation to respond to him this weekend as Robertson appears at Virginia Governor-elect McDonnell’s inaugural. I think it is best that he just be ignored.

    And also, we just got word that one of the priests in my parish, Fr. Jasmin, has been heard from and is alive. He was in Haiti visiting his mother during the earthquake. Thanks be to God!

    1. Whatever the merits or demerits of Robertson’s comments, it really is not helpful (or the least bit charitable to the people of Haiti) to politicize the matter.

  5. Thanks for going beyond denouncing Robertson’s statements. It is useful – and essential – for us to understand what is wrong with his “theology.”

  6. I guess if you had the perspective so many non-Catholic Christians do about the quality of one’s faith being measures by health and prosperity, one could arrive at Pat Robertson’s conclusion, and also think faithful Christians should never be poor or experience hardship. I wonder, would Mr. Robertson say that the Apostle Paul, because he experienced years of suffering and pain, was lacking in sufficient faith? Surely Mr. Robertson would agree that Jesus had the power to immediately remove the thief next to him from his cross, but he didn’t. After Jesus told the thief that he would join Christ in paradise, the thief still hung on the cross and had his legs broken despite having received Christ’s favor. Christ’s actions and the lives of so many saints have shown us over and over again that faith and well-being/prosperity (or the opposite- illness and hardship) in this world are not necessary connected.

  7. I see my last comment was “removed” guess we are not interested in the truth here?

    I just read the part of the article about: “Whatever pact Mr. Robertson thinks Haitians made 300 years ago with the Devil, the current population of Haiti is overwhelmingly Catholic and Christian. Approximately 80% of Haitians are Catholic.”

    That explains why people kept popping kids out by the millions with no abilty to care for them. Catholics should pay for 80% of the populations needs right now and the Christians the rest based on the article information. It should be a religious expenditure not a ‘tax paper one’….. I’m making this post “copy” to other ones, in case you remove it like you did my last post.

    1. Jeoffry-

      I think the basic difference in our thinking here is that I believe that children are a blessing while it sounds as if you think they are an unnecessary burden. In addition, there is poverty in parts of the world where birth rates are low. We EACH have a responsibility to one another, but over and over again people choose their own convenience over the care of other human beings- that is why there are poor people in the world. Does it occur to you to be ashamed of your part in that when you shell out a ridiculous amount of money for some superlative little thing you think you so righteously deserve instead of considering what you may do for another? I mean no personal attack in that question, but it is something we should each think about.

      Furthermore, Catholic charities all over the world do quite well to take care of the world’s poorest people (even the non-Catholic poor) and would do even more with more resources. They serve parts in parts of the world others have forgotten and/or fear.

      Another thing you may want to consider is infant mortality rates when you speak about “popping out” babies. There are elements to others’ culture you may not understand, and if the old are dependent upon the young to care for them in their advanced years, it is often necessary (in some parts of the world) for women to give birth to more than 1.5 children.

    2. I am not sure what comment you refer to as having been deleted. Maybe it got spammed. Anyway Jeff, you don’t exactly sugarcoat your message do you. Your hostility is evident and puzzling. Clearly your view is that the poor are to blame for “popping” kids. I am unaware that the birthrate in Haiti is high or low. Just don’t know but I suspect that poverty anywhere is reated to a number of factors and not just your simplistic view.

  8. Jeoffrypsamolds:

    “….guess we are not interested in the truth here?”
    Wow. Thanks for sharing your caustic opinion. I’d be interested into your insight on the following question, “How is truth defined?”

      1. Thanks Msgr.

        I know you are right about that. I also wanted to thank you for your blog. It really helped me to read it. Although I still find Robertson’s comments totally outrageous, somehow after reading your blog I don’t feel quite as outraged as I did.

  9. Thank you for a thorough and thought provoking response Msgr.

    Msgr, the invocation of John 9:1-3, and your subsequent explanation, is troubling to me. I hope you do not mean to suggest that the horriffic tragedy in Haiti is in some way meant to reveal God’s glory.

    1. Well i am quoting Jesus here so I guess your question is better directed to him. I cannot make such claims for the Haiti tragedy. But neither will I run from the cross and the extreme paradox of it. Jesus teaches that in the case of the blind man, his glory was somehow meant to reveal God’s glory. Further, regarding his own crucifixion he referred to it as his exultation. Paul spoke of how we should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the Christian, suffering has a role in preparing us for glory and it leads to glory. Chirst commanded that we be will to embrace the cross etc. I cannot say that a tragedy of itself reveals God’s glory but I can say that faith and perseverance in spite of the Cross are of God’s glory. I am aware that this is all quite edgy and I leave it to you and other to make proper distinctions. An earthquake does not reveal God’s glory but the cross does.

  10. Thank you, Monseigneur. “Edgy” it is but your further qualification offers the seeds of hope and renewal; the cross as both repository and antidote for all the horror and grief.

  11. I have come to believe there are certain acts by a person that bring God’s punishment swiftly. Examples:-
    (1) A priest or another person in church receives property on behalf the church and proceeds to use it on his/ her own needs without proper permission of the church ie stealing from the church.
    (2) A person given property belonging to an orphan or a widow proceeds to deny the widow or the orphan much of that property.
    (3) An employee collecting a full wage but renders partial services.
    If you are such like, your dependents will suffer due to your own deeds.

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