Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pat Robertson: This is why people become atheists!

As I've told my sophomores, "The best argument in general against God and in particular against Christianity is....Christians."

If I hear Robertson correctly, he is saying that due to apact with the devil sworn two-hundred years ago, God has wholly forsaken the Haitian people and allowed them to sink to the level of being the poorest country in the West. Furthermore, this God has decided to kick the Haitians while they are down: crushed by poverty and beset by political turmoil, God has unleashed an earthquake to help prompt a spiritual awakening. But, Robertson hopes, if they just turn away from this "pact" and have a "great turning to God" then everything, apparently, will be okay.

Here's the rub: this is not the Christian message. As I wrote earlier in the week, the message of Christianity is not that if we follow Jesus Christ that we will not suffer. Indeed, it seems to me that the message is that if we follow Jesus as he lived and love as he loved, we will be thrust upon the timbers of the cross! Christianity is not a talisman that wards off evil; it is, rather, a religion that recognizes the presence of evil but has the faith that evil is not stronger than good, that love will conquer hate, that life will overcome death.

The cross befell Jesus Christ, the one Christians believe who showed us how to be truly human. Jesus was crucified because humans have an allergy to love. Infected with sin, our reaction in the face of pure love is suspicion and satanic violence. Jesus' passion and death were not a punishment; they were, rather, the consequence of loving. The God of Life revealed by the Resurrection stands at a far remove from a punitive deity. The Risen Christ is not the Terminator, returned to slay his enemies. The God revealed by the Resurrection is the boundlessly effervescent and creative God, one who wills life and not death. If I am write in this, then it is not a stretch for me to make this claim: God is not to blame for this tragedy, for death and destruction are not the ways of God. Life is.

Nevertheless, there will be many who question, "Where was God yesterday?" Since I don't believe that God capriciously set off an earthquake with the intention of wide-spread disaster, let me ask me ask this: Where have we been? Where have we been as Haitians, our sisters and brothers, languished in crippling poverty? How is it that we could obsess over our 401k's while other human beings try desperately to survive? What have we done? What are we doing?

As a man of faith, I have no question of God's presence in this chaos. God is present in the relief workers, in the searchers, in those whose prayers have been lifted up in support of the dead and missing and injured and those who survivors who grieve. My question, my anger, and my shame is not at God. It is at myself. It is at myself and all those who have sat by and allowed this poverty to endure, who have empowered the exploitation of a people, who have enabled an infrastructure unable to withstand an earthquake. My rage is that 100,000+ lives had to be lost in order to spur me to think, to feel, to remember that the world does not revolve around me, that it does not center on the United States. My sorrow and rage compels me to ask again: Where were we?

Now that I think about it, Mr. Robertson may actually be right: the root of this tragedy is godlessness. But we are not to place this charge at the feet of the Haitian people. Instead, we ought to look to ourselves, to our nation, to our world and ask how we have enabled a situation to grow so dire and why we have done nothing to heal the situation.

At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, let me say this: if the God we invoke in the Pledge of Allegiance does not demand that our eyes peer beyond our borders, if this God does not ask us to think of others, if this God does not call for us to share our resources with those who have none...then I fear we invoke the aide of an idol. Such an idol serves to ratify our own laziness and indulgence, asking for nothing while permitting us to maintain the status quo. Ours is an idolatrous god if it condones our sitting comfortably and securely while entire nations are ground down underneath the wheels of sinful poverty and oppression.

I love my country and I am proud of our heritage. But I am given to wonder whether we've made our supposed belief in God little more than a divinely underwritten insurance policy rather than a relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe who calls each one of us to service. As a Christian, I have heard this invitation from the Word of God, Jesus Christ, and I have offered my life to the service of Christ's mission and the promotion of God's Kingdom. From where I sit today, in a city that is no stranger to sinful structures, I am forced to ask: what am I doing? Not enough. Not enough. Not enough.

My prayer today is for the godless. Not the godless of Haiti, because I don't believe that God did this as a punishment. I pray for the godless who have enabled this to happen, for those who have sat by idly when they knew of the terrible conditions that made possible the scope and severity of this disaster. It is for the godless of us who bow before false idols and self-righteously claim that the world's affairs are not our problem.

Ultimately, I cannot believe that God has forsaken his people. I think it more the case that we have forsaken God. Perhaps now must be the time of a-theism: the moment when we cast aside the false god Mr. Robertson preaches - the petty god who wantonly wrecks havoc and destruction on human beings - and we embrace the God of Jesus Christ. For the true God is Creator and Sustainer, the Holy One who wills that all have life and have it abundantly, the one who invites all to dwell as sister and brother in the Kingdom of God underneath the Light of the Lamb.


Tomasino said...

I'll say that prayer with you, Ryan. There have been a lot of comments on the comment, so to speak, floating around on Facebook. I was halfway through writing my own, which I'll admit was quite angry, when I saw your post show up in my RSS feed. Thanks for saying it much better than I could.

A Nun's Life said...

Well done, Ryan. Thank you.

Charlie Roy said...

I'll join you in that prayer as well. The wealth and health evangelical gospel has essentially preached a christianity without the cross.

I heard a lovely story once that went something like this...... Two man sat on a bridge staring at the water below while discussing death. One turned to the other and said, "We'll if there is a God I can't wait to meet him and ask him how he can let so many horrible things happen on Earth." The other man turned and said , "I'm more worried God might ask me those same questions."

Be well in Christ

Matt O'Malley said...

For a good reaction to Pat Robertson's remarks, check out the opening to "The Daily Show" for Jan. 14. Jon Stewart makes a fantastic point.

Anonymous said...

thank you so so much for this post!

I'm new to your blog and read about it in 'Company' as I teach at the U. of San Francisco which is a Jesuit university. I ended up here tonight after googling Jesuit meditation!

And well I needed to finally end up on your blog! Its refreshingly wonderful, reminding me of what I most love about the Jesuits; a beautiful blend of committed Christianity with intellectual rigor. Thank you for taking the time to share your journey.

Matthew Batty said...

"it is [Christianity], rather, a religion that recognizes the presence of evil but has the faith that evil is not stronger than good, that love will conquer hate, that life will overcome death."

That is the best statement of Christian faith that I have ever read. It is one that I, a Christian and an atheist, can embrace. That faith statement says that one can believe in goodness and love without the encumbrances of superstition. That is a faith statement that makes a God postulate superfluous. Thank you.