Protestantism and Catholicism in Brazil

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By RUBENS PINTO LYRA*

Differences and affinities between the two political doctrines and praxis

Protestantism: doctrine and political praxis

Christianity, as a general rule, is always identified with the cardinal virtues of charity, love of neighbor, pursuit of Justice, solidarity with the poor and oppressed, accompanied by the denunciation of injustice, luxury, ostentation, selfishness and of intolerance. In this way, not a few, even today, question themselves about the reasons why a significant part of the Christian electorate – in the case under analysis, the evangelical majority – was able to elect a candidate to the highest office of the Republic who, even having fled from the debates, he never failed to proclaim, loud and clear, his sympathy for regimes that tortured, killed or persecuted thousands of Brazilians.

Let us remember that Bolsonaro manifested himself sadistically, in the vote of impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, gloating over the suffering experienced by the former president during the period in which she was imprisoned during the military regime. He did so by extolling, on the occasion, the figure of Dilma's torturer, Colonel Brilhante Ustra – who stood out the most, during the dictatorship, in this repulsive practice.

The former captain did not hide his positions on human rights, which he systematically criticized, nor did he disguise, on different occasions, aggressively sexist attitudes. And he also expressed regressive conceptions, in social matters, by defending the false alternative between the reduction of social rights or unemployment. Such conceptions and practices “contrary to what every evangelical knows to be the decisive fragment of a golden verse of the Bible: God is love. (I John 4;8). Political resentment and hate speech is not terribly Christian” (MARTINS, 20019).

The perplexity faced with such a shocking choice makes the study of the psychosocial factors of the vote cast by evangelicals particularly opportune. We understand that the psychological conditionings, with regard to these believers, are not foreign to the doctrine of the two greatest icons of Protestantism: Martin Luther and John Calvin – similar, in the question under analysis, despite their many doctrinal differences. These theologians emphasize the impotence of the individual in the face of the unfathomable designs of the Lord. For them, only the divine will determines the lives of people and historical events in course.

Calvinists and followers of Luther – but not only these – transferred to the political plane, in the 2020 presidential elections, this feeling of unconditional submission, in a moment of crisis and hopelessness. They believed that only a demiurge could prevent economic and social collapse – the “Myth” – such as the Füher in Germany and the Duce in Italy. Indeed, for Lutherans and Calvinists, even the worst tyrant cannot be contested: if he rules, it is because God wants it. In Luther's words, quoted by Fromm: "God would rather put up with the continuation of a government, however bad, than let the rabble rebel, no matter how justified they think they should do so" (FROMM: 1970, p.74).

This same fatalistic view, in an even more accentuated form, is present in Calvin for whom “those who go to Heaven do not do so, absolutely, on their merits, just as those condemned to Hell are there simply because God wanted it that way. Salvation, or damnation, are pre-determinations made before man was born.” (CALVINO: 1928).

Such conceptions, which radically deny the autonomy of the individual, have opened nolens volens, the path to its submission to secular authorities – holders of state power. These, at present, have preponderantly based their policies on the exclusive interests of capital. They aim at the deconstruction of the social-democratic model of the State (that of Social Welfare) and its replacement by the “minimum State”, a mere instrument of the neoliberal policy of the dominant classes.

The aforementioned conceptions are especially in tune with the most prominent evangelical churches – among them, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentecostal or Neo-Pentecostal – inspired by the so-called Prosperity Theology, which values ​​material success, the accumulation of wealth and purely individual solutions to social problems. This adequacy does not always occur consciously.

Even for the religious reformers in question, the idea that man's life would become a means to achieve economic ends would have been unacceptable. In Fromm's diction “Although his way of looking at economic issues was traditionalist, the emphasis given by Luther to the nullity of the individual contradicted this conception, opening the way for an evolution in which man should not only obey secular authorities, but also subordinate their lives for the purposes of economic achievement” (FROMM, 1970: p.75).

similarly, the evolution of Calvinist doctrine highlights the idea of ​​success in secular life being a sign of salvation (1970, p.80), a theme that deserved Max Weber's attention as being an important link between Calvin's doctrine and the spirit of capitalism . Michael Lowy, in his work The War of the Gods: Religion and Politics in Latin America, identifies an “elective affinity” between Calvinist ethics and the spirit of capitalism in opposition to “the existence of a basic and irreconcilable, basic and irreconcilable aversion, or resistance, on the part of the Catholic Church (and, probably, also, by some denominations Protestants” (LOWY, 2000, p. 40).

Indeed, the hegemony of Calvinist and Lutheran doctrines does not mean unanimity. There are dissenting voices, albeit rarefied, such as the Methodist pastor and theologian Claudio de Oliveira Ribeiro. Inspired by Liberation Theology, he points to “the need to permanently identify the “greater fact” that characterizes the current socioeconomic and political conjuncture: “social exclusion”. He therefore considers praxis political, focused on social justice, intrinsic to evangelization (RIBEIRO:157-158).

In concluding this topic, we make a point of underlining that the criticism of the fatalistic aspects of the doctrines of Calvin and Luther does not mean disregarding the historical contribution given by Protestantism, in its early days, to the struggle for freedom of religious choice and for the autonomy of the Church in the face of any other powers. Only, the study of this issue would extrapolate, and much, the objectives of this work.

political developments

Our analysis starts from the political dimension, intrinsic to religious theologies, avoiding emphasizing, as determinants, the contingencies of the actions of religious people in politics. We are interested, therefore, in examining the political-ideological components of Luther's and Calvin's ideologies, which became hegemonic in several Protestant churches: a good part of the Presbyterian and Baptist ones and in the majority of Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal churches. 60% of Protestants are evangelicals.

The fatalistic aspects of Protestant doctrine favor the acceptance of conservative theses in the field of economics, politics and religion, which had decisive consequences in the 2018 presidential elections. of God, by Bishop Edir Macedo; by the Grace of God International, by Missionary RR Soares and by the Victory in Christ Assembly, by Pastor Silas Malafaia, was of great importance for his victory.

Indeed, research on voting in the 2018 presidential elections concluded that “the evangelical vote was decisive for Bolsonaro’s election”. His analysis pointed to a technical tie in the vote of Catholics and Evangelicals for Bolsonaro. In the evangelical electorate, the former captain won a resounding victory: he received more than 11 million votes in relation to the candidate Fernando Haddad. Therefore, it “was enough to open up an advantage of just under 10 million votes in favor of Bolsonaro” (ALVES:2020). tell yourself, in passing, that, Trump, in the 2020 elections, also had evangelical support (90% of these, according to a survey carried out by the Institute of Democracy/Sunday Press.

Returning to Bolsonaro, he received ostensible support, and was repeatedly confirmed, before and after his election, by his presence at religious events, alongside the leaders of the aforementioned churches. Trabuco, a recognized expert on the subject, points out that Pentecostals and Neo-Pentecostals “can constitute an important support base for Bolsonarism, but the ideological nucleus of defense of the Christo-Fascist project is found in Brazilian-style Neo-Calvinism, in particular, Presbyterians and Baptists”. These churches, mostly white and middle class, would be the ones most identified with the austerity, or anti-labor, policies sponsored by the Bolsonaro government (2020).

It is known that the leaders of evangelical churches, already mentioned, display a clientelistic political practice, acting based on the exchange of favors and privileges, through concessions of radio stations, loans and support to several other initiatives, such as the repeal of decisions regarding the law of silence. The "take it there, give it here" reached the point where, in Rio de Janeiro, evangelical pastors were attributed, in Rio de Janeiro, the privilege of distributing the Citizen's Cheque, composing a double clientelism: that of the pastors, for their political and beneficiary project, for the Church (RAMOS E ZACARIAS, 2020).

The faithful understand that they must vote “for whom God sends. The shepherd will say. He is the voice of God” (FREI BETTO, 2016). This attitude represents a complete abdication of the sovereign exercise of the vote, irremediably compromising its suitability. At this pace, not a few leaders of evangelical churches have envisioned the possibility of even creating an evangelical state (BARROS E ZACARIAS, 2020). The pastor of one of them – the Central Presbiteriana de Londrina – even explicitly asked its members to sign their support for the creation of Bolsonaro’s new party, the Alliance for Brazil (PACHECO, 2020).

The main Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal leaders openly use religion as an instrument of power and in their wake, thousands of pastors who intend to determine, with their “council”, the vote of their millions of faithful. As Professor Tosi summarizes: “they use the mass media as great vehicles for persuasion and proselytism. This growing movement scares and worries: “it is a wave of fanaticism that promotes an intolerant and regressive obscurantism against science, philosophy, freedom of thought and ideological plurality” ( 2020, p. 413).

Therefore, the “hidden thread” that associates economic and authoritarian aspects of Luther's and Calvin's doctrines, already analyzed, with the conceptions of important evangelical sectors, supporters of the reformed captain, is revealed.

The military president, very close to these sectors, chose seven outstanding evangelical leaders for the top ranks of his government, five of them pastors: three Calvinists. All, cultists of regressive positions, both in the economic field and in that of customs. They are Onix Lorenzoni, Minister of Citizenship; Benedito Aguiar Neto, President of CAPES; Damares de Oliveira, Minister of Human Rights; Sérgio Queiroz, Secretary of Social Development; Guilherme de Carvalho, Director of Promotion and Education in Human Resources (PACHECO, 2020); André Mendonça, Minister of Justice and Public Security and Milton Ribeiro, Minister of Education. In addition to General Eduardo Ramos, a member of the Baptist Memorial Church in Brasília, who took over as Secretary of Government (MAZZA: 2020).

By the way, there is no way not to mention the unusual mediation, for the appointment of various high-ranking government positions, by an entity called the National Association of Evangelical Jurists (Anajure). In fact, the members of the triple list for the position of Defender General of the Union submitted, astonishingly! to the meticulous scrutiny of that entity: “According to an experienced federal public defender, there has never been news of an entity questioning candidates, one by one, as if they were leading a selection process. The fact that the candidates, all of them, accepted to participate in the questioning that they see Anajure as an important actor in Bolsonaro’s choice” (MAZZA, 2020).

Still according to MAZZA: “Augusto Aras, in August of last year, when he was trying to be cacified to be Attorney General of the Republic, after receiving a letter of principles from Anajure, he telephoned his president, committing himself, among others, that ' the homosexual must be free to become a patient in the treatment of the gay cure'. Therapy prohibited in Brazil, before Aras endorsed the principles of Anajure” (2020).

The last of the Ministers appointed by Bolsonaro, the Calvinist pastor Milton Ribeiro, disclosed, in a video on the internet, that parents must apply punishments to their children that cause pain and that man, so the Bible teaches, is the one who “points the way to where the family goes” (MARTINS, 2020). In another video, Ribeiro attacks universities with the delirious assertion that, guided by the philosophy of existentialism, “they favor the practice, totally without limits, of sex”. And he proposes to restore the authority of the teacher in them (PODER 360: 2020). The issue is all the more important as recent research shows that in less developed countries, especially in Brazil, the idea that “you need to be religious to have morality” thrives (CALLIGARIS, 2020).

The relationship between science and religious faith can be exemplified with the behavior of Bishop Edir Macedo regarding Covid-19. Based on unbelievable arguments, he considered it “harmless”, attributing the panic associated with it to the “work of Satan” (BISPO, 2020). Underlying this controversial statement are the effects resulting from social isolation, related to the closure of the temples of his church, I mean the company, which resulted in a substantial loss of tithe collection, and of the millionaire contributions given by his faithful.

The importance of economic aspects in the ideology and practice of evangelical churches is reflected in the frantic search for the growth of their assets and the wealth accumulated by their main leaders. But it wasn't always like that. This change occurred with the emergence of Prosperity Theology in the United States. It teaches that the main sign of salvation is wealth and material progress: “it is tacit, it is not explicit, but it is implicit that the capitalist ideology is assumed as if it were an article of faith” (RAMOS E ZACARIAS, 2020).

This question by Eric Fromm, posed sixty-five years ago, is still up to date: “Is there a greater sacrilege than teaching how to pray so that God becomes a partner in your business, a greater sacrilege than “selling” religion with the methods used for selling soap” (l955: p.163).

The close relationship between faith and the market translated into the support of a large part of the evangelical leadership for Bolsonaro's candidacy, recently converted to the status of champion of neoliberal capitalism, as well as his alignment with a puritanism of moral and cultural restrictions.

As Ghiardelli recalls, “the wave of conservative customs in Brazil has to do with the growth of Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal churches. Bolsonaro is, in large part, its expression. The cultural backwardness of this movement is a liquid in which it likes to bathe” (2020, p.78).

This cultural backwardness is expressed in fundamentalism, which is “a radical form of integralism. It means that religion offers an integral explanation of the world, sufficient by itself to solve all human questions: faith provides all the questions that human beings need: without the need to resort to reason; in fact, rationality is seen as a danger and a threat to faith that must be fought”(TOSI:2020, p.401).

Thus, many evangelicals cultivate a “personalized spirituality”, with a pragmatic and utilitarian approach, with the expectation that their faith and worship of God will cover them with benefits, business success and even the cure of illnesses. As can be seen, there is an intimate relationship between neoliberalism and conservative morality. The motto adopted by the Universal Church “Stop suffering” is a preaching that is very close to self-help. In it, the “each one for himself” prevails in the search for prosperity, and consequently for Salvation, hoping that God will support everyone, everyone who believes in Him.

Therefore, it is not difficult to identify, in most evangelicals, a combination of fundamentalism and hostility to science, associated with a conception of religion permeated by values ​​centered on individualism and the market. See, by the way, Leonardo Boff's scathing criticism: “More serious is the type of faith proclaimed by the neo-Pentecostal churches, with their televisions and multitudinous programs. There, the message of the Kingdom of love, fraternity and forgiveness is never heard. They preach not the Gospel of the Kingdom, but that of material prosperity. One never hears the fundamental words of the historical Jesus: 'Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God Woe to you rich, for you have your consolation' (Lk. 6, 2024: 2020)”.

But there are those who bet on the possibility of a preferential option for people, for the practice of charity and compassion. These tend to clash with the “preferential option for money”, which produces “the “corrosion” of an alliance that has proved to be antisocial” (MARTINS, 2019). Unlike Martins, Safatle considers that there is no antagonism in the religious conception and practice of evangelicals, considering that: “contemporary life has taught us that individualism and religiosity, liberalism and dogmatic religious restrictions, far from being antagonistic, have become two complementary poles and paradoxes of the same pendulum movement. We will have to live with the political results of this social pathology” (2012, p.71).

It is worth finishing this topic by reflecting on the scarce dissemination, by the mainstream media, of the ultraconservative conceptions of Minister Milton Ribeiro, which we already know: that of a patriarchal family, in which parental power, predominantly exercised by men, assigns women a subordinate role and promotes the education of children based on coercion. This tacit connivance of the media, notably television, minimizes the deleterious consequences of Milton Ribeiro's religious obscurantism, incompatible with the democratic management of education.

In the same way, the media also recently “missed” the unbelievable naturalization of slavery, defended by several Bolsonaristas, whose validity was considered beneficial for Brazilian Afro-descendants.

In fact, we saw the president of the Palmares Foundation himself, Sérgio Nascimento de Camargo, perpetrate violent attacks on organizations that defend the rights of black people, starting precisely from who should be the first to defend them (CHEFE: 2019).

The resourcefulness of racists and religious fundamentalists linked to the government, gloating over science and human rights, is impressive. It should inhibit democrats from making any concessions, in the face of those who have been adopting an obsequious silence, which objectively makes them accomplices in these violations of the most common principles of science and democracy.

Catholicism and political praxis: from dictatorship to democratization: from conservative hegemony to updating

At the beginning of the last century, in 1904, Pope Pius X published his well-known Catechism of Christian Doctrine, a complete synthesis of the traditionalist thought of the Catholic Church on its fundamental concepts related to matter. The conservative view disseminated by the Catechism was decisive, until the end of the fifties of the 1951th century, in the formation of Catholic youth, being “the only one adopted” in a large number of Brazilian archdioceses. In it, there was no room for conceptions that intended to link the spirituality inculcated in young people to their role in society (PIO X: XNUMX).

To better understand it, let us show how the conformist ideology manifests itself in the interpretation of the tenth commandment. This "commands us to be content with the state in which God has placed us, and to suffer poverty with patience, when God wills us in that state." With regard to sexual morality, the sixth commandment requires what an extremely small number of believers practice: that we “keep chastity”, prohibiting “every action, every thought contrary to it”. However, underlines the Catechism of Pius X, “one deserves hell for one mortal sin” suffering, therefore “forever from eternal fire and all other evils, without any relief” (1958, p. 15 and 35 ).

With the investiture, on October 25, 1958, of Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli on the throne of Peter, the winds of change began to blow. In opposition to the punitive bias, until then dominant, John XXIII proclaims: “Love one another because that is the great commandment of the Lord”. Unlike previous pontiffs, who criticized all kinds of participatory government, and also forms, albeit moderate, of socialism, John XXIII recognized “the contributions of socialism to humanity” (SILVA:188, PP.76).

In item III of the encyclical Mater et Magistra, which came to light in May 1961, wrote: “the Holy Church, despite having as its main mission that of sanctifying souls and making them participate in goods of a supernatural order, does not cease to be concerned also with the demands of everyday life of men”. This advance in the church's engagement in the social sphere was accompanied, as it could not be otherwise, by the abandonment of a restricted conception of the people of God. Thus, all men of good will, even non-believers, are summoned, in April 1963, by John XXIII, in the encyclical Pacem in Terris, for the promotion of peace. This open-minded policy led him to be unanimously chosen for the Balzan Peace Prize: “even the Soviets voted for him” (SILVA: 1988, p.79).

John XXIII's greatest contribution was the convening, on October 11, 1962, of the Second Vatican Council, whose influence on the renewal of the Catholic Church reaches contemporary times. But there are those who emphasize the deconstruction of the achievements of Vatican II by successors of Pope Roncalli. Thus, “the fire set by John XXIII was extinguished in ashes” (WEST: 1998, p.41-42).

It was the atmosphere of tolerance and concern for human rights present at that council that paved the way for the holding of events that further deepened the changes, such as the Medellín Conference in 1968, the birthplace of Liberation Theology. Even on his deathbed, John XXIII had the strength to say to those who watched him: “But than ever we are called to defend, above all else, the rights of human beings and not just those who belong to the Catholic Church. It is not that the Gospel has changed, it is we who have begun to understand it better (JOHN XXIII: 1963).

Liberation Theology

Liberation Theology is a multifaceted theological current, born in Latin America after the Medellin Conference in 1968. For her, reading the Bible shows that man's liberation is not only not exclusively spiritual, but requires a preferential option for the poor .

This theology also considers that the Human and Social Sciences are indispensable for the realization of this option, and some of its theorists give outstanding importance to Marxism.

Inspired by the innovative interpretation of biblical texts, it gives centrality to the theme of Liberation, which will take place through divine action in History. Indeed, “the liberation of the oppressed is, nowadays, especially in the South American context, the reality of God's salvation present in the world. The liberation spoken of in scripture has historical and social consistency. Thanks to the action of God, man and society move from a situation of dependence and slavery, to independence and redemption, from the condition of domination to manumission and freedom” (CATÃO: 1986, p. 66).

But the Catholic Church condemned, in 1984 and 1986, the main foundations of the Theology of Liberation Theology, supposedly, for its exclusive emphasis on institutionalized, collective or systemic sin, on the elimination of religious transcendence, on the devaluation of the magisterium of the church and on the encouragement to the class struggle. This condemnation weakened its influence, having been the main reason for its decline in the XNUMXs.

However, like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, it was tacitly rehabilitated by Pope Francis (Mario Jorge Bergoglio). He put an end to the anathema that hit it, with the resumption, as we will see later, of the dialogue with the main exponents of “classical” Liberation Theology, some of Marxist inspiration. Pope Francis is a supporter of one of its modalities, Theology of the People, which rejects both the Marxist methodology and its categories of analysis (ARMATO: 2013). In the words of the theologian Leonardo Boff, “the grace that was granted to us was a pope, Francis, who comes from the broth of this culture of liberation, with an Argentine side, but always of liberation, giving centrality to the world of the poor” (BERTOLOTTO, 2020).

Indeed, regardless of the conceptual divergences on Liberation Theology, all its currents are identified with the “social love” advocated by the Supreme Pontiff in his last encyclical, Brothers All. In his words: “I prefer ethical atheists to Christians indifferent to human suffering and the clamoring injustices of the world. Those who seek justice and truth are on the path that ends in God, because their true reality is one of love and truth. Today, problems such as hunger and unemployment, the exclusion of the great majority, are of a social and political nature, and therefore ethical. So, faith must demonstrate its force of mobilization and transformation” (All brothers, n. 166).

Thus, the different manifestations of Liberation Theology continue to influence the most progressive sectors of the church, as demonstrated by the positions of Pope Francis, exposed in this article, but also that of significant sectors of the hierarchy, critics of capitalism.

The Catholic Church and Resistance to the Dictatorship

The Catholic Church enthusiastically supported the civil-military business coup of 1964. On the occasion, the CNBB (National Conference of Bishops of Brazil) praised the initiative, thanking God and the military for having “stopped, without bloodshed, the accelerated march of the communism” (FOLHA, 2014).

The military coup was even praised by the representatives of its hierarchy who became more famous later on, assuming courageous self-criticism, translated into their praxis of staunch opposition to the atrocities committed by the 1964 regime, and to the curtailment of democratic freedoms. This was the case, among others, with D. José Maria Pires, “Dom Pelé”, Archbishop of Paraíba, D. Helder Câmara, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife and D. Paulo Evaristo, Cardinal-Archbishop of São Paulo.

Fifty years after the “1964 Revolution”, the CNBB, makes its my fault, acknowledging having committed a “historic error” in supporting the establishment of the military regime, whose “government methods did not respect the dignity of the human person and their rights” (FOLHA, 2014).

Therefore, critics of the behavior of the Catholic Church cannot limit themselves to accusing it of supporting the military regime. It is a half-truth that, objectively, is worse than a lie, since it reveals a part of it, but leaves the other hidden. And, in this case, the most substantive: the vanguard role of leading church figures and lay movements in the mobilization against the dictatorship. Furthermore, who, in Brazilian civil society, could cast the first stone? Even the OAB sympathized with the coup! Political personalities also supported him, sung in verse and prose, for his courageous fight against the dictatorship, such as Teotônio Vilela, the “Menestrel de Alagoas”.

In the Catholic Church, even staunch anti-communists, like D. Eugênio Salles, committed themselves to protecting opponents of the dictatorship from their iniquities. Likewise, few prominent prelates continued to actively support the self-styled “Revolution of March 31, 1964”.

The resistance of Catholics also had its martyrs. Among the best known are the secretary of D. Helder Câmara, Fr. Henrique Melo, savagely murdered by the dictatorship, and Frei Tito, brutally tortured at DOI-CODI. This murder was a retaliation for D. Helder's unsuspecting preaching. Her denunciations, in various international forums, about torture and other arbitrary practices practiced by the dictatorship, led her to ban any references to her person in the media. The Archbishop of Olinda and Recife was also one of the great supporters of the Base Ecclesial Communities (CEBs), which we will detail later.

Historical landmark of the opposition to the military regime was the publication of the Pastoral Letter I heard the cries of my people, at the height of the repression, in May 1973, which was highlighted in a secret document produced by the SNI. For that body, its content proves that the “progressive clergy' absolved “communist theses and defamatory propaganda arguments inspired by “social justice”. Its disclosure would be an integral part of the “psychological war planned by the International Communist Movement with the aim of contributing to the overthrow of the regime and the establishment of a 'Marxist-Leninist State'” (MADEIRO: 2020). Signed by eighteen archbishops, abbots and provincials from the northeast, it had D. Helder and D. José Maria Pires as its main articulators, and brought together what was most representative of the church in that region.

Even though several of her directors and advisors have already been persecuted, tortured and some even killed by repression, she has not remained silent. She took a public position, through that document, denouncing “international capitalism that uses all means of communication and education to justify its domination and to disguise the system of oppression on which it is based”. He further considers that “the historical process of capitalist domination inevitably leads to class struggle, with the dominated class having no other way out to free itself than following the long path that leads to social ownership of the means of production”. “Only this one”, concludes the document, of undeniable Marxist inspiration, “will allow the oppressed to recover the humanity they were deprived of” (PASTORAL LETTER, 1973).

However, as or more important than the struggle of members of the clergy against the atrocities of the military regime, was the role of militants from lay movements and institutions, among which the Base Ecclesial Communities (CEBs) stood out. They played a leading role in the Northeast, committed to the “preferential option for the poor”. The CEBs became concrete spaces for social struggles during this period, notably in the countryside, serving as a training laboratory for many leaders who came, with redemocratization, to assume prominent positions in the public sphere.

But the CEBs went much further, contributing decisively to make a new strategy viable, which substituted the logic of armed struggle for that of popular participation. Thus, inspired by Liberation Theology, they favored a change in the praxis policy, which extended, in addition to segments of the hierarchy itself, to broad sectors of Brazilian civil society and politics. CEBs also provided an alternative to armed struggle and exclusively partisan militancy, by placing the common man, especially the oppressed, at the center of the political process (LYRA: 2016, p. 23). It can be seen that the church did not limit itself to denouncing the violation of human rights. In short: “Democracy, for the CEBs, more than a matter of principle, is a matter of practice” (BETTO: 1981, p. 7).

Other events of the Catholic Church's democratic resistance achieved national repercussions, such as the courageous confrontation, by prominent figures of the hierarchy and by members of religious orders, of restrictions on democratic freedoms. An example of this resistance was the support given by the church, since before the enactment of the AI-5, to initiatives contrary to the military regime. This was the case of holding clandestine congresses in a monastery of religious orders: in this case, the XXVIII UNE Congress, in 1966, in the city of Belo Horizonte (MG) and the XXIX of that entity, in 1967, in Valinhos (SP).

In the first, the students managed to hold the conclave, without being discovered by the agents of repression. In the second, the police, upon arriving at the monastery, no longer finding the congressmen, arrested the Dominican friars they found, looting its facilities (MENDES JUNIOR: 1981, p.79-81).

Three other episodes have as their central protagonist the Cardinal-Archbishop of São Paulo, D. Paulo Arns, a prelate who was most distinguished by the assistance provided to political prisoners and the courage with which he faced, on several occasions, the repression of the military regime. D. Paulo considered that “the opposition [of the church] was obligatory. From an evangelical point of view, it was our mission at that time, perhaps the most important”. Deeply shocked by the unprecedented violence practiced against these prisoners, Bishop Arns expressed himself as follows: “what I heard from them I had not heard in Europe, where I spent five years with prisoners from Russia and Germany. So much Brazil had lowered itself” (DINES ET ALII: 2001:Vol. I, p.154).

1) Paulo held, in the Cathedral of Sé, in 1976, an ecumenical mass of protest against the death, by torture, of the journalist Vladimir Herzog, in the premises of the São Paulo DOI-CODI. This ceremony shook the power of hard line, and gave rise to the following comment by D. Helder, who was beside Cardinal Arns in that ceremony: “D. Paulo, today the dictatorship has fallen” (DINES et ALLI:2001, vol I, p.154).

In 1977, a new event – ​​the invasion of PUC-SP, by Colonel Erasmo Dias, Secretary of Security of São Paulo – led to the arrest of two thousand students and the destruction of books, equipment, thousands of documents and even part of the physical structure. from the university. This invasion placed D. Paulo at the forefront of defending university autonomy and democratic freedoms. In this regard, he expressed himself as follows: “I came back from Rome because of the PUC invasion. Why enter PUC only with the entrance exam or to serve the students. Otherwise, no” (DINES et ALLI:2001, Vol. I, p 157).

Dom Paulo Arns provoked, once again, the ire of the military, by organizing a procession that reached about 200.000 people, in protest against the execution, in October 1979, with a bullet in the back, of the worker Santo Dias, coordinator of the Pastoral Operária in São Paulo. (DINES ET AL11, 2001, Vol. 1, p.151).

We conclude with a mention of D. Pedro Casaldáliga, bishop of the Prelacy of São Félix do Araguaia, who achieved notoriety in the defense of poor communities and indigenous peoples, and for the firm support given to the operation and expansion of the CEB's. His tireless voice against the landowners, supporting the MST and Via Campesina, earned him several death threats, in addition to expulsion processes from Brazil during the military dictatorship. His indomitable performance earned respect, tributes and national and international admiration. He chose to be buried in the Karajá cemetery, on the banks of the Araguaia river, where pedestrians and Indians who resisted land grabbing were buried (VEJA: 2020).

The Catholic Church today: a new updating?

At the international level, the conservative hegemony in the Catholic Church was already established in the Pontificate of John Paul II. He tried to prevent the Puebla Conference from deepening the rupture initiated in the previous conference, held in Medellín in 1968, the General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate.

John Paul II also carried out, through the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – in his capacity as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the persecution of exponents of Liberation Theory. For the celebrated writer Morris West, this congregation functions as “the watchdog of the Church's orthodoxy” (WEST: p. 29, 1999).

Allied with Reagan, John Paul II endorsed the neoliberal project of globalization. He also took a position in favor of wars and sought to block the process of secularization initiated by John XXIII and deepened by Paul VI.

The accession, on April 19, 2003, of Ratzinger to the throne of Peter, inaugurated an even more harmful phase for the progressive sectors of that institution. In effect, Benedict XVI weakened the most renewing archdioceses of the church, such as that of São Paulo, which was split into five dioceses, thereby reducing its area of ​​jurisdiction. Likewise, the bishops he appointed extended the influence of the conservative wing of the church.

The climate of hostility to the progressive church only dissipated with the ascension, on March 19, 2013, to the throne of Pedro, of Argentine Cardinal Bergoglio whose positions, critical of capitalism, he identifies with. Since then, the path taken by the Catholic Church, with regard to its praxis policy, shows significant differences in relation to the Protestant churches, especially the Pentecostal ones.

These churches “evolved” to accept the so-called Prosperity Theory, which legitimizes the accumulation of wealth and the unrestricted enjoyment of material goods. Catholicism, on the other hand, remains averse to neoliberal ideals, as witnessed by all the declarations of the current Supreme Pontiff and members of the Catholic hierarchy.

Michel Lowy's conclusions resulting from his reading of Marx Weber, go in the same direction. He identified in the work of this sociologist the understanding that there would be “an aversion, or resistance, basic and irreconcilable, to the spirit of capitalism on the part of the Catholic Church”. By contrast, “there would be a “mutual relationship” between Calvinist ethics and capitalism” (LOVY:2000, P.40).

Indeed, Pope Jorge Bergoglio links Christ's teachings to notorious concerns with social equality and the much less orthodox interpretation of the Scriptures, with the consequent appreciation of scientific knowledge. Pedro’s successor made harsh criticisms of capitalism, first as a source of inequality and, second, as an economy that “kills” (STOURTON, 2020). And he went further, saying that “communists think like Christians”, causing outrage in conservative circles. (POPA: 2013).

in your encyclical Laudato Si ' (Praise be to you), Francis stresses that social inequality does not just affect individuals, but entire countries. He questions an economic model in which “a minority thinks it has the right to consume in a proportion that would be impossible to generalize” (2015: p. 50) and where the concern to “save the banks at all costs to the detriment of the needs of the population” predominates. (FRANCISCO: 2015, p, 11).

In his last encyclical – Brothers All (We are all brothers) – the Vicar of Christ reaffirms his condemnation of the “neoliberal dogma” and “financial speculation with easy profit as a fundamental objective”, underlining the procession of “unemployment, racism, poverty and inequality of rights” that it drift. And he concludes: “the right to property will therefore be secondary in relation to the universal destination of created goods” (2020: p. 120).

Francisco goes further, in a pioneering gesture, exalting popular mobilization as an instrument of change. In a speech given on July 9, 2014, in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, he expressed himself as follows: “Popular movements play an essential role, not only demanding and complaining, but fundamentally, creating. You are the social poets, job creators and food producers, especially for those discarded by the global market” (FALA…, 2014).

It is evident that the choice of the Argentine pope expresses a new correlation of forces within the Catholic Church, contributing to the construction, within its scope, of a new hegemony. His election allowed this centuries-old institution to absorb the yearnings for renewal coming from its millions of faithful, conditio sine qua non for its own survival. They are often submerged yearnings, fueled by a kind of dunghill fire, which sometimes finds the strength to come to the surface.

With Francis, the progressive wing of the Catholic Church, inspired by Liberation Theology, gains greater space and recognition, even though the pope is a supporter of a branch of this theology, called Theology of the People, which uses neither Marxist methodology nor its analytical categories. (SCANNONE, 2013). Proof of this judgment is the friendship between the current Pope and the well-known Brazilian theologian, Friar Leonardo Boff. Let us remember that Boff was punished by his predecessor, Benedict XVI, with “obsequious silence”, for a period of one year, during which he was prevented from expressing his ideas, and even from publishing (LYRA: 2018, p. 301 and 302).

Francis honored another exponent of Liberation Theology, theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, by writing him a congratulatory letter on his XNUMXth birthday and inviting him to an audience at the Vatican. Furthermore, the Argentine pontiff has been adopting a tolerant behavior in relation to differences, in contrast to the evangelical majority. Asked if he condemned homosexuality, he replied: "who am I to judge the Gay Boys? (WHO … 2019). More recently, Pope Francis defended the civil union between homosexuals, in order to guarantee the protection of their families. This position scandalized members of the conservative sectors, such as Pope Emeritus Benedict VI, who described it as a manifestation of the “antichrist”.

The political positions of the Brazilian Catholic Church in the “Bolsonaro” era

In this regard, it is worth checking the positions of the Catholic Church in the 2018 presidential elections and those that followed, related to Brazilian politics. In the second round of these elections, the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) lent tacit support to the PT candidate, Fernando Haddad.

Indeed, since the first round, the church had harshly criticized “hate speech” in these elections, without naming its author. In the second round, the Catholic hierarchy guided its faithful to vote for the candidate who defends “more democracy” (CNBB: 2018).

It was necessary to wait 19 months of the Bolsonaro government for the Catholic Church, through a considerable portion of the Episcopate, endowed with undeniable representativeness and respectability, to manifest itself again, in an ardent way and with a radicalism comparable to that of the Pastoral Letter I heard the cries of my people, now on a specific issue: the performance of the Bolsonaro government.

More than 150 archbishops, bishops and emeritus bishops, claiming to be “in deep communion with Pope Francis”, accuse the government of being unethical and of spreading an “anti-scientific discourse”, which “naturalizes the scourge of thousands of deaths by COVID-19, treating it as a result of chance or divine punishment”. The prelates also denounce an “economy that kills, centered on the market and profit at any price” and, from a political point of view, “approaching totalitarianism and using reprehensible expedients, such as the support and stimulus acts against democracy”.

They show that the alternative “should not be understood as a mere sum of personal gestures, in favor of some needy individuals, which are intended only to reassure one's conscience”. The document ends by calling on everyone to “wake up from the sleep that immobilizes us and makes us mere spectators of the reality of thousands of deaths and violence that plague us. The night is advancing and the day is approaching. Let us reject the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (BERGAMO: 2020).

But the CNBB, later on, also spoke out – and firmly, albeit less forcefully – against the Bolsonaro government. She blamed him, with several prominent civil society entities, in a joint live, for the economic, health and political crisis that crosses the country (CENTRAIS..: 2020).

Evangelicals and Catholics: what distances them and what brings them closer?

We try to show that the significant differences in doctrinal conceptions between Catholics and Evangelicals should not lead to the conclusion that the Catholic Church, as a whole, is a bulwark of “progressivism”. Indeed, important sectors, both nationally and internationally, have shown a strong internal influence on the direction of Brazilian Catholicism, as evidenced by the “anti-PT wave” that spread throughout Brazil, involving conservative Catholic groups. They joined the evangelicals, “forming a pool of potential supporters of the campaign for Executive Power of a candidate accustomed to his usual agenda” (CALDEIRA E TONIOL: 2020).

For Marcelo Barros, writer and Benedictine monk, the advanced positions of Pope Francis and a significant part of the hierarchy are, in practice, assumed by a small minority of Catholics.

Barros claims that the bishops who subscribed to the Letter to the People of God pay the price of having in their dioceses a substantial portion of Catholics who dream of a church with characteristics similar to those of the ultra-conservative American order. Knights of Columbus (BARROS, 2020). It is home to almost two million members, whose social concerns are restricted to the practice of philanthropy (WIKIPÉDIA, 2020).

But there are other organizations: Catholic conservatives, also internationally integrated, such as the Charismatic Renewal, which enjoys great autonomy. (MARIZ: 2007), the most notorious being OPUS DEI. Elitist, deals with powerful groups of law, money and politics. According to the famous writer Morris West “There is clear evidence that OPUS DEI members were involved in the repressive activities of the military in Argentina, which helped to hide the evidence of the crimes committed during the dirty war” (1999: p.16).

These “orthodox” Catholic tendencies have in common notorious political affinities with Bolsonaro and great proximity to Pentecostal rituals, performances and aesthetics, as evidenced by the support of charismatic clerics, among the most famous gospel singers in the country, for the retired captain. Be that as it may, even among Catholics, for a passive majority, religion continues to function only as a refuge where those who are content with palliative shelter, invoking an unlikely help from God to alleviate adversity.

Moreover, one cannot deny the reality of convergences and, in certain cases, the identity of positions between Catholics and Evangelicals, in the field of morals and customs. The position of the Catholic Church in the Cairo Conference on Population and Development, in 1994, and in the Conference of the Beijing Conference, in 1995, proves, among other positions, this proximity. The Holy See was one of the protagonists of this debate, making clear its opposition to women's sexual and reproductive rights and strongly reacting to the concept of gender adopted at UN conferences (SOUZA: 2018, p. 5).

Thus, the antagonism between Catholics and Evangelicals is restricted to the vanguard of Catholic militancy, for which social justice and democracy are fundamental guiding parameters of their religious practice, although these principles are also, to some degree, present in most Catholics and are firmly defended by the Pontiff Maximus of the Catholic Church.

Differences between Catholics and Protestants in this regard are manifested, above all, in conceptions about the economy, given the enthusiastic adherence of a significant part of evangelicals to neoliberalism, and in those related to democracy and authoritarianism. But they also differ in the way they treat those who do not pray in their booklet. Evangelical exponents, cultists of religious fundamentalism, such as Pastor Silas Malafaia, tend to offend those with whom they disagree politically, especially those on the left, who are branded as “leftists”.

This type of intolerance, which does not thrive in the Catholic hierarchy, ends up encouraging others, such as those practiced by religious fanatics who tried to invade the hospital where a 10-year-old rape victim was hospitalized in order to undergo an abortion procedure. Screaming, demonstrators accused the doctors responsible for this procedure of “murderers!” (DORINI and MACHADO: 2020).

However, the assessment of the CNBB on the issue, formulated by its President, D. Walmor Azevedo, if not accompanied by a belligerent attitude towards those who disagree with it, has the same and worrying content as the evangelical invectives: “Legal abortion in girl raped in Espírito Santo is a 'heinous crime'. One wonders: how many millions of Brazilians would be, in the judgment of the President of the CNBB, authors of this “crime” and how many millions endorse it?

Therefore, the difference in the treatment of the issue is, above all, one of attitude, as the more tolerant stance of Pope Francis demonstrates exemplarily. He allowed priests to pardon women who had had an abortion, but that did not stop him from considering it infanticide. (O PARDÃO…, 2015).

Fundamentalist fundamentalism, hegemonic in Pentecostal churches, does not limit itself to condemning abortion: it intimidates, disqualifies or threatens those who do not accept its ideas. It also uses the pulpit as a political-party platform (TOSI: 218, p. 412). This “discursive aggressiveness invests in erasing the other, in correcting the behavior of those who are perceived as a danger” (ORTIZ: 2020). This author coined the term “bolçanarismo” to classify Bolsonaro’s behavior, but his criticism perfectly applies to religious fanatics.

Despite the existence of a plurality of positions on the issues addressed in this work, we understand that the observation made, sixty-five years ago, by the brilliant psychoanalyst and social psychologist Erich Fromm, about the alienating role of religion in society, remains current. In his words: “although it is true that this criticism has been made by the high hierarchies of the Catholic Church and that it has also been made by many priests, pastors and rabbis, all churches essentially belong to modern conservative forces and employ the religion to keep man calm and satisfied with a profoundly irreligious regime” (1955: p.163).

Final reflections

We conclude these analyzes with a reflection on the results of a survey that the Pew Research Center just published, published in Piauí magazine. It shows the importance of paying greater attention to knowledge of the relationship between morality and religion, which is essential to understanding its relationship with politics.

Respondents from 34 countries answered the question, “Do you have to be religious to be moral?” According to the survey, eighty-four percent of respondents in Brazil. consider that morality depends on faith. This conception therefore influences the behavior of the vast majority of the Brazilian population, with repercussions that go far beyond intimate matters (CALLIGARIS, 2000).

From the results presented, it can be deduced that every individual who has no religion is perverted. Consequently, due to its intrinsic evil, it lacks the conditions to make suitable choices that can contribute to the “common good”. This understanding is much more deeply rooted among evangelicals, especially Pentecostals, where fundamentalism is omnipresent.

There is, therefore, an imperative need to develop electoral and ideological dispute strategies suited to the struggle for hegemony, in the face of the thought embraced by many millions of people, who believe that religion condition sine qua non of morality. In that ranking, Brazil occupies a worrying 34%, “just behind Nigeria and Kenya, therefore, there are leagues from modernity” (CALLIGARIS, 2020).

It is, therefore, necessary to oppose this archaic conception of morality to modern thought, heir to the Enlightenment, for which moral norms are constructed by the individual himself, not being the result of imposing and external precepts to the individual will.

Their lack of autonomy in the field of religion also compromises their free exercise in other dimensions of social life, especially politics. Therefore, it is necessary to subject religions to political debate – also involving those who are strangers to them – thus submitting it to the careful scrutiny of its antinomies and contradictions, bearing in mind that “many things that should not take refuge in their immunity ends up being out of social scrutiny (MARTINS: 2020).

* Rubens Pinto Lyra Doctor of Laws and Professor Emeritus at UFPB. Author, among others, of La Gauche en France et la Construction Européenne (Paris, LGDJ) and Political Theory and Brazilian Reality(EDUEPB).

 

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