Christians Attacking Pagan Temples — Now It’s Brazil

Pomba Gira, whose divine role in Candomblé is something like Aphrodite’s (Wikipedia).

Reading Galina Krasskova’s blog a few days ago, I was surprised to see the headlines “One can always expect a monotheist to behave according to type,” and “A Candomble priest martyred for Jesus.”[1]Shouldn’t that read, “Martyred by Followers of Jesus”? But the text clarifies it: “Álisson stood fast in devotion to the Orixa and was butchered in the name of Jesus.”

Candomblé is the most West African of the Spiritist religions in Brazil. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Brazil’s sugar plantations brought in more African slaves than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. Because of the size of the plantations and the lax oversight by stretched-thin Catholic clergy, the Brazilian slaves more easily retained their traditions than did those in mostly Protestant North America.[2]Whereas a “big” American tobacco or cotton plantation might have had dozens of slaves, a big Brazilian sugar plantation might well have had hundreds.

Most of us might think of Brazil as a largely Catholic country with other interesting things going on: the vegetalista churches organizes around ayahuasca/hoasca, Candomblé and its more Europeanized cousin Umbanda,  and even a fledgling Wiccan movement. But the growth of evangelical Protestant churches is changing the mix, as this Washington Post story explains:

Candomblé survived centuries of slavery, but the quasi-respectability it has gained in recent decades is now under concentrated attack from radical Evangelical Christians, a growing force in Catholic Brazil, who regard it as the devil’s work and its priests and priestesses as little more than neighborhood witches.

Tactics range from propaganda blitzkriegs launched on blogs and YouTube videos to threats, violence and expulsions from drug gangs. Afro-Brazilian religious leaders and sympathizers are fighting back in court. A low-intensity war is being fought for Brazilian souls. . . .

Last year, Rio prosecutors launched a civil action to require Google to remove videos attacking Afro-Brazilian religions from YouTube. A judge ruled against them, writing that Afro-Brazilian religions could not be considered true religions because they lack a written text, a hierarchical structure and a god.

This article (in Portuguese) explains how worshipers were attacked at one temple and how the priestess was forced to destroy images of the gods at gunpoint. There is video at the link.

This is 2017 Rio de Janeiro, not late 4th-century Alexandria or Antioch. But it’s all the same story. As Krasscova comments, “A monotheist is a monotheist wherever you go.”

In the floating world of the Internet, Afro-Brazilian religion is more popular than ever. I sent the links above to a friend who has lived in Brazil (she has a PhD in Luso-Brazilian literature), who writes on the religion, and who herself is a Pagan Witch.

She replied, “[This is] weird because so many more people here [USA] and elsewhere are getting involved in Candomble, etc. For example, now when I Google Pomba-Gira, there are more than 5,000 sites dedicated to her. In my day, nobody had even heard of her around here.”

Maybe there’s Tumblr Candomblé, and then there is the kind that brings Jesus-loving gangsters to your door.


1 Shouldn’t that read, “Martyred by Followers of Jesus”? But the text clarifies it: “Álisson stood fast in devotion to the Orixa and was butchered in the name of Jesus.”
2 Whereas a “big” American tobacco or cotton plantation might have had dozens of slaves, a big Brazilian sugar plantation might well have had hundreds.

Is Paganism Doomed?

No, this is not the judgment of one of the usual (Pagan) suspects.

It is a tangent spun off a column by Rod Dreher, who comments frequently on ecclesiastical matters. He was raised a southern Protestant, converted to Roman Catholicism, left that church over the sex-abuse scandals, and is now an Orthodox Christian — although he is aware that the Orthodox churches are not scandal-free either.

Although Dreher and I are a little different theologically, I think that he would pass the next-door-neighbor test, especially as he loves to cook and appreciates the cuisine of his native Louisiana. Maybe he would invite me over now and then.

Like many members of the chattering classes, Dreher has been looping back again and again to the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. What does it mean for the future? and all that sort of thing. (Me, I wonder if the prophecy-falsely-attributed-to-St.-Malachy is right, and the next guy will indeed be the last pope. Then we can ask some questions.)

So in the course of musing on the future of Christianity and religion in general, he quotes some Brazilian who says that interest in Brazil’s established Afro-Brazilian traditions is diminishing.

[Quoting the Brazilian:] As I said in other topics, christianity in America and Europe is not the only faith that is hemorraging people: as follower of the so called ‘african paganism’ (macumba), here in Brazil, it’s baffling to see the temples devoid of young people: of the dozens of young man and woman I know only three (including me) are active. In my mother’s generation, almost everyone in Brazil was macumbeiro (follower of the macumba), today temples are closing, the priests are spiritually weak, and one rarely see the offerings to the spirits in the crossroads, beaches and graveyards.

And he decides that paganism [sic] is preferable to atheism, even if it is not the Real Thing.

Personally, I find paganism far more attractive than atheism, because pagans, however mistaken their understanding (from a Christian point of view) nevertheless share with Christians a recognition that there is Something There beyond ourselves, and the material world. I can have (have had) a fruitful, engaging discussion with my friend and commenter Franklin Evans, a pagan, in a way that I just can’t with friends who have no spiritual or religious beliefs, or a sense of the numinous.

My guess, and it’s only that, is that some pagans will fall away from the practice of their faith for the same reason many Christians are: because it doesn’t make sense in our scientistic, materialistic, consumerist world. At the same time, I think that paganism stands to gain overall from the unchristening of the West. If you look at the Asatru site, this neopagan religion speaks to longings that are deep within all of us, and cannot be suppressed forever.

Read the rest, it’s interesting.