Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What's this "deal with the devil" that Pat Robertson was talking about?

I am no fan of Pat Robertson these days. While I respect his work to support and encourage Christians worldwide, his recent shows seem to do a lot to alienate non-Christians needlessly. One of the most egregious examples of late was his quote about Haiti after the earthquake.

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it," he said. "They were under the heel of the French ... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.'

"True story. And the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal,'" Robertson said. "Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another."
Why do I dignify this statement - at best, kicking a nation while it is down - with a Mod-Blog story? Because Mr. Robertson represents a lot of people, and he is referring to something that Haitians consider history. The Straight Dope took up the historical research, which points to both the points Mr. Robertson was reaching for and the facts he got clearly wrong.
The story goes that a houngan (voodoo priest) named Dutty Boukman held a meeting of black slaves and runaways at Bois Caïman in the mountains of the north to prepare to rise up against their oppressors. With the aid of an African-born priestess, they conducted a religious ceremony in which the group swore on the blood of a sacrificial pig, invoking the spirits of the forest and their ancestors, that they would live free or die. According to tradition, this was the catalyst for the Haitian revolution. Though Boukman was captured and beheaded, the revolt continued, and after much strife Haiti became an independent republic in 1804...Legend has it that Boukman offered a prayer at Bois Caïman in which he drew a distinction between the wicked god of the whites and the benevolent god of the blacks. Whether the prayer was actually uttered is debatable; nonetheless, it can be taken as a fair indication of the rebels' sentiments, namely, that they were aligning themselves with the forces of good. Clearly the idea they were bargaining with Satan was an interpretation by Christians, who figured our god is righteous, everybody else's god is evil.
It is foolish to take Mr. Robertson too seriously. He is a broadcaster and (arguably) a theologian. Not a historian. But when everyone is mocking someone, it is a good idea to see where he might be coming from.


Sean said...

Thanks for posting this. I knew there must be a story behind what he was talking about, but I didn't have the drive to find out what it was.

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