'The last thing I'd do is condemn you'

Last month I was surfing a bit at The Blacklisted Journalist — an awkwardly designed website hosting the writings of Al Aronowitz. I was looking for his August Blues, which is a lovely thing:

August is the month when wars start. It’s when the water dries up and the spirit begins to wither. Insomniacs pull down their shades and lock themselves in their rooms in August. Lifelong friends have fist fights. People feel like they’re going to burst. Sometimes they do.

… I suppose it has to do with the sun and the heat and the planets and the stars. Brian Epstein died in August. So did Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, although their August stretched through an Indian summer. It’s no accident the Jewish New Year begins then. August sometimes lasts until the sound of the ram’s horn. People move in September. School starts. Somehow the pulse revives. People begin to think about lighting fires for winter. Finally, August lets go like the leaves from the trees. And the weirdness ends.

While browsing there I tripped across the trippy account of Aronowitz’s long friendship with Scott Ross, a talk-show host on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. Ross had also been a creature of the 1960s counterculture — a rock-and-roll radio DJ married to a former member of the Ronettes. Aronowitz and Ross remained friends after Ross became a born-again, Pentecostal Christian and went to work for Robertson. (For the Dylan-obsessed Aronowitz, I suppose, everyone was entitled to their “born-again” phase.)

What struck me most in the profile was Ross’ gratitude and admiration toward his boss, including this anecdote recounted by Ross:

Back in the ’60s, I brought in a bunch of rock and rollers, vagrants who’d been in jail the night before. They were a rock and roll band. I brought them into the studio and said, “Let’s listen to a song that represents who they are.” I think they did a Dylan song. The people at the Christian Broadcasting Network were so angry, they walked out the studio. I had brought in ‘these dirty heathen’ off the street. One of the CBN women pointed out a girl in the group and said, “She doesn’t have any underwear on! She’s sitting on that brand, new couch and God’s money built this place!” I don’t know how the woman knew the girl didn’t have any underwear on, but there you are!

I came out of the studio because my TV crew had walked out on me. I’m standing out in the middle of the hallway of this brand, new building, which had been dedicated just a few weeks before. All these people are yelling and screaming and walking up and down the halls and waving their arms. and Pat comes down the stairs and says, “What’s going on here?” And they point at me and say, “He brought in these rock and rollers and that girl doesn’t have any underwear and they’re filthy people and this is God’s building dedicated to God’s purposes.” And Pat just looked at all these people and said, “The day this building becomes more important than those people, I will personally burn this building to the ground.”

That story seems so out of character compared to the person Robertson had become by the time Aronowitz was writing this (in 1996) and compared to the person Pat Robertson is today.

These days it’s very hard to imagine Robertson welcoming a bunch of hippies off the street — or declaring people like that to be more important than property. Putting people ahead of property violates the platform he ran on as a Republican candidate for president in 1988.

I suppose what’s most startling to me about Ross’ anecdote is that it’s a reminder that Robertson wasn’t always, and perhaps didn’t originally set out to become, the right-wing huckster, media mogul and political power-broker that he is today. Much of what Robertson does these days appears as cynical ploys for power and money — from the perpetual telethon of his TV programming, to his peddling of quackish dietary supplements, to his publishing books filled with John Birch nuttery and conspiracy theories plagiarized from Lyndon LaRouche.

The Robertson of Ross’ story also seems incompatible with the Robertson we’ve all gotten to know over the past several decades — a pundit who specializes in kicking people when they’re down. Whenever there’s a terror attack, earthquake or hurricane, Pat Robertson always rushes forward to assign blame — assuring his audience that the victims of 9/11 or in Haiti or in Andrew, Hugo, Gloria, Katrina or Irene had it coming and deserved to suffer.

Robertson always sees a connection between natural disasters and those people he views as Those People — gays, liberals, evolutionists, atheists, Pagans and women who have sex. His scapegoating condemnations have become so routine that I’ve come to think of them as just another part of natural disaster. Earthquakes are followed by aftershocks, and both earthquakes and hurricanes are followed by appalling pronouncements by Pat Robertson.

If you mute the TV and ignore the substance of his comments, you can almost view Robertson’s reflexive blaming as a kind of “all-clear” signal showing that the worst of the storm has passed. “The wind is dying down a bit and, oh, look, there’s Pat Robertson saying this is all gay people’s fault — I think we’re out of danger.”

But it’s not really that easy to ignore the substance of Robertson’s hateful post-tragedy statements. If you love God, or if you love GLBT people, or if you love both God and people, then it’s not easy to ignore Robertson’s habitual suggestion that every natural disaster is the product of a petty, reckless, sloppy god indiscriminately pouring out wrathful destruction due to some divine “gay panic” defense. That’s blasphemy. And the scapegoating of GLBT people as the alleged focus of this poorly aimed divine wrath invites Robertson’s many followers to imitate his churlish god by directing their own animus toward Those People as well.

Robertson’s post-disaster ritual thus isn’t just abstractly hateful, it’s tangibly hurtful.

Just once, I’ve often said, just once I’d like to see this guy respond with a little humility in the wake of human tragedy. I’d like to see him rendered speechless and incapable of glibly dismissive “explanations” — not rushing to judge others by imagining some direct and specific causal link between suffering and supposed sins. Just once I’d like to hear him say, “I don’t know.” I’d like to see him withhold blame and judgment and simply mourn with those who mourn.

And, just once, I finally got to see this.

In a recent broadcast of The 700 Club, Robertson fielded a message from a viewer describing a man who was devastated by personal tragedy. The man’s wife had Alzheimer’s disease. He was no longer able to care for her and she was no longer able to recognize him. She no longer even remembered that she had a husband. The daily, unyielding painfulness of the man’s situation was more than he could bear.

The call seemed to knock Robertson back on his heels. The man’s pain seemed to reach Robertson in a way that, somehow, the pain of the Haitian earthquake victims or the post-Katrina devastation in New Orleans had somehow not reached him. For once he seemed unable to muster the arrogant certainty that would enable him to explain away suffering by assigning blame for it.

Here’s the video of Robertson’s stumbling attempt to respond to this question:

YouTube Preview Image

That video has gotten a great deal of attention, sparking widespread criticism from Robertson’s fellow evangelicals piling on to condemn Robertson for endorsing the “abandonment” of an ailing spouse. That’s a stretch from what he actually said, though I’m not inclined to try to defend him — Pat Robertson has long since surrendered any claim to the benefit of the doubt. Plus I can’t help but wonder if his advice would have been quite the same if the caller’s question had involved a wife struggling with her ailing husband.

(For a defense of Robertson’s response, see Becky Knight’s “Til Death Do Us Part?” — via, which starts with her bewilderment at actually agreeing with Robertson about anything.)

I’m less concerned here with the specifics of Robertson’s advice than I am with the way he framed that advice:

“That is a terribly hard thing …”

“This is an ethical question that is beyond my ken to tell you, but I certainly wouldn’t put a guilt-trip on you …”

“It is a terrible, difficult thing for somebody and I, I can’t fault them … ”

“Get some ethicist besides me to give you the answer because I recognize the dilemma and the last thing I’d do is condemn you.”

This is something Pat Robertson needs to learn to say more often. Perhaps he’ll remember this the next time a natural disaster strikes somewhere in the world.

Perhaps then, rather than explaining away such tragedies as the wrath of a petulant god against his political foes, he will just step back as he did here, as he ought to have been doing all along, and say again that such tragedies defy certainty and blame.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

    This is really inspiring – it shows that empathy can live inside any person, even Pat Robertson. (The Pat Robertson of today, that is). It also shows that good, kind, loving people (the Pat Robertson of the past[Past Robertson?]) can become… well… that’s pretty scary. It’s a reminder to watch out for judgmental, cruel tendencies in yourself.

  • Sacsuxs

    Thank you.  It is in ourselves to justify really cruel behavior to others.  Hopefully, we change or control such for the better.  Could that be our original sin?

  • LL

    Eh, I see it differently, and less charitably (as usual). Obviously, Robertson can’t say this, because it’d be a recognition that marriage vows really aren’t as sacred and inviolable and unyielding as his audience believes, but the really compassionate thing would be for him to tell the husband to find comfort/companionship in another person while remaining married to his wife and supporting her. I’m sure Robertson’s idea of hell would freeze over before he’d ever suggest anything so reasonable.

    It says something about him (and his followers who continue to stupidly ask his advice about anything, and, I suppose, their whole world view) that the only possible actions they see here are to continue to suffer the loneliness of spending every second with an Alzheimer’s-stricken spouse who no longer recognizes you, right up until the bitter end, or to abandon that spouse (ie, divorce). No middle ground there, nosiree. Sad.

    To be fair to Robertson, there isn’t really a good answer to the question, him being who he is. The clumsy stab at a compassionate response got a bad reception, and the entirely uncompassionate response would have made him look like an even bigger asshole than he is already.

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    Thanks Fred — I have been trying to put together some of my own thoughts about that clip. One of the things I wonder is whether of not Robertson’s age works to help him understand/empathize with the caller. Robertson probably knows quite a few people who worry about being faced with something similar and so it is real to him in a way that disasters aren’t. Disasters trike “other people” but dementia happens to people who he talks to every day.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=30319652 Tim Lehnerer

    An incredibly unsypmathetic reading of Robertson’s answer to the Alzheimer question is that he’s old enough (and the person asking the question is rich, RTC and white enough) that Pat Robertson doesn’t see the man asking the question as an Other. Instead, he seems to be pretty much like Pat Robertson (minus the hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank) and therefore he’s someone that the old demonizer can actually almost empathize with.

    Oh, did I say “unsympathetic”? I meant “accurate”.

  • Anonymous

    I get the unsympathetic reading. I try to be reasonably charitable with such things, because what I say doesn’t always come out right. I depend on the kindness of others to take me at my best intention.
    Some empathy is better than no empathy at all.

  • Anonymous

    I get the unsympathetic reading. I try to be reasonably charitable with such things, because what I say doesn’t always come out right. I depend on the kindness of others to take me at my best intention.
    Some empathy is better than no empathy at all.

  • Nev

    Sorry, I can’t get past “God’s money” (from Ross’s anecdote). It throws my brain into some kind of DOES NOT COMPUTE loop.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Sorry, I can’t get past “God’s money” (from Ross’s anecdote). It throws my brain into some kind of DOES NOT COMPUTE loop.

    Take out the ‘s, and it becomes ten times as accurate.  

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd Studge

    When I read “God’s money” I think of Wilco.

    Our love is all of God’s money…

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Sorry, I can’t get past “God’s money” (from Ross’s anecdote). It throws my brain into some kind of DOES NOT COMPUTE loop. 

    Ever heard of the word “Corban”?  And this itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth who didn’t fall for it either?

  • Anonymous

    “I suppose what’s most startling to me about Ross’ anecdote is that it’s a
    reminder that Robertson wasn’t always, and perhaps didn’t originally
    set out to become, the right-wing huckster, media mogul and political
    power-broker that he is today.”

    This reminds me a bit of Joe Lieberman, who many years ago marched with Martin Luther King, Jr.  Then he gradually turned into the Holy Joe making himself so unlovable today.  The tragedy of Holy Joe is that he doesn’t realize he is the one that has changed.  He is a conservative who thinks he is a liberal, and so he looks at the very centrist Democratic Party of today and concludes he is looking at a bunch of radical extremists.  It is just sad.

  • Izzy

    Or John McCain, who–while I disagreed with him on many things–seemed to be one of the few reasonable Republicans back in 2000. 

    There’s almost a Macbeth-esque tragedy about some of these guys. 

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Or John McCain, who–while I disagreed with him on many things–seemed to be one of the few reasonable Republicans back in 2000. 

    I liked the McCain of 2000.  Pity he has switched his stance so much since then.  But, like the Robertson in this video, I still see a few flashes of the man he used to be here in there.  I wish he would come back to reasonableness full-time, instead of oscillating between reasonable and pandering.  

    Frankly, the Republican party needs a lot more reasonability in its court if we, as a nation, expect to actually get anything done.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     The tragedy of Holy Joe is that he doesn’t realize he is the one that has changed.

    My spiritual guru Robert Anton Wilson once commented that you can go from Liberal to Conservative in 25 years without changing a single opinion.  (And these days, you can apparently go from Conservative to Liberal in a mere 15 – THANKS, Overton Window….)

  • Anonymous

    If you mute the TV and ignore the substance of his comments, you can
    almost view Robertson’s reflexive blaming as a kind of “all-clear”
    signal showing that the worst of the storm has passed. “The wind is
    dying down a bit and, oh, look, there’s Pat Robertson saying this is all
    gay people’s fault — I think we’re out of danger.”

    That’s hilarious Fred!

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    This reminds me about what Pat Robertson said about Haiti, how ill suited to the disaster it was, and how John Stewart goes ahead and shows him how it’s done.  

    It feels like John Stewart (who is Jewish) knowns more about what the Christian Bible is about than an ostensibly Christian mega-preacher.  

  • konrad_arflane

    It feels like John Stewart (who is Jewish) knowns more about what
    the Christian Bible is about than an ostensibly Christian mega-preacher

    To be fair, Stewart’s bible quotes all sounded very much like something from Psalms, so it *is* his home turf, so to speak.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    To be fair, Stewart’s bible quotes all sounded very much like something from Psalms, so it *is* his home turf, so to speak.

    True, but that does not excuse Robertson.  

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I have to go with the other commenters here.  Robertson only had empathy for this man because he was so similar to himself.  I don’t think this was a moment of self-reflectance or insight, and I doubt this will make Robertson think any further about issues that affect Other people.  Robert saw himself in this man and that’s the only reason he cared about him.

    Like Jesus said (paraphrased), it’s easy to love and empathize your brother.  Even the “bad guys” do that, without even trying.  It takes some effort to care about other people who aren’t just like you, so you don’t really deserve any praise or cookies unless you go beyond your basic human instinct.

    When he gives a female caller the same type of advice, or when he shows sympathy for disaster victims instead of judgment, then maybe I’ll give him some credit.  But looking out for another old white guy isn’t special.

  • Anonymous

    Just thinking … maybe the big disasters frighten him because he doesn’t have a good answer for why they happen? Maybe every time one happens he feels himself teetering on the edge of losing his own faith. Blaming someone, anyone (but God) is the only way for the universe to right itself.

    What is sad about this is that it seems like his role as secular “spiritual leader” has so hollowed out his ‘soul’ (for lack of a better word) that he is the facile and often mean-spirited guy we see now.

  • Mr. Heartland

    There are some who say that religion in general encourages bigotry and close-mindedness.  Personally I think it’s something of a chicken/egg conundrum.  It may be a case that members of privileged classes in privileged classes may already have the idea that paternally wise is the minimum standard for who they must be, and so embrace fundamentalist religion in particular for the purpose of having the all-explaining truth that they feel they must have. 

    The ultimate blasphemy to  Robertson and his ilk isn’t really some act of cross-smashing or bible ripping or what have you, but to suggest that it’s possible for them to not know The Answer for all things.  And I think the real evil behind his ritual of disaster blame isn’t that he believes these things are true in spite of being heartless and brutal, but that they are true because they are harsh and brutal.  Stern, judgmental and merciless; therefore patriarchal, therefore true.   

  • Daughter

    I took a look at Becky Knight’s post, and was disappointed seeing this falsehood:

    Did you know that in the 1500s the average age of marriage was 25, and the average life expectancy was 35-40? “Til death us do part” meant then — and for hundreds of years (up until the 1900s, when life expectancy grew dramatically because of advances in public health) — about a 10-to-15-year span.

    The reason why the average (average, not typical) lifespan was so low was because of high infant and child mortality and death during pregnancy and childbirth.  If a man survived childhood and a woman survived childhood and childbearing, they stood a good chance to living until their 60’s.  Which means that many couples were married much longer than 10-15 years.

    Also, the averge age of marriage at 25 is again average, not typical.  Men married older (late 20’s to early 30’s) because they had to be ready to support a family. Women married younger (late teens to early 20’s) because they were considered marriageable not long after menses (which often occurred at age 14-15 prior to the 20th century).

  • Anonymous

    Also, the averge age of marriage at 25 is again average, not
    typical.  Men married older (late 20’s to early 30’s) because they had
    to be ready to support a family. Women married younger (late teens to
    early 20’s) because they were considered marriageable not long after
    menses (which often occurred at age 14-15 prior to the 20th century).

    First of all, this isn’t particularly true either, especially because you didn’t even specify a location.  Are you claiming this trend was worldwide?  If you’re just making this claim for Europe, that’s still way too broad.  It varied both by community and by class.  And it’s not true that women were always considered marriageable soon after they could become pregnant.  Even though men were mostly expected to provide financially, women were expected to bring more the marriage than just fertility.  They had to be old enough and mature enough to work on the family farm and be in charge of a lot things.  In many times and places, they were also expected to provide the clothing and bedding, which were far more expensive until just recently because it was so labor-intensive to make cloth.

    Women also had to learn very many skills.  The things that we learn now as hobbies were necessities for survival in 1500s Europe.  Making jam and soap, knitting, sewing, etc all had to be learned and even though kids (including boys) learned these from childhood, a teenage girl who just started menstruating still probably hadn’t had enough time to master these skills.

    It was generally only the very rich classes that expected girls to get married so young, because heirs were more important to them than domestic skills, since they would have servants to handle most of that.  But of course the rich classes and royalty are over-represented in written records so that skews our view of history for the average peasant.

    Marriage has varied extensively throughout history and in different places.  Many groups married younger or older, with different amounts of age gaps in between.  It’s really impossible to generalize that marriage used to be a certain way.  And even in the few cultures where women were only seen as walking uteruses, average age of menarche has varied widely throughout history too.

  • Daughter

    Great points, banancat.  Thanks for the background.

  • Daughter

    That should be “onset to menses.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Rosa/1059360979 Anthony Rosa

    “blahblahblah God’s money…”

    To quote someone else:

    “What does God need with a starship?” Though there are no starships here, I’m sure y’all can figure out what I’m saying.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    “blahblahblah God’s money…”

    To quote someone else:

    “What does God need with a starship?” Though there are no starships here, I’m sure y’all can figure out what I’m saying.

    Kierkegaard (I think) said something along the lines of “Why do we build palaces for a God who said his kingdom is not of this world?”If anyone knows the exact quotation, please share. I’ve been trying to hunt it down, unsuccessfully. Perhaps because the attribution has gone haywire in my head.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Rosa/1059360979 Anthony Rosa

    “blahblahblah God’s money…”

    To quote someone else:

    “What does God need with a starship?” Though there are no starships here, I’m sure y’all can figure out what I’m saying.

  • Daughter

    The other thing I found disappointing in her article is the idea that the only way to find happiness is with another partner.  My mother has been a widow now for more than 20 years.  She’s in her 70’s.  She goes to the gym each morning, plays bridge weekly, goes out to eat with friends, attends free lectures around the city, and travels regularly.  She’s dated some, but she has never remarried.  I think she is an extremely fulfilled person.

    I visited Christianity Today to see what the folks there thought about it.  It was mostly condemnation of Robertson’s remarks, but one commenter said something interesting.  He said that Christians aren’t very good at supporting someone who is hurting over the long haul, and maybe if they were more supportive, the man wouldn’t have felt as much need to seek out a new girlfriend.

    I’m not saying that wanting to be with someone new is wrong. I just think it’s sad that out society is so atomized that we think the only cure for loneliness is another lover or spouse.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    That’s a really good point, Daughter.

    Do you think it’s a fairly recent thing? One of my grandmothers was widowed for more than 40 years (and never considered remarrying); the other was widowed for 15 years and for 10 years before that her husband was in a nursing home suffering the effects of stroke. Again, no question that she would remain married to him regardless of his physical or mental capacity.

    Also tricky to tell how much gender plays a role. As I understand the data, widowed men are much more likely to remarry, and sooner, than widowed women.

    One positive about being part of a devout Catholic community: it is not at all uncommon for people to be single for very long periods of time, whether they’re members of religious orders, widowed, divorced people who won’t remarry, or people who never married. In my experience anyway, long-term single people are regularly included in special occasions as ‘honorary family members’, given lots of social support, and not constantly pestered about whether they’re seeing someone.

  • P J Evans

     My mother’s father caught flak in his community because he remarried after his first wife died. Three years after she died. (He still had one child at home at the time, barely a teenager).

    Also, on average age of marriage: My personal database, mostly US and UK, with some Germans and Norwegians, shows most people, male and female, marrying in their early to mid-20s. There are certainly cases where the female member of the pair was in her mid to late teens, but they aren’t as common as you would think. The database that runs back from 1600 also has average ages at marriage that look pretty normal (average female age, a little under 20; average male age, a bit over 27).

  • Lori

     Also tricky to tell how much gender plays a role. As I understand the data, widowed men are much more likely to remarry, and sooner, than widowed women.  

    There have been a number of studies that have shown that overall marriage tends to be more beneficial to men than to women in terms of both mental and physical health. I suspect that was more frequently the case in the past when marriages were less likely to be egalitarian partnerships and when there was more pressure to marry for various reasons that were necessarily about love or a fulfilling relationship. 

    There are a few women in my family who had long widowhoods. In a couple cases it was because their deceased husbands were the loves of their lives and they just never thought of another many that way. In other cases the marriages had been more drudgery than joy and the widow had no interest in signing on for any more of that. They were genuinely happier alone than they had been married. Being widowed gave them social license to be single and they took it. 

  • Daughter

    The other thing I found disappointing in her article is the idea that the only way to find happiness is with another partner.  My mother has been a widow now for more than 20 years.  She’s in her 70’s.  She goes to the gym each morning, plays bridge weekly, goes out to eat with friends, attends free lectures around the city, and travels regularly.  She’s dated some, but she has never remarried.  I think she is an extremely fulfilled person.

    I visited Christianity Today to see what the folks there thought about it.  It was mostly condemnation of Robertson’s remarks, but one commenter said something interesting.  He said that Christians aren’t very good at supporting someone who is hurting over the long haul, and maybe if they were more supportive, the man wouldn’t have felt as much need to seek out a new girlfriend.

    I’m not saying that wanting to be with someone new is wrong. I just think it’s sad that out society is so atomized that we think the only cure for loneliness is another lover or spouse.

  • Albanaeon

    Hmm…  I wonder how much history would have changed if Robertson had kept his apparent earlier attitude?  Could he have unified the religious element into, if not progressive, at least not a reactionary regressive force in this country.  Or was their just to much resentment and if not Robertson, we’d be listening to “Joe McSomeperson” condemning hurricane victims for God?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    That’s an interesting thought!

    Personally, I doubt it though. People like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell didn’t place their followers under a magic spell or anything like that. People flock to reactionary and regressive beliefs because they agree with those beliefs. If Pat Robertson came out today and repudiated (refudiated??) everything he’s said in the last twenty years or so, those beliefs wouldn’t just go away.

    I agree with you that if he hadn’t been who he was, someone else would have stepped up to fill the ‘hole’. There might be some cosmetic changes — for example, instead of an upper-class white conservative Southern Christian man with dark gray hair, we might have an upper-class white conservative Southern Christian man man with light gray hair.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    That’s an interesting thought!

    Personally, I doubt it though. People like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell didn’t place their followers under a magic spell or anything like that. People flock to reactionary and regressive beliefs because they agree with those beliefs. If Pat Robertson came out today and repudiated (refudiated??) everything he’s said in the last twenty years or so, those beliefs wouldn’t just go away.

    I agree with you that if he hadn’t been who he was, someone else would have stepped up to fill the ‘hole’. There might be some cosmetic changes — for example, instead of an upper-class white conservative Southern Christian man with dark gray hair, we might have an upper-class white conservative Southern Christian man man with light gray hair.

  • Daughter

    According to Frank Schaeffer, if it weren’t for him (Schaeffer, that is), the modern Religious Right wouldn’t have morphed into what it is today.  Maybe he’s exaggerating his own importance, but I think he may have a point.

    Schaeffer, the son of the late Francis Schaeffer (the theologian who had so much influence over dominionism and over Michele Bachmann), grew up on his parents’ Christian commune in Switzerland.  His parents, evangelical celebrities of sorts, were always jetting around to conferences and such, and young Frank was often left unsupervised.  His family’s commune was for spiritual seekers, and many of them brought elements of the ’60s counterculture with them.  Frank got caught up in it, and eventually got his girlfriend pregnant. 

    He had to tell his parents about the pregnancy, and they were very forgiving and supportive.  Their forgiveness inspired Frank to really adopt evangelical Christianity for the first time.  He married his girlfriend, and shortly afterward, she gave birth to a girl with special needs.

    This was late ’60s/early ’70s, right when Roe. v. Wade was going through the court system.  The issue of abortion hit Frank personally.  He felt like, if he and his girlfriend could have an unplanned pregnancy and keep the child, why shouldn’t other people? He also felt like, if the Christian community were more like his parents and responded to people with crisis pregnancies with grace and support, maybe young women wouldn’t feel the need to have abortions.  And finally, because his daughter was born with special needs, he felt like people who were pro-choice were saying that his child didn’t deserve to be born.  (There are many good arguments that contradict these views, but that was his mindset at the time).

    And young, idealistic, hot-headed Frank became outraged that evangelical Christians weren’t doing more to fight abortion rights.  This was for two reasons: 1) fundamentalists had long held that politics was worldly, and believed that Christians shouldn’t get involved in politics; and 2) because evangelicals saw abortion as a Catholic issue, and back then many of them were very anti-Catholic.

    But Frank kept pushing his father to get involved in politics in order to oppose Roe, and eventually his father did.  And because Francis Schaeffer Sr. was so influential in the evangelical community, he was able to persaude many others to do likewise.  Schaeffer father and son were among the founders of such groups as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition.

    BTW, Frank Schaeffer has since come to deeply regret and disavow his previous involvement  and leadership in the Religious Right, and says that his father, on his deathbed, did as well.

  • Daughter

    “Felt that,” not “felt like.”  Forgive my poor grammar!

  • Albanaeon

    Yeah, abortion is rather an interesting thing within the evangelical subculture.  I remember reading that for a long time is was pretty strictly a “Catholic thing” which meant even if you agreed with it, you didn’t make a big deal of it because well Catholics did.  But Fred Schaeffer and his dad seem to have found a perfect resonating point when they brought opposing abortion as a Christian Duty.  It opposed modernity which appealed to general conservatives.  It brought in a heap of sexists by giving them an opposition to feminism which they can cloak in moral rectitude.  And it has a pretty good latch in “think of the babies!” to get the less decided to stop thinking rationally and go for emotions.  Added bonus that “when is it a person?” is a fairly tricky thing to decide so you don’t get those damned scientists poking holes easily in it.  Finally, it is a easy thing to coach into hyperbole to set off the grand rhetoric needed to motivate large groups of less than critical people into following you into dubious things. 

    Some of my pondering about this come from my father in law.  He’s pretty close to the archetypical conservative evangelical, Ned Flanders type.  Nice guy, hard working, but a few buttons turn him into a very not nice, not happy person.  The usual buttons are socialism, Muslims, and abortion.  However, take him away from his church and radio for a while, and he pretty quickly moderates out.  Its rather stunning actually that a week away from his worship services (ie church and Rush) he’ll start suggesting things like taxing the rich is good, and maybe we shouldn’t be at war with nations right now, and their might be something to this “choice” thing after all. 

    So back to my original wonderings, if a moderate had seized and organized the Christians in this country as the Right had done, I really wonder if we would have the problems we have now, because I wonder how much of the anger and zealousness is an artificial construct made by manipulative bastards.

  • Albanaeon

    And I wonder a lot in that last paragraph.  Aghh.. Too much medieval history.

  • Daughter

    I’m not sure that could have happened, because what confluence of events could have led to the organization of moderate Christians to the same extent? Moderate Christians had been organizing to some degree already around Civil Rights–but the numbers of those involved wouldn’t reach the numbers of those who’d become part of the Religious right. 

    This was the perfect storm: Roe v. Wade is decided by the Supreme Court, right around the time that the son of one of the world’s leading evangelical teachers gets his girlfriend pregnant.  So another question might be: what if that hadn’t happened?  Would evangelicals have continued to eschew politics, with moderate or liberal Christians continuing to organize around social justice issues? Would our political landscape look very different?

    Plus, once the religious right began to mobilize, their political involvment took a very different form from moderate and liberal Christians. The latter used tactics such as community organizing, advocacy, protests and civil disobedience rather than vying for public office.  And their organizing challenged the greed and warmongering of powers that be. Political opposition to gay rights or abortion doesn’t do that, so the right has had a much easier time allying with (and/or being co-opted by) the wealthy and powerful.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Frank Schaeffer reminds me of an important axiom I try to hold, “Compassion must be balanced by wisdom.”  

    Yes, compassion is important and necessary, but compassion alone is insufficient if one seeks to do good.  Compassion without the wisdom of knowing where, when, and how to apply it tends to lead down “Road to hell paved with good intentions,” routes, and one could end up doing more harm in the long run than good, as happened with Schaeffer.  

  • Madhabmatics

    The best Pat Robertson is the Pat Robertson from the 80’s with the conspiracy books. I want my “New World Order” Pat Robertson back! Tell me about the seven unseen men who rule the world, preacher man!

  • Anonymous

    I am struck by the oddity of agreeing with Pat Robertson about something.  I guess even a broken clock is right twice a day.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Fred. I noticed that nuance of Pat Robertson’s coming close to empathy and even admitting that he didn’t have the answer to every question, if not in so many words. I am so unaccustomed to defending anything that guy says, that I couldn’t think of any way to say that he should charitably be given credit for making progress, and encouraged to continue, which not expressing any sort of agreement with his advice.
    My personal take is that my marriage vow was absolute to the end. I am to be loyal and faithful to my wife and to stay (figuratively) by her side in any hardship. But I cannot judge how someone else responds to such a test when I can only hope to live up to my ideals should the time come.
    The situation the caller is in is in some way like that of a pregnant woman diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. She may choose to hazard her life for that of the child, and should be honored for doing so. She should not be judged for not doing so, because such sacrifices are a sacred gift of love, and so must not be coerced in any way.
    My advice to the husband would have been that God understands your weakness, and will forgive it, and probably the wife would too, but if he can have faith to find the strength to put aside self-indulgence, have faith also that it is worth doing. It is time to “endure in the heat of the conflict” (Revelation). The Tolkien version is that it is “time to show (your) quality”. Take up the cross and all that. It is in such times that one finds, and shows, what one truly believes.

  • http://brandiweed.livejournal.com/ Brandi

    Robertson only had empathy for this man because he was so similar to himself.

    A particularly cynical comment– but one I can’t write off– said “Wanna bet Dede Robertson is one more case of misplaced keys away from a divorce?”

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com Carl

    Which Bible verses are “famous” and which aren’t is interesting to me. Why are these verses not on everyone’s lips after a disaster?

    Luke

    13:1 There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

    13:2 And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?

    13:3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

    13:4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?

    13:5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

    Well, Pat, when the towers in Siloam fell, do you think they were sinners above all men or not?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Luke 13:4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?

    i.e. “Sometimes, Shit Happens.”

  • MaryKaye

    It’s too bad.

    I’m not a Christian, but one Christian teaching that I think is more generally true is that you can’t receive forgiveness or mercy if you can’t offer them.  I think this is a man who has cut himself off from forgiveness, and who will be alone and without help when disaster comes for him, as it comes for us all in the end.

    I’m glad he was able to step outside that, even once, even for someone so much like himself.  It would be worse if he had no mercy for anyone at all.

     

  • Anonymous

    Gah! There’s so much wrong with Robertson’s whole approach. First, he (and, it seems, everyone else) is using “companionship” as a euphemism for sex. But as Daughter points out, they’re two very different things. There is nothing in Christian ethics that prevents the man from seeking real, honest-to-goodness companionship, in the sense of spending time with friends or family, making new friends, participating in activities of various sorts. There’s nothing there that he would even consider asking Robertson about. What he isn’t allowed to do is have sex with another person while he’s married to his wife.

    Robertson’s sympathy for the guy who wants to commit adultery stands in stark contrast to his complete lack of sympathy for gay people. The questioner can’t be expected to be celibate for a few years (life expectancy with Alzheimers is something like 12 years, and the woman is clearly already far gone), but apparently gay people (and heteros who choose not to marry or can’t find a partner) can be.

    Finally, I really wish someone would ask Robertson whether he’d say the same if the person asking the question were a woman. It does seem that the questioner is being cut a lot of slack because he’s a man (who is presumably assumed to have uncontrollable urges–but only heterosexual ones).

  • Anonymous

    I disagree. The way Robertson uses ‘companionship’ does not automatically imply sex. It could, and as I’m reading it, probably does, mean companionship, in all the senses that applies to a romantic relationship. And as someone who has watched three of her grandparents deteriorate from alzheimers, I reject anything that condemns a caretaker of someone in the endstages for hurting, and reaching out.

    Marriage, and I can’t believe I’m typing this, is not just about sex. It’s about the bond between two people, and a public declaration of their commitment. And for many christians, marriage is the only acceptable way to show your commitment to a lover. If you can’t marry them, the thinking goes, you shouldn’t be in love with them. Romantic love is powerful for many, many people, and to say that this
    man should cut himself off from this form of love, because his wife is
    not yet dead in body as well as spirit, is obscene.

    Robertson is a terrible, terrible person. But that doesn’t mean that his sympathy for a man whose hurting is terrible as well. He should be condemned for not having enough sympathy, not for having any at all.

  • Anonymous

    I totally agree about the nature of the close personal bond that is (ideally) marriage. When someone calls zir partner “my other half,” it is often not just a nice figure of speech, especially in our culture, in which marriage is meant to be companionate.

    But people who are deeply committed to faithful monogamy have all kinds of close personal relationships with people not their spouses. I think it’s safe to say that the relationship this man was asking about was sexual. If he had simply been developing a close personal friendship with a woman, I’m pretty sure he would have specified in his question that the relationship was non-sexual. The question would have been a different one.

    Imagine this question: “My wife has Alzheimers and no longer recognizes me. Meanwhile, my wife’s friend Hecuba has been a real help, having lost her own spouse to that disease. She’s someone I can really talk to, and we’re spending a lot of time together. Is that a problem, in view of whatever is left of my marriage? Am I being in any way unfaithful to my wife.” I’m pretty sure Robertson’s answer would be to warn the man against sexual infidelity. Remember that this subculture is really, really focused on sex.

    Also worth noting that the man didn’t say he was falling in love with the other woman. I think it’s as telling what the question left out as what it included.

  • WingedBeast

    I think what’s happening here is that Pat already has a ready response for any really big trajedy.  “Really big Trajedy?  God’s pissed.”

    But, this is a really, really, really small trajedy.  It’s not something Pat’s had to asses.  Suddenly, there’s no “who to blame” there’s only “what is the moral thing in this situation?”.

    If he acted that way with regards to the trajedies, there would have been more money donated to relief funds… which might be why he doesn’t respond that way.

    I’ll say this much.  I wouldn’t have been able to answer the question either.  It’s a head scratcher and a heart acher.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-White/1605859612 Sue White

    Perhaps he’ll remember this the next time a natural disaster strikes somewhere in the world.

    I’d rather he learned that natural disasters happen because of natural causes.  Earthquakes and bad weather aren’t magic.  We know something about the forces that create them.  If a tornado trashes your house, it wasn’t out to get you. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Pat Robertson is a pretty conservative Christian, right? From his perspective, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters aren’t just arbitrary — they’re manifestations of God’s will. To him, God sending a hurricane to a certain city is like a person coming up to your house and setting it on fire — they’re both deliberate, intentional acts. They don’t just happen.

  • Emcee, cubed

    He also felt like, if the Christian community were more like his parents
    and responded to people with crisis pregnancies with grace and support,
    maybe young women wouldn’t feel the need to have abortions.

    His first point smacks of privilege (If I can do it, why can’t everyone?) and his last point has more than a whiff of persecution complex (They want to kill my baby!), but this part actually makes sense. It is a shame I haven’t seen the “pro-life” Christian community working toward this goal at all…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Responding to people with crisis pregnancies with grace and support sounds like a lot of work, and it’s not guaranteed to make you feel morally superior to everyone else 100%. Worse, you might actually have to take some of your personal time and probably some of your hard-earned money to do it. I’m not surprised that it hasn’t caught on as much as it should. Isn’t it easier just to humiliate them as much as possible and then abandon them to their fates?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    In general, I think Robertson’s been deteriorating over the years.  Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s Alzheimers, maybe it was losing in the Republican primaries in the Eighties, maybe he’s been listening to his own PR for too long (like Rush Limbaugh), maybe his Eighties tangent into Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory messed him up and has influenced him ever since.  Either way, there’s been a lot of entropy between the early Pat Robertson (of Ross’s anecdote) and the scolding old man of today.

  • Rechan

    Part of the difference here is not that it’s a faceless group of people (either in his country or elsewhere in the world) but one man with one hard situation. It’s much more challenging to say to someone’s face (figuratively) that “Your wife’s alzheimers is because you’re a sinner”. Among other things, that shoots all of his listeners in the face that have ill family members.

    As Stalin said, a single death is a tragedy, a thousand dead is a statistic. A single man makes it more relatable than just what Robertson sees as the hand of an angry god smashing things willy nilly.

  • Rechan

    Part of the difference here is not that it’s a faceless group of people (either in his country or elsewhere in the world) but one man with one hard situation. It’s much more challenging to say to someone’s face (figuratively) that “Your wife’s alzheimers is because you’re a sinner”. Among other things, that shoots all of his listeners in the face that have ill family members.

    As Stalin said, a single death is a tragedy, a thousand dead is a statistic. A single man makes it more relatable than just what Robertson sees as the hand of an angry god smashing things willy nilly.

  • Rechan

    Part of the difference here is not that it’s a faceless group of people (either in his country or elsewhere in the world) but one man with one hard situation. It’s much more challenging to say to someone’s face (figuratively) that “Your wife’s alzheimers is because you’re a sinner”. Among other things, that shoots all of his listeners in the face that have ill family members.

    As Stalin said, a single death is a tragedy, a thousand dead is a statistic. A single man makes it more relatable than just what Robertson sees as the hand of an angry god smashing things willy nilly.


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