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.