The Devil You Know

Pat Robertson has once again made headlines with a controversial statement, asserting that the massive earthquake in Haiti is simply the latest episode in a long history of suffering precipitated by a demonic pact over two hundred years ago.

So the story goes, a group of revolt-planning slaves met in August of 1791 to solidify their commitment to revolt against French colonists.  As a means of securing supernatural help, they slaughtered a pig in a demonic pact with Satan.  It is this event that Robertson is assuming as the basis of a statement that – whether someone takes time to look into the history or not – is going to sound pretty strange to folks today.

As to the history, the basis for the demonic pact story goes back to 1814 and French writer Antoine Damas.  There are apparently a few other 19th century primary sources that make the same allegation.  Modern scholarship appears to be undecided as to the actual historicity of the event – not so much whether the meeting took place, as to what happened at the meeting.  Two planning meetings have been discerned prior to the outbreak of rebellion, and the events of the Bois-Caiman meeting are hard to verify.  Some resources:

In a lovely – and oh-so-not-Christian response, the religion editor for the Huffington Post tells Robertson to go to hell.  Sooner, rather than later.  But is this the right response?  No, it’s not.  We don’t pray for hell for anyone.  Period.  We can and should pray for the Holy Spirit to open someone’s eyes if we strongly suspect that they are seriously in error, theologically.  But we don’t pray for that person to burn in hell.  Funny how nobody seems to find Raushenbush’s comment to be every bit as inflammatory as Robertson’s.

Robertson is taking plenty of flack from the secular realm.  I think it’s rather unnecessary, frankly.  I don’t think that many people are going to confuse Pat Robertson with a White House spokesman – or as a spokesman for anyone else.  However the response is missing the point.  Is Robertson’s allegation shocking?  Sure.  But would a pact with the devil be shocking as well?  Sure – to anyone that takes Biblical or Christian spirituality seriously. 

To me, there are three main considerations here:

1) The historicity upon which the statement is based
2) The overall stance in which the statement is made
3) The Biblical basis of spiritual warfare

The first point is up for debate.  Scholars are uncertain whether the reported events of the Bois-Caiman meeting.  They don’t seem to dispute so much that there was a meeting, but what the particular events of the meeting were.  There are some who feel that the allegations of satanic ritual may have been fabricated by a French historian more interested in vilifying the Haitians than attempting an accurate historical account.  Based on the uncertainty of the event – and certainly the unverifiability of the alleged happenings of the meeting, it seems monumentally imprudent of Robertson to make such a public statement of causality. 

On the second issue, it seems clear from what I’ve been able to dig up (and please feel free to enlighten me if I’m in error) that Robertson’s statement was not a call to condemnation, inaction, or any sort of vengeful attitude towards the Haitians in their suffering.  There was a number for an aid organization on screen, and Robertson indicated that people needed to be in prayer for these people.  If Robertson had taken a stance of serves them right, he would obviously be fully in the wrong.  But he doesn’t appear to have done that.  He appears to have offered some speculation on why that country might be suffering so terribly from poverty in general as well as repeated natural disasters.

Finally, we need to be careful not to be too quick to dismiss Robertson’s statement of spiritual causality.  Does the Bible affirm the existence of Satan and demonic powers?  Yes.  Does the Bible warn that such demonic powers can have power within our world?  Yes.  Does the Bible affirm the seriousness of whether we align ourselves with demonic powers or with the Triune God?  Yes.  Therefore, if there was a Satanic covenant made, could it be reasonably assumed that this might have real and lasting repercussions?  Yes.  Could we with any certainty say that this particular earthquake, or the general suffering and poverty of the Haitian people, are directly attributable to satanic oppression because of the covenant made two hundred years ago?  Questionable at best.  Such an allegation seems to assume that such a demonic covenant would override the work of the Holy Spirit among the people of today.  And it might seem to imply that if only this were a “Christian” nation, such problems wouldn’t happen – which is VERY unscriptural.

On the whole, the comment seems to be totally unwarranted.  Not that there isn’t such a thing as spiritual warfare going on that might manifest itself in the natural realm.  Not that satanic dealings are to be treated lightly or of no consequence.  But more because Robertson doesn’t know what happened two hundred years ago, nor can he authoritatively know that what happened this week and over the last 200 years definitely is related to an alleged satanic agreement.  We can have our theories, but broadcasting those theories is probably not a necessary thing to do.  Particularly by a highly public Christian profile already known for his polemical stances.  And without any further dealing with the topic on Robertson’s part, we have to wonder what the point of publicly (or privately) speculating on the satanic element is.  Yes, we should pray for the Haitian people – spiritually as well as in this moment of intense suffering.  But we should be praying for all people, in all places, at all times.  Anyone and everyone who may not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior.  Praying for people should be the norm, not something that we’re called to on special circumstances. 

I’d be very curious about other perspectives on this, if you’re willing to share!

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