A comment on twitter about a Philippines earthquake led me to revisit a piece I’d written while living in Kentucky. During the horror that was the great earthquake in Haiti, one of the USA’s noisiest and most hateful fundamentalist preachers – and they are legion – blamed Haitian history for the misery that they were suffering. I’d like to know what he’d have to say about the recent events in Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Ukraine and elsewhere. With minor changes that piece is presented here.
A little while ago I confessed that I have a tendency, probably genetic, to approach a tale widdershins, and I can promise you that this will be no exception. In my defense I’d like to say that I’ve always enjoyed the journey as much as the destination, until, that is, I flew for the first time in one of those jet-propelled drainpipes posing as modern passenger aircraft. Fortunately for those of you still with me, that has no part in this tale. I just mention it as one of those things that lead some to repeatedly accuse me – possibly fairly – of being able to gripe about almost anyything.
I’ve been re-reading America and the Americans, that collection of Steinbeck oddments, to make sure I’d remembered aright what first sparked my interest in this country, its institutions and its peoples. Among this collection are articles he wrote about living conditions in the camps of displaced Americans, forced during the Great Depression to scrabble for an existence among the unimaginable wealth that was – still is – California’s horticultural industry.
Then this morning I read Mike Williams’ touching piece on Haiti, bringing experience, knowledge and humanity in contrast to the horrors of the TV reports. Mike’s piece led me to Paul Raushenbush, who guided me to Pat Robertson one of that remarkable breed of moneygrubbers, the multi-something-aire pseudo religious who cause me, a non-Christian, to speculate about the particular version of the Gospels on which they seem to have based their business plans.
Robertson in turn led me to The Grapes of Wrath and Jim Casy. From Jim my mind wandered to Woody Guthrie’s Tom Joad and the origins of the Wobblies, from where, given my half-century-plus love affair with American folk music, it was just a short step to Joe Hill and the Wobblies’ Little Red Songbook.
And so I come back to Pat Robertson, the Preacher Man, hammer of sinner and Democrat alike and forthright spokesMAN for the Righteous Reicht. In the midst of the horror that reduced me – along with millions of others – to tears, a Kentucky sect whose charitable works apparently consist entirely of building churches in Haiti worries about its missionaries and Robertson spouts the sort of tripe that I thought had disappeared soon after witch-burning was outlawed. According to Pat – and he’d know – his god is punishing Haiti because during the slave rebellion of 1791, they invoked the old gods of Voodoo – fairly reasonable you’d think seeing that the god of Abraham didn’t seem much interested in easing their misery and suffering. This, says Pat, equates to a pact with the devil and so they need to be punished. He didn’t mention why his god had waited for more than 200 years to dish it out, but I suppose it doesn’t matter if you’re preaching sin and retribution.
Pat, perhaps you and others like you should take a bit of a decko at the Wobblies’ book of “songs to fan the flames of discontent”. Joe Hill penned one that might have been written for you and your soulless ilk and I’d like to put part of it down here. Sung to that beautiful old tune, In the Sweet By and By, I’ve changed the first two lines very slightly to suit the times.
Wealthy preachers on TV every night,
Like to tell us what’s wrong and what’s right;
When you ask them for something to eat,
They will answer in voices so sweet:
You will eat, by and by;
In that glorious land in the sky;
Hope and pray, live on hay;
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.
There, dear readers, I got here at last. I hope the journey wasn’t too boring for you.
Oh! and Pat – sorry, I’d almost forgotten about you – if you and your band of Sin-Finders are entitled to a place in heaven, I’m bloody glad I’m not a Christian. In fact I’m thinking seriously of moving to Turkey after something I saw on TV last night. At least there I’d probably be pretty safe from you and your sanctimonious mob, knowing your attitude towards anybody who doesn’t go along with your perverted morality. Why Turkey, Pat? Read on…
During NBC’s coverage of events in Haiti, there was captured on the record an all-too-brief moment that deserves to be shown over and over and over again; one of those heart-wrenching incidents that if we are extremely lucky we may occasionally see in a lifetime and that remind us that we really all brothers and sisters under the skin. Oh I know you’re not, Pat, but bear with me anyway.
A numbed Haitian man is sitting outside the ruins of his home. Apparently his wife’s voice was heard a few hours before but all is now silent. He is exhausted from digging with his bare and bleeding hands and his face is a study in awful nothingness. He does not want to think. He wishes to be, not there, but in some other existence, one where his wife still is.
A Turkish team, experienced in earthquake rescue and, we are told, one that had done sterling work in Japan, has just arrived on the scene. One of their number, an ordinary-looking bloke in rescue gear, touches the Haitian on the shoulder.
“We are here, my brother,” he says, in English.
The light of his humble humanity was so blinding that I bawled like a child.