God and the Elite-Populist Divide

Two tangentially related stories that have gotten a lot of play in the blogosphere this week are Pat Robertson’s declaration that Haiti’s horrific earthquake was punishment from God for an alleged “pact to the devil” [sic] and the revelation that Sarah Palin wasn’t the bit nervous about being under the sudden spotlight of a national ticket because it was part of “God’s plan.”

For most people who write about politics for a living, such references to the supernatural trigger ridicule and derision.

A most beautiful example is this passage by Deadspin‘s Will Leitch:

I have joked before about my favorite Kurt Warner moment. It was last year, after the Cardinals-49ers MNF game (this night, actually), when the 49ers failed to convert on a goal-line stand that would have won the game. Afterwards, an exchange:

Michelle Tafoya: What were you thinking on that last drive?
Kurt Warner: I was thinking of how great God is.

This passage sums up everything about Warner, and nothing. I wonder if this is exactly what he was thinking, what he’s thinking all the time, really, whether he’s pumping gas, pouring milk on his breakfast cereal, clipping his toenails. “God is great, God is great, I like chicken teriyaki, God is great, I should watch for that blitz package, God is great.” Is that really it? Is that how he does it? Has he figured it all out? Is it God? Or his version of God? (Or, as Craggs, put it: “a sort of willful, self-imposed ignorance that allows a guy to both believe in an invisible man on a cloud AND play a really violent game in a perpetual state of calm”?)

Having both spent most of my life in the Deep South and having evolved into an anti-theist, I find Warner’s non sequitur especially amusing.  On the one hand, I admire Warner’s striving to be a role model as much as I appreciate his tremendous talents on the football field.  On the other, I share Leitch’s bemusement over Warner’s thinking about the Almighty when facing the threat of being crushed by Manny Lawson.

Beyond that, were I a religious man, I’d be the kind who believed in an a god that didn’t take sides in sporting events.   (But I’d still be amused that Tim Tebow had the snot beat out of him whilst sporting John 16:33 on his eyeblack stickers.)

That said, the statements attributed to Palin and made by Warner wouldn’t raise an eyebrow for most Americans.   Even well educated people in most communities in America think that way.   Those making fun of them, by contrast, would be viewed with some combination of pity and contempt.

Recall the poll from two years back showing that Americans would rather elect black man or a homosexual than an atheist president.  (Indeed, they demonstrated this by electing a black man president!)  While only 5 percent would admit that they’d not vote for a black man, 24 percent admitted they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon.  And a majority (53 percent) simply wouldn’t vote for an avowed atheist.

Recall, too, the polls showing more Americans believe in the devil than in Darwin’s theory of evolution and more Americans believe in angels than global warming.

Even so, Robertson’s statement puts him on the fringes.   The idea that poor people somehow deserved to be killed by a natural disaster because of something their ancestors are alleged to have done has to be loathsome to anyone who’s not completely insane.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Don Baker says:

    Hurricane?

  2. Dantheman says:

    Being closer to agnostic than anything else, I wonder how one is to react to Sarah Palin’s comment. Was it part of God’s plan for McCain to lose, as well? If so, why we should listen to someone God chose to not have prevailed? If not, then is God’s plan worth listening to, as he does not have the power to bring his plans to fruition?

  3. legion says:

    Robertson’s thoughtless arrogance and cruelty just stuns me. And now Limbaugh’s getting in on the act too, telling his listeners not to donate to Hatian relief at all, because our taxes have already done enough & it’s just a dirty Obama plot anyway.

    These people are not simply misguided, they are actively evil in their manipulation of human suffering. How anyone can say things like this, and then in the same breath extol their own Christian virtue, is amazing. That anyone pays attention or money to them is simply depressing.

  4. James Joyner says:

    I wonder how one is to react to Sarah Palin’s comment. Was it part of God’s plan for McCain to lose, as well? If so, why we should listen to someone God chose to not have prevailed?

    One presumes the retorts are:

    God was testing Sarah by making her lose, thus preparing her for something greater. Like Fox News. And perhaps 2012.

    Or, under Robertsonian theology, God was punishing America for somethingoranother — probably involving homosexuals — and four years of Obama is how He works His mysterious ways.

  5. GS says:

    What an enlightened soul.

  6. Of course, in the Bible God vows after the great flood to never again send a disaster to judge mankind. So when Roberston says that the earthquake was God’s wrath, he’s also calling God a liar.

  7. steve says:

    James- I know you remain in denial over this, but this is what 20%-30% of your party believes. The rest think that the party believes in smaller government. Makes for quite a problem.

    Steve

  8. PD Shaw says:

    Even so, Robertson’s statement puts him on the fringes. The idea that poor people somehow deserved to be killed by a natural disaster because of something their ancestors are alleged to have done has to be loathsome to anyone who’s not completely insane.

    Maybe not. Robertson appears to believe, as do other strains of religious thought, that the answer to the riddle of why bad things happen, is because people (either personally or in the community within which they live) have transgressed against divine law. This is embedded in the notion of karma, caste systems, and the warnings of Old Testament prophets. It was a view expressed and spoken of by Abraham Lincoln as he pondered why, if slavery was wrong, the war was not being won. He concluded that the North was complicit in the evil that was slavery and that the North was being punished by providence for it.

    So it’s not clear to me that Robertson’s views are outside of the mainstream. What appears to be unusual is the vanity of speaking bad of the dead, dying and suffering. His callousness probably does little to promote “the good news.”

  9. PD Shaw says:

    Stormy Dragon, I believe G*d promised never again to deluge the earth with water; which is why global warming is a myth. He didn’t say anything about fire, earthquakes, wind, asteroids, plague, nukes . . .

  10. PD Shaw says:

    In short, Noah needed a good lawyer when he acquiesced to the covenant, the Acts of God exception is quite extensive.

  11. James Joyner says:

    I know you remain in denial over this, but this is what 20%-30% of your party believes. The rest think that the party believes in smaller government. Makes for quite a problem.

    I don’t know what the antecedent for “this” is.

    I’m sure at least 20-30% is in the Palin-Warner view of how God interacts with humanity. I think the Robertson wing is pretty small and largely unlikely to vote, so they probably hate the Republicans almost as much as they do Obama and the Dems.

  12. PD Shaw says:

    Robertson has a clarification up:

    Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God’s wrath. If you watch the entire video segment, Dr. Robertson’s compassion for the people of Haiti is clear.

    Excerpt

    It seems to me that this isn’t the first time that Robertson has apologized or clarified a previous “suggestion” that something bad happening was the result of God’s wrath, but I could be wrong in ascribing that view to him.

  13. JVB says:

    But it made perfect sense for liberals to declare, ‘Bush hates blacks’ because he didn’t get right to Katrina (he also didn’t hit the gym 15 minutes later and the links before the end of the day…but that’s Obama and to find that suspect makes one racist…I know.) Liberals justify all their missteps and misdeeds as they attack conservatives for the very same thing. IF LIBERALS BELIEVED IN GOD…we’d see the same thing. Since they don’t…it’s open season with nothing to worry about.

    “has to be loathsome to anyone who’s not completely insane.” Nice touch and I rest my case. This is nothing more than introducing a platform all good liberals should take…..disgusting. Robertson doesn’t so much as register a nibble with liberals until he says something like this…so it’s not that you’re listening to be listening…it’s listening to attack. Robertson doesn’t speak for all Christians any more than the Pastor who told him to ‘go to hell…sooner the better’ speaks for all Christians. It’s just a good reason for liberals to justify their stand on religion. Why does it matter so much that people find comfort in religion? Why does that bother you…that should be the real story. Why you hate to see people comforted in any way by something you can’t see. Kind of perverted, isn’t it?

  14. William d'Inger says:

    It’s a “Catch-22” situation for Christians. If you believe in the Bible, it’s abundantly clear that God punishes nations for religious transgressions. On the other hand, it’s politically incorrect to say so in America today. So what are you going to do?

  15. sam says:

    It’s a “Catch-22” situation for Christians. If you believe in the Bible, it’s abundantly clear that God punishes nations for religious transgressions. On the other hand, it’s politically incorrect to say so in America today. So what are you going to do?

    Ah give us a break from the “politically incorrect” horseshit, OK? You are free to say anything you want. If you believe like the good reverend, you’re free to voice that opinion. But if that opinion is met with derision, it’s not because its utterance is politically incorrect–it’s because the deriders think it’s nonsense. And evil nonsense, at that. I know its easier to think, “Gee, they’re attacking what Robertson said because its politically incorrect, because it’s Bible-based.” The reality is that they’re attacking what he said because they think it was jaw-achingly stupid and insensitive. Nothing political about it, correct or incorrect. Just garden variety stupidity.

  16. Steve says:

    One presumes the retorts are:

    It doesn’t matter what the retorts may be, they are only one person’s interpretation of the events, not God’s. None of us can read God’s mind nor interpret His motives unless He consents to tell us. That’s why in the OT the prophets said “Thus saith the Lord” and in the NT it says “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2Pet 1:20,21

    The other thing to remember about the way God works His punishment on a country is that He gives them specific warnings ahead of time via His prophets in order that they may repent.

    “…because it was part of “God’s plan.”

    But God does speak to individuals about themselves and about His will for them. To speak to us He uses the Bible, circumstances, the counsel of other Christians and His Holy Spirit. Scripture tells Christians that God has a plan for their life and to desire to be in God’s will. Sometimes that plan leads us through times we wouldn’t have chosen ourselves but He expects us to follow the plan through faith, even when it hurts.

    Because of these two points I don’t think these stories have anything to do with each other. One is about someone interpreting world events of which he is not involved. The second is a personal interpretation of personal events.

  17. William d'Inger says:

    Nothing political about it,

    I believe you are wrong about that. If Al Gore had blamed the Haitian quake on Global Warming, he would not have received one tenth as much criticism.

  18. “And perhaps 2012.”

    Wait, she’s Mayan?

  19. tom p says:

    As an avowed member of “The Church of God the Almighty and the Utterly Indifferent” (that, He made the world in 6 days and on the 7th he said: “It is your problem now.”)…

    I do not have a problem with other’s expressions of faith. If it gives them comfort in times of trial and tribulation, good for them. If in those times when they are sitting on top of the world, they say, “Only for the grace of God…” I take it as a sign of personal humility.

    However… that is not the norm:

    While only 5 percent would admit that they’d not vote for a black man, 24 percent admitted they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon. And a majority (53 percent) simply wouldn’t vote for an avowed atheist.

    Tell me… would they vote for a Muslim? A Hindu? Let us get real: No way.

    Yet these are the same people who say, “We are a Christian nation. We need to follow the Constitution!” a document that says:

    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

    Pick your document, the bible or the constitution. You can not have it both ways.

  20. anjin-san says:

    If Al Gore had blamed the Haitian quake on Global Warming, he would not have received one tenth as much criticism.

    What planet do you live on? Rush’s head would have exploded, and that is just for openers…

  21. kth says:

    But I’d still be amused that Tim Tebow had the snot beat out of him whilst sporting John 16:33 on his eyeblack stickers.

    In fairness, neither Tebow nor Warner seem like the kinds of fellows who believe that God wants them to win. Unlike a wolf in sheep’s clothing like Robertson, both QBs seem like nice guys who would like to believe that their lives serve a higher purpose. That this desire for meaning has no other outlet in the red provinces than an authoritarian, vulgar literalist Christianity is more sad than (as in the case of Robertson) laughable and repulsive.

  22. anjin-san says:

    I agree with Kth, Warner might sound a bit silly with a remark like that, but he has always struck me as a very genuine and decent guy. The relationship between him and a person such as Robertson is zero.

  23. sam says:

    Now, what would Jesus say? How about this?

    But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 19:14

    And some folks are asking us to believe that this is deserved:

    “Something like 40 to 50 percent of the population of Port-au-Prince is kids,” he said. “Kids are much more fragile — a 30-pound block of a wall that would only seriously injure an adult will kill a child. They die much more rapidly of dehydration, of loss of blood, of shock. An infection will cause explosive diarrhea, which can kill a trapped child. Everything about this is devastatingly worse for kids than for adults.”[Source]

  24. James Joyner says:

    Warner might sound a bit silly with a remark like that, but he has always struck me as a very genuine and decent guy. The relationship between him and a person such as Robertson is zero.

    Agreed on Warner. The Robertson tie-in was a bit of a stretch. Leitch’s commentary struck me as interesting and I was going to tie it to the minor controversy over Palin and the Robertson story broke before I got around to writing about it.

    As I hope the post made clear, I find the Palin and Warner comments somewhat bemusing and Robertson’s disgusting.

  25. Have a nice G.A. says:

    Pick your document, the bible or the constitution. You can not have it both ways.

    Why?

    Because you do a better job of understanding the meaning of these writings then their authors?