Monday, 29 October 2018

The Brazilian election is a victory for Pentecostalism against liberation theology

Jair Bolsonaro, who was almost murdered by a Communist during the campaign, has been elected president of Brazil. Some think the election is bad for democracy but how can democratic elections be undemocratic? When they are won by social conservatives.

In this case the left, approved of in the foreign press, was deeply corrupt and presided over horrifying violence and disorder (under democracy, there have been an average of 31 homicides per 100,000 individuals instead of 3 per 100,000 under the last junta). While the Government paid huge sums in social payments, the National Museum burnt down because it did not have adequate fire extinguishers. 

To read the press, you would think Senor Bolsonaro is Hitler. In fact, he sounds very like a Brazilian version of Donald Trump, though I do not like his remark that the mistake of the military dictatorship in power in the 1970s was to torture not to kill its opponents. 

On reflection, he sounds more like J.- M. Le Pen.

The financial journalists tell a very different story from their colleagues who cover politics. Brazil’s next president has promised to reduce the deficit and the size of government and his impending victory made the stock exchange jump by more than 50% in value. The left-wing Workers’ Party have created the worst recession in a century.

The left gets a lot of support from indigenous people and the descendants of slaves, the right from the white middle classes, but most whites are not well-off and race does not explain Brazilian politics. Bolsonaro attracted a lot of votes from the poor, from mixed race voters (30 percent of them preferred Bolsonaro, compared to 23 percent for Haddad) and black voters (18 percent against 23 percent). Whites were two-thirds of the population in the late 1940s and are now 48% - but I do not know what political significance, if any, this has. Religion, on the other hand, is significant.

Belloc said that every major question in history is a religious question and so is the Brazilian election, even more than  it is about economics

Jair Bolsonaro's victory is a victory for Pentecostalism against liberation theology and the sort of left-wing Catholicism that the Argentinian Pope Francis embodies. As Catholicism moved far to the left in South America from the 1960s onwards, South American Catholics converted to Protestantism and in most cases Pentecostalism. Protestants were 5% of the population and are now 30%.

Senor Bolsonaro is very religious man and a lapsed Catholic who attends a Pentecostalist church. He thinks homosexual acts are sins, but even though Catholics think so too I am not sure whether this makes Pope Francis happy. The President-elect is typically Pentacostalist in being a free market man, and this will surely make the Pope, who does not like capitalism very much, unhappy.

In a speech, Senor Bolsonaro said having a daughter, his fifth child after four boys, was a “weakness.” People in the room laughed but this joke did not go down at all well with the foreign press the next day.

In 2003, he told a congresswoman: “I would never rape you because you do not deserve it.” He repeated the comment in 2014 in the chamber and as a result was indicted for attempted rape, which seems odd.

Brazil’s public prosecutor also charged Senor Bolsonaro with inciting discrimination against black people, indigenous people, women and gays in public comments he has made, including “If I see two men kissing in the street, I will hit them”.

Speaking about descendants of escaped slaves, who receive payments from the state as recompense, Bolsonaro said: “They do nothing! I don’t think they even serve for reproduction.”

He has also said: “China is taking over Brazil and that is worrying". Even though I know little about Brazil, this sounds very plausible.


  1. Paul, Rodney Stark, currently of Baylor University in Texas, stated in a Youtube video of a lecture on the growth of Pentecostalism in Latin America that the Catholic church in Latin America was dominated by imported clergy for centuries, and only with the reform of the church via the Charismatic Renewal, as a response to Pentecostals' growth, did the Catholic Church become a church of the people of Latin America (indigenous, criollos, recent immigrants from elsewhere). Major point was that the Charismatic Renewal and not liberation Theology was re-evangelizing Catholics in Latin America and had saved the Church from passing into obscurity there by 2050. Stark is worth reading. It will be fascinating to see if the the mediating institutions of Brazil serve to intensify or impede Bolsonaro's intentions.

  2. Just reporting a typo in the seventh paragraph.

    "Jair Bolsonaro's victory is a victory for Pentecostalism against liberation theology and the sort of left-wing Catholicism that the Argentinian Pope Francis embodies. As Catholicism moved far to the left in South Africa from the 1960s onwards,"