This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date:  September 2, 2005

Robertson's sideshow

Pat Robertson’s call for assassination of Hugo Chávez, the duly elected leader of Venezuela, a sovereign nation, caused such widespread furor not because August is a slow news month, as the TV preacher sheepishly offered in the sobriety of the day after his comments. The uproar spread far and wide because the news media and culture at large have bestowed on him a credibility and respectability far out of proportion to his inane theology and worldview.

Pat Robertson is a charlatan. He has made a career of slinging about the most absurd claims, posing as someone with not only uncanny knowledge of all things but also an unobstructed line to the Almighty. Robertson has all the answers to everything, as only a charlatan can.

Hucksters have always been part of the American landscape, colorful characters we’ve tolerated, figuring if they can make a living off their pitch, more power to them. However, we’ve never given them credit for knowing or influencing much beyond the tawdry environs of their sideshows and snake-oil wagons.

Robertson has received deference befitting a ringmaster when he’s actually a carny barker, someone who lures crowds with an elfin smile, a promise of prosperity and knowledge of the unknowable, all delivered with an aw-shucks shake of the head.

His call for the assassination of an elected head of government represents a new level of irresponsibility, and it should be condemned from every quarter.

His latest pronouncement is outlandish, but should not come as a surprise. His brand of self-absorbed idolatry -- religion at the service of greed, unbridled capitalism and the aims of the state -- breeds the kind of hubris that ultimately moves beyond the boundaries of decency and responsible discourse.

He and others of his ilk draw crowds because they say what people want to hear and claim, without the least doubt, that what they say comes directly from God. “The power of the Christian right,” wrote Bill McKibbon in a recent issue of Harper’s, “rests largely in the fact that they boldly claim religious authority, and by their very boldness convince the rest of us that they must know what they’re talking about. They’re like the guy who gives you directions with such loud confidence that you drive on even though the road appears to be turning into a faint, rutted track.”

Their theology appeals, McKibbon continued, because “it coincides with what we want to believe. How nice it would be if Jesus had declared that our income was ours to keep, instead of insisting that we had to share. How satisfying it would be if we were supposed to hate our enemies. Religious conservatives will always have a comparatively easy sell.”

But even religious conservatives have to recognize boundaries of acceptable discourse. It is time for those who have been his traveling partners to condemn Robertson’s incitement to violence.

It is time for Catholic leaders, those who invited Robertson to meet John Paul II during the pope’s 1995 visit to the United States and for those who signed onto his politics and accepted his organization’s political screeds in their sanctuaries, to condemn his words.

It is time for the Republicans who gave him center stage during the party’s 1988 national convention and who allowed Robertson and his minions from the Christian Coalition to infiltrate and deliver the party to extremists, to condemn his call for assassination and to marginalize him in party proceedings.

In a 1991 “700 Club” broadcast this imposter referred to Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Methodists, among others, as “the spirit of the Antichrist.”

He said feminism is “about a socialist, antifamily political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

His social analysis, a blend of homophobia, xenophobia and exegetical silliness, came up with this gem, taken from his book The New World Order: “When the poor rise up it’s because there’s an upper-class reformer somewhere stirring them up.”

It is time to say “enough” to Robertson and to stop accepting him as a serious participant in discussions of matters important to religion and the wider culture.

One might be tempted to ignore it all, except that Robertson is one of the leading forces behind the appropriation of Christian language and symbols in the service of narrow political ends. Too many think he speaks for all evangelicals or all Christians. He doesn’t.

The TV huckster should be made to feel the consequences of his latest reckless behavior.

Pat Robertson has had a long run in the spotlight of the main arena. He belongs back out in the dim lights of the sideshows.

National Catholic Reporter, September 2, 2005

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to:  webkeeper@natcath.org