Today Pat Robertson, on his well-known Christian Broadcasting Network show The 700 Club, told a viewer who works with Buddhists and fears she is being preached to by them that:
If you are healthy and there is a mild contagion around you, the chances are you won’t get it. But if you put yourself in the middle of a hospital ward where everybody has the disease except you, sooner or later you will be infected by it. Now, it’s one thing for you to be ministering to somebody who’s of a different persuasion, but if you’re in the middle of hundreds and hundreds of people who think that way, you’ve got an uphill fight, and I think the best thing at that point is to withdraw with dignity. Get out of that environment, because they’re going to get to you before you get to them. Alright?
How will Buddhists (and others) respond?
My first thought was, “Meh?”
This is Pat Robertson, after all. The same Pat Robertson who said that the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which killed an estimated 220,000 and impacted a total of 3.5 million people, was because African slaves had entered into a Vodou “pact with the devil.” Around this time last year he also compared Islam to Nazism (again).
Heck, there’s a whole wiki page dedicated to cataloging Pat Robertson Controversies. So we shouldn’t exactly be surprised when he compares Buddhism to a disease. Given his history, I’d say he’s letting Buddhism off pretty easy.
Given this, I think most Buddhists will have something like the following response:
As an educator, for me the saddest fact is that there are still so many people out there who might take Robertson seriously. Maybe we’ll start to see calls for “moderate Christians to formally denounce his extremism…”
I had the great privilege of teaching online Introduction to World Religions courses for a couple years and the first quote above, on Vodou, comes from our textbook. It was given as one example among many of how religions like Vodou are misunderstood and often literally “demonized” in American popular culture. Students who liked Robertson could come out and try to defend him, but usually discussions around the topic were about how often he had said things like this about other religions, or just other strange things he’d said.
So everyone came away with a clear understanding: don’t take Pat Robertson seriously. When you come to understand the many different worldviews out there and the particular one that Robertson inhabits, then there’s not much left to upset you, except for the level of ignorance on display.
That’s education for you. And in the US it’s sadly all too rare a thing when it comes to religion.