Religious Conviction – Liberation or Taming?

Image: Rodolfo Clix


The instrumentalization of spirituality for political and economic interests

In multiple studies on man and his religious beliefs, scholars of this phenomenon are unanimous in stating that this search for the sacred is inherent to human beings. Although indeed in today's society there is a denial or search for other subterfuges, even so, man in these referenced elements - the search for the sacred -, seeks to find, more than a God where he can deposit and surrender his entire existence, he is also directed to a radical meaning for its existence, mainly, in the face of unexpected situations, such as misfortunes, or phenomena where reason and even science do not find a plausible answer or that at least warms it up, such as the question of suffering and death.

Without the presence of religion, as a justification factor of meaning, life for many may seem like walking through earthly existence, as if it were an inexorable and inappropriate direction towards a tragic, terrifying and catastrophic end.

Regarding the phenomenon of the religious, the anthropologist Roberto DaMatta (1999) points out that religion is allied to human life at all times, and even marks and defines periodicity, loaded with meaning, from before its birth, as in the course of life. its existence, with its parties and remembrances, and even in the last breath of life. For this, he wisely conceptualizes it from its Latin origin, as a bond, pact, contract or relationship that guides the links between men and their gods, and also between men. And he further adds that religion is a way of ordering the world, particularly through the idea of ​​time and eternity.

Likewise, in Elementary forms of religious life, Émile Durkheim (1989) – a work in which he starts from the simplest beliefs, such as tribal and more complex ones, especially those in tune with rationality, and which have undergone mutations over time –, seeks to find something common, general and fundamental in the religious mentality of man. Without the intention of discussing belief, according to the aforementioned author's study, it is interesting to make two interesting considerations. According to him, there is no false religion. Despite being different, in their ritual forms and in their different elements that aggregate them, all indistinctly, they intend to respond to the needs of human existence.

The second aspect is their eminently social character, because they come from society, and because of this social ballast, they express collective representation. And as for its rites, he points out, that its meaning would be to guarantee access to the sacred and to reproduce its values. On the basis of worship and beliefs, the author points out that there is a system of attitudes and rituals, which are elements that constitute what is human and eternal in religion.

Furthermore, we consider that in addition to institutionalized religions, created or socially produced, there is the individual who, in the face of life's storms or even a more acute and radical response to his existence, takes a stand and seeks to connect with the absolute. We would say, therefore, that the belief in something absolute does not refer exclusively to external objects such as rites, objects, dances, clothing, nor to well-elaborated philosophical doctrines and speeches - despite serving as a mediation - but to the individual's personal decision, which in the face of contrary or opposing forces, which mark its existence, it still says: despite the regrets, I believe.

In her reflections, theologian Maria Clara Bingemer (2013) points out that believing is the certainty that even in the face of misfortunes and adversities, or that something may happen, we will not sink into a bottomless pit, because we have the confidence that we are protected and sustained . And she still points out that the act of believing is having an unprovable certainty that the world and life have a meaning and purpose, even if it seems complicated.

However, even though the discourse has its relevance, because we need reasons for what we believe, it seems that the tiredness and extremism of reason in the field of religion, led man not only not to ask about such questions, but also to transform the religion into bridges to easy, childish solutions to life's problems, especially among some religious groups and institutions. In other words, man has confused the search for the ultimate meaning of life, with the impetus of the discourse of prosperity, trust in a miracle-working God or a kind of panacea for the solution of all ills, both physical, social and political.

Despite this, in an informal dialogue with a scholar of the religious phenomenon, he pointed out that if in the past man tried to understand God in his history, like the Hebrew people, or else the Greeks who sought to know who God is, when reflecting on its essence. Today the concern is what he can do for me, for my church or for my group. God has become that being who serves my multiple appeals and interests.

“(…) in the period before ours, efforts were made to understand what God acts – his action in favor of his people: choosing a people and involvement with this people. Under Greek influence, people sought to know “who” God is. He is the pantocrator (all powerful), Universal Logos, Supreme Good, Foundation, transcendent, Unknowable (medieval negative theology [...] to a certain extent, he has become the one who must meet my expectations, my interests. That is the only way he is God in fact. A historical-critical reflection on God does not interest me. Only the God who meets my immediate interests is worth it. (Zé Antônio, former priest)

Some beliefs of Christian tradition, or that mix elements from Christianity, diverted the focus from the central core of the preaching, when they cooled down the discourse, failing to emphasize the core point of the doctrine - unconditional love for the other, agape; or else, when it does not insist on combating injustices, hunger, social criticism, and above all the savage capitalist system, where people are thrown into sub-human conditions and transformed into means of accumulating goods.

The most crucial thing is the minimization of the discourse, so characteristic and emphatic of Christianity, which places man as a bearer of sacredness, and that his existence directs him towards a God who is the source and center of all virtualities, in order to orient himself in a speech in which he emphasizes that God is a being who must be open to meet my interests, the most inconsequential and puerile, many of which depend more on human action and political struggles.

From another perspective, it would be much more commendable, from the conception of the sacredness of man, to boost all energies for the empowerment of man, deconstructing the multiple prejudices such as racism, respect for the LGBTQIA+ movements, the fight against femicide, the social inequalities, food insecurity that affects more than half of the Brazilian population, and the relentless struggle for adequate and dignified housing, and for an education that fosters values ​​and opens horizons for a better and more humane world.

And not a religious discourse, which emphasizes an individual and less communal God, which is sought on the basis of exchange, in rivalry with demonic forces, in a discourse against science and in the belief that the misfortunes that torment man - physical, psychic and –, supposing to believe that it comes much more from the non-existence of faith, than from a political issue, as proclaimed by the defenders of prosperity theology.

The consequence of these speeches is that, despite projecting a God whose existence is limited to meeting or executing my most pressing desires, it demonstrates, in an almost feasible way, the lack of knowledge of the factors that generate social ills, such as poverty, misery, hunger and others, and which today are highlighted and placed in the light of day in the face of countless researches and studies in the field of sciences, mainly the social ones.

Contrary to science, these faith professionals, if we can classify them that way, try to instil in the minds and hearts of their followers – the majority, poor, black and with low schooling – that the misfortunes that massacre them mainly in the social field, do not they derive from the absence of public policies, but from a sinful life, from the absence of a true conversion, and what is crueler, is to make them believe that this is the only and final truth.

In addition, unintentionally, the understanding of the world divided into two antagonistic forces – good and evil, or God and demonic forces –, in addition to leaving man tormented, insecure, as in the period medieval; it limits you, and makes you incapable of enjoying the beauties and gratuitousness of life; and even as a result, it makes it impossible to open new explanations and interpretations of the world.

The most atrocious thing about this perception is that it seems that the subject involved in this unique and totalizing discourse, dresses in armor, and if another does not tune in with his point of view, and does not share the same worldview, he is soon considered worldly , anathema, and unfortunately rejected, logical with due proportions. Perhaps according to some scholars on the subject, this would be the explanation for the difficulties of coexistence with diversity – not the only explanation –, with African beliefs and traditions, liturgies and historical and acculturated forms of Catholicism and its popular manifestations, and the peculiar characteristics of the other to see and refer to the world.

In these reflections, two ideas arise: lack of knowledge of the values ​​of their beliefs, or else, the lack of a serious and accurate study of what they preach or teach. If it is the second alternative or both, there is a disconnection with the requirements and demands of the modern world. If the world of work and business is increasingly demanding competence, continuous training, openness to dialogue, coexistence with plurality, being in tune with the news and demands of a society in constant change, why not the announcers of beliefs ?

Furthermore, if these religious groups had an accurate critical formation, both in terms of what they teach and social problems, and if they were aware of the solutions awakened by the sciences, perhaps they would not embark on a political project of death, as defended by the past government. Among the proposals of this government of sad memory, was the defense of capitalism in its neoliberal version, which has among its principles, the reduction of the State, opposition to public policies, the stimulation of meritocracy and others.

According to some theorists of Christianity, here I emphasize the person of Frei Betto (1986), is that there is in fact an antagonism between capitalism and Christianity. The first, in order to become susceptible, implies that elements that are completely antagonistic to the proposals of Christianity emerge from their DNA, which is the stimulus to competition, exploitation of man over man, concentration of income, exacerbated individualism, etc.

Apart from that, professionals of the sacred, who deal with human spirituality, which according to Ladislau Dowbor (2022) is not restricted to beliefs, in fact transcends them, cannot instrumentalize spirituality for political and economic interests, as the famous phrase of candidates for dictators, “God, homeland and family” or to justify personal and group interests, or even to set themselves up as representatives of the deities, because that way, it empties what it brings most genuine, which is the ideal of belonging, of creation identity, bonding and cohesion.

Based on the above, the future with regard to human rights and the overcoming of different forms of discrimination and arbitrariness will only become viable if interconnected with education, and with the multiple beliefs that permeate the social reality of the country. Why the beliefs? Because, as said, in addition to seeking answers to the mysteries of life that concern man, they also seek to tune him in to the great mystery, or as we say, the totally other.

Therefore, instead of being at the service of power or instrumentalizing man to meet personal and group interests, or preaching cheap solutions, such as easy enrichment, or denial of science, his tradition, knowledge and values ​​at the service of man, aiming at his integral growth, in freedom and without the dictatorship of thought. Perhaps you will be able to approach the understanding and perception of the sacred.

* Geraldo Oliveira holds a master's degree in social sciences from PUC-Minas.


BETTO, Friar. Christianity and Marxism. Petrópolis: Voices, 1986.

BINGEMER, Maria Clara. The Mystery and the World: Passion for God in Times of Unbelief. Rio de Janeiro. Rocco. 2013.

DAMATTA, Robert. What makes Brazil, Brazil?  Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1999.

DOWBOR, Ladislau. "The World of Beliefs: There's Room for Everyone". In: The Earth is Round. Available in

DURKHEIM, Émile. The elementary forms of religious life. Sao Paulo, Martins Fontes, 1996.

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