Each Wednesday in What Memes Mean, Kirk Bozeman questions the significance, humor, and subtexts of viral videos, memes, and other Internet fads.
This clip made the rounds fast. No surprise there.
We’re used to Pat Robertson saying weird stuff by now, but usually it’s some sort of semi-offensive attempt at a prophetic-futurist interpretation of current events, not something this jaw-dropping and close to home. I’d prefer not to analyze the issue of divorce and Alzheimer’s here, no doubt others have covered it much better than I am able. Suffice it to say: I’m not OK with it.
Here I’ll give my own opinion on the “meta”: this incident is simply another symptom of an over-arching problem with people like Pat Robertson. Robertson is often a demagogue – more accurately, a declining demagogue — and all demagogues are dangerous.
A demagogue is a leader who reaches prominence through bare sentimentality or manipulating prejudice and fear, and due to past statements he has made, I feel comfortable placing Robertson in this category. He is most certainly not the worst offender, but he is indeed an offender. The initial quizzical looks we have given to the awkward, offensive statements of Robertson over the years have finally solidified into a gaze of disgust. Not only is Robertson now in decline, he seems to be in an almost hurried frenzy to make it over the edge.
And thankfully, demagogues always, always decline. The danger of demagogues is that the whole process of demagoguery tends to make a man or woman – a human being – into an inerrant and infallible leader-ruler in the eyes of his followers. This often encourages people to become parrots instead of applying their rational minds, because most of us prefer to be told what to do instead of having to “grow up”. People can stop thinking, growing, and maturing as fellow strugglers, and simply resign themselves to thoughtlessness.
But in the end, demagogues fail. They eventually say things that are unacceptable or do things that are downright immoral. Sometimes this happens immediately (as in the case of marital infidelity), or sometimes this happens over a long period of time (as with Robertson’s offensive pronouncements). People eventually “wise up” and give up on demagogues, proving that – somewhat surprisingly – people turn out to be rational after all. And also that assuredly “pride comes before a fall”.
So this new Robertson-statement is another in a long line of statements to be dealt with. We need to address it and assure the world that the he does not speak for the church universal. But we should remind ourselves that his “long line of statements” exists in the first place because people love demagogues. We all want a king. But we forget that in the end we don’t like having a king at all — or as the Beloved John might say, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”