Haiti’s “pact with the devil”

Pat Robertson created something of an uproar last year when he seemed to attribute the earthquake in Haiti to a supposed pact between Haiti and the devil.  By now outrageous statements by Pat Robertson have become so common that most of us have become accustomed to just shaking our heads and writing it off to his weird theology and his tendency to speak before thinking.  But in this case the saddest thing about an otherwise preposterous statement is that what he said is in fact commonly believed in Haiti.  Many Haitians believe God has put some kind of curse on the country.  The Haitian willingness to believe something like that probably derives from pre-modern thinking, mixed with voodoo.  Honestly, however, I can’t figure out what would cause educated people like Mr. Robertson to think such a thing.

The origin of this myth lies with Dutty Boukman.  Boukman was an Haitian hougan (voodoo priest) who led a ceremony on the night of August 22, 1791, which kicked off a bloody slave rebellion in Haiti.  Legend has it that Boukman made a deal with the devil that night, “dedicating” Haiti to Satan in exchange for victory in the revolt. 

Leaving aside the rather ridiculous notion that Dutty Boukman had the authority to negotiate away the lives and welfare of Haitians for the next couple of centuries, or that Boukman could somehow strike such a deal presumably on God’s behalf (which would certainly call into question the character of a God who would permit that), if there was such a deal, then Satan reneged.  The rebellion Boukman started failed, although only after thousands of people died.  Boukman ended up with his head on a French stake and most of the slaves who joined his uprising were killed, often after being first tortured. 

Tradition has preserved Boukman’s prayer, which he supposedly made during the ceremony (which according to legend was a tumultous affair, occuring outside in the middle of the night during a tropical storm).  Here it is (in English): 

“”The God who created the earth; who created the sun that gives us light. The God who holds up the ocean; who makes the thunder roar. Our God who has ears to hear. You who are hidden in the clouds; who watch us from where you are. You see all that the white has made us suffer. The white man’s god asks him to commit crimes. But the god within us wants to do good. Our God, who is so good, so just, He orders us to revenge our wrongs. It’s He who will direct our arms and bring us the victory. It’s He who will assist us. We all should throw away the image of the white men’s god who is so pitiless. Listen to the voice for liberty that sings in all our hearts.” 

Note the absence of any reference to Satan.

And even the information we have about Boukman’s ceremony may not be true.  There was certainly a brutal and bloody slave uprising, and Boukman was one of its leaders.  But the details of the ceremony he supposedly led come from an account written by Frenchman Antoine Dalmas decades later.  Maybe the revolt really was kicked off by a midnight voodoo ceremony during a tropical storm.  Or maybe Dalmas jazzed up the story. 

But regardless of the historical evidence, what of the idea that Haiti belongs to Satan?  Does the misery of Haitians indicate that they are evil?  That they are in league with the devil?  Can it be true that the poorer you are, the more evil you are?  Are places that are desperately poor “dedicated to Satan”?  I think the answers to those questions are obvious.

But this talk of a country “dedicated to Satan” causes me to wonder:  if such a thing were possible, what might a country dedicated to Satan look like?  I suppose such a country would probably be violent and militaristic, devoting a substantial percentage of its resources to making weapons and supporting armies.  It would probably be filled with greedy, overconsuming gluttons, indifferent to the plight of the poor and hungry outside its borders.    The citizens of such a country would probably amuse themselves by watching images of violence and immorality, for which they would pay grand sums that might otherwise be spent doing good.  And I suppose such a country might be filled with idols–such as patriotism, materialism and consumerism– which serve to divert the minds of its citizens from God.  

I’ll close with a letter some clever person wrote to the editor of a newpaper in St. Paul after the Robertson controversy broke out:

Dear Pat Robertson:

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out.  And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they’re down, so I’m all over that action.  But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating.  I may be evil incarnate, but I’m not a welcher.

The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished.  Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they get something here on earth–glamour, beauty, talent, fame, glory, a golden fiddle.  Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing, and that was before the earthquake.

Haven’t you seen “Crossroads” or “Damn Yankees”?  If I had a thing going with Haiti, there’d be lots of banks, skyscapers, SUVs, exclusive nightclubs, botox, that kind of thing.  An 80% poverty rate is so not my style.  Nothing against it–I’m just saying: Not how I roll.

You’re doing great work Pat and I don’t want to clip your wings, just come on, you’re making me look bad.  And not the good kind of bad.  Keep blaming God.  That’s working.  But leave me out of it please. 

Best,   Satan.

In all seriousness, I can’t imagine how awful it would be to genuinely believe that God hates me and is inflicting pain and misery on me, because of something some hougan supposedly said over 200 years ago.  I’ve written before about the defeatism that seems to pervade Haitian thinking, and to the extent this nonsense is believed, it is a further sad reflection of that.  But for a person outside of Haiti to look at the Haitians suffering there and say they’re in league with the devil is just unconscionable, in my humble opinion.

Love Wins

Advertisements

Who’s gonna save me?

My gut is wrenched out it is crunched up and broken
A life that is led is no more than a token
Who’ll strike the flint upon the stone and tell me why
If I yell out at night there’s a reply of bruised silence
The screen is no comfort I can’t speak my sentence
They blew the lights at heaven’s gate and I don’t know why

But if I work all day at the blue sky mine
(There’ll be food on the table tonight)
Still I walk up and down on the blue sky mine
(There’ll be pay in your pocket tonight)

The candy store paupers lie to the share holders
They’re crossing their fingers they pay the truth makers
The balance sheet is breaking up the sky
So I’m caught at the junction still waiting for medicine
The sweat of my brow keeps on feeding the engine
Hope the crumbs in my pocket can keep me for another night
And if the blue sky mining company won’t come to my rescue
If the sugar refining company won’t save me
Who’s gonna save me?

But if I work all day…

And some have sailed from a distant shore
And the company takes what the company wants
And nothing’s as precious, as a hole in the ground

Who’s gonna save me?
I pray that sense and reason brings us in
Who’s gonna save me?
We’ve got nothing to fear

In the end the rain comes down
Washes clean, the streets of a blue sky town

Love Wins

Good News

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”  Mark 1: 14-15

During Jesus’ ministry he continually proclaimed “the good news” and the arrival of the “kingdom of God.”  We are so culturally accustomed to those words that they have lost the revolutionary force they orginally had.

In the original Greek text the word that we translate into English as “good news” is euangelion.  In the Roman empire at the time of Christ, euangelion was the word for official imperial announcements, typically of some military victory.  When the Jews of those days heard an euangelion, the “good news” was typically of some new Roman conquest, or some new honor or accolade for the emperor.

What a striking contrast the euangelion of Jesus was to the euangelion of the empire.  It was if he was saying, “Forget the ‘good news’ of the empire, I’m bringing you the real good news–the good news of the kingdom of God.”

It is cool how Jesus and the early Christian church appropriated the language of the empire.  Using imperial terminology to announce euangelion of a kingdom of love and peace, as opposed to an empire of slavery, torture and war, was just the beginning.  The very words the empire used to describe Ceasar were applied by believers to Jesus. 

In Brian McClaren’s awesome book The Secret Message of Jesus, he quotes an inscription from the time of Christ found in Myra, Lycia:  “Divine Augustus Caesar, son of god, imperator of land and peace, the benefactor and savior of the whole world, has brought you peace.”  Ceasar as son of god?  Savior of the whole world?  Prince of peace?   Part of the euangelion that came with Jesus, was identification of the true authority to whom allegiance should lie. 

There was no question of divided loyalty in those early days of the church.   There were no patriotic Christians.  While loyal Romans would pledge their allegiance by proclaiming, “Ceasar is Lord,” the early Christ-followers would say, “Jesus is Lord.”

The message of Jesus was audacious and radical.  Employing the language of empire to announce a kingdom of peace was especially so.

One way to sum up the euavengelion of Jesus is…

Love Wins

Outrageous Nonsense

James 2:14-17 The Message

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup — where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

Love Wins

Acceptability

In all of his relationships, Jesus broke through the boundaries of likes and dislikes, social propriety and religious acceptability, which characterized Palestinian society in the first century….It began with Jesus’ own roots in Galilee, which marked him as a man from the margins.  He was not identified with the religiously prominent and respected circles of his day.  He came from “the wrong side of the tracks.” …His choice of disciples continued the pattern of incarnational reversion of the acceptable structures of society.  He called people to follow him who were ritually unclean (fishermen), nationally suspect (publicans), and politically dubious (zealots).  He demonstrated the revolutionary character of the in-breaking reign of God by reaching out and touching lepers, by conversing publicly with women, healing the children of Gentiles, allowing prostitutes to touch him, and going to parties with acknowledged con men….From very early on it was clear that the church was to challenge the world as a community in which there was “no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3: 28)

Darrel Guder, The Incarnation and the Church’s Witness

Love Wins