Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pat Robertson, Kanye West and Tiger Woods: Who is Held Accountable? And Why?

I was struck by Pat Robertson's latest round of hateful comments--this time directed at the suffering people of Haiti. But even more disturbing to me has been the relative impunity with which he offers his religious opinions. We are after all, living in a moment when President Obama weighed in on Kanye West's drunken(?) intrusion into Taylor Swift's acceptance speech for a video music award. So the notion that our leaders are working steadily inside a culture-free bubble wherein it would be inappropriate to comment on such things is applied only selectively. If Kanye West was/is (in the words of the President) a "jackass" for inserting himself into a situation that had nothing to do with him and pushing his agenda, what does that make Pat Robertson... besides a rich old white guy? Doesn't a pronouncement of sweeping religious intolerance that purposefully obfuscates the history of colonial intervention in Haiti made by one of the most powerful Christian leaders in the West deserve the same amount of attention accorded a narcissistic hip hop performer who stole a moment from a wide eyed country-pop ingenue? Or, say, Tiger Woods? Whose various infidelities with a growing list of women each of whom is 25%-40% less attractive than his actual wife? Apparently not. I am not suggesting that West's actions were anything less than boorish (and probably self-destructive) or that Woods's infidelities (see also: boorish, self-destructive) be nudged, winked and shrugged off either. But their infractions were marginal to the point of meaninglessness in the sense of their ability to actually impact the lives of others, besides perhaps the editors of tabloid magazines. When Pat Robertson claims that the natural disaster that befell Haiti and crippled its children is a self-fulfilling prophecy brought on by a pact with the devil, he preemptively short circuits any expression of sympathy (or empathy) among his followers. In Robertson's paradigm the Haitians may deserve "our" pity but we should not forget that they can never be "our" equal, even in God's eyes.

Thus far there has been no official call to accountability for Pat Robertson--from anyone in a position of power. I think this speaks to the enormous amount of political power and influence wielded by Robertson and his evangelical fellows. In that absence I have reposted an essay below from Dr. James Zogby's Washington Watch column written for the Arab American Institute. In it, he says many of the things I wish someone in government would say about Robertson and offers a brief history of Robertson's (once heretical, now mainstream) Christian theological and political philosophy.
As far as I can tell Zogby is the only public figure loudly calling for Robertson to be held accountable for the effect of his words.

Another Robertson Outrage: Time for Accountability

"On Jan 13th, television evangelist Pat Robertson pontificated on the horrific earthquake that had struck the country of Haiti. Noting how many recent tragedies had befallen the Haitian people, Robertson told his TV audience that, “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 and got together and swore a pack pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you and you’ll get us free from the French. And so the devil said, OK, it’s a deal. But ever since they’ve been cursed. But it may be a blessing in disguise.”

As outrageous as these comments might be, they were shrugged off by many as just more nonsense ranting from an old religious fanatic. Robertson has a practice of using his bizarre theology to explain world events. It was, he said, debauchery that brought the terror of 9/11 to New York or the devastation of Katrina to New Orleans. And it was the decision to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza (dividing God’s gift to the Jewish people) that caused then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to be struck down by a stroke.

As a student of religion I have long followed the ranting of Robertson. His peculiar brand of theology—“dispensational pre-millenialism”—once seen as heretical by most Christians, has within the past two decades developed a strong following becoming a political force, especially within the Republican Party. Its adherents believe that the current era is an exact replay of the Old Testament, and that the events that led up to the birth and death of Jesus and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem are being mirrored in events today that will lead to the return of Jesus and the final battle that will lead to the destruction of the world.

In fact over the years, most every war in the Middle East was accompanied by a Robertson TV show in which the televangelist gleefully prophesied that the “end was at hand”.

Again, given his theology, Robertson is a fanatic supporter of Israel (except that his support is based on their role in his theology, requiring them to convert to Christianity and ultimately be destroyed in the final battle) and a virulent foe of Arabs and Muslims. This has led him to make additional outrageous comments.
For example:

If we don’t stop covering up what Islam is … Islam is a violent — I was going to say religion, but it’s not a religion, it’s a political system, it’s a violent political system bent on the overthrow of the governments of the world and world domination, Robertson said. You’re not dealing with not a religion you’re dealing with a political system, and I think we should treat it as such, and treat its adherents as such as we would members of the communist party, members of some fascist group.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have to recognize that Islam is not a religion. It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination of the world. And it is meant to subjugate all people under Islamic law.

What is troubling to me is not only how Robertson masks hateful remarks passing them off as “absolute” religious truth or the powerful political reach his television program and movement have given him. Rather it is the double standard that is applied to this man’s outrages. If a Muslim Imam somewhere in the Middle East had made comments of the sort made by Robertson, political leaders would demand a crackdown requiring the Imam’s government to take definitive measures to end incitement. If that Imam were an American citizen and had made contributions to political campaigns, recipients would be pressed to denounce the Imam and return the money. But for years this approach has not been used with Robertson. Instead, he has been revered by some and dismissed as a “quack” by others. This really should end.

Research shows that in the last decade Robertson has given over $550,000 to the Republican Party and candidates in Virginia (including over $100,000 to newly elected Governor Bob McDonnell). He has given another $50,000 to national GOP candidates. Shouldn’t those politicians who have been recipients of Robertson’s largess be pressed to denounce his remarks and return the amounts they received from him (or maybe asked to send an equal amount to Haitian relief)?

At the end of the day, Robertson should be free to say or believe whatever he wants, however vile his views may be. That is not the issue. Rather it is that his political influence and power should be exposed and challenged, and those who accept his support should be held accountable."


  1. All American Christians should be forced to apologize on his behalf, because they demanded we Muslims "apologized" for 9-11.

    Yeah, fuck them, too.

  2. Excellent observations, Joseph. I totally agree that the "How DARE he?" level is significantly lower with Robertson than with West or Woods, who were jerks, but not pundits or "men of God." (That "George Bush does not care about Black people" thing was never pundritry; just statement of the obvious.)

    Paranthetically, I will admit that when I read the title, my first thought was "Three assholes walk into a bar..."