Oh, Pat Robertson. If he wasn’t such a foul skidmark of a human being, I’d almost feel sorry for him. Almost. He makes such a consistent fool of himself to pander for attention and stay relevant. Pat Robertson’s latest stunt merits our special attention and scorn. Dude accidentally revealed just how ineffective his magic spells are. But it gets worse. He also revealed just how little his religion has done to make him into a decent human being.
Everyone, Meet Pat Robertson.
Pat Robertson is the Zombie-Lich-King-in-Residence at Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and various other ventures. He’s been a Southern Baptist leader, though he’s a bit more charismatic than they usually like. His pure control-lust is all that animates him these days.
The culture wars? Oh honey, he just about invented them. He’s a product of the old-school culture wars so he holds in his blackened heart all the original ones. Alongside them, he simply adds onto his bloated belief-carcass whatever new dead thing he runs across on his travels.
Certainly we could say a lot about the fellow. In his long life, he stands accused of a great many atrocities. In 1994, evidence suggests that he tried to “help” cholera victims in Africa by offering them free Bibles through “Operation Blessing”–but the whole effort was possibly a front for him to move some high-end mining equipment to the area to open a blood-diamond operation. (His bizarre 2002 USD$520k purchase of a top-end racehorse barely even scratches that one for WTF-ness. Also, please see this article regarding some of the ins and outs of the whole situation.) Of course, that’s hardly the only weirdness associated with Operation Blessing.
Robertson also tried to assert in 1998 that if Americans began accepting gay people too much, his god would send natural disasters and “possibly a meteor” to hit America in retaliation. Nor can we forget that he claimed that the Haitian earthquake in 2010 was the result of their “pact to the devil” centuries ago. And we won’t ever allow to die his claim that demons can totally infest thrift-shop sweaters.
I could go on all day about this guy. No low is too low for him. He’s in a class of grifters and conjobs all his own. (In comments, feel free to name your favorite WTF moment from Unca Pat.) But make no mistake: He laughs at his critics–all the way to the bank.
The Newest Attention-Grab.
On September 10, Pat Robertson issued a divine command to Hurricane Florence.
Right Wing Watch YouTube capture, September 10, 2018.
In the clip above, he talks about turning the hurricane away from land entirely, so it does no damage. He invokes the Bible verses about prayer–the ones that deconverted me 25 years ago!–and reminds believers that they can totally control storms through faith. In fact, this part of the country “is counting” on him and his followers to pray away that storm!
Then he demands that his audience hold out their hands–which they do, in the same way that I remember got a church called Maranatha in big trouble in the 1990s because it looked like they were all giving Nazi salutes. Though Robertson tells them to point their hands toward “the Atlantic, wherever it is, tee-hee,” it’s clear that the direction got lost in translation because they’re all pointing them the way they always do–vaguely above the preacher’s head.
Having gotten an entire audience of Christians to hold up Nazi salutes, Robertson addresses the hurricane itself as if it can actually hear him. He tells the hurricane that it may not come to land and cause damage or harm.
His prayer invokes a phrase that might sound very familiar to Christians and ex-Christians: he declares that he is erecting a shield of protection around America that the hurricane may not cross. It will not be allowed to go anywhere on land. It must “be out to sea!” Then he laughs a little–a trickle of truth, maybe?–and declares that when people see Florence “averted,” they’ll finally believe all the supernatural claims that he and his pals keep making.
He claims at the end of the clip that he saw a similar hurricane averted in 1960 (is he alluding to 1965’s Hurricane Betsy?), and has seen it happen “year after year after year” (citations needed). He describes hurricanes as if they were people, seeking to come do damage to his stomping grounds, and says it’s “almost hilarious to see them try.”
Old Man Yells at Cloud.
I couldn’t help it. When I first heard about Robertson’s new prediction, two things sprang into my mind.
First, of course, is the old Simpsons joke and meme old man yells at cloud.
Folks laugh at the meme, but it’s mostly sad laughter at the elderly curmudgeon character on the show who gets mad and frustrated all the time at everything, and who has no coping mechanism beyond yelling at it all.
The Simpson’s clip plays up something about that character, but in this case here today, we’re talking about an evangelist who is literally yelling at a cloud and apparently expecting it to listen to him.
Even if he’s simply performing for a crowd (likely; they are his bread and butter) and doesn’t really think hurricanes can hear him (unlikely; given his long record, he probably does think this), the dude did in fact yell at a cloud and acted like it could hear him. It’s hard to beat that for sheer comedy–except thanks to magical thinking, he at least acts like he really thinks that the cloud will obey.
(We’ll get to the second thought in a moment.)
Magic speaks to something ancient within us as human beings: that fear of the unknown, that impulse to reach for anything to try to lessen the danger that surrounds us every day of our lives. Now psychologists call this impulse magical thinking: the belief that someone’s thoughts and desires can affect real situations. The less control someone has over a situation, the more a magic ritual might start looking appealing.
I’m sure most of us can immediately perceive some serious problems with the belief, however.
First and foremost, while someone pursues magical solutions to problems, they have that much less time and money to invest in effective solutions. The example that always springs to my mind here is that of Steve Jobs, who pursued quack medicine instead of real treatment for the cancer that killed him. He would come to regret the delay in obtaining real treatment.
Second, people who buy into magical thinking in one arena of their lives have opened the door to all kinds of nonsensical ideas that could hurt them. Magical thinkers don’t tend to test their ideas much (if at all). What else in that sphere of their lives are they not testing? They also allow a much lower standard of evidence to support their belief in the magic ritual. How will they figure out if any of their other beliefs are untrue, if they think that one is true?
SHIELD OF PROTECTION.
Pat Robertson’s invocation of a shield of protection in his magic spell was no accident, either. Though normally Christians call the magic spell a hedge of protection, it means roughly the same thing. The idea comes from various Bible verses, including Psalm 91. In particular, in Job 1:8, Satan specifically mentions “a hedge around” Job that protects him from all harm. (Before you ask, no, Christians don’t usually remember that Yahweh specifically removed that protection on a cheap bet with Satan to see how much Job could take before renouncing his faith.)
Hedge or shield, a great many Christians think that they can mouth magic spells and receive, in return, divine protection from all harm. And wow, are there a lot of these magic spells littering the Christian landscape. But watch out! One site sternly warns readers that their magic spell may only be uttered by TRUE CHRISTIANS™. Sorry! This magic spell is off-limits to us heathens!
One site thinks that failed apocalypse-peddler Tim LaHaye popularized the phrase hedge of protection in the 1970s. By the late 1980s, it was in regular rotation. I probably heard this sort of magic spell recited every single time I attended church. It also figured prominently in prayer meetings (and individual prayers) as well as any other get-together my church had. In short, we can consider this phrase Peak Christianese, achieving near-saturation in evangelicals at least.
What Happened Next.
On September 10, authorities designated Florence a Category 4 hurricane. No doubt many Christians living on the Southeastern coast felt scared. Already, the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia issued mandatory evacuation orders for coastal residents.
By September 13, Florence had weakened to a Category 2 hurricane, though its wind field grew larger. Then by evening that day, authorities declared that it’d gone down in severity to Category 1. In that condition, it made landfall in North Carolina in the wee hours of September 14. Late at night on the 14th, it was a tropical storm again.
As I write this, the most current update at the National Hurricane Center indicates that the storm is mostly centered in South Carolina. The storm has already caused “heavy rains and catastrophic flooding” across the Carolinas as it continues to move westward and northward. By tonight, they think it’ll be a tropical depression.
By Monday, they expect it to be hitting the Ohio Valley. But the danger’s far from over. In addition to up to 30ish inches of rain in places that it’s dumping on the coast, tornadoes are a real possibility–as are wind gusts.
Counting the Cost.
Even before Florence came near land, people began to die. In North Carolina, the hurricane swelled tides and caused riptides. Several people drowned as a result, including at least one child. And at least one of those deaths occurred on September 10, the same day Unca Pat issued his command to the storm not to cause damage. (I don’t know if the death occurred before or after his command, but really, either way he ain’t lookin’ good.)
On September 13, hundreds of people had to evacuate various places in North Carolina ahead of the storm because of the heavy rains and flooding.
And on September 14, rescuers had saved over 200 people from the floods–with more awaiting help (by today, 455 people had been rescued). The weight of the rain made the roof of a hotel collapse. Authorities have confirmed 12 deaths directly attributable to the storm. Almost one million homes and businesses have lost power so far. Thousands of families have holed up in shelters.
Newsweek tells us that the storm could cause USD$170 billion in damages, which means it could turn out to be the most costly storm that’s ever hit us. While its winds aren’t that bad, the rains and flooding coming from it are turning out to be absolutely disastrous.
I’m still hoping that the wild Chincoteague ponies do all right; their island (Assateague Island in Maryland and Virginia) is getting battered hard by waves and rains. Their keepers think they’ll be okay.
Remember: the storm isn’t over yet. The danger remains high for residents of affected states.
For Once, I’m Glad People Don’t Really Believe This Tosh.
If you watched the clip, you might have noticed early in it that Robertson specifically mentions his university campus and the CBN media juggernaut, both located in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
I don’t want that thing to come in. I don’t want it to hurt Regent [University], to hurt CBN, don’t want it to tear up this beautiful campus. . .
Notice the stained glass window behind him? An identical one adorns the chapel of Regent University. So that’s likely where he stands in the clip.
Two days later, Regent University closed its campus and evacuated students from its dorms. Anybody who just had nowhere to go could take “emergency lodging” at the school, but needed to bring whatever necessities they needed because
their god their school wouldn’t supply anything past, apparently, water.
Today they allowed students to return to the dorms, but the campus remains closed till Monday, September 17.
SOMEBODY DIED, PAT.
The second thing that sprang into my mind when I saw Pat Robertson’s spellcasting video, of course, is the equally golden meme SOMEBODY DIED, BEVERLY.
One often sees these ZOMG MEERKUL claims from oblivious, chirpy Christians, especially evangelicals. Some natural disaster has occurred; people have died. But in the wreckage, someone spots something that seems like a religiously-significant portent. Maybe a Bible survived (little wonder; I’ve heard that Bibles often get sprayed with flame retardants), or maybe a bit of debris seems cross-shaped (also little wonder; we use a lot of t-intersections in construction).
It’s such a tiny thing, whatever it is, but it’s like a little wave from Heaven to Christians like Beverly. It’s something they can cling to, a spot of good news amid overwhelming bad news.
But while they’re celebrating that little sign, the rest of us are inevitably thinking SOMEBODY DIED, BEVERLY.
Yet Another Non-Miracle.
Oh, yeah, Pat Robertson is already gloating that he and his most precious possessions, Regent University and CBN itself, are totes fine. In fact, he thinks that his magic spell worked so well for him that he’s renewing suggestions to people in still-affected states to get busy casting their own spells.
The mind boggles at just how lacking in compassion someone must be to think that any god would rather spare some business buildings than a dozen lives and thousands of homes.
Robertson does not, of course, mention that his actual prayer was for the storm to turn away completely and not make landfall. That is not what happened. That isn’t even close to what happened. He’s just moved some goalposts by acting like all he’d wanted all along for his little fiefdom to be safe.
Pat Robertson, gloating in a RWW clip on YouTube.
Come Watch An Evangelist Piss On His Own Shoes!
I could not believe my eyes to see him simpering about how he’s totally “grateful” that Regent/CBN were spared, because I already knew that Virginia Beach was never actually in that much danger compared to the Carolinas. That doesn’t mean Virginia Beach was in no danger, just that most of the alarm centered around another area.
Further, LGBTQ Nation points out that nobody official ever thought Florence would make landfall in Virginia.
In fact, it doesn’t seem like much about Florence was anything that experts found unusual or weird. Florence seemed very confusing indeed to a lot of laypeople, so to speak, but the Hurricane Center’s staff got a lot of details completely correct. It came in where they thought it would; it has progressed largely as they thought it would. Sure, it lost power very quickly as it made landfall, but even that’s understandable to people who understand the science of hurricanes.
And the storm has more or less held true to the models experts released all the way around.
In terms of divine influence, we must look elsewhere to find anything that qualifies as that one weird thing that happened once.
There’ll be no waves of atheists pounding on church doors to convert, alas for that snake-oil salesman.
The Conjob and the Gambles He Made.
So let me see if I can offer an accurate model for what happened with Pat Robertson this week.
As the emperor of two empires–Regent University and CBN–he of course would have been paying attention to the hurricane’s progress. By the time he stepped up to the podium of his chapel on September 10, he would have had access to the same predictive models everybody else could find.
He would already have known that Virginia Beach wasn’t considered to be in major harm’s way.
So when he offered up his magic spell, demanding that the storm turn, he was taking a very small risk there for an impossibly-high reward.
The chances of the storm pounding his town were already minimal, and sometimes storms do make weird turns. Yes, the chance existed that maybe Florence would devour Virginia Beach, but more likely things would be okay. In that case, he’d have bigger problems than getting embarrassed about yet another false prediction. Dude’s made dozens of them over the years; one more won’t alienate the flocks already sending him money. And if the storm turned away for good and never made landfall at all, he’d be talking it up for the rest of his life as PROOF YES PROOF that his magic spells work.
I just don’t think he was counting on how sophisticated our storm models are getting.
Oh, and About That ZOMG MEERKUL, Hurricane Betsy..
In 1965, Hurricane Betsy slammed into the East Coast. The New York Times relates that Pat Robertson claims that he, personally, through his magic spells, convinced his god to turn the storm away from his region. He’s claimed it about other storms–like Hurricane Esther of 1961, exulting in imagining that his spell made it turn on his command, and Hurricane Gloria in 1985.
Of course, he couldn’t stop Hurricane Bonnie in 1998 (it slammed into Virginia Beach), nor Isabel in 2003.
But let’s focus on Hurricane Betsy.
This storm was a huge, destructive tropical cyclone that devastated Florida and the Gulf Coast in 1965. It caused $1.43Bn in damage, plus killed 81 people. It was such a serious storm (outranked only by 1961’s Carla in terms of total severity–and Katrina is fifth on that list, gang) that the United States Weather Bureau retired the entire name Betsy from their rotating lists of storm names. No other storm will ever be named Betsy, not ever again.
In his self-congratulatory book Beyond Reason, quoted in that NYT link above, he gloats that “skeptics may offer other explanations. But I know it was God’s power that spared this region and also our CBN tower.”
The fact that this conjob has any kind of following at all after saying something like that in his out-loud voice is the clearest illustration we could hope to get that Christianity, as a religion and ideology and social system, is completely morally bankrupt.
He’s damned well right: skeptics may damned well indeed offer other explanations. We’d probably make sure that opportunistic mountebanks like him got a special mention in them, too.
Operation Blessing: Well, It Blesses ONE Person, at Least.
Remember Operation Blessing, that faux charity organization involved with Pat Robertson’s blood-diamond mining operation in Africa?
Well, Operation Blessing still exists. And it’s still “blessing” one person, namely Pat Robertson.
It’s already shilling for donations to help the people that Pat Robertson’s magic spell didn’t help.
I’ll refer y’all here to Charity Navigator’s score for Operation Blessing.
Foundation Beyond Belief has set up a fundraiser on their site, if you want to help. They’re a secular charity umbrella organization that helps people without all the extra nonsense that religious groups often tack on.
Vox has a long list of charities that come highly-rated as well; it’s for Harvey, not Florence, but the same charities are likely in operation still. If you’re an animal lover, may I also suggest donating money, food, or pet supplies to the animal shelters that are likely to be full of displaced and rescued pets? The American Humane Society is already mobilizing; here’s their donation link.
I remember being Christian and finally noticing the pathetically-picayune nature of ZOMG MEERKULS. In the Bible, miracles were huge–and undeniable–shows of divine power and might. Nobody could possibly miss what they meant. Nor did people argue about which god was responsible for that show of force.
More than that, though, the Bible makes promises about prayer that simply don’t hold up in the real world. The most religious part of our country, the Deep South, also tends to be battered by unthinkable natural disasters all the time–and more occur with every passing year, it seems.
If a god can–and does–affect the real world, that puts a lot of questions on Christians that they are categorically not going to be able to answer in any meaningful or satisfactory way. All I hear when Pat Robertson gloats about his magic spell’s imagined effectiveness is the death toll of the storm.
Like cool story, bro, your university is fine and that’s great and all, but a dozen people so far have died and thousands of families won’t recover from the damage wrought by the storm for years, if ever.
But hey, that’s all fine, right? You got yours. Who else matters?
NEXT UP: We look at how and why dysfunctional people try to lay blame. But before then, stay safe out there, friends. Don’t listen to hucksters. This storm’s still out there, and still doing damage. If you’re anywhere around it, do whatever you can in the real world to remain safe.
- “Cassidy Wept”
- “The Tornado Whisperer: Screw All Y’all, I’ma Get Mine”
- “The Nashville Statement: A Blueprint for Failure“
- “A Celestial Extortionist and His Sycophants“
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