Reader Michael Fisher passed along a post by Christian sociologist Margarita A. Mooney of Black, White and Grey (a Patheos blog) lauding Haitians for turning to God in their extreme suffering. It is apparently a repost from her post last Thanksgiving, and it seems to wholly miss the crux of the issue: that being, the more suffering there is, the more a country turns to God to ease that suffering because it seems to be their only recourse.
In other words, once earthly means of support have completely collapsed, you turn to supernatural means of support which probably do not exist, and will therefore probably not provide you a way out of the suffering you face. Religion is, after all, the sigh of oppressed people.
There is one particular paragraph that stands out among the rest as primarily deserving of scorn. While the remainder of the post is simply religious reinforcement for the already-believing, this is the singular paragraph that actually addresses Haitians proper.
Many U.S. observers have been confounded over the decades by the resilience of Haitians’ faith in the face of poverty, dictatorship and—in January 2010—the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.
I’m sure many religious folks are, in fact, confounded over the fact that religiosity highly correlates with income disparity, and that the poor turn to God because they are so oppressed by the rest of humanity that they cannot find a way out of their lot. Scientists and humanists, however, recognize that religiosity is a symptom of inequality and strive to help the poor and downtrodden. We understand that when 1% of the people have captured 90% of the wealth, the other 99% of the people pray to a higher power because the more terrestrial “higher powers” are not listening. We exhort a great cosmic leveller when humankind’s greed causes great swathes of humanity to suffer in order to provide for a bare few people’s comfort. And yet, that inequality continues apace, indicating either that these people are exhorting a nonexistent being, or a being that tacitly approves of the suffering that the majority endure at the hands of the tiny minority.
Perhaps their joy in the midst of suffering confuses us because we moderns so often seek security in our homes, cars, neighborhoods, jobs, and health. We believe that we can hide out from human frailty in a fortress of material comforts. A modern narrative of autonomy and self-fulfillment so common in the U.S. leads us to believe that our happiness depends fundamentally on ourselves. To suffer, then, seems a moral failure—a failure to fulfill our characteristically modern aspiration to self-sufficient success.
It is a true shame that many of the observations in this paragraph are completely true. The “joy” that Mooney lauds, however, is a function of humanity’s boundless optimism — even when all the chips are down and everything is working against us, we turn to religion to convince ourselves that there is something fair and right and just in the universe, and that the rich will get their comeuppance (“easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle”, and all that) once we meet our judgement. This “joy” is not a true joy, but a delusional one — an optimism in contradiction of the evidence. Despite the common claim that atheists are only non-believers because we feel betrayed by God in the past, those who have truly been betrayed by such a deity if one exists are actually the most likely to become religious. See for instance this study of otherwise irreligious Norway after a tsunami.
Statistics about native Haitians are hard to come by, owing largely to the country’s utter destitution, governmental corruption, and lack of infrastructure. Some statistics are available as abstracted from American immigrants, however. Assuming they are a representative sample, despite the really small size and inherent selection bias, 80% of Haitians are Roman Catholic, and the other 20% are Protestant. Many of the Catholics, probably owing largely to the polytheistic and ritualistic natures of the Catholic Christian worship, have incorporated vodou practices into their Catholicism. This does not leave any room for humanism or atheism in the mix. Having had very long to suffer in oppression, Haitians have very naturally and very understandably turned to the opiate of the people.
The post is therefore, in essence, one large case of circular reasoning, one massive begging of the question of whether God will help the oppressed if only they turn to Him in their time of need. Because they are oppressed, they are extremely religious. Their religiosity having reached totality if those statistics are an accurate reflection of Haitian society, they yet endure this oppression. Those millions of hands clasped in prayer are not rebuilding and cannot rebuild their country — not while massive debts are imposed repeatedly on Haiti, and while all the remaining wealth after those debts are paid or waived rests concentrated in the hands of the elite. Not while those elites’ boots are on the throats of the underclass, who eat cakes made of mud and butter — God is not lifting that boot from their throats. And it is that very oppression that drives their religiosity, for which they are being lauded.
Mooney’s post has a significant component, therefore, of being opportunistic in its provenance. With the recent earthquake, a country already strangled by income inequality and Western meddling and starvation became a prime target of opportunity for what Naomi Klein calls Shock Doctrine — sweeping in and making changes that benefit your group whenever an area is impacted by a disaster. A few recent examples:
- Pat Robertson, Catholic Extraordinaire, famously called for Haiti to renege on its “pact with the devil” and engage in a “great turning to God” despite, by all appearances, them already being turned in totality — note that this is the polar opposite point of Mooney’s.
- Baptists infamously engaged in kidnapping in Haiti under the guise of providing “orphan rescue services” and relocating Haitian children to Baptist homes where the child’s new parents couldn’t conceive on their own. This has every appearance of being a forced conversion of the heathens.
- Homeopaths and Scientologists have swept in to provide their expensive and wholly ineffective nonsense for free to the downtrodden, preventing real aid and unnecessarily increasing traffic into a disaster zone using up resources on the ground. The intent in this practice is not solely to help said downtrodden, but to bring back “success stories” about how effective their particular brand of nonsense happens to be. And it materially damages the victims.
- And instead of actual relief provisions, the limited inbound traffic included space-wasting electronic solar-powered Bibles, which were at least provided with Haitian Creole as the default language. Last I checked, you cannot eat these, and they do not provide any sort of pain relief, shelter, clothing or medicinal value. It is a gross display of privilege to send an electronic book where a paper book would suffice, and it is a gross display of privilege to send a book when what’s actually needed is food, clothing, clean water, and medicine. And a paper book would even at least provide combustible materials!
Opportunism like this rankles me. While Mooney’s post is significantly less egregious an instance than the examples I’ve just laid out, it is certainly at least an instance of planting a God-flag in Haitian territory where one should not by rights be.
It is therefore up to people with real empathy, who recognize that Haitians have been dealt the worst hand imaginable, to answer the call, no matter how you’d previously dealt with the injustice Haitians face.