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{Published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, January 20, 2010}

Is [[Pat Robertson]] insane, or simply mean and deluded?

It’s a question people should no longer be afraid to ask. On a recent episode of the [[700 Club]], Robertson implied that the reason an earthquake struck Haiti and hundreds of thousands of people died was because the entire nation was cursed. A couple of centuries ago, a Haitian rebel leader supposedly performed a Voodoo ritual in which he pleaded for support from the Devil in his people’s battle against the colonial French Empire. Since that time, so the story goes, the entire country has been cursed.

Christians around the country have deplored Robertson’s remarks.

Catholic Relief Services, based in Baltimore, is coordinating massive relief efforts. While presumably they read the same Bible as Robertson, they speak only of the desperate need of the people of Haiti for help. My rabbi has called on our congregation for aid, and I have every confidence that plenty of non-religious people of goodwill are also pitching in. None of them are talking about supernatural forces being at work. Why is Robertson so hung up about them?

Everyone, including Robertson’s followers, must be thinking about the enormous amount of suffering in Haiti and the tragic senselessness of it all. One biblical answer to the problem of suffering is apocalyptic in nature. People suffer because the world is temporarily under the sway of evil forces, but soon God will return in triumph (Mark 9:1, Mark 13:30). The book of Daniel describes an apocalyptic vision at great length, and of course the Book of Revelation describes the Last Battle in great detail.

This seems to me what informs Robertson’s thinking, if you can call it that. Tectonic plate movement, natural forces, the crushing poverty that prevents its people from building houses that can better withstand earthquakes, that’s all the Devil’s work. The more horrible the disaster, the greater the evidence that soon Jesus will return and vanquish evil. This has a lot of appeal, because it means 700 Club donors get to convince themselves they are living in historic times.

But Robertson and his followers are simply choosing one biblical answer to the problem of suffering.

In fact, there are quite a few, each widely different from the other.

Some parts of the Bible say that suffering leads to a greater good (the story of Joseph, the 10 plagues that fell upon Egypt). Others say that suffering makes you better equipped to help others (2nd Corinthians, chapter 1). Suffering teaches humility (2nd Corinthians, chapter 12). Suffering is a test of faith (Book of Job, first half). Don’t question God (Book of Job, second half). Suffering is a consequence of sin (just about any Old Testament prophet). And there are plenty more.

Nor do we need to look solely at the Bible. Theologians have advanced the free will argument as an explanation for suffering (although how it explains suffering from natural disasters is never really spelled out).

Rabbi Harold Kushner’s bestselling book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” makes the surprising claim that suffering occurs because God is powerless to prevent it. This book is a national bestseller, so clearly it resonates with many.

My point is that Robertson is cherry picking the Bible. Plenty of scholars and clergy, I dare say most, disagree with him. And well they should.

If you’re reading this column, I beg you, don’t let Robertson’s views win the day. He’s asking his followers to send aid, but that aid comes with the implied threat that if the people of Haiti don’t embrace the Pat Robertson view of the world, their loved ones and their descendants will continue to suffer and die by the thousands. If you disagree, donate funds to a Haitian relief charity. Every dollar you give says that you find Robertson’s views repugnant.

However you choose to personally grapple with the problem of senseless death on an unimaginable scale, the fact of the matter is that suffering exists, and it will not alleviate itself.

Send money to a Haitian relief charity of your choice. Then tell yourself “never again,” and work for a wealthier, more prosperous world. No nation should face that much loss of life from an earthquake. If we do our job right, no country will ever have to.