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(This essay was originally published in 2010. It was reprinted at RichardDawkins.net)
Today’s National Post contains a commentary by Rex Murphy, titled “God’s unappointed spokesman,” which discusses Pat Robertson’s disgusting comments about the situation in Haiti and how they relate to theodicy, a branch of theological study focused on the question of why the “loving” God that many Christians worship would allow for the existence of evil in the world. Murphy says:
[Theodicy is] an almost archaic inquiry these days, but if anything could revive the subject it might be the puzzling existence, in a putatively benign creation, of Pat Robertson, the egregious televangelist and sometime politico south of the border. I never thought we’d get a new Paradise Lost out of the paradox of an omniscient Being who tolerates/allows the founder of The 700 Club opening his mouth on a regular basis — Robertson being a scant peg even for the trim matter of a haiku. But after hearing his demented mewling the day after Haiti experienced its earthquake, the world may be ripe for a seminar on this question: Can a merciful Creator co-abide with the mental ejecta of Pat Robertson?
and he goes on:
Here was poor Haiti in rack and ruin, with countless thousands dead, the entire country forlorn and in shocked despair, and, with the camera rolling, the “Christian” Robertson rattled on in full high ignorant babble mode about the country “being under a curse” from some ancient “pact with the devil” in the days of Haiti’s founding.
Yes, Pat Robertson is vile, cynical, manipulative, and despicable in every way, and, yes, his comments were stomach-turning and shockingly callous. But how do those comments make him, as the quotation marks around the word imply, not a “real” Christian? The short answer: they don’t. In fact, they’re perfectly in line with the teachings of the violent and vicious God of the Old Testament. And it’s also important to remember that, no matter how often self-proclaimed “enlightened” “real” Christians conveniently choose to ignore the violent God of the Old Testament, instead insisting that Jesus is the personification of their “loving” God and the basis for their faith, the New Testament isn’t exactly free of violence and cruelty, either, to say the least. What justification does Murphy have for implying that his interpretation of their shared imaginary friend is any better or more accurate than Robertson’s? And Murphy continues:
Who made Pat Robertson God’s press secretary that he should speak for Him?
“God’s press secretary”? What? Perhaps Murphy should create a committee of “enlightened” “real” Christians who will dedicate themselves to preventing those nasty, ignorant, “fake” Christians from speaking “for” God. Or, he could, you know, just be intellectually honest and admit that Robertson’s comments were completely consistent with the Bible that provides the basis for the faith that Murphy and Robertson share. Moving along:
He, Robertson, fulfills every agitated secularist’s caricature of a “dedicated” Christian. If Pat Robertson didn’t exist, Richard Dawkins (with a little midwifery from Christopher Hitchens) would have to give birth to him.
Robertson is no caricature. Quite the opposite, in fact: he embodies and espouses the contents of the Bible on a daily basis. Self-proclaimed “enlightened” Christians can try to deny this all they like. They can claim to be the “real Christians,” the ones who understand that the Bible, when interpreted “correctly,” teaches that God is actually a loving and benevolent deity. In a self-serving manner, these Murphy-ites choose to ignore the violent, sadistic, and cruel nature of the God of the Old Testament, arguing that Robertson and his ilk just don’t get it and that they provide a convenient and easy target for those writers and commentators who are brave enough to question and criticize the automatic and undeserved privilege, respect, and power that is granted to Christianity in public and political discourse. This claim allows Murphy to casually dismiss with a wave of his smug hand the multitude of completely valid criticisms that these writers (and many others) have made. And he goes on:
Robertson’s outburst is pure gold for the “enlightened” secularist view our age holds of the Christian outlook. It will continue to be mined in the late-night monologues, stuff the op-eds of “progressive” papers, and will serve as justifying illustration for the demeaning hostility that is a marked feature of much modern thinking on faith.
Yes, it is “pure gold.” But Murphy conveniently fails to mention that we “agitated secularists” don’t need Robertson-esque “gold” in order to justify or provide fodder for our claims and critiques. No, to continue Murphy’s metaphor, Christians provide us with more than enough “silver” and “copper” on a daily basis. And, oh look, he’s playing the “real Christian” card!:
Unfortunately, for real Christians, and for the even greater number of people with simple good sense, the “pastor” has chosen a very ill time to “share” some of the most feeble of [his thoughts]. In the great rebuke that was once, I believe, administered to a legislator from Kentucky, “he should not be let out of doors, lest he blight the crops.”
Sigh. How, exactly, does Murphy know who is a “real” Christian and who is not? If Murphy is going to play the “real Christian” game, then I’ll play, too: if anyone’s a “real” Christian, it’s Pat Robertson, the living, breathing embodiment of the Bible. The Murphy-ites can deny it until they are blue in the face, but the simple fact is that Robertson perfectly personifies and unashamedly displays the contemptible attitudes and the nasty characteristics of their shared imaginary friend. Try as they might, those who claim to be “enlightened” “real” Christians cannot, in the end, distance themselves from the vile and vicious God of their “Good Book” without practicing a galling level of intellectual dishonesty. In that sense, Robertson is the honest one here. He’s an utterly contemptible and awful person to be sure, but it cannot be said that he does not practice exactly what he preaches.