The Haiti Disaster: Going to the Root

This is the second in a three-part series by Darrow Miller that focuses on how churches can respond positively in the aftermath of Haiti’s devastating earthquake. The entire article can be viewed on the Disciple Nations Alliance website.

ENGAGING HEART AND HEAD

When dealing with human suffering either on a personal level, or on a global level, such as the disaster that has struck Haiti, we must engage both our heart and head. While our emotions—our sympathy—motivates us to respond to human needs, it needs to be our head that drives our response. If we respond to the need with only our heart, we may treat a symptom, or use a quick fix to solve a more complex problem.  Putting a band-aid on a skin lesion will be useless if a patient has a melanoma. Or we may provide a solution that exacerbates the problem by creating dependency, contributing to greater impoverishment.  Helping farmers grow more food is generally a good thing in a poor nation. However, one needs to take into account what the farmer may do with the added income. Will he use the extra income to better feed his own children and pay their school fees? Or will he use the money to feed his own vices, which is a very common problem. Sometimes pouring more money into such a situation actually ends up producing more poverty.

We need to dispassionately ask questions like: What is the problem?  What caused the problem? What is the root of the problem? What solutions have been tried in the past? Have they worked? If they have not worked, what else might we try? What particular tools and systems are best suited to solve this problem? Without this kind of analysis, billions of dollars are often flushed down a deep hole.

THE ROOT OF HAITI’S PROBLEM IS AN ANIMISTIC WORLDVIEW

Disasters happen! They do not discriminate as to continent, nation, race of people, or the wealth of a people or nation. The natural evil of floods, earthquakes, droughts, and tsunamis happen around the world.

On October 17, 1989, at 5:04 PM a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay area, injuring thousands and leaving 63 people dead.[i] The earthquakes in California and Haiti were of the same magnitude, striking major cities at approximately the same time of day.  What produced the discrepancy in destruction and death toll?  I would humbly suggest that it was a difference in worldview. The institutions, infrastructure, and habits of the heart of the people of the United States and San Francisco were influenced and ordered by the Judeo-Christian worldview, while those of Haitians, Haiti and Port-au-Prince were ordered by an animistic worldview.

Why is it that the nations of Europe and North America are relatively wealthier, healthier, more stable, less corrupt and more able to deal with natural disasters than the nation of Haiti and other chronically impoverished nations?  It is the difference between a Biblical world and life view and an animistic one. One’s worldview will determine the principles that order personal and institutional behaviors and the structures of society. Or to say it differently, it is mental infrastructure that will determine the quality of a society’s infrastructure: the development of a nation has more to do with moral and metaphysical capital than it does with physical capital.

Disasters have a lesser impact on countries whose mentalities have been formed by the Bible than they do in cultures formed by mysticism. It is not because the people are “morally superior,” more or less religious, or because of their race, or color of skin. It has nothing to do with mental or physical ability. It has everything to do with the worldview—the dominant cultural narrative of the people.

Most international agencies and PVOs function from a materialist paradigm, thus they fail to acknowledge non-material elements that contribute to a nation’s wealth or poverty. That is, they see the world through a naturalistic set of lenses. From this vantage point, by definition, all problems have only material causes and thus material solutions.  But what if materialism is wrong? What if, in addition to the material world, there is a spiritual reality? Could there be a spiritual or metaphysical contribution to physical poverty?  I am not arguing that all problems have only a spiritual root. That would reflect an animistic or Gnostic worldview.  What I am arguing is that if there is a spiritual reality, then it must be taken into account when looking at the problems that face a place like Haiti.

I would suggest that there are two major factors that contribute to Haiti’s poverty; the first is her predominant animistic worldview, and the second is her pact with Satan.  What I am about to say is certainly not politically correct. But considering all the money, time, and heart-felt effort that has been poured into Haiti over the years and recognizing that her people continue to be enslaved in absolute wrenching poverty, a compassionate person would want to consider that perhaps there are causes and solutions that have not yet been considered. Let’s do some imagining and outside-the-box thinking.

Let me be very clear that the earthquake was not God’s retribution to Haiti! God is not capricious. Haiti is not capriciously cursed as some people have argued. God has a love for nations. He designed the universe and human beings for their flourishing.  He has built an order into creation. When that order is discovered and followed, people and nations will flourish. When that order is denied or consciously disobeyed, disorder in society follows. This disaster was a natural event. Haiti’s inability to cope with the brokenness of creation is rooted in her animistic cultural narrative, a disorder in the soul of Haiti that has made it virtually impossible to prepare for or cope with such disasters.

CULTURE IS DOWNSTREAM FROM “CULT”

The culture of a people is formed by their worship, which, in turn, determines the nature and strength of the social, economic and political institutions of the society. Or to say it differently, the spiritual realm impacts the physical realm through culture.  Some cultures support the development and health of a nation and some cultures are resistant to development, leading to the disintegration of society. Haiti’s culture is a product of the worship—the cult—which came across the Atlantic Ocean on the slave ships with the people who would become known as Haitians. This worship is derived from the polytheistic tribal religions of West Africa and specifically from Voodoo.

Voodoo originated in what today is Ghana and Benin.  Like most animistic religions it views the universe as capricious rather than orderly. Just these two variant concepts have a profound impact on people: when the gods are capricious they can “jerk people” around. To appease these gods, one needs to placate them with a gift, setting up a culture of bribery or corruption. It also feeds an attitude of hopelessness and despair. Fatalism reigns. People seek simply to survive the whims of the droughts, earthquakes or floods that nature (the capricious gods) brings.

In contrast, Judeo-Christian theism understands that the universe is orderly. There are natural laws governing the physical universe, which can be discovered through science and applied through technology to solve problems of hunger and poverty, to build infrastructure that will withstand earthquakes and limit the impact of flooding.

In Judeo-Christian theism, work is part of man’s dignity while in animistic religions work is seen as a curse: work is for animals and slaves and people who are of “higher” social class do not need to work.  This difference creates profound economic disparity.  In Haiti there is a small wealthy class, a negligible middle class and a huge under class. Rooted in Judeo-Christian culture is the concept that all people are made in the image of God, they have equal dignity and worth. There is no social or spiritual hierarchy.

The root of the poverty in Haiti is not lack of material capital; it is moral and metaphysical poverty. What Haiti needs is a new cult, the worship of the Creator God revealed through Scriptures, and a transformed culture! Unfortunately, the secular development industry wants to solve the problems of Haiti without a metaphysical component. And, sadly, many Christian missionaries have brought a divided gospel to save souls out of this world for heaven, leaving the animistic culture largely intact.

Both present and historic mission movements have been shaped by a dualistic paradigm that has interest in spiritual things but not in a wholistic paradigm and mission. They have brought a spiritual gospel of salvation, but not a gospel of the kingdom that would bring hope to Haitians in the present, as well as in eternity. Christians have done little to challenge the ruling paradigm and culture. Instead, we have too often accepted the status quo of corruption, the evil of work, unjust laws, institutional evil, lack of economic freedom and human dignity, fatalism, and the capriciousness of the universe.

So Haitians, who have a God-given ability to be creative, to analyze and solve their own problems, and to use the bounty of both their natural resources and internal resources (reason, invention, and innovation, spirit of discovery, will, and artistry), languish in poverty.

THE IMPACT OF THE DEMONIC

In his profound book Communicating Christ in Animistic Contexts, Dr. Gailyn Van Rheenen missionary to Africa and Professor of Missions at Abilene Christian University, describes the systemic view of spiritual warfare. He writes:

…the systemic view [of spiritual warfare] sees the powers as personal spiritual beings who are actively impacting the socio-economic and political structure of societies …. These powers have established their own rules and regulations that pull cultures away from God. Stoicheia are literally the rudimentary principles, the ABC’s of culture….These are the directives through which the powers have established legalistic control of society.  Stoicheia within these contexts are the demonic contortions of human society…. The powers, although personal spiritual beings, have invaded the very fabric of society. Thus even Christian institutions reflect these demonic influences when the powers invade human institutions.”[ii]

Van Rheenen is very insightful. The spiritual realm impacts the physical realm through culture, and the demonic realm impacts social, economic and political institutions through culture.  Not only is there moral evil (i.e. murder, adultery) and natural evil (earthquakes and floods), but there is institutional evil (racism, corruption). This institutional evil is the work of the demonic.

As has been previously noted, a people’s cult, or worship, produces culture, from which the institutions and structures of society are formed.  All authorities rule through laws and ordinances. God governs the universe through his laws and ordinances. When nations found their societies upon God’s laws, justice, freedom, community health and prosperity follow.  Satan also rules through laws and ordinances, but his laws are counterfeit.  When a society bases it laws on false principles such as the inferiority of women to men; or the beliefs that work is a curse; the universe is capricious; or human beings are animals, then poverty follows.

To say it differently, “ideas have consequences!” Tyranny, corruption, lack of adequate infrastructure, and desecration of the land are all a product of a people’s worldview.

A Biblical worldview, in contrast to materialism, recognizes the reality of the demonic, and in contrast to animistic cultures, it knows that God is more powerful than Satan and thus can overwhelm the demonic of Haiti’s voodoo culture.

In addition to the prison of the animistic worldview, there is another contributing factor to Haiti’s poverty: a historic event, a pact with Satan. Again, not a politically correct thought, but if we truly care about the poverty of Haitians, we must think beyond the bounds of a materialist paradigm for analysis of root causes and solutions.

In the 16th Century, Haiti was a relatively prosperous slave colony of France. The island nation was blessed with a bounty of natural resources; but the French were using African slaves to exploit those resources. On August 14, 1791, at Bois Caiman, a Vodou (Haitian for Voodoo) ceremony lead by Dutty Boukman, was used to consecrate the Haitian rebellion against France.  In the ceremony   a pig was slaughtered, the slaves who were present drank the blood and pledged allegiance to Satan if he would bring them victory over the French.

According to History of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution on the Official Haitian Bicentennial website:

A man named Boukman, another houngan, organized on August 14, 1791, a meeting with the slaves in the mountains of the North. This meeting took the form of a Voodoo ceremony in the Bois Caiman in the northern mountains of the island. It was raining and the sky was raging with clouds; the slaves then started confessing their resentment of their condition. A woman started dancing languorously in the crowd, taken by the spirits of the loas. With a knife in her hand, she cut the throat of a pig and distributed the blood to all the participants of the meeting who swore to kill all the whites on the island. On August 22, 1791, the blacks of the North entered into a rebellion, killing all the whites they met and setting the plantations of the colony on fire. However, the French quickly captured the leader of the slaves, Boukman, and beheaded him, bringing the rebellion under control.[iii]

The Haitian slaves continued their revolt until they successfully overthrew the French in 1803. With their victory they established the second independent nation in the Americas (after the United States) and the first republic ruled by people from black Africa. The Haitian cultural narrative sees that it was the pact with Satan that provided their freedom from France.

Today, the people of Haiti, while nominally Roman Catholic, have a culture that is largely shaped by the animistic Voodoo cult of West Africa. What kind of impact might the spiritual and metaphysical realm have on the continuing poverty of Haiti?

We must weep at the plight of the Haitians today. We must give generously to help with the aid effort. But, the hard reality is that while the earthquake was the trigger of the destruction in Haiti, the root of the problem was a faulty worldview.  If the gods can be bribed, then you create a culture of corruption and injustice in society.  If you believe that history is something that happens to you, then you do not prepare your society to deal with the inevitable earthquake and hurricane.  If you worship capricious gods, you will build a society with little trust and will reap disorder.

– Darrow L. Miller


[i] Bryan Walsh, “Earthquake Prepardness: Lessons from San Fransisco” Time Magazine, October 16, 2009, http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1930668,00.html?iid=sphere-inline-sidebar

[ii] Dr. Gailyn Van Rheenen Communicating Christ in Animistic Contexts, (Pasadena: William Carey Library Publishers, 1996), 101

[iii] “The History of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution,” Haitian Bicentennial Site, http://www.ci.miami.fl.us/haiti2004/history.htm#top

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2 Responses to The Haiti Disaster: Going to the Root

  1. Dennis Warren says:

    Alternate title?

    [— Managing Disaster – Can Haiti Learn from Californian’s , and if so – Can we learn from our Christian brothers in Haiti —]

    I hope readers here will bear with me as I share some of what has gone through my mind after reading the articles by DNA folks in the aftermath of the recent Haiti earthquake and now the beginning phase of relief efforts.

    While reading several of the articles, I’ve sensed something bothering me — however for a couple of weeks, I could not put my finger on it (or maybe I just didn’t want to face it).

    In the back of my mind (albeit a critical and skeptical mind already) – I was thinking the “root problem” – specifically of what we call the “disaster” – was the fact that the ground shook violently. The idea that the Haitian people were not as prepared as they could have been (e.g. as compared with California’s Bay area folks, who constructed stronger buildings) …. well such lack of preparedness just seemed to take a back seat to more in your face “Act of God” (e.g as insurance companies refer to earthquakes).

    I think I understand about Animistic cultures assuming lesser “gods” are not acting in their best interest, so since they can’t be certain about the likelihood of being able to influence their own future positively. But when I think along these lines I remember how I’ve struggled myself with predestination related ideas. Maybe there could be more similarity than we’d like about the effect on some of us Christians who either now or at one time have believed God takes an exclusively causative role in everything that happens. I read Udo Middlemann’s book: The Innocence of God, and though it helped me to more strongly disagree with that “act of God” phrase, I feel a little more confused now about how much God is involved in what seems to be things turning up for my good.

    Is this part of the world view we want to see: Since God desires good for us, even though He allows some bad things, He’s still going to keep “nature” in check enough so as to make it worthwhile for us to expend extra effort in building more stable buildings. ?

    I guess one reason I’m writing some of this is because I like to see various possible objections mentioned and discussed. And very detailed real life examples.

    The DNA position (as I understand it anyway) is incredibly staggering. I’m truly taken aback by the percentage of us Christians, as well as the extent – that we have been so wrong in following Jesus’ commands (e.g. what the great commission involves). I guess I want to hear more addressing why God might have allowed so many of his followers to goof up so much – especially given the amount of pain experienced by the people who would have been helped if we obeyed and understood His instructions better. ( If we obey first, then might we be more likely to understand?)

    (Please don’t take what I say in a way I’m not intending – I agree with the lion’s share of what I read here – I guess maybe it just hurts my faith to see that the God I thought was so powerful – especially in my predestination type days – has apparently not chosen to be forceful enough to cause His self proclaimed followers to act more as Jesus said we should. I welcome instruction showing where we have missed the mark – but I feel very sad about the many many lives who could have been better served if we had acted more appropriately all along. In one way the DNA message is hard to hear, because it means much needless pain has been suffered through our lack of obedience).

    Does the following logically follow from what has been said here: … If Christians in Haiti had obeyed more completely what Jesus taught many of the deaths experienced during the earthquake would have avoided.

    And if the above is true – May our lack of obedience now likewise lead to needless physical (not to mention spiritual) suffering?

    -Dennis

  2. waterman says:

    Great information,I have Digged this site for future and will keep a eye on your other postings. Thank you

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