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Haitian earthquake, the wrath of God?

Published:Monday | January 25, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Garth Rattray

When outspoken televangelist Pat Robertson - founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network and host of The 700 Club - calmly and authoritatively asserted that the cataclysmic earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in Haiti occurred because the Haitian slaves swore a pact with the devil to free them from French rule (over 200 years ago), I was flabbergasted. Robertson claimed that the devil said, "OK, it's a deal", the slaves kicked out the French and ever since, they have been cursed by one thing or another and have been desperately poor.

Robertson failed to mention that devastated survivors were still praying fervently to God; that the true 'curse' is the long-standing trade blockade imposed by Europe on Haiti (since 1804), international 'indiscretions' committed against its people, the social inequities there or the country's string of autocratic, power-hungry, rapacious and incompetent leaders. Because of some of his past misinformed, egregious and inciting public statements, I dismissed Robertson's statement. Even The Christian Science Monitor reported that the French view his 'theory' with disbelief.

Wrath of God

What surprised me even more was the view expressed by quite a number of my Christian friends and patients - they too subscribe to the belief that it was the wrath of God that devastated Port-au-Prince and they blame devil worship and voodoo for the disaster.

Trying to explain that the earth's outermost crust is like a giant jigsaw of seven large, rigid plates moving slowly in relation to one another (at about the same rate that we grow fingernails) and that, from time to time, large rocks get stuck - build up pressure until they break and release enormous amounts of energy that we experience as an earthquake, was a waste of time. That two of those plates, the North American and the Caribbean plates abut each other along a fault line (the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault system) and slide in an east-west direction and that the fault line also runs through Jamaica, meant little. All I heard was how Haiti's evil practices have caught up with them.

'Retributionists' didn't care to hear that the focus point of the energy released was only 6.2 miles below Port-au-Prince; that this accounted for the epicentre registering 7 on the Richter scale resulting in major damage, destroyed structures, badly cracked ground and landslides. The fact that desperation and abject poverty resulted in unprecedented urbanisation with many people existing in crowded, substandard structures that were especially vulnerable to earthquake damage meant nothing to those intent on espousing their retributive theory. Many Jamaicans (even faithful churchgoers) believe in, practice or subscribe to obeah; are we also due for God's vengeance?

Ridiculous statements

Although some people believe that God's vengeance, and not a natural disaster, was to blame for the quake, they have been giving unselfishly to the relief effort. In fact, while Robertson made his ridiculous statements on air, there was a disaster relief fund number displayed on the screen. He even said (in essence) that since there has been so much destruction, there might be a massive rebuilding of Haiti and suggested that the disaster may be a blessing in disguise. Although insensitive, his utterance brings up the point of us being our brother's keeper.

It has always been well known that Haiti was in deep political, social and financial trouble, yet it took a disaster of epic proportions for the international community to render massive assistance. It always seems as if there must be the 'sacrifice' of lives before people take notice and act. In such a small world such as ours, this should never be.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Feedback may be sent to or