In the immediate aftermath of the tragic earthquake in Haiti, Pat Robertson explained to viewers of his 700 Club television program that the earth shifted and destroyed countless lives due to a deal with the Devil made by the revolutionaries who vanquished the French from Haiti over 200 years ago.
Those bizarre comments have created a firestorm of controversy around the aging televangelist who is well-known for making rather outlandish claims about the causes of natural disasters. Claiming that a secret deal with dark forces was the cause of a tectonic shift was another oddball assessment on par with this claims that Hurricane Katrina stemmed from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.
While Robertson’s remarks struck me as nothing short of insane, I was curious as to where he came up with the argument. I’d never heard about a Haitian deal with the Devil. I knew that a slave uprising ignited a full-scale revolution against French occupation during the rule of Napolean and that the horribly mistreated slaves of Haiti were among the first people to break free of European imperialism. The pact with Belzebub? That was news to me.
It turns out that this crazy legend has been circulating since the Haitian revolution. It was originally used as some kind of explanation among the awestruck Europeans who had a hard time believing that “those” people could somehow claim their own freedom without some kind of supernatural assistance. It’s been used to justify racism and to attack the native religious traditions of Haiti by missionaries and others, as well.
There are two different versions of the story. One claims that a voodoo priest named Duffy Boukman held a ceremony in which he promoted the idea of a revolution and offered encouragement to its leaders. The ceremony, which allegedly involved the sacrifice of a pig, was labeled as a call for Satanic assistance by those opposed to Haiti’s freedom. Of course, there are no reliable accounts of what happened there and the most likely explanation for the claim of a pact was the Western tendency to label any form of non-Christian relgious practice a “satanic” happening.
The second story claims that Haiti’s first post-revolutionary leader, Jean Jacque Dessilades, called upon the assistance of the Devil in order to secure a military victory over the French. This unsubstantiated claim argues that Dessilades was willing to hand over authority over Haiti to the Prince of Darkness for a few hundred years in order to kick Napolean’s forces out.
Neither version is credible. Both are based on reporting from unimaginably biased sources and were nothing more than legends of convenience, concocted to villify the freed slaves of Haiti and their supporters. There’s no real evidence behind either. Additionally, one would actually need to believe that (a) it’s possible to make deals with Satan and (b) that such a bargain would somehow either give Lucifer the power and motive to shake the earth or would enrage God to the point of cursing the Haitian’s and punishing them with a natural disaster.
In other words, if you believe Pat Robertson on this one, you’re freaking crazy.
Haiti may have its curses, but they’re related to a variety of earthly problems associated with throwing off the yoke of imperialism, excessive debt, decades under corrupt authoritarian rule and environmental degradation. None of those curses spurred an earthquake. Responsibility for that rests with an indifferent planet, its underground pressures and its shifting tectonic plates.