Brazilians are a spiritual and mystic people, whether or not that pleases the secularized intelligentsia, which generally has little or no relationship with the popular and social movements.
The Brazilian people did not pass through the modern school of the purveyors of suspicion, who have tried in vain to de-legitimize religion. To the people, God is not a problem, but the solution to their problems and the ultimate meaning of their living and dying. The people sense God accompanying them in their journey, they celebrate God in their everyday expressions, such as, “My God”, “Thanks be to God”, “God will repay you”, “Go with God”, “God willing” and “May God bless you”. Many are accustomed to ending a telephone conversation by saying, “Be with God”. If the Brazilians did not have God in their lives, they certainly would not have endured so many centuries of social ostracism with so much strength, humor and sense of struggle.
Christianity helped form the Brazilian identity. In Colonial and Imperial times, Christianity arrived with the missions (the institutional Church) and the devotion of the saints (popular Christianity). In modern times, it comes through liberation (Biblical circles, base communities and social pastorals) and the charismatics (gatherings for prayer and healing, great celebration-spectacles of healing through the media). Fundamentally, Colonial and Imperial Christianity educated the higher classes without questioning their goal of dominating and domesticating the popular classes to accept their place on the margins. Therefore, the role of Christianity was extremely ambiguous but always in function of the unequal and unjust status quo. Christianity was rarely prophetic. In the case of slavery, it clearly legitimated an evil order.
Only starting with the 1950s did important sectors of the institution (Bishops, curates, men and women religious and the lay) begin a process of reorienting their social class from the center towards the periphery where the people lived. Talk began of integral human promotion and of a socio-historical liberation whose center is occupied by the oppressed who no longer accept their oppressed condition. Simultaneously poor and religious, they were inspired by their religion to resistance and liberation, towards a society with greater popular participation and more justice. And a new Christianity emerged, prophetic, liberating and committed to the necessary changes.
But the main cultural creation in Brazil is represented by popular Christianity. Left on the margins of the political and religious system, the poor, the Indigenous and the Blacks shaped their spiritual experience by using the code of the popular culture, one that follows the logic of the unconscious and the emotional more than the rational and doctrinaire. This way they developed a rich system of symbols, in the feasts of their important saints, an art form filled with color and music charged with the feelings associated with the noble tristesse. This popular Christianity does not represent the decay of official Christianity, but is a different, popular and synthesizing form of expressing the essence of the Christian message.
The Afro-Brazilian religions, the synthesis of Christian, Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous elements, represent a relevant creation of popular culture. With the exception of some evangelical fundamentalism, the people generally are neither dogmatic nor stubborn in their beliefs. The people are tolerant, because they believe that God is found on every path and that all paths end with God. Therefore the people are multi-confessional and are not ashamed of belonging to several religions. The synthesis is born within the heart of the people, in their profound spirituality. From there the people are weaving a rich religious fabric. Anthropologist Roberto da Matta clearly expresses this: «In the path towards God I can gather many things. I can be a Catholic and umbandista, devout of Ogum and of Saint George. The religious language of our country is, consequently, a language of relation and of re-linking. A language that seeks the middle term, the medium path, the possibility of saving the whole world and of encountering in all places something good and dignified.» (O que faz o brasil Brasil, Rocco, Rio de Janeiro 1984, 117).
Especially important is the contribution of the Afro religions (nago, camdonble, macumba, umbanda and others) that, starting from their own African matrix, elaborated here a rich syncretism. Each human being can be an eventual incorporator of the divinity to benefit the others. Socially denied, politically rejected, religiously persecuted, the Afro-Brazilian religions gave self-esteem back to the Black people, by affirming that the African orixas sent them to these lands to help the needy and to fill with axe (cosmic and sacred energy)the winds of Brazil. Despite being slaves, they fulfilled a transcendental mission of great historical significance.
The Blacks and the Indigenous lent and are lending a mystical mark to the Brazilian soul. The Blacks and Indigenous all know that they are accompanied by important saints, by the orixas, by the Preto Velho (umbanda) and the provident hand of God ,who does not allow everything to be lost and forever frustrated. There is solution to everything and a good way out. This is why there is levity, humor, and a sense of festivity in all the popular demonstrations.
The religious future of Brazil will probably not be its Catholic past. It possibly will be an original, synthesized creation, with a new ecumenical spirituality, that will coexist with the differences (the growing evangelical tradition, the Pentecostals, the kardecismo, the oriental religions) but in unity with the same perception of the Divine and of the Sacred that impregnates the cosmos, human history, and the life of each and every person.
Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro, email@example.com,
done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.