Nut-Picking on Pat Robertson

I try not to nut-pick; meaning I try not to pick out a few fringe figures and try to portray them as representative of the entire population. But it gets harder all the time to avoid it. In my recent post on anti-abortion activist Janet Morana, I mentioned that she’s the head of Priests for Life. How serious is that?

Well, PfL shows up on Guidestar as having a $9 million budget in 2011. In comparison, as non-profit advocate groups go that put it between the Reason Foundation ($8 Mill) and the Manhattan Institute ($11 mill). That seems serious enough. In contrast, the authority they cite, Dr. Philip Ney, seems to run a political group that is little more than his own ego. He’s got medical qualifications, but nothing about his titles suggests that he knows much about survivor’s guilt. Fringe.

But what do you do with someone like Pat Robertson? Robertson is the creepy old guy on The 700 Club, which has over 1 million viewers – not huge, but not bad. He is also the founder of the Christian Broadcast Network, Regent University, ABC Family Channel, the American Center for Law & Justice, the Christian Coalition of America … and so on. His reach is impossible to quantify, but it seems extensive.

And yet he’s capable of making statements like this one an a recent 700 club episode, when he suggested that gays in San Francisco are intentionally infecting people with AIDS:

[EDIT: CBN has been taking down these videos left and right. I can't promise this one will last long.]

You know what they do in San Francisco, some in the gay community there they want to get people so if they got the stuff they’ll have a ring, you shake hands, and the ring’s got a little thing where you cut your finger. Really. It’s that kind of vicious stuff, which would be the equivalent of murder.

This was embarrassing enough that this quote was removed from the online version posted by CBN. Robertson went on the issue a non-apology where he restates his accusation:

In my own experience, our organization sponsored a meeting years ago in San Francisco where trained security officers warned me about shaking hands because, in those days, certain AIDS-infected activists were deliberately trying to infect people like me by virtue of rings which would cut fingers and transfer blood.

I regret that my remarks had been misunderstood, but this often happens because people do not listen to the context of remarks which are being said. In no wise were my remarks meant as an indictment of the homosexual community or, for that fact, to those infected with this dreadful disease.

What do you do with a guy like this? Clearly he’s completely credulous, yet he’s the leader of a media empire. Is it fair to hold him up as an example of conservative Christianity?

[EDIT: As always, Goblinbooks has some spot-on satire: A Message From The Terrified People Sitting Next To Pat Robertson.

You know what a Communications degree from Regent University gets you? Fifty thousand dollars of debt and the ability to do TV work anywhere in Virginia Beach, VA. Which means you’re fucked. This place is the media equivalent of one of those company mining towns where they pay you in scrip. When Pat sits down next to us and starts babbling about the demons… trust us, that is the least humiliating part of our day. But we’re powerless. Pat owns us. He owns our souls.

  • Mick

    “Is it fair to hold him up as an example of conservative Christianity?”

    It certainly is fair. Remember it’s not just him. It’s him and his one million viewers hanging on his every word. All of them together carry a fair bit of clout.

    And don’t let the main stream Christians off the hook either. Have you heard any of them telling Robertson to tone down the rhetoric and stop telling lies for Jesus? I haven’t. Not one!

    • David Simon

      Not one!

      Dude, what the heck are you talking about? Lots of Christians complain about Pat Robertson. Here are some examples from this very site:

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2010/01/14/christians-against-pat-robertson/

      I don’t like Christianity any more than you do, but that doesn’t excuse just straight-up making shit up about it. :-(

      • The Other Weirdo

        That post is 4 years old. Maybe they got better things to do now than defend The Faith™.

        • David Simon

          Are you actually suggesting that no Christian has objected to Robertson since the time that post was published? Is your Google-fu that weak?

          • The Other Weirdo

            I am not suggesting anything of the sort. I just wonder why you couldn’t find anything newer. Although I do find it funny that you posted an atheist blog’s aggregate of Christian objections to P.R.

  • kessy_athena

    I think that Robertson is part of a broader phenomenon that’s been happening on the American Right for the past couple of decades. Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sarah Palin – are these folks fringe wingnuts or representative of conservatism as a whole? Oddly, the answer seems to be both. We have a massive echo chamber effect going on where a disturbingly large number of people are insulating themselves from any sort of opposing opinions and drifting farther and farther from reality.

    Of course, this is hardly unique to the right, nor is it a uniquely modern thing. Utopian communities have always been susceptible to this sort of thing, and more widespread moral panics have been around probably as long as human civilization. But I’m not aware of such a large, widespread, and long lasting echo chamber like this, to the point that it’s having a major impact on national policy and presenting the real possibility of the US government adopting outright insane policies, like going into default over the debt ceiling. Typically echo chambers in the past seem to have been long lasting *or* widespread, but not both. Isolated communities can keep this sort of thing going for generations, but in the broader society reality usually seems to have intruded and popped the bubble.

  • Nox

    Not all christians are like Pat Robertson. But enough christians like Pat Robertson to make him a f*cking billionaire.

  • ORAXX

    Pat Robertson isn’t the problem. The people who abdicate their duty to think for themselves, and send this man money, are the problems.

    • Quincy

      the problem is religion, it may sound harsh, like y cant they think what they want, and the answer is this and the countless other millions who dont say the stuff he does, but probably think it and believe it..No religion, no sin, no conflict..At least not in these terms..

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    Hello, I just want to show you there is a gigantic diversity among Christians on those issues.

    While reject Biblical inerrancy, abortion really seems to be a great evil of the Western Civilization.

    But I also support gay people:

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/category/homosexuality/

    Am I an irrational idiot? Certainly.

    Am I like Pat Robertson and the Religious Right? By no means.

    Greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  • Paul Bibeau

    When I get linked on Slacktivist and UnreasonableFaith around the same time, it’s like turning the corner and finding pirate gold and a bottle of 20 year-old single malt. Seriously. Thank you.

  • Peter Callan

    When you say he is “credulous” could you possibly have meant “not credible”? We can make it more basic if you like. He is a lying sack of crap, with a narcissistic personality disorder and a severe need for professional mental help. He is a sick old man.

  • Greg G.

    I bet that security guard was pulling Pat’s leg. I hope he’s amused that Pat not only fell for it but maintained the belief for so long.

    Remember when God woke Pat up in the middle of the night and told him to run for president?

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Thanks for this! I’ve been saying for a long time that the problem with wingnuts and cranks like Robertson is not that the things they, themselves, as individuals say and do is important. It’s that they say and do the wingnutty things they say and do, and keep swimming in donations from other Christians. There must be many thousands … perhaps hundreds of thousands … of American Christians who agree with his vile wingnuttiness. And that is the real problem.

    Another problem, of course, is all the phony hand-wringing by all the other Christians who claim not to believe anything he says and keep whining that he and his ilk make them look bad … yet, rather curiously, they never seem to manage to lift a finger to do anything about him. They just leave him yammering like the wingnutty cretin he is. If there truly were a groundswell of tens of millions of Christians who really and truly objected to his wingnuttiness, he’d have been ripped off the air decades ago. He’d never be able to stay in the public eye, having generated that much outrage. That he is still on the air is, effectively, a tacit vote of approval for him.


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