Liberating Haiti

When the United States threatened to invade Haiti, the military-backed provisional president of Haiti gave a surprising response: He called on the gods of voodoo to protect his tiny country. In a televised speech, the president invoked Agawou, the voodoo god of strength. You and I probably hear about voodoo more often in jokes than in serious political discourse. But in Haitian culture, it is a powerful force. According to Lawrence Harrison, formerly with the U.S. Agency for International Development, many of Haiti's most intractable social and economic problems stem from its commitment to the voodoo religion. The key to a nation's well-being, Harrison says, is not primarily geography, natural resources, or ethnic background. Instead, the key is culture, and at the heart of culture is religion. Religion shapes a people's most fundamental outlook on life—their values and attitudes. Though Haiti is nominally Catholic, even the educated classes are still strongly influenced by voodoo, a concoction of traditional African folk religions brought to the island in the seventeenth century by slaves. Voodoo is a form of animism: It attributes events to hundreds of spirits who reside in the trees, the fields, the villages. The religion centers on magical ceremonies performed by voodoo priests, aimed at placating or influencing the spirits. But a religion is not defined by its rituals alone; every religion also leads to an overall world view. According to Wallace Hodges, a Baptist missionary working in Haiti, voodoo leads to a view of the world that contrasts sharply with Christianity. For example, Christianity holds every individual morally accountable for his actions. But voodoo attributes good and evil to the spirits—a belief that dissolves any sense of personal accountability. For example, Hodges says, when a worker steals a jug of milk from the missionary hospital, he has no sense of shame or guilt. Instead, the thief's attitude is, if the spirits gave me the opportunity, they must have meant for me to steal the jug. This dissipation of moral responsibility makes Haitian society vulnerable to mistrust and exploitation—from the corrupt bureaucrat to the ruthless businessman. So it's true that Haiti is in need of liberation today, but not by a military invasion. Instead, Haitians need to be set free from a false religion that encourages corruption, while discouraging active responsibility for one's life. The lesson for you and me is to look behind the headlines, which often treat only the political and economic dimensions to current events. Scripture teaches that the most fundamental dimension to human life is religious. When you read news accounts about Haiti, take a moment to pray for that destitute country. Pray that God will bring the light of the Gospel to dispel its spiritual darkness. Certainly, a nation's well-being is affected by things like geography and natural resources. But what determines whether a nation can make use of those resources is its religion—which in turn shapes its values and world view. Proverbs says, "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." And as a nation believes in its heart, so is its destiny.


Chuck Colson


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