Analysis: The press puts God on trial in Haiti
Journalists in the mainstream press often talk about covering bothsides of a story fairly and accurately. I can say “Amen” to that, even while acknowledging that it is rare to cover a major story that only has two sides. Nevertheless, the key is for journalists to keep seeking multiple points of view, especially when covering a subject as complicated as religion.
So far, journalists covering the hellish scenes in Haiti have done a good job of showing the degree to which religion — or religions — color life in that haunted, yet intensely spiritual nation. This must be incredibly hard work, when surrounded by so much chaos.
As I mentioned the other day, we are now moving into the “theodicy” (How could God do this? How could God allow this to happen?) stage of this disaster story. I stand by my earlier statements that the best coverage is focusing on the voices of believers and doubters in Haiti, as opposed to rounding up the usual suspects in America.
Consider, for a moment, this Washington Post headline on a weekend Associated Press report: “Religious Haitians see hand of God in earthquake.”
Do tell. I have been wondering when someone would write about this angle of the story, in the wake of the media storm around the Rev. Pat Robertson. To cut to the chase: Are there Haitians who believe that the earthquake is, in some mysterious way, an “act of God,” even a form of divine judgment?
That depends. For starters, you will be glad to know that reporter Michelle Faul quickly establishes that Haitians are not of one mind when it comes to answering that question.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Deeply religious Haitians see the hand of God in the destruction of Biblical proportions visited on their benighted country. The quake, religious leaders said Sunday, is evidence that He wants change.
Exactly what change He wants depends on the faith: Some Christians say it’s a sign that Haitians must deepen their faith, while some Voodoo followers see God’s judgment on corruption among the country’s mostly light-skinned elite.
Jumping down, there is more content on that second point:
Some followers of Voodoo, practiced alongside Roman Catholicism by the vast majority of Haitians, said the devastation of key symbols of power was punishment for corrupt leaders who have allowed the mostly light-skinned elite to enrich themselves while the black majority suffers.
“If all of a sudden, in 15 seconds, 20 seconds, all the physical representations of corruption are destroyed, it gives you pause for thought,” said Richard Morse, a renowned Haitian-American musician whose mother was a singer and revered Voodoo priestess. “The Justice Ministry: down. The National Palace: down. The United Nations headquarters: down.” …
The destruction of every major Catholic church in the capital, including the 81-year-old cathedral, also was a sign, he said: “When there is all this corruption going on, whose role is it in society to speak out? Isn’t the Church supposed to say something?”
There is an old saying in the region that Haiti is 80 percent Roman Catholic and 100 percent Voodoo. However, that simply isn’t true, these days. The government does recognize two official state religions, which are Catholicism and Voodoo. Media reports have emphasized, accurately, that most Haitians practice both of these faiths and believe they are compatible.
However, the nation also includes a growing number of Protestants, especially Baptists and Pentecostal Christians — who reject Voodoo, as a rule. You have to ask: What are these groups saying? Are these some of the people whose street sermons have — vaguely — been mentioned in some media reports? What is their stance on the “divine judgment” issue? I predict that the answer to that question is more complex than you might imagine.
It would also be good to know if Catholics are united in the belief that Voodoo rites and beliefs can be fused, as they often are in Haiti. Is this topic debated? And what about the Voodoo community itself? It is hard to imagine that there would be only one point of view on the question of who is being judged and by what Deity. How does Voodoo address the “theodicy” question?
What about unbelievers? What about the people who have lost so much, including their faith or faiths?
Clearly, there is much ground still left to cover. But for now, try to forget the final image from this AP report:
“How could He do this to us?,” cried Remi Polevard, who said his five children lie beneath in the rubble of a home near St. Gerard University. “There is no God.”
Sunday night, as downtown residents began burning some of the bodies that have been rotting on the streets for five days, a woman walking by in an orange dress pulled out a copy of the Bible.
She flung it into the fire.