Cockahoop: a blog by Todd Stadler

And here's to you, Mr. Robertson (Jesus loves them more than you will know)

Sigh. Is this what it takes to rouse me from my bloggy slumber?

In response to the unimaginable horror of the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti this week, Pat Robertson, as almost everyone by now knows, did his shtick of reminding people that there's never a tragedy so bad that you can't pile his condemnation on top of it:

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. Napoleon the Third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, "We will serve you if you get us free from the prince." True story. And so the devil said, "OK, it's a deal." They kicked the French out, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor.

You know, if I ever said something that bone-achingly stupid on national TV, I'd hope that people would try to see it in the best light possible, so here is my best attempt at listing some mitigating factors.

First, this was not Robertson's only response to the earthquake's devastation. He was actually in the middle, as far as I can tell, of raising funds to help out the Haitians.

Second, he's not entirely the dementia-addled old man that he might seem on first hearing his reference to pacts with the devil. By which I mean that, well, there is at the very least a historical antecedent to his blathering. As Matt Yglesias notes, Robertson was probably referring to a Vodou ceremony that took place at Bois Caïman at the beginning of the Haitian Revolution. At that ceremony, a leader of the slave rebellion gave a speech that contrasted the slaves' god with that of the white, French plantation owners. So there's that, never mind that this was all before the first Napoleon came to power, much less his nephew Napoleon III and whatever.

But, of course, people aren't upset because Pat got his historical facts a little mixed up. They're upset — and rightly so — because he blamed people, as he so often does, for the horrible disaster that happened to them. He said (or at least gave every impression that he believed) that this earthquake happened to the Haitians because their revolutionary forebears did not worship Jesus.

Every time some major catastrophe happens, Robertson is there to tell the dead, the dying, the people in the rubble exactly what they did wrong, and what they can do in the future to avoid more catastrophes. It's a service he provides, I guess. The attacks of 9/11 could have been avoided if only America weren't so secular due to abortionists and feminists. Katrina wouldn't have happened if abortion were illegal. And, of course, Robertson's disastrous 1988 run for the Republican presidential slot could have been avoided had Amy Grant not crossed over to mainstream pop. (Joke! As with Napoleon III or whatever, she crossed over after he quit the presidential race.)

And while normally, I wouldn't care or even know what the man was talking about on any given day, I feel compelled to reply in this case because, to many people, Pat Robertson speaks for Christians. And I'm a Christian. (If you are a Democrat, consider what it would be like if anyone actually paid attention to Lyndon LaRouche and considered his every theory normative for Democrats.)

The main problem I have with Robertson's theology (as I've been exposed to it by contextless YouTube clips, at least) is that it's un-Biblical. And un-Christian. Other than that, you know, I have no problems with it ha ha ha.

No, seriously, it almost seems that, to him, the main point of Christianity is getting people to be good so they can avoid natural disasters and acts of terrorism. Failure to be good, of course, is like failing to pay your monthly home insurance installment: when something bad inevitably happens, you'll be fully accountable for it.

But then, Jesus puts it differently. In teaching his followers to love their enemies, Jesus reminds them that their "Father in heaven ... causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" — that is to say, He shows his love, even to people that hate Him. A different message than Robertson's, I would claim.

But then, what does the Bible say about natural disasters and other horrible events? Are they, as Robertson seems to claim, God's way of warning those affected by them, "You are bad. If you don't act good, more earthquakes!" Again, let's see what Jesus had to say about the matter:

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."

So, let's see. Some people from Galilee had apparently died in a horrible way at the hand of Pontius Pilate, and apparently there was some question as to whether this happened because they were bad people. To which Jesus clearly says no, going on to mention another recent catastrophe and pointing out that those who died in it were also no more guilty than anyone else.

Now I don't know if Robertson has read this passage or not, but you don't have any excuse. What do you see there — what does Jesus say that our response should be to tragedies and natural disasters? Is it to thank God that we're not as bad, as sinful as those so afflicted? No, no, no! It's to realize that bad things happen in this world because of sin, that we are as bad and sinful as those who suffered, and in light of that, to repent, because sinners — that is, all of us — need forgiveness. And that forgiveness is found in Jesus, not in being a good person (after all, how "good" is it if you're just obeying so you can avoid being punished by a tsunami?).

But here's the funny thing. It's easy to detest Robertson for his attitude. He seems to think that Haitians are bad people that bad things happen to, but that he personally is fine (erstwhile presidential campaigns notwithstanding) because he's a good person. And that's offensive, especially in light of what Jesus said in the previous quote.

But if we react by noting that Pat Robertson is a bad person but, well, we're not as bad as he is, then we obviously haven't learned the lesson here, either. Which is to say, Pat Robertson's latest media debacle is as much a call to repentance as any natural disaster. If all we take from this is that "Pat Robertson is a hateful man", without realizing the hate that is in our own hearts, then it's quite probable we're making the same mistake we're condemning him for.

4 comments so far

1 Jan 14 '10 12:34pm:

Brad Hammett replied:

"Well said. I am reminded of John 9, the healing of the man blind from birth. Jesus's own disciples asked the question, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus replied, "Neither.... It was so that the works of God might be displayed in him." These are people who walked with the Son of God and heard every word from the source. These people had the same juvenile understanding of the God-man relationship and I believe this to be a common perspective because it's what we know. Meaning, the parent-child relationship is our default model for our relationship with God and it is easy to think that you will be punished accordingly for each sin. Fortunately, God had mercy on us through the sinless life and death of Jesus, so that all who believe in He who sent Him shall not be condemned of their sins because they have already passed from death into life. I imagine Mr. Robertson has said this thousands of times and much more eloquently without mention in newsprint or posting on YouTube.

As far as flawed sinners go (myself included), John 9 shows Robertson is in good company, in regards to the alusion that sin begets tragedy. Nice of John not to call out a particular disciple for this question. No annonymity for Mr. Robertson. My prayers for the salt and light who work day after day to decrease suffering in that country."

2 Jan 15 '10 11:11am:

Larry White replied:

"Sorry it took something of this magnitude to shake off the slumber here, but meanwhile I've been edified by your comments on another blog and mining your archive expectantly. Thanks for fulfilling my hopes. I add my prayers to Mr. Hammett's."

3 Jan 15 '10 11:56am:

JonSLC replied:

"Also striking in Lk 13:1-9 is the implication in Jesus' words. He says, "These people did not die because they were intrinsically more evil," which leads to an implied question to his listeners: "Do you think you're still alive because you're less evil?" The answer, of course, being, "No!"

Also, Jesus' "repent or you too will perish" makes it personal. Rather than the focus being, "Why did all those people die?" we should be thinking, "What if I died suddenly? What would happen to ME?"

You've done a good job of warning us against the multi-directional self-righteousness that can emerge in the wake of disasters like this. We can be tempted to say, as Robertson implied, "That didn't happen to me because I sinned less." And then we can be tempted to think, "I'm glad I'm not Mr. Robertson! (And I bet God is glad, too!)"

Thanks for the insights. Always appreciate your comments, here and on Veith's blog."

4 Jan 15 '10 1:21pm:

X replied:

"Amen. Thank you Todd. Though our different theological heritages may conflict on the "acts vs. faith" thingie, I wholeheartedly agree with you. In my line of work, I have seen God again and again in the eyes and faces of those struck by tragedy."

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1:21pm Jan 15, 2010
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The method of modern humor

We were picking up food at Ya Hala, which is always full, so we had to park a few blocks away.

We ended up across the street from Montavilla United Methodist Church. It was dark out, so the only thing I could really make out from the church was their fluorescently lit sign — you know, the kind with the movable letters that changes from week to week.

The first few lines said the usual something about worship times and what-not, but it was the last line that really caught my eye.

It read: "God's love passed on here."

Montavilla United Methodist Church; Rev. Laura Truby; Worship 9:00AM; Sunday School 10:30AM; God's love passed on here
Fig A: The church sign in question (artist's conception)

Now, there are three ways I could think of reading this, and given that two of them aren't good, I'm going to go out on a limb and recommend they not use that phrasing again (under the assumption that the sign-writer reads my blog and, well, why wouldn't she?).

The meaning they (hopefully) intended was one suggesting that the love of God is shared in that church, between the members and, presumably, to any visitors. Fair enough.

Of course, "passed on" also means "politely refused", as in, "I was so stuffed after all the turkey that I passed on the pumpkin pie." Which would have the sign perhaps suggesting that, while God's love is no doubt quite nice, most of the members there are too full, thanks. Maybe next Sunday.

And then, there is the even-more-euphemistic use of "passed on", meaning "dead" or "died": God's love came to this church, but, well, it is no more, it is no longer with us.

All of which is a general reminder to churches and those who arrange letters on their signs: please do have a cynical person (as well as, it has been said, a 13-year-old boy) read your message ideas before you post them. Just saying.

Of course, who am I to judge what the Methodists believe? Certainly, the "What we believe" page on their Web site wouldn't rule out the latter two readings, I guess.

2 comments so far

1 Nov 25 '09 8:56am:

Pum replied:

"Oh my side hurts!"

2 Nov 25 '09 9:46am:

Todd replied:

"Oh, bummer, they actually put content on their "What we believe" page. And ruined my joke in the process. So very inconsiderate."

2 comments, last at
9:46am Nov 25, 2009
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This is greater than 140 characters

Three things that, for whatever reason, stuck in my head on my bus ride into work this morning:

  • A man driving a pickup truck with a "Got Chris Isaak?" bumper sticker on it. I ... what? Of all the permutations of that hyper-cliched milk slogan, this is by far the most baffling to me.
  • I was reading the third chapter of the book of Revelation, when I was struck by the NIV translation of verse 12: "Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God." I don't think I've ever before seen a pronoun in the objective case start a sentence. I guess that's proper grammar, as it's the object of the verb "will make", but it still made me read it a few times.
  • By far the most curious thing that happened was when a man got on the bus at 12th and Powell, carrying a watermelon. Well, half a watermelon. Which was unwrapped. And looked like he'd already been digging into it. The bus driver said something I couldn't hear to him, clearly about how he couldn't bring that on the bus. So the man turned around and chucked the watermelon out the door, into the bushes. And didn't seem all that upset about it, really.

1 comment so far

1 Jun 05 '09 2:18pm:

Beeman replied:

"Him who threw the watermelon I call a composter."

1 comment, last at
2:18pm Jun 5, 2009
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Holy days, and how we celebrate them

And now, today's completely original (as far as I could be bothered to determine by sharing it with a few coworkers, all of whom appeared to think that I was the first person to say such a thing to them) thought from me: American holidays, what's up with them, am I right?

To unpack that thought, I've noticed that American holidays tend to fall into two categories, which I will crudely dub "native" and "foreign". And, I will claim, the native holidays tend to revolve around eating too much, whereas the foreign holidays are exclusively for drinking too much.

What am I talking about? Well, there's Thanksgiving. Which is almost entirely about overeating, combined with a light sprinkling of dubious history. And Halloween, which is about eating waaay too much candy, though there are a few rituals you have to endure before you can justify your gluttony.

Most of the native holidays are like that, putting on some song and dance so you don't notice all the eating. Fourth of July? Sure, there's fireworks, but don't tell me it's not about the cookout. All summer holidays are about the cookout. Most people don't even have a vague idea what Labor Day or Memorial Day are supposed to be except as proper bookends to the cookout season, marked by sales and, well, eating lots of black-striped food.

But the foreign holidays! If a particular day or time of year is associated with a culture other than America's, it's all about the drinking.

St. Patrick's Day? I'm Irish(ish), gimme a beer. If it'll encourage the cultural distinction, make it green. And gimme another one, for good, um, Irish measure.

Cinco de Mayo? I have no idea what we're celebrating here (hint: it isn't Mexico's independence day, people), but gimme a tequila. Or at least a lousy Mexican beer. Olé.

Mardi Gras? Admittedly, Americans can't bring themselves to associate with the French directly (in spite of the holiday's name), so they glom onto some French culture by way of Louisiana by way of the Canadian Maritime provinces. And celebrate it, naturally, with excessive drinking to the degree that many people forget how their shirts work.

Oh, and Oktoberfest? Despite the confusion about the month in which it should be celebrated, there is no confusion about whether it involves drinking copious amounts of beer. It does. The purists can drink too much actual German beer, though as long as you're having a sausage with your Bud Light (or three), it's all good.

The question this all raises is: what does this say about America? Is it, as my coworker Dorothy wondered, evidence of a still-seething Puritanical ethic? Is drinking too much something only those unwashed immigrating masses do, but I can be excused just this once (twice, or several times a year) for getting blotto in the name of learning about other cultures?

I have no idea. But now I'm hungry for some German sausage.

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On Muppets and the Internet

I was going to write an entry about how, every time I see someone wearing something made of polar fleece or similar material, I want to go up to them and ask, in mock seething outrage, "Do you know how many Muppets were killed to keep you warm and casually fashionable?"

But then I couldn't remember if I'd written about that already (perhaps I commented as much on someone else's blog?), so I googled for the phrase "do you know how many Muppets ..." to see if I could find my own comment. Naturally, I found hundreds of people making the same joke already — and none of them me (at least, in the first page of results ... I'm lazy).

That's what the Internet does: It tells you that you're not original, and then it kicks you while you're down and says you're not even original compared to the bunch of pimply-faced nerds and egotistical Narcissi that comprise the Internet's audience (present company excluded, of course).

I suppose that's not a very original observation, even, but you can bet your bottom dollar I won't be googling to find out if others — including me — have already said as much. Oh no. From here on out, I'm just writing down my own (original, thank you very much) thoughts.

And back-dating them to 1996, so that everyone will be, like, "Oh wow, that guy was the first to think of that, though he didn't show up in the Wayback Machine until this week, which is odd, but that site often has issues, I suppose."

1 comment so far

1 Sep 23 '09 8:53pm:

Joe C replied:

"To tell the truth, I actually DO remember you making that joke in 1996 (or maybe early 1997). Or if it wasn't you, it was someone very much like you. By which I mean someone I knew back in 1996.
(Fine, fine, so I don't really remember it that well. It has been 13 years for gosh sakes.)"

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