“The wound left by a knife might heal, but the wound left by careless speech does not heal.” From the odu Obara Meji, six mouths followed by six mouths on the mat.
I’ve heard it said again and again that one does not know a person’s true character until tragedy strikes. Throughout my life I’ve seen this theme replayed in the lives of those closest to me, and I’ve learned from my experience that it is true – character is displayed freely in the midst of tragedy.
In light of Haiti’s earthquakes, bit-by-bit we’re seeing the character of our world’s political and religious leaders displayed like the blinking strobes of a red-light district; and just as ugliness is found in the seedier tenements of impoverished cities, we’re discovering that ugliness exists in the hearts of those who are supposed to be leading the world politically and religiously.
Religious (and political) leaders blame Haiti’s difficulties on pacts with the devil, overt slams against religions that would not be here had it not been for the Christian practice of slavery. And I say Christian, because slavery was an industry fueled on Christian tenets. Make the argument that such is not the practice of Christianity today if you will, and make the argument that today, the words of the Bible could not be twisted in such a fashion; but the fact is that the Church, and various Protestant sects, financed and fueled the never-ending demand for cheap labor in the New World. This modern era of unheralded and unmatched prosperity we live in was bought with the broken backs of millions of slaves, slaves whose descendants still fight for equal rights and treatment in the world their ancestors labored to create.
And along comes Pat Robertson, a Christian whose entire world was built up by slave labor, and he condemns an ethnic group because of something their ancestors did in accordance with their spiritual beliefs. Pat Robertson: their problems began, truly, when your pasty white ancestors and psychotic spiritual forefathers rose up to create a cataclysm right on par with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany – that cataclysm being the centuries old practice of slavery. That, Mr. Robertson, is where their problems began; and attitudes such as yours based on maniacal, self-serving and often fanatical theology are where their problems continue.
Let’s not even get into the political side of this – it makes me sick.
I almost cried at work last night. One of my coworkers is Haitian-American; she is a Christian, and she has a number of family members still in Haiti. Thankfully, all are alive and well. We spoke briefly about the things religious leaders have said on national television and in their own congregations, and this woman’s words tore at my heart: “All that is true, but now isn’t the time to blame us. We had nothing to do with it [the pact to which Robertson and others refer]. And people are dying over there. They should wait . . . and not speak of it now. It does no good.”
A black Haitian woman, descended from slaves, was convinced that her own ancestral beliefs were born of a miserable creature named “Satan”; and as a Christian herself, she was torn between the words of her spiritual leaders and the suffering of her kin. She was damned if she did . . . and she was damned if she didn’t. Somehow, through it all she forgot as so many others like her do – that it was Christianity that brought this evil to their lives . . . Christianity that tore her ancestors from their homelands and turned them into beasts of burden with fewer rights than we accord our companion animals.
Of course, it was not my place, nor was it my time, to remind her of such a thing.
Pat Robertson and others like him could do no greater damage to anyone black or Haitian with a knife if they tried – for the wounds caused by knives heal, but the wounds caused by words linger a lifetime. That is a truth from our holy odu Obara Meji, and it’s a truth being shoved in our faces on a daily basis.
Me? I’m a white male with a strong Judeo-Christian background; however, I am a santero, a priest of the Yoruba deity Obatalá. Yes, the Yoruba were one of the many tribes from the continent of Africa enslaved in Cuba, and Obatalá is a deity with black skin. S/he is the epitome of wisdom, knowledge, grace, and learning – and Obatalá always has been, and always will be black. Black like the skin of those Pat Robertson condemns . . . black like the skin of the man I sleep with . . . black like all the Haitian-Americans, African-Americans, and other African ethnicities that live here . . . all thanks to the heresy of slavery. It is an orisha, a god that I chose to worship a few decades ago – a god that moved my heart with the sound of a drum-beat and the wisdom of its holy book, the Diloggún.
So what’s the point of this blog? As a writer, the words of Pat Robertson and other religious leaders have moved me, but not in the direction they had hoped. Lately I’ve been feeling lack of motivation – a sense of futility in the things that I do. But as the various responses to this tragedy unfold, it makes it clear that the real enemy we fight in this day and age is ignorance, and the only cure for that is education.
So I’ll write, and continue to write for no other reason than that. Because the day we put down our pens and cease to educate is the day people like that win . . . and the night upon us already is dark enough without those people extinguishing the light we have.