As a general rule, I try to avoid writing about both Pat Robertson and Richard Dawkins. (The attention only encourages them). But Dawkins’ “defense” of Robertson, against the “milquetoast” Christians who rushed to disavow the televangelist’s suggestion that the Haitian earthquake victims were being singled out for divine punishment, offers an interesting illustration of militant atheism’s symbiotic relationship with religious fundamentalism. Here’s the new atheist:
Loathsome as Robertson’s views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who stands squarely in the Christian tradition. The agonized theodiceans who see suffering as an intractable “mystery”, or who “see God” in the help, money and goodwill that is now flooding into Haiti, or (most nauseating of all) who claim to see God “suffering on the cross” in the ruins of Port-au-Prince, those faux-anguished hypocrites are denying the centrepiece of their own theology. It is the obnoxious Pat Robertson who is the true Christian here.
Where was God in Noah’s flood? He was systematically drowning the entire world, animal as well as human, as punishment for “sin.” Where was God when Sodom and Gomorrah were consumed with fire and brimstone? He was deliberately barbecuing the citizenry, lock stock and barrel, as punishment for “sin”. Dear modern, enlightened, theologically sophisticated Christian, your entire religion is founded on an obsession with “sin”, with punishment and with atonement. Where do you find the effrontery to condemn Pat Robertson, you who have signed up to the obnoxious doctrine that the central purpose of Jesus’ incarnation was to have himself tortured as a scapegoat for the “sins” of all mankind, past, present and future …
The piece continues in this vein for some time. Dawkins is quite right, of course, that Christianity lays a heavy emphasis on sin, atonement, and (yes) the possibility of damnation. But whether this means that Christians are obliged to interpret the disasters that befall human beings in this life as God’s punishment for specific sins is another question entirely. Let’s consult one of Christianity’s leading authorities on the matter (the emphases are mine):
I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father who 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. (Matthew 5:44-45)
There were present at that season some who told Him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
And Jesus answering said unto them, “Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, nay; but unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
Or those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all other men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, nay; but unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13, 1-5)
Another parable put He forth before them, saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is likened unto a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
But when the blades had sprung up and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, `Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? From whence then hath come the tares?’
He said unto them,
An enemy hath done this.’ The servants said unto him,Wilt thou then have us go and gather them up?’
But he said, `Nay, lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13, 24-30)