Here is Richard Dawkins, writing in the Washington Post:
We know what caused the catastrophe in Haiti. It was the bumping and grinding of the Caribbean Plate rubbing up against the North American Plate: a force of nature, sin-free and indifferent to sin, un-premeditated, unmotivated, supremely unconcerned with human affairs or human misery. The Rev. Pat Robertson sees the hand of God in the earthquake, wreaking terrible retribution for a pact that the long-dead ancestors of today's Haitians made with the devil, to help rid them of their French masters.Okay, Richard: All there is nature, and nature is ethically and ontologically blind. As Samuel Johnson said of death, it "hears not supplications, nor suffers the convenience of mortals." Since nature is all there is, then the events which take place in it can have no meaning or purpose, since meaning and purpose, if they existed, would exist outside of nature. Check.
The religious mind, however, restlessly seeks human meaning in the blind happenings of nature. As with the Indonesian tsunami, which was blamed on loose sexual morals in tourist bars; as with Hurricane Katrina, which was attributed to divine revenge on the entire city of New Orleans for harboring a lesbian comedian, and as with other disasters going back to the famous Lisbon earthquake and beyond, so Haiti's tragedy must be payback for human sin.But some of those crazy and wild-eyed religious believers interpret the events in nature as having meaning and purpose, providing further evidence that they are crazy and wild-eyed. Got it.
Needless to say, milder-mannered faith-heads are falling over themselves to disown Pat Robertson, just as they disowned those other pastors, evangelists, missionaries and mullahs at the time of the earlier disasters.
Many Christian theologians and believers reject Robertson's attribution of the Haitian disaster to the anger of God for some past historical incident in which they allegedly made a pact with the Devil. Okay. Next point.
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.Since, like Pat Robertson, Christian tradition sees meaning and purpose in things that are really meaningless and purposeless, Robertson is well within the Christian tradition. Well, we're not sure about this step, but we'll stipulate it for purposes of argument. Please proceed.
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, beginning with the 'sin' of Adam, who (as any modern theologian well knows) never even existed?Okay, here's where we get a little confused. There is no doubt that Christianity and Judaism see meaning and purpose in natural events. But there is no consistent interpretation of why evil occurs, and it most definitely is not the case that all evil is ascribed to the wrath of God. Sometimes it is the expression of the wrath of God (mostly because God says so), and sometimes the rain falls on the just and unjust alike. The book of Job, for example, is very clear that the evil that befalls Job is not for the purpose of punishment.
The problem with Robertson's remarks are that he makes a statement about the cause of the disaster with absolutely no justification or evidence whatsoever. He is engaging in what Pat Robertson frequently engages in: speculation masquerading as prophecy.
But we'll let this go for now because we are on our way to proving the maxim I stated above: that the last shall be first when it comes to moral judgment:
You nice, middle-of-the-road theologians and clergymen, be-frocked and bleating in your pulpits, you disclaim Pat Robertson's suggestion that the Haitians are paying for a pact with the devil. But you worship a god-man who - as you tell your congregations even if you don't believe it yourself - 'cast out devils'. You even believe (or you don't disabuse your flock when they believe) that Jesus cured a madman by causing the 'devils' in him to fly into a herd of pigs and stampede them over a cliff. Charming story, well calculated to uplift and inspire the Sunday School and the Infant Bible Class. Pat Robertson may spout evil nonsense, but he is a mere amateur at that game. Just read your own Bible. Pat Robertson is true to it. But you?
Educated apologist, how dare you weep Christian tears, when your entire theology is one long celebration of suffering: suffering as payback for 'sin' - or suffering as 'atonement' for it? You may weep for Haiti where Pat Robertson does not, but at least, in his hick, sub-Palinesque ignorance, he holds up an honest mirror to the ugliness of Christian theology. You are nothing but a whited sepulchre.
Well, what have we here? A moral judgment about someone else's moral judgment in a world where there can be no moral judgments?
If natural events can have no meaning or purpose--and therefore cannot be the grist for moral judgments, then Pat Robertson's attribution of meaning and purpose to the Haitian earthquake is bogus. So far so good. But then Dawkins, who believes that humans are just as much a part of nature as everything else--and their actions natural events explainable by natural forces just like the rest of nature--issues a moral condemnation of the actions of Pat Robertson.
Since, according to Dawkin's own stated position, Pat Robertson's actions are natural actions not fundamentally different from the Haitian earthquake, which cannot be the object of a moral judgment, then no moral judgment can be made of Robertson's actions--or those of Christian theologians. And yet that is exactly what Dawkins does. In morally condemning Christianity, Richard Dawkin's does exactly the same thing as he accuses Robertson of doing: reading meaning and purpose into natural events which are meaningless and purposeless.
Furthermore, this action--of reading meaning and purpose into meaningless and purposeless things--is evil. Theologians do it, therefore theologians are evil.
So what should we say if Richard Dawkins does it?