Christians will destroy Brazil

Those who don't know me may find that my numerous harsh criticisms of religion and the religious betray some visceral hatred by my part. However, not only is there no visceral hatred by my part, there is no hatred at all. In terms of human creations, few things are as beautiful to me as the Islamic Adhan, the chants of Tibetan monks, the temples of Jainism and the Christian churches built centuries ago, whether they are Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant.

Christ leading the Crusaders, illustration from the 14th century

The big problem I see is with certain extremely vocal religious manifestations. I speak here of people so histrionic that they go so far as to believe that there is real validity in their magical-religious thought, a validity that, according to them, must override contemporary societies' secularism. Religions come from the human need to seek a connection with something greater, something that transcends the mundane. I respect that need. What I don't respect is when magical thought seeks to override reason, empiricism and secularism—things that our civilization fought hard for. What I don't respect is condescending to fanatics.

Recently, a priest was punished by the Catholic Church for blessing a homossexual union. I sympathize with the couple and also with the priest. The couple must feel a great need to see their love accepted by this religious institution. Also, it seems the priest disagrees with the homophobic teachings of Catholicism and believes that it is possible to change them. It would be nice, yes, but it won't happen. Dogmas are neither democratic nor susceptible to evolution.

It's rather sad to know that many feel an overwhelming need to participate in religious institutions whose teaching treat them as sinners. People feel such a strong desire to connect with “something greater” that they need validation from those who supposedly “keep the keys of the divine”, be they priests, pastors, imams, monks, sages or whatever.

The Catholic institution and practically all Protestant denominations reserve the right to continue preaching its ancient doctrines. Among these doctrines is that which says that same-sex relationships are a sin. Note this: it is because of these things that a secular state is so important. Religions can teach anything, but a homossexual couple has the right to unite under the laws of the secular state. The democratic rule of law admits the evolution of its laws and customs, but the laws of (a supposed) God are immutable. I'm really sorry for the couple and the priest. I believe they would profit from leaving the Church behind and seeking the transcendence they so badly need elsewhere.

This case is just a drop of water in an ocean of problems caused by religious dogmatism. In a secular state, a religious institution has the right to condemn whatever it wants to be a sin, as long as it does so within its doors and does not try to impose this view on the rest of society. But what about when religions cause people to act violently against others who don't even participate in the same religion?

Recently, we were able to follow the scandal of a mother who lost custody of her daughter because they participated in a Candomblé ceremony. It was quite clear that there was religious prejudice on the part of the social workers involved. The grandmother, who is an evangelical Christian, made several unfounded accusations, accusations that were accepted by the Guardianship Council even after the police dismissed any possibility of abuse. It was another clear case of Christians considering different religions as Satanism and acting to “protect an innocent soul”. On social media, many people talked about how nice it would be if these Christians accepted that the gods of others are not demons. Several demonstrations in favor of tolerance were made.

Yes, it would be great if histrionic Christians respected or, at the very least, tolerated the faith of others. But that's not how reality works. There is no point in appealing to the common sense and tolerance of religious fundamentalists, whether they are Christian or something else. Of course, religious extremism and fundamentalism has never been a monopoly of Christianity throughout human history. There are other religions that act in an even more extreme and fundamentalist way in today's world. However, we must remember that Brazil is a country where Christianity reigns. The concern we have to face here is the radicalization of Christians, since they are an overwhelming majority, even when we separate the different denominations.

Teaching that the gods and entities of other religions are demons has always been a fundamental part of Christianity. Those who take Christian doctrine extremely serious cannot think differently, whether they are Catholics or Protestants.

Such a belief is or has been present in virtually all Christian denominations. Hostilities took place even among Christians who thought differently from one another, to the point that terrible wars were fought between them. All of this because they accused each other of not worshiping God properly, which was the same as worshiping the devil. This kind of doctrine didn't stay in the past. In our contemporary world, such an interpretation serves as the cornerstone of neo-Pentecostal Christianity—a form of Christianity that has taken over the country in the last few decades and is about to become the religion of most Brazilians, it isn't already.

While this also occurs among Catholics, in today's Catholicism there seems to be room for less intolerant interpretations—emphasis on the word “seems”. However, treating the gods of other religions as demons is one of the pillars without which neo-Pentecostal evangelical Christianity cannot be sustained. It's not enough that they believe that the gods of other religions are demons, as do less intolerant Catholics—no, many neo-Pentecostals feel the need to physically attack Candomblé and Umbanda places of worship. That is when they don't physically harm the practitioners of these African-Brazilian religions.

There is a growing mix of violent fanaticism and the most blatant commercialism, too. Whenever I travel to my grandfather's house, in São Paulo's state countryside, I do the exercise of watching the various evangelical and Catholic TV channels. Rede Vida, for example, is like a Catholic shopping channel: they sell statues of Mary-whatever and Norwegian cod oil amid prayers. The Catholic method of selling stuff appears to be more skimpy than that of the neo-Pentecostal evangelicals, but it's just as grotesque.

My paternal grandmother, who died in January 2018, was always watching the Eternal Father's program, led by the famous Father Robson. This priest is now being investigated for participating in a multimillion-dollar embezzlement scheme. According to some accusations, he also broke his celibacy vow with other men—something that is irrelevant for an unbeliever like me, but, if confirmed, would show the immense hypocrisy on the part of a priest, especially a priest who serves as a notorious spokesperson of religions institution that perpetuates homophobia.

Similar scandals can be seen in evangelical denominations. The Christian faith is full of scandals, but a large part of contemporary Brazilian Christians, incited by their priests and salesman pastors, still feel entitled to persecute people considered to be sinners within their churches, in addition to persecuting practitioners of other religions. When they can, they even use the state apparatus to persecute other religions, as in the case of the mother who lost custody of her teenage daughter by allowing her to participate in a Candomblé ceremony.

Not for nothing, many of my recent manifestations of political despair occurred, in large part, because I am sure that in 2020 we will reelect characters like Crivella, an evangelical preacher who is now mayor of Rio de Janeiro, in municipal elections. The same will happen in 2022's presidential elections. I believe that Brazil will tend to elect demagogues that speak in the name of Jesus and against corruption, and by corruption they mean: communism, atheism, liberal values, etc. Misuse of funds to pay the so-called Guardians of Crivella (evangelical foot soldiers who beat up journalists who try to denounce the mayor's corruption and bad administration) and the Hate Office (an office set up in the presidential palace in Brasilia that smears journalists and opposition leaders) are not seen as corruption by most Christians.

Two  years ago, with the election of president Bolsonaro—a mouthpiece that evokes God all the time and defends putting “terribly evangelical” judges in the Brazilian Supreme Court—I think that certain floodgates were opened that cannot be closed anytime soon. It will probably get worse before it gets any better.

Whenever I criticize Christian fundamentalists, this is the moment when some Christian pop out of nowhere to say: “not all of us are like that, remember the progressive Martin Luther King!” They forget that the kidnapping of the American black movement by pastors made the African American community one of the most homophobic in that country. Almost no one remembers Asa Philip Randolph, a black union leader and atheist who was instrumental in the fight for civil rights in the 1960's. He was the one who organized the march in Washington D.C. in which MLK made his famous “I have a dream” speech. Even less remembered is Bayard Rustin, a black union leader who was openly gay.

Among progressive Catholics, there are those who like to remember that Mother Teresa of Calcutta was an example of solidarity with the least favored. They forget that even she was accused by different sources of proselytizing to those who were on their death beds. There's also evidence that the sick took in by her organization were kept in pain and agony, something that supposedly would put them closer to God.

Besides these accusations, which are countered by her defenders, there are also the controversial opinions that she has publicly expounded. She made one of them during her 1979 Nobel Peace Prize speech, when she said that the greatest threat to world peace was abortion—a silly idea that today we would hear from people like Sara Giromini, a Brazilian neonazi and antiabortion militant. In addition to her opposition to abortion, Mother Teresa was adamantly opposed to all contraceptive methods and divorce, even though she lived in an extremely patriarchal country with a huge and poor population.

Therefore, as much as evangelicals and progressive Catholics give these great historical figures as examples that they too can fight for racial equality and solidarity with the poor, the truth is that even the examples they give are not free from controversy and scandals that question their validity. Yes, there are progressive Christians. Yes, although they weren't perfect, MLK and Mother Teresa did good, at lest as they saw it. But progressive Christians need to understand that they are an insignificant minority in Brazil, especially in the case of evangelicals.

In the 2018 presidential elections, about 70% of evangelicals voted for Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro also won among Catholics by 51%. In March, pastor José Wellington Bezerra da Costa, leader of the Brazilian Assembly of God, said in an interview that Bolsonaro is already reelected in 2022 if it is up to evangelicals. This was said before the emergency aid provided by the government because of the pandemic, which increased the president's popularity.

Now, in post-emergency aid Brazil, I see that many political analysts no longer think the religious values agenda is relevant to understanding modern Brazilian politics. They still think that Damares—an evangelical fundamentalist who is now Bolsonaro's secretary for human rights— and Olavo—Bolsonaro's ideological guru—are “smoke screens” or, at most, auxiliaries lines that help Bolsonaro's extreme right-wing government. I disagree. I even go as far as saying that the religious and “cultural” agenda is much more important for sustaining the president's popularity than the permanece of Paulo Guedes—Bolsonaro's neoliberal minister of finance who is loved by the markets.

Unfortunately, many prefer to believe that everything is a material issue. Yes, material problems are fundamental. After all, we need physical food to survive, there is no metaphysical bread. However, given the growing degree of fanaticism, it is not difficult to imagine that a significant portion of the believing and poor population would prefer less emergency aid money from a president who imposes Jesus down our throats than more aid from a secular government that respects LGBTQ+ rights and does not favor churches.
I have little doubt that, although state aid is important when it comes to the approval of a president, the poor masses who were fanaticized by priests and pastors will always prefer the “God-fearing” ruler, even if it means receiving less aid from the state. Between a “communist” giving decent living conditions and a Christian demagogue giving alms, most of the people will end up supporting the Christian demagogue. Especially now that the trap of religious demagoguery has been opened wide in Brazil after 2016. Pandora's box has been opened and the evils have escaped. There's no going back.

From now on, it will be much easier to prohibit legal abortion for rape victims than to expand the right to all women. It is also no longer inconceivable that gay marriage could be once again banned via some draconian legislation. There is now a terrible increase in the number of flat-Earthers and anti-vaxers in the country—and both groups are strongly driven by crude biblical readings. Do not be surprised when they start to force the teaching of creationism in public schools—after all, Christians have been trying to stick prayers in public schools for years.

We walk a perilous path and many pretend that everything is business as usual. If the worst happens, today's great thinkers who ignore the danger will say: no one could imagine such a fate! That's if they're still alive to tell the story. But that unimaginable fate is wide open for all of us to see.

by Fernando Olszewski

(This article was originally published September 5th, 2020. Since then, we had municipal elections in Brazil and, thankfully, mayor Crivella lost his reelection bid in Rio de Janeiro)

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