I just saw a link to this at BlugrassReport.org.
God has spoken, and His faithful servant was listening. So, you'd better stock up on supplies and find a nice, comfortable bunker, because a whole bunch of people are about to die horrible, terrifying, painful deaths. Real soon.
So says televangelist and would be prophet, Pat Robertson.
I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. Instead, I'll try to do neither, and offer some sort of semi level-headed commentary, if I can muster up anything other than "Seriously, this dude is whacked!"
It's been a long time since I've written anything about Robertson's disquieting propensity to prophesy doom and gloom. That is not, mind you, because Robertson hasn't said anything outrageous since then. Rather it is because I keep hoping that if you ignore someone for long enough, maybe they'll finally go away.
Perhaps more disturbing to me than Robertson's patently insane assertions is that many people - and not just fundamentalist Christians - keep taking them so seriously. Somehow Robertson, by virtue of building a media empire through his misuse of Christian doctrine, has bought for himself the right to speak for a not so small segment of American Protestantism. As such, his every ridiculous move is covered by the secular media to the point that, in one of my undergraduate philosophy seminars one atheist student seriously asserted that he was the Protestant equivalent to the pope. Of course, that student's belief was as ridiculous as anything Robertson has ever said, but that a philosophy student at a public university could have and articulate a belief like that without being laughed out of the room speaks volumes to our inability to simply dismiss out of hand Robertson's desperate attempts to draw attention to himself.
So says the semi-enlightened being who is now so fed up that, once again, he is taking the bait and writing about Robertson. Oh, well, Kettle, you're still a little black.
So now, after saying that 9-11 happened because God removed His "hedge of protection" around the United States for our tolerance of abortion and homosexuality; after declaring that Hurricane Katrina was evidence of God's vengeance against New Orleans for its manifold sins and wickedness; after hinting that Prime Minister Sharon's stroke was punishment for his land-for-peace initiative; after forecasting President Bush's "landslide" re-election, the nomination of conservative Supreme Court justices, Social Security "reform," and a devastating tsunami; Robertson now declares that God told him that a terrorist attack will occur on US soil this year, possibly killing millions of people.
At least God didn't say it was going to be nuclear.
To state the obvious, it takes some serious hubris to claim that God speaks directly to you. If you follow the Biblical tradition, most prophets were reluctant prophets, fighting against their calling. They did not seek out the gift of prophesy, they just couldn't avoid it when it fell on them. Authentic prophets, if there has ever been such a thing, are not self aggrandizing media kingpins constantly craving after the public's eye. They are humble servants of the Lord.
Look, for instance, at the calling of Moses, the most important prophet of the Hebraic tradition. (For an in depth look at Moses' calling, see Moses and the Burning Bush: Existential Questions from the Divine-Human Encounter.) When God speaks to Moses in Exodus 3, calling him to a prophetic mission, Moses fights God every step of the way, finally asking Who am I that You should send me? While there may have been some fear, and more than a little bit of task avoidance, on the part of Moses here, there is also a healthy understanding that he is unworthy of the calling of God. You don't get that feeling from Robertson's endless self-promotion.
Also, even the most destructive of prophetic messages carry with them some constructive content. The message, in the end, is not You're all going to die! It is, instead, Repent! Of course, the God of the Tanakh, the God of the Torah, the Nevi'im and the Kethuvim, is not always a kinder, gentler God. There is some serious doom and gloom, and fear of that impending doom is a perfectly legitimate motivator for change.
But still, these two facts remain:
1. While fear is used as a motivator by Old Testament prophets, it is not a fear of inevitable destruction. Rather, it is fear of avoidable destruction. It is not simply a matter of forecasting that bad things are about to happen. It is a matter of explaining why bad things are about to happen, and how those bad things can be avoided.
To my mind this does not excuse the fact that fear is used to drive people to repentance, a tactic which is neither pastorally advisable nor morally permissible. But it does at least show that even the most fervent "old school" prophets have an obligation not only to predict doom and gloom, but to prescribe spiritual behaviors which can calm the coming storm.
2. As I argued the last time I took on Robertson and his ilk, this prophetic mode is not the Christian way.
In the ministry of Jesus we see not a God of Wrath but a God of Mercy. Christianity is founded on the notion of the incarnation of God. That notion of the incarnation flatly contradicts the theology of the God of Wrath. The God of Wrath is a God that stands over and apart from creation, looking down on it, judging it, and punishing it. The laws of the God of Wrath are as absolute as they are arbitrary, and the penalty for disobeying those laws is swift and severe. But, the defining attribute of the God of Wrath is separation. Sin is separation from God, and as all have sinned, all are separate from God. Just as all are separate from God, God is separate from creation. This is why God can so harshly judge creation. But in the ministry of Jesus, and the theology of incarnation, we see God, in Christ, entering into the world. This God of mercy enters into the world in Christ to take on the sin, and the suffering, in the world, to reconcile the world to God.
The Christian message, if we take Incarnational Theology seriously, is not Repent or die! Turn or burn! Yes, this message is part of Christian history, but it is not part of the essence of Christianity. The essence of Christianity is found in a God who enters into the world, working with the world to alleviate suffering, not standing apart from the world justifying the suffering that is already in it and even adding new suffering to our daily troubles.
Theological and Biblical concerns aside, there are also some serious ethical considerations here. If we take Robertson at his word, he now has credible knowledge of an immanent threat. Lives are in danger here. Doesn't he have a moral obligation to disclose everything that God has told him, and to work with authorities to try to neutralize the threat? If God is behind the threat, shouldn't he cut off all ties with God, and actively work to thwart God's plan? If God is not behind the threat, but is instead merely using omniscience to learn about and expose the threat, shouldn't there be more specific information in God's message to Robertson? And, if there is more specific information in God's message to Robertson, and Robertson has simply missed that information, shouldn't God find a new vessel to work through?
OK, maybe those aren't so serious, since we can't seriously take Robertson at his word. I doubt that even he believes that God literally spoke to him and revealed an impending terrorist threat. But it seems clear that if Robertson really does believe that this is a message from God, he doesn't seem to believe that he has any sort of duty to do anything about it, save for use it to promote his television show.
Meanwhile, there are a number of negative outcomes from Robertson's declaration of doom. First off, in people who do believe him, Robertson is sowing the seeds of fear and anxiety. This, of course, creates fearful, anxious people, and those fearful, anxious people not only suffer emotionally, but also often make their own suffering contagious. It is, after all, this anxious fear of a dangerous world run by a wrathful God that is at the source of so much bigotry and hatred.
Second, in the people who don't believe him, Robertson has contributed to a polarizing cultural atmosphere, characterized by the extremes of fundamentalism on the one hand, and the suspicion or even fear of religion on the other hand. The religious community is increasingly suspicious of the secular world, and secularists are returning the favor. The more that people like Robertson make ludicrous claims about direct communication from the deity my brothers and I call "Whack-A-Mole" (I once gave a sermon against the "Whack-A-Mole model of God, a wrathful God that stands over and above us, looking to smack us down whenever we stick our head out; the title stuck), the more many secularists will see in religion only the ridiculous and the violent. This view of religion, whether it is held by the faithful or the faithless, doesn't help anyone.
Finally, I have to wonder about the mental health and moral fabric of anyone who seems to take such glee from suffering, whether it is potential (in this case) or actual (in the case of 9-11 or Katrina or any of the other disasters that Robertson has used to promote himself and his religious and political views). I John teaches us that "God is love," and the apostle Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, teaches us that love "does not delight in evil." While it is dangerous to splice pity Biblical quotes together and extract from them some sort of theology, it seems safe to say that such "delighting in evil" is not the way of God, if the New Testament is any indicator of God's nature. In any event, delighting in evil is certainly not a sign of a healthy human being, much less a servant of God.
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