Carnival: celebrating the joy of living

Brazil is experiencing one of the saddest, if not macabre, phases of her history. The oligarchies’ corruption has been exposed, corruption which has been present throughout our history as a patriarchal (colonial, elitist, anti-popular, and slave holding) state, which by dominating and manipulating public opinion, for centuries has kept the people from being, owning, and knowing. Corruption was not almost exclusively limited to the Labor Party, (PT), as has been claimed in recent years. To the contrary, it always existed. And while it is true that some leading PT members were corrupt, it was scapegoated to mask the massive corruption of the privileged.

A new mantra (“hunt down the schemers”) was peddled by the “mythical one” (Jair Bolsonaro) who was supposed to eliminate corruption. Fifty days in office sufficed to reveal the corruption in his own crowd, even his own family. Many naively believed in the profusion of fake news and slogans with a Nazi slant: “Brazil above everything” (Deutchland über alles) and “God above everyone.” Which God? The God of the neo-Pentecostals, who promote material prosperity but are deaf to the nefarious social injustice that bestows lots of money on their Pastors, true wolves who shear their sheep? It is not the God of Jesus of Nazareth, the poor man and friend of the poor, of whom Fernando Pessoa said that “He did not understand anything about accounting and there is no record that He had a library”. He was a poor man who wandered everywhere, announcing, as the Gospels put it, “great joy for all the people”.

This is the sinister environment in which Carnival is celebrated. It could not be otherwise, because Carnival is one of the most important events in the lives of millions of Brazilians. The festivities help them forget the deceptions, and give room to much suppressed anger, (like of the thousands who screamed obscenities in São Paulo: “B…. go get f…d”). The festival temporarily suspends the terrible daily life and tedious passage of time. It is as if, for a moment, we are all participating in eternity, because during the festivities the passage of time seems suspended. Excess is inherent in the festival, as is the breaking of conventional norms and social formalities. Logically, everything that is healthy can become infirm, like the orgiastic character of some aspects of the Carnival. But that is not characteristic of the Carnival.

The festival is a phenomenon of richness. Richness here does not mean having money. The richness of the festival is that of cordial reason, of joy, of realizing the dream of boundless fraternity, people of the favelas with people of the organized city, all disguised: children, youth, adults, men and women and the elderly, dancing, singing, eating and drinking together. The festival is a manifestation of the fact that we can be happy and joyful, even if we are living collective hardships.

Thinking of it, the joy of Carnival is an expression of a love that is more than empathy. The one who loves nothing or no one, cannot be joyful, even if in his anguish he yearns for that. Saint John Chrysostom, a theologian of the Orthodox Church, of the V Century of the Christian era, (of whom Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns was a great enthusiast and devout reader) expressed it well: “ubi caritas gaudet, ibi est festivitas”: “Where love is joyful, there is the festival”.

And now some reflection: the theme of the festival appears as a phenomenon that has defied great thinkers, such as R. Caillois, J. Pieper, H. Cox, J. Moltmann and the very F. Nietzsche himself. It happens that the festival evokes what is still childish and mythic in us, even given our maturity, and the primacy of the cold instrumental-analytic reason that rules our society.

The festival reconciles everything and brings out nostalgia for the paradise of delights that was never totally lost. With reason Plato would say: “the gods made the festivals so that we could breathe a little.” The festival is not just a day made by men but also “a day the Lord has made”, as Psalm 117.24 says. In effect, if life is a difficult path, we need the festival some times to catch our breaths, and once renewed, to forge ahead with joy in our hearts.

Whence springs the joy of the festival? Nietszche formulated it best: “to find joy in one thing, all things must be welcomed.” Consequently, to be able to truly celebrate festival, we must affirm the positive nature of all things. “If we can say yes to a single moment then we have said yes not only to ourselves but to the totality of existence” (Der Wille zur Macht, book IV: Zucht und Züchtigung n.102).

This yes underlies our daily decisions, at work, in our concern for our families and for the jobs threatened by the new regressive laws of the current government, and the time spent with friends and colleagues. Festival is a powerful time, when the secret meaning of life is experienced, even unconsciously. We emerge stronger from the festival, stronger to face the demands of life, which is largely filled with struggle and great difficulties.

We have good reason to celebrate during this Carnival of 2019. Let’s forget for a moment the unpleasantness of a government still lacking direction, with ministers who embarrass us and politicians who attend more to the groups who funded them than the true interests of the people. In spite of all that sadness, joy must prevail.

Leonardo Boff Eco-Theologian-Philosopher,Earthcharter Commission

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,

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