The following post was contributed by Vishal Mangalwadi.
The 9 million people of Haiti, largely of African descent, living in approximately 10,000 square miles in the paradise-like Caribbean island of Hispaniola, constitute the only nation in the world which gained its independence through a successful slave rebellion in 1804. Sadly, Haiti remains the poorest country in the Americas.
Its independence was inspired by the secular idealism of the French Revolution and launched in a voodoo ceremony on August 14, 1791 that included sacrificing a pig, drinking its blood and making a pact with the demonic supernatural.
In 200 years, none of its 32 coups, multiple dictatorships and democratic elections has succeeded in building political freedoms. Lawlessness, insecurity, instability, and dependency permeate Haitian society, preventing their independence from attaining either the economic potential witnessed during the colonial period or that of Caribbean tourism today.
On January 12, 2010 Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince was devastated by an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude: as many as 200,000 people are estimated killed and now, more than a week later, 20,000 people are reported to be dying every day due to lack of food, water and medical aid.
The Disaster: Natural or Cultural?
On 17 October, 1989 an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude also struck the San Francisco Bay Area in California in the United States of America: Only 63 people died. At that time the Bay Area had over 5 million residents; Port-au-Prince has less than a million.
Why this difference? The Bay Area was built on a culture of law, justice, freedom, and consequent trusting social order which makes prosperity possible. In contrast, in spite of many wonderful exceptions, Haitian society is built on a culture of immoral corruption, oppression, social mistrust and resultant poverty. Builders routinely disregard the rules for constructing safe buildings because political, bureaucratic and law enforcement institutions move on the wheels of bribery. In plain words: while Haiti’s earthquake was natural, its disaster is cultural. Therefore, even though individuals need immediate relief, the only way to rebuild Haiti is to transform its culture.
Can the Avatar Save Haiti from its Corruption?
In order to overcome its culture of corruption and poverty, Haiti needs many heroes like Jake, in James Cameron’s megahit movie Avatar. Jake was an outsider but, like Jesus Christ, he incarnated among a people in great need and became one of them. He chose to sacrifice his own life in order to save a vulnerable people that he dearly loved.
The Avatar’s hero is ideal but its scriptwriter is naïve. The people of Haiti practice Voodoo spiritism because they understand and know reality better than Hollywood’s romantic idealists.
The Haitians know that they do not know the supreme creative spirit, they call Bondey. Since they cannot know or reach Bondey, they assume that the Creator is also incapable of reaching them, revealing Himself to them, loving them enough to discipline them or to incarnate in their midst to save them. French Roman Catholicism had tried to convert their slaves in the 17th century; therefore, some Catholic trappings adorn Haitian Voodoo. Yet, because most Haitians believe that the Creator does not care enough to interfere with human affairs, Haitian Voodoo does not fear or serve the unknown, absentee Creator.
Nevertheless, the Haitians do not think that only the material world is real. They know that spirits exist: some of them get possessed and spirits communicate with their religious leaders. Their devout priests claim to receive certain supernatural powers from the spirits. The Haitians call these spirits Lwa or loa and fear and serve them.
Like many Indians as well as the Na’vi people in Avatar, the Haitians believe that these spirits govern nature. Disasters, such as the present earthquake, have taught Haitians that the spirits that govern nature or possess individuals are not always good and benevolent. They may contribute to life, but they also bring disease, disasters and death. As the movie puts it the Mother Earth Force doesn’t take sides between good and evil. It is amoral. It merely restores balance – for example, if you turn forest into desert, you take the consequences. Indian Tantriks (occult priests) know well, no god or goddess sacrifices his/her life to save others. Quite the opposite. They may demand the blood of your neighbor’s child before they grant your petitions. Therefore, just as many of our “holy” tantriks and ascetics become demoniacs, many Haitians have also become like the gods and goddesses they worship – capricious, greedy and unpredictable.
Haiti is different than the Bay Area because Haitian society is built on a worldview the universe is not cosmos ruled by the Word of One benevolent and just Creator. They think we live in a multiverse – a chaos – governed by many unpredictable deities. This worldview does not encourage a systematic study of nature (science) or an attempt to govern and manage nature (technology). Since the multiverse has no Law-Giver who will hold us accountable, there is no need to be a law abiding citizen – especially if you can bribe human rulers just as your priests bribe the gods.
Could Cameron’s Portrayal of America be Prophetic?
Cameron’s Avatar portrays secular America as a brutal super-power, ever-ready to sacrifice simple, nature-worshipping people at the altar of amoral economic greed. America has had ugly moments in its history. Haiti, however, is seeing a very different America – a nation that is quick to sacrifice billions of dollars in aid; a nation filled with churches that are sending thousands of volunteers to serve the helpless; an army that will spend its resources to rescue the trapped and save aid workers from mobs of greedy, spirit-worshipping Haitians who will loot food from the mouths of lonely elderly and vulnerable orphans.
Unfortunately, James Cameron’s Avatar could turn out to be a prophetic portrayal of 21st century America. Following the European Enlightenment, American intellectuals also learned what Indians and Haitians have always known—the human mind, by itself (without divine revelation) cannot know the Creator, His moral law or His saving grace. (However, does our inability to reach Him, prevents Him from incarnating to save us as Jake saved the Na’vi?) The Enlightenment’s intellectual arrogance is choking Europe and America’s ability to see God’s grace and revelation. Although professing themselves to be intellectuals, they are continuing to march towards a Haitian-like destiny:
America’s godless, secular intelligentsia have succeeded in eliminating the spirit and guidance of our Creator from the educational process. As a result, public universities have become factories churning out amoral and progressively immoral leaders.
The brightest of these university graduates now control a significant section of corporate America. Their amoral, greed-driven financial management caused the economic crisis that began at the end of 2008. Honest tax-payers were forced to bail out Wall Street, but the crisis continues to haunt hundreds of millions in America and around the world.
Amoral “intellectual” elitism is now crippling American politics. At the moment of writing, President Obama’s #1 domestic priority – Healthcare Reform – lies derailed, in shambles. “Reforming” healthcare sounds like a good thing. But if the ruling party is really doing something good, why does it have to bribe its own Senators and trade unions with hundreds of millions of dollars to pass a “Reform” bill?
Following politics, (spirit-and-morality-rejecting) secular materialism will drive the American army into the arms of amoral-greed-driven capitalists. At that point America will become worse than a Saddam Hussein who marched his tanks into Kuwait to loot its oil wealth. When that happens, America will be what Avatar portrays – incomparably more dreadful than Hitler’s Germany.
Cameron may be prophetic in his portrayal of America, yet, America can be saved from its encroaching corruption and destruction. It can repent and return to the biblical spirituality that founded and still undergirds (albeit frailly) the Bay Area’s culture of just, compassionate and law-abiding capitalism powered by scientific research and technology. Tens of thousands of Indians that now lead the technological and financial sectors of the Bay Area demonstrate that India (or Haiti) does not need to remain broken.
Cameron’s Avatar is fiction, but the marvelous truth about Haiti, India, America and Europe’s future is that God has in fact incarnated in human history. The historic Avatar actually sacrificed his life to save us from our sin. Therefore, we do not need to live as slaves of sin that is the real cause of Haiti’s cultural disaster. We can move forward. But we must hold on to what James Cameron does not yet know: the spirits of trees, rivers, astrology and mythology cannot save us. We know that we are not Nobel Savages of Hollywood’s romantic idealism: we Indians are as corrupt as the Haitians and the Americans are catching up with our corruption.
The Na’vi’s accepted their savior after significant resistance. We need humility to confess our need of the Incarnated Divine Love who would sacrifice himself to save us from our sin, including the sin of worshipping false gods, whether of trees and demonic deities or of greed for power and material progress at the cost of the welfare of humanity and nature.
Since Haiti’s disaster is cultural, the most effective way to help transform it while meeting immediate need is to channel developmental aid (in contrast to the relief aid) through Bible believing local churches that seek to cultivate biblical spirituality. It is true that many biblical churches have not yet assumed the responsibility to transform their wider culture. They don’t understand why the true Avatar (Incarnation) challenged corruption in the heart of his own culture when he drove out those who were turning the central culture shaping institution, the Temple, into a den of robbers. Nevertheless there are good churches in Haiti and one can connect with some of the effective and trustworthy churches through organizations such as www.HarvestFoundation.org.
– Vishal Mangalwadi
This article is part VIII of a series titled, “Why Are We Backward?” published by FORWARD Press, a bilingual, monthly magazine for India’s “Backward” Castes. For reprinting rights, contact editor, Ivan Kostka Aspire.Prakashan@gmail.com or email Vishal@VishalMangalwadi.com)