“But What Do You Do?”– Take Off the Hoods!

I just finished a biography of J.Frank Norris called ‘The Shooting Salvationist’ by David R. Stokes. Norris was America’s first megachurch media star in the 1920’s, but his reputation dimmed somewhat when he succumbed to compassion fatigue. Instead of counseling a troubled soul who came to his office he shot the man dead.

Texas in the 1920’s was Klan Kountry. Like many other politically connected men of ambition; Norris enjoyed a friendly relationship with the fraternal terrorist organization. They shared common enemies– Catholics and saloon owners, and the Klan never bothered anyone who mattered.

So, speaking of people who matter, why in the 21st Century am I ragging on Pat Robertson? He’s so old he’s almost cute, in an evil gnome kind of way.

Well, like the elderly Rupert Murdoch, he sits on top of a media empire. Pat Robertson’s 700 Club broadcasts it’s own version of the news across America and the world. If my informal survey of what’s on TV when I make nurse visits is any indicator, Christian Broadcasting Network has a large following, and they vote. That’s why politicians take Robertson seriously.

For the Left, he’s always good for an outrageous sound byte, like this explanation for the murderous attack on the Sikh Temple…

“What is it?” the TV preacher wondered. “Is it satanic? Is it some spiritual thing, people who are atheists, they hate God, they hate the expression of God? And they are angry with the world, angry with themselves, angry with society and they take it out on innocent people who are worshiping God.”

“And whether it’s a Sikh temple or a Baptist church or a Catholic church or a Muslim mosque, whatever it is, I just abhor this kind of violence, and it’s the the kind of thing that we should do something about,” he added. “But what do you do? Well, you talk about the love of God and hope it has some impact.”

Yes, we abhor this kind of thing…

Whether they burn crosses on your lawn or a pile of leaves it’s untidy and ruins the grass.

Whether they spray a swastika on a synagogue or a tagger’s initials it’s graffiti vandalism, how deplorable.

Whether it’s a terrorist symbol or a gauche fashion statement, a white hood is not something a minister should wear in church.

“But what do you do?” Robertson asks after blurring distinctions and making a false equivalence.

Any gathering, for worship, music or politics, could suffer a mass shooting, especially with guns so cheap and available. But this attack on the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin was carried out by a man who was active in hate groups and had his intentions tatooed all over his body. He was a crime waiting to happen.

It doesn’t let you off the hook if you wear you hood backwards and claim you don’t see.

Robertson is giving talking points to an audience of millions. Stuff happens. Atheists are terrible people so all crimes must be the fault of atheists. Or the devil. And what do you do anyway? Talk about the love of God. Don’t call out sin when some of your best friends might take offense. There’s nothing we can do about this poor old world. Let’s move on and unite against our real enemies, the feminists, gays, atheists.

Hey, a revolving enemies list is nothing new. J. Frank Norris got quite chummy with the Catholic Church in his later years when they found a common enemy in the Red Menace (that’s Communism, not the Republican Party.)

Are any of the megavangelists going to come out powerfully against hate, against prejudice, against the hostility to immigrants, to those who are different from the majority. Will Evangelicals confront the sad history of the Klan, enabled by too many Christian Churches? It wasn’t a question mark they burned, after all.

Fortunately, the secular law of the United States does recognize organized crime and will pursue this vicious murder of innocent people in their place of worship– will investigate the collaborators in the crime. Church members, and everyone who wants to exercise the right to peaceably assemble should be grateful that there is something we can do.

Deal With the Devil

Some time ago I was talking with a nurses aid as we took a break on our shift. The TV was playing Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. “He visited Liberia,” she said.
“I hope you counted the silver after he left,” I replied.

Pat Robertson got his fifteen minutes at the top of the news recently by saying that the people of Haiti got whacked by the Almighty for a deal their ancestors made with the Devil. God seems to be Robertson’s own Divine Luca Brasi. But a little slower.

If God takes centuries to react then Pat Robertson’s descendants had better watch out for stray lightning bolts. Pat Robertson made a deal with the former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, who is now on trial for crimes against humanity.

Prosecutors have accused Taylor, who served as Liberia’s president from 1997 to 2003, of ordering his subordinates to murder and mutilate civilians, cut off their limbs, use women and girls as sex slaves, abduct adults and children, and force them to perform labor or become fighters to further his economic and political ambitions in the region. Taylor has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Charles Taylor may be only mortal, but he was surely the Devil to the people whose lives he destroyed. Liberia deserves justice. There are many Rhode Islanders who suffered Liberia’s civil war, coming here as refugees.

But Robertson, who was also friendly with Congo’s dictator, Sese Seko Mobutu, is fond of the earthly treasure. He trolled Congo for diamonds, Liberia for gold. He does better trolling the elderly, lonely and desperate in America for donations, but can’t resist trying to maximize his take.

Jesus said something about people who were like a beautiful tomb, grand on the outside but nothing but a rotting corpse on the inside. Not naming any names. Just reflecting on the Holy Word.

Angels of Light

Even 2,000 years ago Rabbi Jesus knew that some people weren’t what they seemed to be. The organizer of the group that went to Haiti to rescue children, and ended up trying to leave with children who were not orphans–whose parents might have been able to take them home if only they had some help– turns out to have a troubled past.

Remember the Golden Rule. If you were ever in such a terrible situation and begging for help, what would you want? To have someone help you care for your child, or someone take your child to a foreign country? News accounts say at least one child was crying for her mother. Just because they are poor, doesn’t mean you can ignore all the rules.

UPDATE: Not only does the organizer of this badly conceived ‘rescue mission’ have a suspect past, their lawyer is a suspected human trafficker who is alleged to have transported women and girls tricked into prostitution. We should know soon is he is the same man the Dominican police have been seeking.

It’s been asked, would American evangelicals go into a place like say– Bosnia after the civil war, and try to load a bunch of white children into a van and drive them off, no questions asked? What were they thinking?

BACKGROUND: There have been numerous scams where Christians have been persuaded to donate to ‘aid’ programs that were actually scams. There are also scams where Christians sign on to a scheme to get rich quick on African gold. Pat Robertson took donations in the US to set up an operation in Congo that is alleged to have been an attempt to loot diamonds with the collaboration of dictator Sese Seko Mobutu.

Children are more precious than gold. What was planned for those Haitian children, and again, why did the Christians not offer help to the parents so they could care for their own children in their own country?

Why Poor People Support Pat Robertson

In Kmareka tradition of reporting the news before it happens– look for the wingnutisphere to find and circulate quotes from Haitian preachers blaming their congregations for the earthquake.

Religion can be a refuge and a help in a disaster…

Since Tuesday’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake, hundreds of thousands of Haitians have slept out in the streets, singing hymns for comfort and praying in the darkness.

About 80 percent of Haitians are Catholic and 16 percent Protestant, though more than half the population are believed to practice voodoo, a religion with roots in Africa.

Many Haitians have turned to God for an explanation of their impoverished country’s worst catastrophe in living memory, which has killed up to 200,000 people.

Or it can be salt in the wounds…

As desperate believers gathered to pray Sunday across the shattered capital, the Rev. Eric Toussaint told a congregation gathered outside the ruined cathedral that the earthquake “is a sign from God, saying that we must recognize his power. “Haitians, he said, “need to reinvent themselves, to find a new path to God.”

Such as Pat Robertson may rise to favor with the rich, but they get their start taking money from widows and orphans, promising them that God will pay them back with interest and turn His kindly aspect on them. If not, they have only themselves to blame.

How do you make sense of an earthquake that rips apart a city? Is there a reason? Is random chance more frightening and terrible than the corrupt preacher who tells you that you are being punished for your sins?

A poem from 1898 speaks from the depths of despair…

Hap by Thomas Hardy

If but some vengeful god would call to me

From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,

Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,

That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!”

Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,

Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;

Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I

Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,

And why unblooms the best hope ever sown? —

Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,

And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan. . . .

These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown

Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

So when you hear some radio jock say that Pat Robertson isn’t so bad because some Haitian hellfire preacher is also lashing the afflicted, remember that we are all human. To be staring into the void in the worst of times, wondering if there is a God– hope that you never find yourself there.

IN RELATED NEWS: Nomi at ‘I Dreamed I Saw Grace P. Last Night’ posts a list of Rush Limbaugh’s corporate sponsors. If you or your church donated to Haitian relief, you might not want to cancel that out by donating to the Limbaugh family fortune.

Job’s Friends and Pat Robertson

Every so often I visit a house or apartment and forget to ask the patient to turn off their TV. The 24-hour news is so ubiquitous it becomes a kind of white noise. There’s a lot of Fox out there, and I usually don’t pay it any attention. But once in a while something slips through so biased and outrageous that I turn around–it’s CBN.

Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network has simulated news programs that look like the real thing. Being accountable only to God, as Pat channels Him, they have no journalistic standards to worry about. Like our former president, they are fond of uniforms they never earned, and use the format of network news to pass themselves off as having a connection with reality.

Pat Robertson would be a harmless crank except for his media empire, vast fortune and political connections with former presidents and anyone who wants the hearts and votes of the religious right. Everything he publishes on his network is ‘religiously correct’ and filtered through his own self-serving take on the Bible. When he uncorks something really nasty the internet loves it and it travels at the speed of snark.

So I won’t quote him here, just to say that in the Book of Job, the lowest moment of Job’s suffering came when his friends visited him and told him that he must have done something really awful to be smited by God that way. ‘Repent’ they smugly exhorted.

In more recent times, the Americans caught in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina waited long, longer than they should have, while the TV networks painted them as vandals and insurgents. Will the Red Cross enter Haiti to give aid sooner than they did New Orleans? Possibly. False rumors cost lives.

Rush Limbaugh is trying to find a reason to blame President Obama for the earthquake and stake out a patch of ground where his fans can feel superior for not caring. Haiti has suffered much and the faint of heart need to assure themselves that it couldn’t happen here. There are tremors in California, but they are all libertines out there anyway, and God probably plans to off them soon.

The great advantage of being ‘faith-based’ is that you can invoke the supernatural to explain natural events. If the God of Earthquakes is out there crushing schools and homes and hospitals it’s so reassuring to know that he thinks you’re special. Like Job’s friends, take someone’s misfortune as proof they deserved it. Very Old Testament, and even in Old Testament times they saw through it. Jesus didn’t care for that kind of thing either. Pat Robertson, if you find you are afflicted with hemmorhoids don’t say the Bible didn’t warn you.

OKAY: If you have to see it, Nomi will link you to Pharyngula, with the Robertson quotes and many passionate comments.

I ALWAYS UNDERESTIMATE THEM: Washington Monthly says that Robertson tells his story about the Haitians being cursed as a lead-in to solicitations for his own charity. Would you trust ‘Job’s friends’ in a disaster?

BUT BLOGGING AIN’T ENOUGH: Feministe has a list of links to aid organizations and charities with good reputations and solid track records of using the money to help those who need it. I just used it myself for Doctors Without Borders and it didn’t hurt a bit.

UPDATE: According to Daily Kos, God and Jesus are boycotting the 700 Club. God is denying Robertson’s claims that they are in constant contact. So who are you gonna believe?