The Resurrection of Lazarus, from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry (Wikimedia Commons)
Pat Robertson thinks that, but for the Ivy League and its intellectual snobbery, we'd have more people raised from the dead in America. He explained this while on the Christian Broadcasting Network Tuesday answering a question from a viewer named "Ken," who wanted to know why "amazing miracles (people raised from the dead, blind eyes open, lame people walking) happen with great frequency in places like Africa, and not here in the USA."
Have a look (transcription below for those of you in your offices):
Cause people overseas didn't go to Ivy League schools! [chuckles] Well, we're so sophisticated. We think we've got everything figured out. We know about evolution, we know about Darwin, we know about all these things that say god isn't real. We know about all this stuff and if we've been in many schools, the more advanced schools, we have been inundated with skepticism and secularism. And overseas they're simple, humble, you tell them God loves them and they say "okay he loves me." And you tell them God will do miracles and they say "okay, we believe you." And that's what God's looking for. That's why they have miracles.
Leaving aside such trifles as Pat Robertson's own time at Yale Law School, or the tonally awkward generalizations about "places like Africa," I'm not so sure we can blame this one on the Ivy League--and I don't say that just because some of the most pious people I know came out of those schools. I think Robertson is answering the wrong question. Is America actually falling behind in the race to raise the dead?
I suspect United States is in fact ahead of the African nations in bringing the dead back to life. It's hard to find a good estimate of how many bodies are resurrected in the U.S. each year, but let's go with this vastly oversimplified figure: 92,000. 92,000 is the number of people the American Heart Association estimates are saved in the U.S. each year after their hearts or their lungs have stopped moving, i.e. by CPR. Or let's go with a percentage: 45.3%. That's the success rate in the bottom-quarter of American hospitals in a 2012 study in restoring circulation to a body whose heart has completely flatlined. 14.5% of the bodies treated managed leave the hospital. And that's in the hospitals with the lowest performance. Wait till you see American rates for getting the lame to walk and the blind to see.
This may sound glib, but there's an important point, here. Faith has been behind some of the most beautiful and important achievements of this world: great works of of charity, of music, of sacrifice, and of social progress. But too often today, faith is being used as a substitute for, and even a barrier to, social progress, when it could be working in tandem. Pat Robertson's answer here recalls the joke--or parable, as it's sometimes used in Sunday sermons--of the man who refused three offers of help while in a hurricane, saying the Lord would save him. Upon drowning and reaching heaven, he asks God why he wasn't saved. God points out that he sent the man a bus and two boats: What more did the man want? It's at this point that the pastor usually makes a point about how humans segregate the sacred and the mundane, in effect cordoning off "faith" when the results of their faith are in fact all around them.
People who once would have been called "dead" as soon as their heart stopped are now being pulled back to tell their families--one last time in this world--that they love them. People with compound fractures no longer have to spend their lives hobbling. Polio is gone, and leprosy can be cured. You'd think Pat Robertson, at least, would give God some credit there. Instead he seems to be saying those don't count because humans were involved, too. It'd be a shame for that kind of attitude to discourage some young person watching the show from going to a top school--maybe in the Ivy League, or maybe not--to learn how to help make more miracles happen.
Heather Horn is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic. She is a former features editor and staff writer for The Atlantic Wire, and was previously a research assistant at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.