Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reuters Thinks Pat Robertson Is Catholic, Possibly Thinks He Speaks for American Catholics

Last week, Belgium's parliament passed a bill extending its 2002 euthanasia law, allowing terminally ill adults the right to have their lives ended mercifully, to cover terminally ill children as well.  Under the law, the child must request the decision herself—repeatedly—and must be in great pain for which there is no available palliative treatment; her parents must consent to the procedure; and a team of doctors and psychiatrists must give their approval.  An "extremely small number" of children, mostly in their teens, is expected to take advantage of the new law.

As you might expect, most of the native opposition came from the Catholic Church, and although Belgium is predominantly Roman Catholic, polls show that two-thirds of Belgians support this extension, and the bill passed in Parliament by about the same proportion: 86 to 44.

When Reuters was moved to print an article about the "international euthanasia backlash," Pat Robertson was quoted as an example of American conservative critics.  Robertson had commented on the euthanasia measure following an October 21, 2013 700 Club news segment on the matter.  It's possible that Reuters chose Robertson because he's been one of the few American public figures to make any statements on Belgium's euthanasia law, and Belgium's flattered by the attention from a country that's notoriously ill-attentive to world affairs.

Or maybe they have a fundamental misunderstanding of Robertson's religion:

from Reuters, "Belgium Surprised at International Euthanasia Backlash"

Yyyyeeeeaaaahhh.  Um.  "Catholic Broadcast Network."

Okay, if anyone from Belgium and/or Reuters is reading this, let me lay a few things down for you:

Pat Robertson is not Catholic.  Robertson is an evangelical Protestant—specifically, a Southern Baptist with charismatic tendencies.  ("Charismatic tendencies" means he believes in "signs and wonders" like faith healing and speaking in tongues.  "Southern Baptist" means he belongs to a denomination that was formed in the 19th century to defend American slavery.  Yup.)  Robertson and his ministry, the Christian Broadcasting Network, have a checkered history with the Catholic Church, ranging from intolerant antipathy to grudging acceptance of the Catholic Church as a political ally, at least when it comes to issues like euthanasia, abortion, contraception, and homosexuality.  (When it comes to issues like the death penalty, the excesses of capitalism, and government assistance to the poor, not so much.)

Only a small proportion of Americans listen to Pat Robertson.  Robertson's television program, The 700 Club, airs three times a day, five days a week on the ABC Family cable channel—not because that channel wants to air The 700 Club, but because Robertson founded the original Family Channel, and when he sold it, he stipulated that the channel had to continue to air The 700 Club, three times a day, for as long as it continued to be produced by CBN.  The 700 Club also airs once each weekday on the religious Trinity Broadcasting Network, a relatively minor cable channel.  In addition, CBN buys hourlong blocks of time every weekday on terrestrial broadcast stations around the country to reach audiences without cable.

Adding up all the viewership numbers is fuzzy, but the numbers I've seen say that between 500,000 and 1 million people watch at least one broadcast of The 700 Club in a month's period.  One million viewers is a lot—even if it's spread out among dozens of broadcasts per month—but keep in mind that there are 240 million adults in the United States who aren't watching The 700 Club.  Which brings us to…

The overwhelming majority of Americans treat Pat Robertson as an object of ridicule or scorn.  When Pat Robertson makes headlines, nine times out of ten it's for making offensive or stupid comments on his TV show, like the time he said the 2010 Haitian earthquake was a consequence of that country's pact with the devil, or how God told him Mitt Romney would be elected president, or that gay men wear special rings that spread AIDS.  (That last comment was so egregious that The 700 Club's producers edited it out of subsequent rebroadcasts and the online version of the broadcast.) When Robertson monitors like Right Wing Watch or The Raw Story publish these comments, the mockery spreads like wildfire with few (if any) coming to his defense.  Meanwhile, when Robertson makes news for sounding reasonable—as he did two weeks ago when he criticized his co-religionists' belief in a 6000-year-old Earth—the comments are not met with an embrace so much as surprise, and often used as a bellwether to denote "people who said crazier things than Pat Robertson."  (At the same time, some of those "reasonable" comments, like the one about evolution, are criticized by his fellow evangelical Christians and cause disaffection in his own ranks.)

Robertson retains a patina of influence and respectability from when he commanded a larger viewership and political following some 25 years ago, a time when The 700 Club was perhaps American conservatives' lone television outlet.  But younger generations have not replaced the ranks of Robertson supporters who've died off, and the explosion of right-wing media in America—particularly Fox News—has eclipsed Robertson's standing and drawn viewers away from his television show.  CBN and The 700 Club can still command the occasional high-profile conservative guest, as it has recently with Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin—hey, a million viewers is nothing to sneeze at—but Robertson's political endorsement is rarely sought anymore.

Belgium, Pat Robertson thinks your euthanasia law makes you just like the Nazis now.  Reuters decided to highlight Robertson's comments about Belgium's colonial inhumanity under King Leopold II over a century ago. (As if America doesn't have its own shameful history with the Native American people and slavery.)  Curiously, they decided to skip Robertson's more inflammatory remarks comparing compassionate euthanasia to the Nazis' killing the mentally ill.  And also the Jews:

“The Nazis called them ‘useless eaters.’  People who were mentally defective, people who were crippled, people who were somehow less than whole in their bodies or their minds—the Nazis had no compunction about putting to death millions of Jews, millions of East Europeans, millions of people from the Gypsies or whoever.  And also people who were mentally defective.  They wouldn't mind going into a mental institution and just killing everybody.  It was terrible what happened. 
“Could that spirit of death still be extant in Europe?  Well, the answer regrettably is yes.  And from abortion to euthanasia, some have called it a culture of death.  Now children in the nation of Belgium under the age of 18 could have themselves put to death!…”
And Belgium, if you're offended at being compared to the occupiers who subjugated your country for four years, you might not want to know about the time CBN referred to you as "Belgistan" because they think you're about to adopt Sharia law.

Merci pour lire – Bedankt voor het lezen

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