Let’s keep God out of Haiti

It’s felt strange to continue posting about personal matters like studying  Hebrew while the whole world is focused on the devastation in Haiti. But honestly, I haven’t felt like I’ve had anything to add to the chorus of horror, sympathy and analysis. There are plenty of people with more experience and knowledge than me who are writing about Haiti. 

But I did want to weigh in on one small point – God and Haiti. 

There have been all sorts of sound bites and stories trying to connect God with Haiti’s tragedy. On the crudest and most repulsive level, there was Pat Robertson’s now-infamous comment that Haitians brought their suffering on themselves by making a pact with the devil to win independence from France back around 1800. 

On a more thoughtful level, people have raised the classic question that goes from the Book of Job up through the Holocaust – how could a just God allow this kind of tragedy to hit innocent people who were already among the poorest on the planet? 

But I don’t see the Haiti disaster as something that God is responsible for, either actively or passively. 

To me, the most telling fact to me was presented by David Brooks in a New York Times column: The size of the Haiti quake was almost identical to the 1989 Loma Prieta quake in San Francisco. 

Yet in San Francisco, just 63 people were killed, while in Haiti the death toll is estimated in the hundreds of thousands. 

The quake was so devastating precisely because of Haiti’s history of underdevelopment and poverty. The country and its people continue to suffer from a legacy that includes slavery; neo-colonialism; alternating bursts of military intervention and neglect by the U.S.; and local ruling elites characterized by greed, despotism and viciousness. 

With that history of oppression and poverty, of course they didn’t have adequate building codes. Of course they didn’t spend money on well-built housing, schools or hospitals. Of course they didn’t have all the emergency equipment and systems in place that we do in the Bay Area. 

It doesn’t seem like rocket science to understand that “natural” disasters are particularly disastrous when they occur in poor, underdeveloped countries. 

And we’re going to see a lot more such disasters over the next century due to climate change – as it hits Third World countries that don’t have the resources to build things like seawalls and desalination plants, or relocate their populations, or diversify their economic base. 

Geological forces – not God — created the quake in Haiti. Human forces – not God — created a society that would be particularly devastated by it.

And we humans have an obligation not only to provide emergency aid when a once-in-a-century disaster strikes — but to foster just, democratic and economically viable societies that can ensure decent lives for all their people, all the time.

So let’s keep God out of the Haiti discussion. 

Except to the extent that God — or the universe, or nature (take your pick of whichever concept works for you) — gives us humans the intelligence and power to take care of each other.

And along with that, gives us a moral obligation to do so.

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3 Responses to “Let’s keep God out of Haiti”

  1. Jane Says:

    Ilana, this piece is perfect. It needs to be published more broadly. Write on!

  2. Judy Pace Says:

    Thanks Ilana. I think our moral obligation goes even deeper considering the part the US has played in the history of Haiti. See this op ed in NY Times for an incisive analysis:

    Op-Ed Contributor: To Heal Haiti, Look to History, Not Nature
    By MARK DANNER http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/opinion/22danner.html?emc=eta1

    Judy

  3. Susan Says:

    Let’s keep child-trafficking missionaries out of Haiti, while we’re at it.

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