Friday, January 15, 2010

The Motives Behind Robertson’s Theological Lunacy

As many know by now, Pat Robertson, televangelist and aging leader of the 700 Club, has once again spoken from his ignorance about an appalling tragedy; this time inferring that the earthquake that hit Haiti was God’s judgment for Haiti’s past pact with the devil (Robertson's Comments). You will recall that both he and Jerry Falwell came out after the events of September 11, 2001 proclaiming that God was judging America. Robertson continued that refrain after the devastation of hurricane Katrina.

After learning of Robertson’s recent remarks, I commented to someone that I had thought about responding to his theological blunder, but I decided that I did not want to waste my time on this so-called preacher who often acts more like the proverbial crazy uncle that says things that makes the rest of the family cringe. However, after some reflection on his statement, and the growing inner compulsion I felt to remind folks that he is not a legitimate Christian leader, I have decided to offer some measure of response.

Many others have written very well thought out replies to this theological lunatic, and so I do not want to repeat what they are saying. But the question that keeps coming to my mind concerning his way of thinking when he responds to these kinds of tragedies is, “Why does Robertson, and others like him, feel the need to make these sorts of statements?”

I am not really sure I can fully answer this question, but it seems to me that there is some motivation behind these sorts of comments that tells us something more about the way these misguided preachers think. In other words, terrible happenings like the earthquake in Haiti serve as opportunities for these kinds of folks to preach their off-kilter theology, and it seems that they will not allow these opportunities to pass without sharing what they believe about God, regardless of the damage it will cause.

In my opinion, I believe that one significant motivation for Robertson to make such statements is the need he feels to offer a theological cause and effect explanation to such catastrophic events, instead of accepting that these events have natural causes. He feels the need to frame these events as actions of God, for not to do so would scandalize God, at least in his thinking, as less than sovereign over creation. If these events happen because of the way the natural world works, then God must not be in control. Thus, Robertson and his kind must take up the slack for God, making certain that we all know that this tragedy happened because God willed it to happen.

At the heart of this way of thinking is a very anti-science mentality that stems from the battles these religious fanatics have had over evolution versus creationism, or as it is known by its codeword, intelligent design. If science can better explain why these events happen, then science might better explain other realities, such as the origin of the physical world. And that scares the hell out of folks like Robertson.

Yet, perhaps a deeper reason for Robertson stating that things like earthquakes and hurricanes are acts of God’s judgment is that he feels the need to ensure that God remains the supreme God. Of course, by invoking God as the force behind these events, Robertson means the Christian God, and primarily the Christian God that has been fashioned by Western Civilization, and particularly by the Puritanism of early America.

And yet, perhaps at the heart of both the anti-science motivation as well as the need to remind everyone that “God is still sovereign,” is the continuation of the archaic and theologically inept idea that human suffering, even devastating suffering that is set off by natural causes, is the result of human sin. Robertson’s theology is totally predicated on the idea that humans are born into sin and the suffering that comes upon us is a result of being sinful humans. But is this a reasonably sound explanation?

I am not suggesting that we do not sin. The empirical evidence seems clear enough that we do; although I am not sold on the idea that we are born into sin (see my post: Are We Really Born Sinners?). Moreover, I cannot argue against the fact that some tragic events are a result of human sin, such as the atrocities carried out on September 11, 2001. But that was due to the sin of the attackers and not the sin of those being attacked.

For Robertson and his fellow religious conservatives to say that earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters that cause considerable human suffering are a result of human sin does not hold much theological weight, for there is no cause and effect relationship. Whether his statements are explicit or he infers this relationship, he is way off base from a theological perspective.

But if Robertson’s theological explanations are significantly askew, what should be our theological response to the tragedy in Haiti? The problem in answering this question is that we tend to offer overly simplistic explanations to these kinds of things, which is what Robertson himself is doing.

Yet, a reasonable and faithful theological response to such human suffering calls us to deep reflection about human suffering and the place of God in that suffering. It calls us to look at the cross of Jesus to learn the practice of protest against God that Jesus voices at his death, as well as to embrace the idea that the cross serves as a reminder that when humanity suffers, God suffers with us. In this sense, instead of God being the judge who sends this catastrophe in judgment for sin, God should more appropriately be viewed as living in the midst of and suffering with these victims.

But perhaps more importantly, this event must remind us of two theologically sound ideas. First, life is a gift and it should be lived in such as way that we value not the things that rust and decay, but that we value that which is eternal. And second, these kinds of events must remind us that we live in solidarity with those who suffer, and as such, we are called to do all we can to lift them up out of their despair and pain to find strength and hope. In other words, instead of invoking God’s name in judgment, we are more theologically sound by invoking God’s name in love and compassion.

For me, Pat Robertson is the poster child of misguided and ignorant theology. To put it mildly, he is a theological idiot. I hate having to waste my time on responding to his comments and I hope that most people will ignore his remarks. But, to those who believe he represents Christianity and the Christian God, let me say clearly that he does not.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What does the Lord Require for the New Year?

I have never been one to make serious resolutions for each New Year. Moreover, since 2010 is now a week old, I would probably be considered a little late in making any resolutions at this point. I am not opposed to making such resolutions, and I am certainly not cynical about those who make them and seriously try to keep them; I have just never really felt the need to make them.

Yet, as we begin the New Year, as well as a new decade, I have been considering what I want 2010 to be for me. For sure, I have personal goals like spending more time with my family, getting and staying in shape, and being a better person. Moreover, I have professional goals to be better at my job and to improve my professional skills. But as 2009 was coming to a close and 2010 was in its first hours of life, I began to think about what God really wants from me this year.

God’s will can be very difficult to understand, and even more difficult to execute in my life. Understanding God’s will for me for 2010 can be tricky for the simple reason that my primary resource for knowing the will of God is the Bible and the life of Jesus. The year 2010 is a long way away from the ancient world in which the Bible was written and in which Jesus lived. Yet, it is vitally important that I start with these resources in order to understand and live out God’s will for my life.

But the problem is more than just simply the distance in time between the biblical world and my own life. The problem also comes in understanding what the Bible wants to say to me and which parts of the Bible might say these things more clearly. Thus, seeking the will of God requires reading scripture, reflecting on what scripture says, and using and sound and critical reasoning to find the direction God desires for my life in the New Year.

But is it necessary that I make this task so difficult? Yes, biblical interpretation is often difficult and gut-wrenching work if we are seeking to be serious with the text and serious about what the text says. Despite what we hear from some preachers and teachers of the Bible who spout off nothing but watered down theology that only skims the surface of the biblical texts and the life of Jesus, the Bible is not always clear and not always correct for our context.

Moreover, spiritualizing portions of the Bible just because we think that every part of scripture must mean something for us now is not the answer and only abuses the sacred text. But finding God’s will for us can often be made even more difficult when we cannot see the forest because of the trees.

I am certainly not one to say that we ought not to consider the intricacies of scripture and what scripture says on issues with which we deal; but I am saying that we can face many questions we have in life and never find specific and crystal clear answers from these ancient and distance texts. However, I do think we can find God’s will for all of us in the overall message of scripture that is summed up in various ways, but two that are pertinent for me.

Micah 6:8, from the Hebrew Bible, offers us the following, “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” And Jesus stated that the law is summed up in this, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and everything that you are, and love your neighbor as you would love yourself.” These seem to me to be the most important creeds by which to live for a couple of important reasons.

First, each recognizes that life exists in relation to God and others. We are not alone and despite our tendency to be independent, the fullness of life can only be encountered in relationships with God and others that are based on love. Second, both call us to action on the part of others. To do justice, to love mercy, and to love others as we would want to be loved means that we ought to live our lives not in selfish gain, but in self giving sacrifice; loving sacrifice expressed towards our friends, strangers, and even enemies.

If I consider these verses and others like them to be the center piece of the biblical message, then these should become for me the moral and spiritual compass by which my life is guided. And if these words are the moral and spiritual compass of my life, then they must become the basis from which I formulate resolutions, not only for a New Year, but for each new day.

So, while I have never been keen about the whole New Year’s resolution tradition, I hope that I am serious about living my life the way God intends. I hope that my life for 2010 is focused on loving God and loving others by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. And I hope it is the same for all of us.