Tag Archives: televangelists

An eye for an ear, a tooth for a toenail

Yesterday, Pat Robertson graced us with more thought-provoking theology from the lunatic fringe.  His statements characteristically pissed me off to the point where my husband had to stage an intervention involving a warm bath and a cold drink and a mild lecture about the blood pressure perils of going into orbit whenever Pat Robertson opens his mouth and sounds come out.  The issue this time is the dreadful judgment God may visit upon the Denver Broncos for trading Tim Tebow to the New York Jets.  The nature of God’s justice in this case?  Peyton Manning getting injured.

Let me try to clarify Pat’s position theologically.  Pat’s idea about divine justice here is the equivalent of saying:  “The sins of the father will be visited upon the next door neighbor.”  It’s like saying that because Cain killed Abel, God will smite Eve; or because Jacob cheated Esau, Isaac had better watch out; or because David boinked Bathsheba and murdered her husband, the child of that union would suffer for seven days and die…oh…wait a sec…

Pat’s apparent belief that God can and will pretty much nail anyone for anybody’s sins – and please believe me when I say that I don’t think that trading Tim Tebow necessarily constitutes a cardinal offense  – reflects one particular point of view on one of the Bible’s most disturbing stories – that of David and Bathsheba.

For those of you not familiar with the story, allow me to summarize:

David’s too lazy to go off to war with his army, so he sends them and sits around for awhile.  Gets bored, starts peering into neighbors’ windows, sees Bathsheba in the shower, sends for her, sleeps with her, then dismisses her like yesterday’s dirty laundry.  Finds out she’s pregnant, freaks, calls her husband Uriah back from the battlefield and encourages him to go have a little weekend romp with his wife.  Uriah refuses, saying his duty is to fight for the king.  Whereupon, David orders his general, Joab, to stick Uriah on the front lines in the hopes that Uriah will go down like cannon fodder.  Which Uriah does.

David’s now comfortably in the clear.  Except that the pesky prophet Nathan gets wind of all this and basically nails David’s lazy, lecherous, lying, homicidal hide to the wall, saying, “Because you’re a king-sized weenie, God’s going to kill your kid.”  Which God does.   After the child lies gravely ill for seven days.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but…WTF???

There is nothing simple about a story like this.  And this is sacred scripture of two world religions, so we can’t just throw the smote-by-God baby out with Bathsheba’s bathwater.  Cherry-picking difficult texts leaves us with a flat, watered down faith that accomplishes little more than justifying our personal status quo.  No, I think if we want faith with integrity, we have to deal with material like this.  And this is as nasty as it comes.  In this text, we’re met with profoundly disturbing images of not only one of the most important folk heroes in Judeo-Christianity, but of God as well.  We see David as a self-entitled, conniving deviant, a rapist, and a murderer.  Even more troubling, we see God as a vicious, vindictive arbiter of inexorable retribution, one who is perfectly satisfied with designating a child as a scapegoat.

For Christians, especially as we hurtle toward Holy Week, it’s difficult to miss the parallels between the death of Bathsheba’s child and the atonement theology of the crucifixion.

Which brings me back to Pat Robertson.  It seems to me all of this is very simple for Pat.  It boils down to human beings being utterly depraved (terminology favored by my own denomination) and God pretty much being justified in doing whatever he wants to remind us that he’s wise to how bad we suck all the time.

I hate this theology.  For one thing, it’s too easy.  God is good – therefore justified in destroying whoever God wants to destroy – because everything that isn’t God is baaaaad.  It presupposes a cut-and-dry, black-and-white worldview that doesn’t even begin to resemble the complicated world human beings actually inhabit.  I also hate it because it always seems to accompany a casually cruel mentality that figures, “if it’s good enough for God, it’s good enough for me!”  If God can torture and kill an innocent child…or God’s own son…people like Pat Robertson must be justified calling down judgment on a quarterback…or Haitian earthquake survivors…or American hurricane victims.  I would strongly argue, however, that the kind of behavior God displays in the David and Bathsheba story is not good enough for God.  And I think Christians do an appalling disservice to the gospel message by acting as if that kind of behavior could ever be worthy of God.

But if it’s not good enough for God, why are we told that God did it?  Moralists like Pat Robertson might say the story illustrates the righteous shadow that God’s justice inevitably casts over the stain of humanity’s sin.  To that I would say, thanks to the cross, God got out of the smiting business.  But that answer seems to imply that the God of the Old Testament isn’t the God of the New Testament and that’s the sort of theology that used to get people burned at the stake.*  So, there’s got to be another way to reconcile the diabolical God of the story with the unconditionally loving God many of us believe in.

My apologies, fearless readers, but I have no idea what that way is.  At this point in my theological career, I don’t have the education to speak to it academically.  And at this point in my life, I don’t have the perspective to make sense of it experientially.   But I’ll continue to chew on it, wrestle with it, and hold it up to the light.  The process of interacting with these tough texts and refusing to accept pat (pun intended) answers should be the daily practice of all people of faith.  We may not come up with a good answer.  But, at the very least, I take comfort in knowing that Pat Robertson’s reasoning isn’t it.

* For an example, check out Marcionism, one of early Christianity’s “also ran” sects.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2012


Yea, though I walk through the uncanny valley…

When I started this blog last summer, I made three promises to myself (and, by extension, my future readers):

#1:  No mention of partisan politics.  I vote a straight party ticket, so I have no credibility in political dialogue, anyway.

#2:  No discussion of professional sports.  In my defense, this was before the word “Tebow” became a verb with strong religious overtones.

#3:  No analysis of televangelists in the interest of refusing to dignify them with a response.

I’m about to blow intention #3 out of the water.  If Pat Robertson’s your main man and you want to continue enjoying this blog, I suggest you wait until the next post.  Also, I’d really like to know what you’re doing reading this blog.

I’m also about to blow #1 out of the water, because today’s observations about Pat Robertson actually took root when I read a recent article in The Atlantic about Mitt Romney.*    

The article actually focuses on Mitt’s uphill battle to win the Republican nomination, an examination which I found tedious and irrelevant just like most everything having to do with election coverage.  But the article also introduces the concept of “the uncanny valley.”  Even though I can’t say it taught me much about Mitt’s problems, “the uncanny valley” has been enormously helpful in explaining my hitherto unfathomable aversion to marionettes, wax museums, and TV preachers.

The uncanny valley is a robotics hypothesis for explaining the revulsion people experience when confronted with human replicas that look and act almost, but not quite, like real humans.  This hypothesis works for computer-generated animation, too, which explains why we all love Wall-E, but Beowulf creeps the crap out of us.  The idea is that the more a replica resembles a human, the more positive and empathetic our responses will be – until the replica crosses a point of no return.  At this point, our response plunges into the uncanny valley which is largely populated by dead people and zombies, the latter of which suffer from being quicker than the dead, but not quite as quick as the quick,** and therein apparently lies the problem.  Here’s a graph to illustrate how this phenomenon works:

There’s evidently a lot of speculation – much of it Freudian – about why this happens.  Seed Magazine just published an interesting article about this very question today, entitled “Into the Uncanny Valley.”  Check it out at http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/uncanny_valley/P1

Which brings me to Pat Robertson.

The other day, my husband was flipping channels and landed on The 700 Club just in time for the obligatory come-to-Jesus prayer.  And Pat Robertson was quoting from the playbook that all TV preachers use.  Get on your knees, right there in your living room, and ask Jesus to forgive you.  God loves you and wants to save you by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Jesus died and rose again for you and if you will just ask him into your heart, you will be saved.

Okay.  Say what you will, this is a time-tested approach to preaching the Gospel and even though I abandoned this evangelical tactic a long time ago, you have to admit it does fill a lot of pews.  But then Pat said something that made my flesh crawl, “As soon as you ask Jesus into your heart, as soon as you are saved, all your burdens will be lifted, all your problems will disappear, all your suffering will end immediately.  When you are forgiven, you will be unimaginably happy every day for the rest of your life.”

My friends, this yawning chasm of false advertising and vacuous promise is the uncanny valley of consumer Christianity.  It is to the kingdom of heaven what Disneyland’s New Orleans Square is to New Orleans, Louisiana.  It is to the Gospel what Wii is to bowling.  It is to actual relationship with God what reality TV is to…well, reality. 

It reduces the conversion experience to a sort of cosmic slot machine.  It’s a get-rich-quick scheme that, more often than not, leaves hearts (and sometimes pockets) so empty, many of them will never risk drawing near to God again.  They pull the handle expecting a pain-free jackpot…and God doesn’t deliver. 

Pat Robertson’s uncanny valley is the theological antithesis of the biblical image of another valley – the one that encompasses the shadow of death.  The valley of the shadow of death doesn’t just resemble real life, folks.  It is real life.  It is a place of raw and pulsing life (no zombies here), and surviving it calls for more than the glittering promises of an airbrushed evangelist.

Real salvation is wrestling with God in the middle of the night.  Real salvation is trusting God to keep delivering the manna during the first year, then the second…and the tenth…and the thirty-fifth year lost in the desert.  Real salvation is finding the heart to praise God from the belly of a fish.  Real salvation is the courage to say, “Your will, not mine, be done.”  Real salvation is laying your hands in blessing on a helpless enemy. 

Real salvation is knowing God’s grace even when everything in life points to its absence.  This is what Paul meant when he said, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  (Hebrews 11:1)

The problem with the uncanny valley is that we do see…and there’s nothing there.

* One thing I will say about Mitt – he has very presidential hair.  I haven’t seen hair that presidential since Ronald Reagan.  I mean, think about it.  George W. always looked like he was trying to keep his cowlick tamed with spit and Bill Clinton’s hair looked like a blonde brillo pad.  Obama’s hair is too short to warrant any comment other than his silvering sideburns are looking very distinguished these days.  Did George H.W. even have hair?

** The only thing more difficult than trying to glean some semblance of the Gospel from the lunatic ramblings of Pat Robertson is trying to make sense of a bunch of zombie-philes discussing how to survive the apocalypse (regarding their interest in that subject, they probably have more in common with Pat Robertson than I do) and debating whether “fast” zombies are scarier than “slow” zombies.  Frankly, I really think these people need to drink more.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2012

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