Haiti, Pat Robertson, and that Story about a Pact with the Devil
A helpful—and fair—analysis from The American Enterprise blog, where there is more:
Yglesias’ treatment of the Robertson Affair digs deeper than 95 percent of the other commentaries I’ve read. And, like Yglesias, I think this is the incident on which the “pact with the devil” story is based.
But I think he misses key points. He conflates the “Haitian perspective” (presumably the desire for freedom from oppressors) with the perspective of a voodoo practitioner, which isn’t quite the same thing. He thinks all “21st-century Americans” will think like good secularists, and reduce theological language of prayers to purely political acts. But theology has content. The Bois Caïman Prayer isn’t the Schema Israel or the Lord’s Prayer. Sure, voodoo is not Satanism but it is a syncretistic and, in my opinion, unsavory religion that blends elements of Catholicism with traditional animistic African religion. And it has been a significant part of Haitian culture from the beginning.
This may all seem like a detour for theology nerds, but it ties back to the burning question, which you can ask without answering the tough spiritual questions: why is Haiti so poor? (It is Haiti’s poverty, after all, that causes earthquakes to be not just national emergencies, but humanitarian disasters.) More pointedly, is there something about its cultural, political, and religious history, which differs from other much less poor Caribbean nations, that contributes to its poverty? The role of religion in development and economics is often ignored entirely, but I and many others have argued that the Judeo-Christian tradition, as it worked itself out in some Western countries, gave rise to wealth-producing institutions. Conversely, are there elements to Haitian voodoo that have helped keep the country in poverty? I don’t know the answer but surely that’s a serious, if uncomfortable and easily misconstrued question.
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