"Men must have the right of choice, even to choose wrong, if he shall ever learn to choose right." ~ Josiah Wedgwood
I know a lot of dumb people who've said a lot of dumb things. In fact, I am one of those people. I've said that only-children tend to be spoiled in front of people who didn't have brothers and sisters. I've made fun of people without college educations in front of people who it turned out never went to college. I regularly make a complete and total ass out of myself. I should probably find a way to get paid for it at this point; I do it so often, it's like a part-time job. But for all the dumb things I've said in my lifetime, and for all the times I've been told by dear friends that they 'can't take [me] anywhere,' if nothing else, I can take solace in one thing: I'm not Pat Robertson. And as much as I'll undoubtedly try, I will probably never say as many dumb things as he does. Last week, when Israeli PM Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke and underwent hours upon hours of brain surgery, Pat Robertson used the occasion on his show, The 700 Club, to note that Sharon was probably being punished by God for giving land to Palestinians. Now, forget about where you stand on Middle East issues for a minute. That stuff is secondary here. Right off the bat, regardless of where you stand, what makes Robertson so sure Sharon's stroke is punishment for anything? I mean, how old is this Sharon guy? Isn't he pushing 80 already? People his age have strokes all the time. Dick Clark, for example. You mean to tell me Dick Clark's stroke was punishment for something? Like what? Did he rock a little too hard at all those New Year's Rockin' Eves? I have several problems with Robertson's analysis, but first and foremost among them is that he'd attempt to tie Sharon's failing health to his personal views on foreign policy. Why does Sharon's stroke have to be punishment? Why can't it just be a stroke? (I suppose if you want to get theological, the general decay of the human body is punishment for Adam and Eve eating those apples that one time. But: (1) that's a low blow, because they were really yummy apples; and (2) I don't get the feeling that's what Robertson was getting at.) My second major point of concern here is that Robertson's comments seem to point to a disturbing overall trend. It seems like all anyone wants to do nowadays is blame God for everything that goes wrong. Take September 11th, for instance. A few days after it happened, Jerry Falwell suggested September 11th was brought on, at least in part, by America's acceptance of feminists and gays. A similar such theory floated around this past summer, when, amongst other things (like global warming and George Bush), Hurricane Katrina was attributed to God being pissed off about New Orleans' debauchery. Now, I'm not saying these things aren't possible. Nor am I saying God does not, or cannot, have a hand in the daily affairs of man. He's God. He can do whatever He wants. That includes judging us for things He doesn't like. But you know how professional athletes always thank God whenever they win a championship, but they never blame Him when they lose? Well, this is the same thing, except for exactly the opposite. I'm sure Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell say plenty of rational, sensitive things from time to time. But the only time they ever say anything worth quoting is when they attribute horrific events to the very God they've devoted their lives to promoting. As noted Christian spokesmen, do they honestly think this is helping Him? Is this their idea of a membership drive''Sign up and you get to revel in terrible tragedies'? Whatever happened to giving out free t-shirts? Or toasters? Hell, I would take a free pen. I'm not a biblical scholar. I'm sure people who know more than me, or people who think they know more than me, are going to read this column and write to me with all kinds of quotes and bible verses verifying Falwell and Robertson's remarks. That's great. I look forward to it. Reader feedback is like a narcotic to me, so go ahead, bring it on'feed my addiction. All I know is, based on my personal reading of Christian scriptures, there was a reason why God went to the trouble of letting His own son'His own flesh and blood, for Christ's sake'be killed. And that was because He wanted to shed His vengeful, punishment-minded Old Testament image. I mean, think about it. The story of Jesus is like the greatest PR makeover ever told. God isn't the God of fire and brimstone anymore. Or at least He isn't supposed to be. He's the God of compassion now, the God who turns the other cheek. Didn't these knuckleheads see The Passion? What does God have to do'walk on water just to get through to these people? If I were God'which I'm not, but if I were'I would be pretty annoyed that Falwell and Robertson keep blaming me for everything. I would probably start unleashing all sorts of crazy stuff on the world just for spite. I'm talking never-before-seen catastrophes here. Things that would make what I did to Egypt with those ten plagues look like another fun episode of Romper Room. I would bring back Rosie O'Donnell's talk show and give her a lifetime contract, and let her live till 402. I would turn black people into white people and white people into black people, just to shake things up. I would pee on whole cities and not wash my hands, so that whenever the Hand of God worked through your life, it would be the hand that I used to pee and didn't wash afterwards. And I would turn cherries into little blood capsules, so that Coca Cola had to reprint its Cherry Coke labels and change the name to Coke Blood. I might even give a whole bunch of WMDs to terrorists. Why not? I'm going to get blamed for everything anyway. I might as well have fun with it. Look, I'm not trying to speak for God here. Pat Robertson does enough of that as it is. Nor am I saying I'm against finger pointing. I'm all for it. In fact, I'm a regular finger-pointerer. I just find it interesting how guys like Falwell and Robertson keep pointing their fingers at God. If the last couple of years have taught me anything, it's that people will scratch and claw at thin air whenever they're nervous and need an explanation for something. Some would probably say this is why human beings believe in God to begin with. As someone who believes in God, I don't agree with that. But I do think that's why guys like Pat Robertson continue to get away with blaming God for everything that goes wrong. I also believe that's why so many people still think Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9/11, and why so many people still think Hurricane Katrina was a government conspiracy. If you say something over and over again, people will believe it. Even that last sentence. It's a lie, but you probably think it's true because you've heard before. Last week, thirteen men became trapped in a West Virginia coal mine, and the relatives were told that they had been rescued, only to learn a few hours later that, in fact, twelve of the thirteen had died. This caused one crying woman to call out, 'Our family is dead because they lied to us.' Obviously, this statement is absurd. Her false belief that the miners were rescued isn't what killed them. An explosion and carbon monoxide did. But that woman was grieving. It's totally understandable that, under the circumstances, she would say something that doesn't make any sense. I just wonder how Pat Robertson would choose to console her. Those families spent half the night singing hymns and thanking God for a miracle. Was this gut-wrenching turn of events a punishment they somehow deserved?