Did you catch Pat Robertson's hissy fit earlier this month?
It was his response to 120,000 gays and lesbians showing up in Orlando to celebrate Gay Days. The city cooperated by letting them fly rainbow-colored flags from the utility poles downtown.
Not good judgment, according to Pat. Here's what he said on his TV show, "The 700 Club," on June 8:
"I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you."
Tolerating homosexuality, he went on, "will bring about terrorist bombs, it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor."
This is "not a message of hate," Pat said. "This is a message of redemption."
Makes you wonder what a message of hate might look like.
I know it's not fair to pry beneath the surface of TV evangelists' words, but let's do it anyway. What the hell.
First of all, the God that Pat warns us of is a God that would throw temper tantrums forimagine this!the very same reasons Pat has hissy fits. It's a God who created humankind in His own image, but who gets very angry if a part of humankind has sexual proclivities Pat doesn't like.
It's also a God who doesn't make fine distinctions.
Presumably, there are residents of Orlando who are as righteous (read homophobic) as Pat. And among the visitors to the city on any given day are thousands of relatively innocent children partaking in the delights of Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
But serious hurricanes, terrorist bombs, earthquakes, tornadoes, and (possibly) a meteor are terribly blunt instruments for punishing only the guilty. Whatever terror Pat's God visits upon a city via those bludgeons would be wholesale: it would fall like rain on the just and the unjust alike.
Pat apparently doesn't have a problem with that.
The Old Testament precedent, of course, is the flood God used to cleanse the earth of all those verminous In-His-Image human creaturesexcept Noah and his family.
A friend told me about the reaction of her pre-school son who'd just heard in Sunday School the story of the flood.
The reaction came Sunday nightwhile it was raining hard.
"Not everybody could get on the ark, could they?" the little boy asked his mother.
"No, I guess not."
"There were little kids who couldn't get on, weren't there?" he asked.
"Yes, I suppose there were."
An anguished pause, then this plaintive protest, barely heard over the rain on the roof: "Couldn't God have just given them a time-out?"
The Truth, Mainly
A good question. A more humane question than any I've heard TV evangelists ask. The kind of question Gandhi or MLK or Jesus might ask.
The human ego being what it is, we like to imagine a God that reflects our own values. Scientists have seen God as The Clockmaker who created this wonderfully complicated machine for us to figure out. Romantics have seen a God of Benign Nature sending children into this world "trailing clouds of glory." Those full of almost infinite goodwill (see Rev. Jimmy Creech) see a God of Unconditional Love.
And others, tortured by their own inner demons, see a God of Anger, a God of Temper Tantrums and Hissy Fits.
I feel a personal testimony coming on.
Edwin Arlington Robinson, a poet of what he himself called "optimistic desperation," said the universe "is a spiritual kindergarten where we are all trying to spell 'God' with the wrong blocks."
I've yet to figure out the right blocks, but given the unwarranted cosmic kindness with which I've been treated so far in this vale of tears, I don't accept the notion of a God of Anger.
In my own shallow theology, I like to imagine God as a kind of Celestial Jokester, a little nervous about this creation She's willed forth, made a little uneasy by Her own omnipotence and omniscience, but vastly amused at our pretentions to ultimate knowledge, and given to the kind of playfulness Robert Frost imagines in his couplet:
"Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee/And I'll forgive Thy great big one on me."
I don't pretend to understand yet the great big joke. I suspect it'll require more emotional distance than I can muster in this life.
In the meantime, I further suspect that Pat Robertson's evocation of a God of Anger repels more people than it attracts.
Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes
to salvage clarity from his confusion.
His column appears on alternate Mondays.