Religion in Brazil and Argentina

Florianopolis Travel Blog

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JB Boonstra

Hannah Cho

Ryan Martinez

Noberto P.


Like most Latin and South American countries, the people of Brazil and Argentina are predominantly Roman Catholic. This is in accordance with the foundations of both countries. Brazil and Argentina were colonized by European powers that were Roman Catholic. Thus, Portugal and Spain sent Catholic missionaries that spread and converted many people. Although it has been a long time since Roman Catholicism first appeared in South America, the religion’s presence and influence is still dominant in Brazil and Argentina. However there has been an ever-growing population of Protestantism in South America, with an especially large surge in recent years. Denominations such as Universal Church, Pentecostal, and God is Love are expanding everywhere. This remarkable growth in Protestantism is due to many reasons.

            Firstly, globalization plays a huge part. Television, radio, and internet contribute to spreading evangelical messages to Brazil and Argentine. Programs such as the “700 Club” and televised sermons with Billy Graham and other preachers reach all across the world. These charismatic and invigorating leaders have access to people in almost every country through these communication mediums. Also, advances in transportation such as faster, more direct flights make it easier for missionaries to convert people. This demonstrates a huge improvement in communication since the days of colonization for Brazil and Argentina. Protestantism has taken advantage of these improvements while the Catholic Church has been slower to take advantage.

            The Protestant growth is also aided by the general trend of people shifting away from Catholicism due to the institutional conflicts the Church has faced in recent years. The Catholic Church has battled scandals involving such matters as molestation of young boys by the priests. The Catholic Church has also faced criticism for supporting certain controversial governments. In Argentina, the Catholic Church faced much public and international disapproval for supporting the last dictatorship. This dictatorship is the one associated and held responsible for the infamous “Dirty War”.

            In addition, many people convert to Protestantism due to the more liberal canons and standards than the traditional, conservative tenets of Catholicism. For example, the Catholic Church condemns homosexuality which has caused people to convert to the Protestant denominations that accept homosexuals. There are other Protestant practices that are seen as more progressive and liberal such as female preachers, the ability to use contraceptives, and no dietary restrictions.

            Another factor that causes this growth is the socio-economic levels in Brazil and Argentina. Statistically, there are a high number of people who convert from the economical level of low income. These “new believers” also have very low or no education levels. Consequently, as both Brazil and Argentina have a substantial number of citizens that are poor and/or under the poverty line, this facilitates the growth in Protestantism.

            Brazil also has sects of religions that stem from Naturalistic, African roots. These religions such as Umbanda are dominant in regions such as Salvador(Bahia), Recife and Rio de Janeiro. There is a strong presence of African spiritualism as well as Indian/Indigenous rituals. Consequently, many people have converted or started practicing these religions as a symbol of nationalism. Some have seen Catholicism as the religion of the imperial powers and have thus rejected it as a sign of rebellion and independence. Some people have also seen Catholicism as a practice for the rich and elite. Statistics collected in Brazil indicate that the highest number of converts to these Afro religions and/or rituals were during the periods of rebellion and war which are traditionally times when nationalism peaks in countries.

The Protestant churches have a number of strategies they employ that make themselves attractive to everyone. These strategies have found much success with Brazilians and Argentines who convert from Catholicism in particular. One popular reason why people convert is the Protestantism focus on the individual’s relationship with God. The Catholic Church has numerous rituals and ceremonies they require in order to approach God such as baptisms, conformations, mass, confessions, etc. Often these rituals make people feel as though there are obstacles that come in their way of establishing and maintaining a personal relationship with God. Though Protestant churches often have many similar or same rituals, they do not force them on their members as the Catholic Church does. Protestantism is very personal and encourages its followers to practice however they feel closest to God. Catholicism is very focused on works and actions that are mandates. Many people do not believe in this doctrine. Thus, a religious sect such as Protestantism where one is free to worship one’s God as he/she chooses is more appealing to most people than rites and rituals that they’re required to perform.  Another strategy used by Protestant churches is flexibility. While the Catholic Church has lagged in adjusting its policies to match current social policies/trends, Protestantism has been more adept at adjusting. Many things that are forbidden in Catholicism are completely acceptable among many Protestant sects. This has facilitated in an increase in converts because people are drawn to a religion that accepts them for who they are and not one that promotes outdated molds and standards. Equality is another factor that attracts people to Protestantism. This is demonstrated through preachers and other Congregational leaders. Preachers are not seen as having more authority than their congregations, as bishops and popes are in the Catholic Church. Preachers usually project themselves at the same level as members of the Congregation. They highlight their mistakes and shortcomings in order for their congregations to learn from them. Protestant preachers do not have to follow special mandates as Priests do in Catholicism. For example, preachers are not required to stay celibate or abstain from other vices such as drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes. Consequently, many people find it easier to relate to Protestant preachers rather than the upper echelons of the catholic hierarchies who often appear lofty and impersonal.  This aspect speaks especially to the lower classes of Brazil and Argentina. They most likely are drawn to an institution that does not project itself over its followers. Lower classes are drawn to religious sects that give hope to them rather than sects that do not treat them as equals.

            Catholicism continues to lose ground in Latin America.  This is especially problematic for the Church in Brazil because the country has the largest gross number of Catholics in the world. The loss of Catholic sentiments in a country with such an enormous population would come as both a major political and economic blow to the Vatican.  Historically the Catholic Church holds great decision and policy making power in both Argentina and Brazil, but this power is rapidly deteriorating.  Though the Argentine government still gives a large amount of money to the Catholic Church, the bond between church and government is waning. In 1994, there was a constitutional amendment that changed the requirement that the elected president had to be Catholic. Most Argentines agree that the current Kirchner administration has launched an unspoken war against the Catholic Institution. While the Church still holds considerable power in Brazil, this dynamic is being severely threatened by the movement of people away from Catholicism to Protestantism or other institutions.  The Catholic Church is facing hard times presently throughout the modern world, and its problems will only continue to grow while its influence will continue to dwindle if things remain unchanged.

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