People participate in a voodoo ceremony on March 27, 2010 in Port-au-Prince in memory of the victims of the January 12 earthquake. THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images

Sending around news articles is a regular part of workaday life here at Speaking of Faith. This AP story includes a quote from Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, who was featured in our program on Haitian Vodou:

Brazil army officials issued a statement saying many followers of the Voodoo religion would not accept the dead being touched until all of their rituals were concluded. Some experts on the faith validated the claim while others rejected it.

Voodoo, a mix of African religions and Roman Catholicism, is central to Haitian life and is widely observed in some form. The religion often has been wrongly associated with black magic or sorcery, leaving a lingering stereotype against its followers.

But suggestions that survivors are stacking corpses outside Port-au-Prince hospitals because they are waiting for a Voodoo ceremony is inaccurate, said Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, an expert on Haitian Voodoo, also spelled Vodou, in the department of Africology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“None of what the Brazilian authorities say makes any sense,” Bellegarde-Smith said in a Thursday e-mail. “They are absolutely wrong! Most Haitians, though they believe in Vodou, are devoted Catholics or Protestants.”

With the earthquake in Haiti on everyone’s minds, Trent blogged about our show on the morality of nature with geologist Jelle de Boer. His post sparked a spirited exchange on our Facebook page. Krista also cited Jelle de Boer in her conversation from this past year with geophysicist Xavier Le Pichon. Le Pichon’s perspective is sobering:

Ms. Tippett: When something like that happens that was so catastrophic, so many people died, you know, this question is raised of this magnitude of suffering and this “where is God?” question. And somehow this Jelle de Boer, he talked about how with a long view of time and nature, that plate tectonics are what restore life over time. He said life is directly dependent on these geological processes, that we don’t know that other planets have this type of plate tectonics or these extensive oceans and that’s probably why there may not be life there. He said here we are, lucky. “We’re lucky because of these processes where the plates separate and crack and where they run over each and crack and as a consequence of that magmas form at deep levels in the earth. They are brought to the surface and they bring not only nutrients but also water and that is the essence of life.” I mean, it’s this long view of life.

Mr. Le Pichon: Yes. This is perfectly true, but if, for example, I look at controversy between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire immediately after the Lisbon earthquake. Voltaire said, “How can that be a good God that is letting these hundreds of thousands of people being killed by the earthquake?” and so on. And the answer of Rousseau was, “Look, God created them as people living in the forest and so on and if they had still been living in the forest instead of building huge buildings in which they lived, there would have been barely anybody killed.”

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. Le Pichon: So it’s the way man has chosen to live that is creating that. At the present time we have, for example, half of the mega-poles, there’s more than 10 million people who are close to plate boundaries. And we have chosen to put them there. When I was an associate professor in Tokyo University, it was at the time of the Kobe earthquake. They had a big discussion about should we move Tokyo? You know, it’s a very dangerous place.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. Le Pichon: It was a very serious discussion. Should we move it to the west? It’s true, they put it in one of the most dangerous places that is. That is the challenge of humanity. We are now 6 billion and a half people, and clearly without science and technology we cannot live anymore. I mean, science and technology is essential. But at the same time, we have chosen certain ways of life in which we did not have time yet to test our reaction to the environment, and we have this problem to deal with — how are we going to tackle the problem of completely new implementations which are not environment tested? That’s one of the big challenges of the future.


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3Reflections

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perspectives on recent events: It seems like the question that's inevitable in the wake of this catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, is where is God in all this? How can a God of love allow these events, these seismic, and in this case Size mic, events, to happen? Is God active in our lives or is God a passive bystander? We do attribute miracles to God or the intervention of Saints, depending of course on religious background. And for some, there is no God, because such events negate the existence of a "Prime Mover" in our lives. For many, science alone, in terms of random but also determined sequences of events, is sufficient.

A rabbi once told me, Ruth, life is paradox at all levels, get used to it. And surely life is entirely bounded by paradox, and one paradox has to be free will vs determinism, and where we posit God in this profound equation.

Certainly geology has answers and there is a science of plate tectonics. What we don't know, is whether these events are truly Acts of God, or whether it's all a game of chance, meaning the plates will collide, sooner or, later. Or is there a timing to all of this, and meaning beyond meaning? We do know one thing, and that is, compassion is the Source of how we not only obtain meaning, but what we do, all of us, in what is known as Tikkun Olam by the Jews, or the healing of the world, by others.

If all the world's a stage, and a staging ground, and we the actors, then still, we need to Act, and what is Seen and Scene, is what we must do in the wake of such utter despair and devastation.

Ms. Tippet, I thank you very much for doing another segment on Vodou. I was home this weekend listening to NPR when you came on. To open the show you said: "Voodoo, a mix of African religions and Roman Catholicism." That statement is missing a piece because, like many others, you did not mention the attributions of our Indigenous Ancestors. Their contributions to Vodou and the liberation of Haiti is vivid. For example, Veve is not Afrikans but Indigenous to the land; Petro is also Indigenous to the land.

Thanks for the show I was very informative