Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti: Voodoo, Pat Robertson, and the Catholic Church

Pat Robertson got himself into the news this week.

A CNN article read, in part:
"..Robertson, the host of the '700 Club,' blamed the tragedy on something that 'happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it.'

"The Haitians 'were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever,' Robertson said on his broadcast Wednesday. 'And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, "We will serve you if you will get us free from the French." True story. And so, the devil said, "OK, it's a deal." '..."
(CNN (January 13, 2010))
I like to think that pastor Pat means well. What he was thinking, I have no clue. His 'wrath of a tardy god' approach was so - interesting - that I discussed it twice, in another blog.
"...The CNN article doesn't say whether Pat Robertson thinks the Haitians living today should be helped or left to suffer the anger of a procrastinating god.

"The Haitian revolution, again, was in 1804. This year is 2010. Someone born the same year that pastor Robertson says those Haitians over there made a 'pact with the devil' would be 206 years old this year...."
(Apathetic Lemming of the North (January 13, 2010))
After writing that, I looked up Haitian, French, and Mexican history.
"...If some of what pastor Pat Robertson said sounded - odd - you probably didn't sleep through history class.

"Pastor Pat, A Reality Check, and Alternate Histories

"Never mind that 'pact with Satan' stuff. Let's look at Haiti's history. And France's.
"Haiti in the Real World
"Haitians were none too happy with their French rulers. Understandably, I think. The point is, in 1791 they revolted. And lost. It's called a 'slave revolt,' which gives you an idea why I think the Haitians had a point.

"Haitians tried again in 1802. It gets a little complicated at that point, but bottom line: The revolution went ahead anyway.

"In 1804, Haiti declared independence. And the French Senate proclaimed Napoleon Bonaparte emperor.

"In 1838, France recognized Haitian independence.

"In 1848, Napoleon III was elected president of France. Mexico and France went to war after that. Not Haiti. Mexico.

"Oh, dear: that doesn't sound much like the Haiti Pat Robertson described...."
(Apathetic Lemming of the North (January 14, 2010))
I'm pretty sure that a dedicate disciple of Pat could cobble together a nice explanation for what the televangelist said. And, like I said, I prefer to believe that he means well.

Pat Robertson's unusually whack description of Haitian, Mexican, and French history kept bothering me, though. This morning I had a bit of free time, and followed up on an idea.

Sure enough: about 80% of Haitians are Catholic. And, roughly half the Haitian population practices voodoo. ("World Factbook," Haiti, CIA)

Voodoo, Magic, Divination and Those Catholics

First of all, voodoo is:
  • "a charm superstitiously believed to embody magical powers
  • "followers of a religion that involves witchcraft and animistic deities
  • "...a religious cult practiced chiefly in Caribbean countries (especially Haiti); involves witchcraft and animistic deities"
    (Princeton's WordNet)
The same source defines witchcraft as "the art of sorcery" and sorcery as "the belief in magical spells that harness occult forces or evil spirits to produce unnatural effects in the world".

That's a long way to go, but I like to make sure that terms are defined. Voodoo, arguably, is a sort of magic. Not the harmless prestidigitation that stage magicians perform as entertainment. Magic. And yes, it's real.

The Catholic Church has a word to say about divination and magic: don't. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2115-2117)

Personally, I'd rather juggle plutonium without a hazmat suit. But I'm getting off-topic.
Catholics: America, Perceptions and Reality
I grew up in a quite sincerely anti-Catholic part of America. Researching what, if anything, was behind the wild stories I heard and read contributed to my conversion to Catholicism - but that's another story.

It's hard for me to shake the impression that some people living in this country are convinced that when 'those Catholics over there' aren't digging tunnels between the rectory and the convent or performing Satanic rites, they're hatching papist plots to overthrow the Anglo-Saxon States of America.

Where Pat Robertson is on what I'll call the Billy Graham-Tony Alamo continuum, I have no idea.

But, given America's culture and history, and Haiti's: it's not at all hard to think that Robertson may have assumed that since most Haitians are Catholic - 'everybody knows' what they're like - and half practice voodoo, Haitians just simply must have made a pact with the Devil or something.
Haiti is not Voodoo
Yes, voodoo is very much a part of Haitian culture and beliefs. But there's more to Haiti than Voodoo.
"...'Why has Haiti become what it is today?'

"There is no national mystique. We are torn between currents of all kinds which give way to one another or combine. Some are purely and simply opposed to the development of our people and our country. There is an attempt to reduce our Haitian culture to one of its forms of religious expression; voodoo: By this very fact we tend to reject our identity. We have not yet understood that we have a common destiny and that it is together – and only together – that we shall be able to fulfill our present and our future...." (USCCB (December 17, 1993))

Wrath of a Procrastinating God and Getting a Grip

I accept the idea that actions have consequences: and that what I do today may continue to affect my descendants for many generations to come.

On the other hand, I don't think that Pat Robertson's combination of fictitious history and "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" theology is helpful right now. I'm sure that some of Robertson's devout followers find consolation in the idea that those sinners (the ones over there) are getting what's coming to them. Haitians don't need to be told that it's their fault: that God's killing them because of something that happened about two centuries ago.

They do need help: food; water; medical supplies; bulldozers; trained search and rescue teams. My hat's off to the folks in Haiti who, with about as much expertise in lifting buildings off people as I've got, are digging their families and neighbors out of the rubble. On the other hand, I think they wouldn't mind a hand. And excavators.

If you're Catholic, in America, there may be a second collection this weekend. Whatever your beliefs, you may be able to help: "Haiti: About the Earthquake, Relief, and Related Topics."

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.