Across the religion blogosphere, some of the most visible discussions of the Haitian earthquake have focused on two topics: Vodou and Pat Robertson. In several places, summarized here at The Immanent Frame, Wesleyan University’s Afro-Caribbean religions expert Elizabeth McAlister offers scholarly interpretations of the former (and much more). Using Robertson’s comments to reflect on larger issues, Pentecostalism specialist Anthea Butler and religion journalist Jeffrey Weiss provide perceptive analyses of the latter.
These two themes barely scratch the surface of the Haiti-and-religion storylines circulating in cyberspace. Reflecting on the journalistic treatment of the earthquake, GetReligion founder Terry Mattingly aptly describes the huge volume of coverage, likening it to being stranded “underneath a digital waterfall of pain.” Focusing on the “theodicy-angle-story,” Mattingly argues that “the worst pieces are being filed by editorial writers who believe that the essential questions can be answered by politicos in America.”
As Peter Berger notes in The Sacred Canopy, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 helped accelerate the “steady devaluation of the Christian theodicy.” Following close on the heels of the Asian tsunami of 2004, the Haitian disaster has provoked similar discussions. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Simon Winchester compares the response to Lisbon with the current crisis. Over at Religion Dispatches, theologian Paula Cooey urges a different approach, arguing that “Haiti deserves to be addressed on its own terms, and in relation to the needs of those still suffering.”
More in line with Cooey’s challenge, a piece on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly profiles the work of American religious groups. Providing a different angle on the same topic, the New York Times chronicles the efforts of Rockland County’s Hasidic Jews to reach out to the homeland of their Haitian-American neighbors.
Some of the most moving stories focus on the reflections of the Haitian people themselves (as Get Religion’s Mattingly points out before linking to this piece from the Los Angeles Times). From a New York Times story on the destruction of the Port-au-Prince Cathedral to a Wall Street Journal video on the response of an Episcopal Bishop, reporters are tracking the impact of the quake on Haitian religious institutions. Far more valuable than the armchair theodicy of American scholars, this story from the Times recounts the efforts of Haitians to make sense of the tragedy. Ultimately, it is these insider accounts that matter most.
As sociologist Margarita Mooney argues in the Miami Herald, “because Haiti is so poor, others often interpret Haitians’ boundless faith in God as simply a crutch to rely on.” Like Elizabeth McAlister, Mooney urges Americans not to underestimate the capacity of Haiti to play a role in its own relief and redevelopment, arguing that “the Haitian people are the greatest resource that their nation has to rebuild itself.”
In the interest of furthering the public conversation, the Social Science Research Council has asked leading scholars to offer their thoughts on Haiti, now and next. It also encourages the public to donate to help Haiti.