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When Pat Robertson speaks, people listen.
Sometimes they laugh.
And sometimes they cringe.
Whatever you think of him, Robertson stands alone as Evangelical America’s most reliable quote machine. As the godfather of the Christian Coalition, he also stands atop a pyramid of Protestant power. He’s the highest priest of the political wing of the Evangelical movement over the last three decades.
But his “God will punish America” shtick is getting old.
And so is Pat.
Maybe that’s why he’s been saying some truly crazy things lately.
On November 27, 2012, Pat Robertson told his legion of loyal viewers that radiocarbon dating proves conclusively that dinosaurs were not on Noah’s Ark. In fact, Brother Pat said the dinosaurs lived on the earth “before the time of the Bible.”
Yes. You read that correctly. Pat Robertson acknowledged a “time before the Bible.”
But he wasn’t done. He said the earth is not 6,000 years old and, even more shocking, that Christians should not “cover it up.”
Then Robertson went in for the kill: “If you fight science, you’re going to lose your children, and I believe in telling it the way it was.”
It’s okay. Don’t fret. Mr. 700 Club wasn’t on the verge of admitting to a long-standing man-crush on Richard Dawkins, thus flipping the universe into some Bizarro reality, or finally tearing asunder the fabric of space and time. Just a couple weeks prior to his creationism apostasy, he did rail against “miserable Atheists” and their nefarious plot to “steal Christmas” and purloin the “happiness” it brings to believers.
Now that’s the Pat we all know and…well…not “love,” but that’s the Pat we do rely upon to keep the order of the universe intact and keep us informed about the mind (such as it is) of the Religious Right.
But that mind is changing. Sort of.
His latest, greatest hit came on February 25, 2013. Responding to a viewer’s question about the best way to cleanse troublesome “demonic spirits” from secondhand sweaters, Robertson ruminated on the power of prayer as a stain stick and explained how evil spirits can and do attach themselves to material items. He recalled the story of a bewitched ring in the Philippines and warned of the spiritual danger lurking in undue emotional attachments to demonic material possessions. As to all those secondhand sweaters from Goodwill, Robertson said: “It isn’t going to hurt you any to rebuke any spirits that attach themselves to those clothes.”
Is this just another kooky superstition?
Or is Reverend Robertson finally coming closer to Jesus?
You know…the other Jesus.
Not the money-making venture capitalist and “job creator” of American mythology. No, Brother Pat might be hearing the gentle whispers of the Biblical Jesus…of the Gospels, of the Book of Matthew and the Beatitudes and the Sermons on the Mount and the Plain.
Because that Jesus did believe material possessions—and an obscene, worldly attachment to them—were evil. According to that Jesus, the wealthy and powerful might inherit trust funds, but the meek shall inherit the earth. That Jesus wanted the money-changers out of the temple, full-stop. He even declared that a camel has a far better chance of slipping through the eye of a needle than rich man has of getting into Heaven.
In fact, apostles of the Biblical Jesus warned that love of money is the root of all evil. They preached detachment from the flesh and worldly possessions and many of ‘em practiced it. Perhaps that’s why Jesus and his ardent followers were big on secondhand clothing—sack-cloth, to be precise.
So, technically-speaking, Robertson’s right. Demons can and do “attach themselves” to material goods—in de facto labor camps around Asia, in a network of sweatshops around Latin America and wherever labor and resources are exploited for the high profit margins of fashionistas living in NY, Paris and Milan.
The all-too-real demons of wage slavery, child labor and life-endangering working conditions plague the clothing business—both at the high and low ends. Many of those “in” and “hip” shirts we put on our backs come directly “off the backs” of the meek workers who made ‘em in deplorable conditions.
And proof of hell exists right here on earth—in Bangladesh. That’s where an inferno of flames engulfed a factory where the poor paid for the sins of Disney, Sears, Wal-Mart and the voracious American consumers who feast on an endless banquet of cheap stuff.
If he really wants to come to Jesus, Reverend Robertson should concern himself with rebuking all those firsthand sweaters from sweatshops, all those pants made by cheap child workers and all those other labor-intensive products that feed the beast of American consumerism.
Like Jesus before him, the good reverend could make the ultimate fashion statement and appear on the 700 Club in the latest in sack-cloth—a style revived throughout Christian history. Hey, the Franciscans were really just “going retro.”
For a reverend who has lived a rich man’s life. A professed Christian who has lorded over diamond and gold mines, pressed the flesh of the powerful and positioned himself as a kingmaker in the worldliest of realms, rebuking the demon of possessions could do a lot to help bring him closer to Jesus, and to bring Jesus closer to his self-proclaimed followers.
Embracing the reality of science and rebuking undue attachment to possessions is a good start. Let us pray that Reverend Robertson continues to see the light as he approaches the end of his tunnel.
JP Sottile is a freelance journalist, published historian, radio co-host and documentary filmmaker (The Warning, 2008). His credits include a stint on the Newshour news desk, C-SPAN, and as newsmagazine producer for ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington. His weekly show, Inside the Headlines w/ The Newsvandal, co-hosted by James Moore, airs every Friday on KRUU-FM in Fairfield, Iowa. He blogs under the pseudonym “the Newsvandal“.