Friday, November 11, 2005

Pat Robertson and Dover, PA

Pat Robertson has warned the citizens of Dover to expect some type of catastrophe following its decision to expel 8 members of a school board that introduced Intelligent Design into science classes.

Robertson said, “I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected him from your city,”

It is interesting to note the similarities between Robertson's style of religion and a protection racket.

With a protection racket, a leader associates himself with dangerous people who have no qualms about doing harm to others. People who have no conscience. The leader then tells the people, "Unless you do what I say, and you give me what I want, these people will make you regret that decision."

So, the victims pay the money, and they obey the rules that he tells them to live by.

The only difference between a protection racket and Pat Robertson's ministry is that to Pat Robertson, God is his goon. God is the thug that he threatens will visit a town, state, or nation who does not pay their proper tribute.

It does not seem to matter that, for God to play this role, he would need the personality of a common thug, willing to do harm to innocent and guilty alike who do not show the proper “respect.”

The Village

Imagine if you will a large primitive village. In this village there is a man who wants power. He wants to make the rules, and not live under the rules that others make for him. The question is: How?

The people will follow him if they fear him. But he is just a man. The people will follow him if the biggest and strongest people in the village work for him. Yet, the biggest and strongest people in the village can turn on him and take power for themselves.

But what if he says, "There is a person who is bigger and stronger than any of you. He is invisible, and he can be watching you at any time. If you offend him, you will pay for it. Even the biggest and strongest amongst you cannot escape him. I happen to know what this person wants. So, if you want to be safe, then you will listen to me."

He then twists every unfortunate event into a story where his powerful invisible friend was offended, and every piece of random good luck into a story in which his powerful invisible friend offered help.

We will notice that this leader points to his political rivals and tells the villagers that those rivals offend this powerful, invisible friend. "It is their fault that this evil has befallen us. They caused the hurricane/drought/volcanic eruption/plague/tsunami/tornado/fire." So, fearful of the leader's powerful invisible friend, the village turns against those rivals.

Thus, the leader/priest controls the village.

It is a very simple trick, practiced over and over again throughout the ages.

The surprising thing is that this type of power-grab is still effective. There are, I would bet, hundreds of people in Dover, Pennsylvania who are fearful that Robertson's thug God will visit misfortune upon their village because they have failed to show proper respect.

I am certain that Robertson actually believes that his thug God is real. I am certain that he believes that he has convinced himself that he serves some greater good.

However, self-deception is not all that difficult. Look at history. Look at the different people on the planet and the different stories that they have accepted as true beyond question. Look at Ancient Greece, a nation full of citizens who knew beyond a doubt that the Iliad and the Odyssey were literally true. Look at the racist living today, able to convince himself beyond all doubt that his is the master race. Look at the Kamikaze pilot and the suicide bomber, and see just how easy self-deception can be. Look at the people who still believe in crop circles and the Loch Ness Monster, both of which have been revealed as hoaxes.

This (Other) God

There is this other "god" who is also testing us as well.

This "god" is all-powerful. In fact, it encompasses all of the forces of nature in all of their manifestations. No matter what anybody does, they cannot escape.

However, this "god" is not all-knowing. In fact, it knows nothing. It is completely ignorant of the universe that it occupies, or even that it occupies a universe.

This "god" is not at all benevolent. It has no qualms about destroying whole villages in a single stroke, with a tsunami or volcano or a hurricane. It can lay low half of the population of a continent with a plague, and can spark incurable cancer in an innocent child without the least twinge of conscience. If its actions destroy the whole human race, it will not care.

This "god" is constantly testing us. It is testing us to learn the biological sciences. It is constantly creating new diseases and throwing them at us, and has no intention of stopping. Every time we fail this test, people suffer and die.

This "god" is testing us to learn earth sciences. It is testing us to learn about earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. It is challenging us to learn about plate tectonics and the forces that have been molding this planet for billions of years. To the degree that we fail to understand this earth, to that degree we are bound to suffer from the tests that this "god" gives us.

This "god" is testing us to learn about the climate. This "god", out of a whim, has given us two nearby dead planets to warn us how fragile our planet is. If we trust this "god" to take care of this planet for us, we risk being tragically disappointed.

There are other tests. Each test we fail costs lives. The innocent and the guilty will suffer together, because this "god" does not care.


This may sound like the same type of protection racket that the likes of Robertson offer. Yet, there are three important differences.

First, I can tell you now that I have no special relationship with this "god". You cannot buy safety and security from it by giving me money and power. The more you know and understand this "god", the safer you will become. But this "god" does not accept offerings, and I do not accept them in its name.

Second, I can prove that this "god" is real. Wait a day, a week at most, and look carefully. You will see the work of powerful forces that do not distinguish the innocent from the guilty. Forces that we, nonetheless, have the capacity to understand. Look carefully at the next disaster, whether it is an earthquake or a young child struck down by disease and ask, "Does this not seem like the work of a being who has no concern at all for the suffering of innocent people?"

Third, we have the capacity to understand this "god". We can do research and experiments and objectively determine its rules and laws, and we can use that knowledge to make ourselves safe.

However, there are some people, such as Pat Robertson, who demand that we put blinders on and refuse to investigate these rules. They fear our knowledge. They are afraid that, the more we learn, the less powerful his invisible thug God will become. That frightens him, so he seeks to frighten us away from learning these rules.

This (other) "god" will not stand aside because Pat Robertson is frightened of our learning the truth. It will continue to test us. When these tests come, will you we be ready? Will we have the scientific and engineering knowledge that we need to survive, and will we have put it to intelligent use?

1 comment:

anya said...

This was an excellent commentary! I really enjoyed the comparisons, and have often felt similarly when it comes to those who associate themselves with a mythical uber-being as a means of obtaining conferred authority and power upon themselves, but I hadn't ever considered it in terms of a protection racket! Brilliant.