Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Seeing Pat Robertson as Christianity's Id

                There are two things we can be sure of in this life: taxes and the ever present threat that Pat Robertson will say something stupid.  This week he’s at it again saying to a disenfranchised husband, “Well, you could become a Muslim and you could beat her…” and “I don’t think we condone wife-beating these days but something has got to be done to make her” (See Video).  When I first saw the video I had my normal Pat Robertson nausea attack, but then something popped into my head this morning: Pat is Christianity’s id.  Let me explain.
                In Freudian Psychoanalytic theory the id is the aspect of personality that is entirely unconscious and includes instinctive and primitive behaviors.  More than this, the id strives for immediate gratification of all its desires, wants, and needs.  If this gratification is not met immediately the result is a state of anxiety or tension.  For example, if I crave chocolate and I’m not able to meet that need, the result would be frustration.  That’s the id talking.
                For Freud, much of our personality development and socialization is a repression of the id.  This is where the Ego and Super Ego come in.  The ego is the part of the personality that ensures the impulses of the id can be expressed in a manner acceptable to the real world.  The ego functions in the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind.  Simply put, it’s the ego that stops me from murdering someone for a piece of chocolate.  Finally, the superego is the part of our personality that holds all of our internalized moral standards and ideals that we acquire from our parents and society.  So where my ego might stop me from murdering someone for a piece of chocolate, the superego would bring to mind God’s law, “Exodus 20:13   13 "You shall not murder.”[i]
                How this all connects to Pat Robertson we’ll get to in a moment, but let me just say one more thing.  Much can be said about the overlap of Freud’s theory of the id and Christianity’s doctrine of original sin.  Where the id is the underbelly of all our primitive desires, original sin is:
The fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil.[ii]
Paul describes this monster best in his epistle to the Romans where he writes:
Romans 3:10-18  "None is righteous, no, not one;  11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.  12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."  13 "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips."  14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."  15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood;  16 in their paths are ruin and misery,  17 and the way of peace they have not known."  18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
The problem with original sin is that it doesn’t go away once we become Christians.  As Paul Zahl says, “Sin is a disease that is never healed.  It is forgiven.[iii]”  This is a reality that Christians have personally and collectively tried to hide for the past 2,000 years.  Though we are forgiven, original sin does remain.  We are as Luther says, “Simul Iustus et Peccator (At the same time righteous and a sinner).”
                So how is Pat Christianity’s id?  Well, Pat is that part of the church that we try so hard to deny.  He’s the ever present reminder that no matter how old you are or how long you’ve been a Christian you’re going to say and do some stupid things.  He is a witness to the world that Christians do have an id.  He is the empirical reminder that the church is full of sin. 
More than this, Pat represents all those personal id moments we have as Christians.  We like to think we’re sanctified and grown in grace, but the truth usually is that our sins haven’t been given the right opportunity to come out yet.  We like to think we’re better than old Pat Robertson, but the truth is if our lives were followed with a camera and broadcasts to the world we would embarrass the church just as much.
I think seeing Pat as Christianity’s id could inform the way we react to him.  When Pat says, “What is this mac 'n' cheese? Is that a black thing?[iv]” rather than getting all bent of shape, we could use him as a mirror to reveal our own racist thoughts when someone from another ethnicity cuts us off in traffic.  Another example comes from Pat’s Haitian earthquake theory.  He proclaimed:
Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know -- Napoleon the Third or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you, if you'll get us free from the French.' It's a true story. And so the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out -- the Haitians revolted and got themselves free -- but ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other[v].
For us, rather than simply broadcasting our disagreement on Facebook and Twitter, we could also take a look in our own hearts and see the stories we’ve made up for the suffering of various people groups like the inner city poor. 
The examples could go on and on, but let me just say this: when we see Pat Robertson as Christianity’s id, we are reminded that we will never move beyond the point of needing forgiveness for our sins.  No matter how old, wise, or sanctified we grow we can do nothing more than come to the cross of Christ for our cleansing.  So let Pat Robertson serve as a reminder of that.  Next time you hear him say something stupid, take a look in your own heart and confess the stupid thing you said earlier that day.

Author’s Disclaimer
This author does not support and/or condone anything Pat Robertson says and is under the conviction that Christianity and the world would be better off if he, and the 700 Club for that matter, would never air on TV again.

[i] Much of this Psychology 101 talk was taken from
[ii] The Book of Common Prayer pg 869
[iii] Zahl, Paul.  “Grace in Practice” pg 97

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