True Stories -- Sightings

I know I said I'd leave Pat and Rush alone, but Martin Marty's post today is too good to pass up.  He reflects on Pat's  "True Story" about the Haitian "Pact with the Devil," noting that the phrase comes not from the Bible but "secular humanist" sources.  Could Pat, the enemy of secular humanism, be expanding his vision of the world?  Take a read and see!


Sightings 1/18/10

True Stories
-- Martin E. Marty

You know the old joke:  When someone absolutely diabolical died, the rabbi asked if anyone wanted to say anything about him at the funeral.  No one dared, as there was nothing nice to say.  Eventually one stood up and said, “His brother was even worse.”  Was anyone worse than Pat Robertson, who credited the earthquake in Haiti to “true story” of the Haitians having “made a pact with the devil”?  Say something nice about Robertson now?
As of this writing, Google turns up 363,000 links to “Pat Robertson” and “pact with the devil.”  Mr. Robertson seems to occasion such an outpouring of responses every time there is a natural disaster, for his words about what God had in mind in selecting subjects for destruction.  So many commentators had something bad to say that Sightings might well have skipped comment.  Still, saying nothing evokes so much curiosity – “Come on, Sightings, don’t you keep up on the news?” – that we will comment.
Some of the 363,000 references were from Bible-believers who defended Robertson, not noticing that the “pact with the devil” phrase and charge did not come from the Bible.  Most commentators simply heaped on poor Mr. Robertson.  The only relative refuge he could find was, indeed, “his brother is even worse.”  Many did charge that Robertson’s brother-on-the-right Rush Limbaugh was “even worse.”  Robertson at least raised funds for the suffering, accursed Haitians, while Limbaugh spoke against giving them aid in their hour of suffering.
Still, the idea that someone was “even worse” than he was amounted to praising with faint damns.  More should be said by anyone who wants to put in a positive word, and here is mine:  The incident shows development and expansiveness in Robertson, who has been one of the most consistent critics of secular humanism in all its forms.  Yet for this – his televised revelation of the meaning of the catastrophe – the evangelist drew not on the Bible but on secular humanist sources.  

You won’t find “pact with the devil” in your biblical concordance, as the phrase did not enter our culture from the Bible.  Mention a “pact with the devil” and you will immediately be dredging up the explicit language of the Faust legend, whether from Marlowe or Goethe or Thomas Mann, who told classic versions of Dr. Faust’s famed contract.  Search the literature and you will find secular humanists touting the greatest, Goethe’s Faust, as a “secular humanist manifesto.”  Something good to say about Robertson, then?  Yes:  We like to document popular  evangelicalism’s enlarging scope; here is an instance.  Could Robertson have been courting secular humanists with this turn to non-Biblical sources?

Goethe’s Faust is big in college curricula and Great Books clubs and among opera goers; but the story of a pact with the devil also shows up in less elite circles, including one most explicit source.  Guy Endore’s Babouk (1934) is a fictionalized version of the incident Robertson used to explain the curse on the Haitian people, who, in his estimation, deserved the earthquake because of an ancestral pact with the devil.  Stalinist Endore did his research in Haiti, and came back to tell the story of Babouk, his version of Duffy Boukman, believed to have been the agent of the Haitian revolution against the French.  Could Endore’s bad Communist novel have been Robertson’s source?  If so, then we see the scope of sources that Robertson takes to be “true stories.” 

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at

In 2010's first edition of the Religion and Culture Web Forum ("The Uses and Misuses of Polytheism and Monotheism in Hinduism"), Wendy Doniger explores the complex nature of Hindu theology and its relationship to historical and political issues by focusing on a simple question: "Is Hinduism monotheistic or polytheistic?"  Her answer offers intriguing implications for the distinction between theological identities of "one" and "many" in Hinduism and--as respondents with expertise in other theological traditions reflect--beyond.  With invited responses from Martin Marty, Willemien Otten, Katherine E. Ulrich, and Ananya Vajpeyi.  
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


Gary said…
Not being familiar with the history or Haiti, I don't know whether they ever made a pact with the devil. I do know that God sent the earthquake; why I am not sure.

God has complete control of nature, and if God had not wanted the earthquake to happen, it would not have happened.

It seems that many of those who object to Robertson's words do so because the "God" they believe in would never do such a thing, grieves that the earthquake happened, and wishes He could have done something to prevent it.
Anonymous said…
That's a bunch of crud Gary. David Mc

Matthew 5:45 (King James Version)

45That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

Same with earthquakes I assume.
Anonymous said…
Oh come on Gary, God does allow bad things to happen, we don't know the reasons but maybe it's in hope that something good can come out of it (for example more people being made aware of the plight of the Haitian people and thier need for help)...that doesn't mean he "sent the earthquake". There is a huge difference. If you were to get hit by a bus would you honestly believe that God sent that bus to run you over? Do you honestly believe God gives children cancer? or kills a mother during childbirth?
I honestly believe our God is a loving God and he doesn't work that way...even though you may have a lot of wacko "Christians" who like to preach otherwise and spread the Fear of God instead of spreading God's love.
Mrs.David Mc
Gary said…
Mrs. David Mc.,

Then you believe that much of what happens to people is an "accident"? Your "God" stands by helplessly and wishes he could stop that bus, or warn me to get out of the way, but alas, "God" is helpless?

You believe that your "God" earnestly wishes that all those Haitians who died were still living, but that your "God" just had to stand by and weep while the earthquake struck, powerless to do anything? Then you are one of those I spoke about in the last paragraph of my first post.

Your "God" is not the one the Bible talks about.
Anonymous said…
Our God let his son be tortured to death on the cross too Gary. I'm not sure if he/she/? cried, or when. David Mc
Anonymous said…
The Devil Sues Pat Robertson for Breach of Contract
Anonymous said…
The Bible has two testaments...the first and the second. Try reading the second one sometime.
Gary said…
Mrs. David,

Son of a gun! After reading your last comment, I decided to look at my Bible again, and sure enough, you are right; there is something toward the back called "The New Testament". I never knew! I'll read it and see what it says.
Gary said…
Mrs. David,

I'm reading in Matthew right now, and let me tell you something I found: Matthew 4:4 "But he(Jesus) answered and said, 'It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God'." I'm pretty sure that Jesus is referring to what God said in that first testament that you mentioned before.

If I have time, I'll do more reading later this evening.
Anonymous said…
Dear Mrs David,

The trolls are on a strict diet.

Anyway, why would God have to step in? I figure God must have known the outcomes from the start.

If anything, this rubs our (the us) noses in the situation we allowed to fester right outside our country. Haiti had disastrous suffering long before this due to our indifference. Mud pie anyone?

David Mc
John said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said…

"...the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends (insert GARY here); for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now ... and go to my servant Job (insert the suffering people of Haiti here), and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done."

Anonymous said…

"Then you believe that much of what happens to people is an "accident"? Your "God" stands by helplessly and wishes he could stop that bus, or warn me to get out of the way, but alas, "God" is helpless?"

No, I do not believe it was an "accident" (I assume God gave you the gifts of sight and hearing...why didn't you see or hear the bus?) nor do I believe that God is ever "helpless". What I said is I believe that for some reason God does allow bad things to happen...there is a difference.
Bad things happen to good people all the time.

It's like when you have a baby and it just starts to see it's going to fall down, you could step in and prevent it, but you don't. For babies that is part of the learning process...maybe that's how it is for us, I don't really know. I don't know why God allows certain things to happen. I believe the angels weep and God's is saddened by a lot of the things that happen, but He does allow them to happen...not because He is helpless. He could have prevented Jesus from having to suffer on the cross...but He didn't.

As I said before, I believe in a loving God.


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