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Here’s the Pat Robertson paradox: Maybe the overwhelming condemnation of his comments about Haiti following the earthquake is evidence of how much religion continues to matter to many Americans.

In case you missed it, Robertson said this on the 700 Club:

“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 III and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.’ True story. And so, the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’

“And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other. Desperately poor. That island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti; on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, et cetera. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have — and we need to pray for them — a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come. But right now, we’re helping the suffering people, and the suffering is unimaginable.”

Let’s leave aside questions about the veracity of the story — and there are many. (For instance: Did anything like what Robertson describes actually happen? If it did, was the ceremony dedicated to the deities of the traditional Haitian religion, not Christianity’s devil?)

I was intrigued by the broad wave of American voices raised in opposition to Robertson. When the secular, Jewish Jon Stewart tosses out a series of Bible verses to express his dismay, something interesting is going on.

Yes, Robertson is an easy punching bag. But after several years of surveys that indicate that the tenets and dogmas of Christianity are less central to American culture than they once were, maybe the reaction to Robertson shows that “less” is a long way from “gone.”

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