In Brazil, the Evangelical religion of American origin and inspiration continues to grow in numbers, meanwhile there are fewer and fewer Catholics. And Washington takes notes.
L’hegemony it is a concept that has long been dormant in our public debate. Russian crawlers in the Donbass, however, and Chinese eyes set on Taiwan’s shores are bringing it back. It comes from the Greek heghemonìa, “primacy”, and originally meant the political and military prominence of a city-state within a league or alliance. Today, declining it in the macrosphere of geopolitics, indicates the ability of a country to influence and direct the policies of its neighbours continental. In the most extreme cases, the entire planet. There is currently a single global hegemon, the United States, but other players are moving to carve out their own regional space: China, Iran, Turkey, perhaps more discreetly France. These actors today move their policies towards neighboring countries in a more or less unrealistic way. Often, but not always, lacking important structural elements able to allow a real influence on the Other.
Storytelling as a means of influence
When we speak of structural elements we are not referring only to demographic, economic and military capabilities. Let’s talk about something more atavistic, let’s talk about one storytelling. In absence of a narrative that justifies aggression towards the Other, any attempt at hegemony can only fall on deaf ears. An example of this is the current trend of the invasion of Ukraine: Russia started the war believing that the narrative relating to pan-Slavism and resistance to the moral decadence of the West could find ears ready to listen across the border. In reality, this type of dialectic has instead been evaluated as anachronistic by the Ukrainian population, with the result that the long-awaited implosion of the state in Moscow has not, at least as I write, manifested itself. In its place, the Kremlin met fierce resistance.
The narration of oneself, the main foundation of the attitude towards the inside and outside of any imperial subject, also and above all translates into the export of values. When a country manages to deposit its values, we could say “spiritual”, in a neighbour, then we can speak of hegemony over it. Today the United States is the sole hegemon in the world. Their narration, however, addressing many and very different global realities, takes on different aspects from time to time: the pursuit of well-being, in Western Europe; security against the Chinese giant in the Far East. There is a corner of the planet, however, for which the export of values is increasingly assuming the characteristics of ecumenism, South America.
The Brazil case
The country count approx 215 million inhabitants, more than half of all of South Americaand it is there major economic and military force of the area. It borders all South American countries, except only Chile and Ecuador. The size of the country would in fact make it the natural hegemon of the region, but this does not happen. Because?
Absence of a narrativefirst of all: Brazil lives a deep intestinal fracture, the assault on the parliament on January 9 proves it. Unable to construct a narrative that unites his own population, or at least the majority of it, he finds himself completely unprepared to create one with export potential.
The second reason that determines his impossibility as patron of South America is more complex and has its roots in the history of the country: summing it up, we can say that brazil has no grudge against the current hegemon, the usa, nor will to undermine its role. Indeed, Brazilians look up to the United States with great admirationan attitude that is not found in any other hegemonic candidate in the world. Not only because American culture, represented by films, music, cultural activities, has always been very present in the country. Not even for the constant presence of US citizenship itself, which makes the Brazilian coastal cities one of its favorite tourist destinations.
Brazil maintains a unique bond with the States because it has been the only world seat of massive American emigration. At the end of the civil war many landowners and simple citizens of the southern states emigrated, fled, to Brazil. They brought with them their own cultural background and traditions, then inherited by subsequent generations and still present in a slice of the country’s population. American emigrants brought the Evangelical religion with them.
The narrative of the Evangelical religion
It is very difficult to outline the identikit of the Evangelical religion, simply because it is not a question of a specific institution, but of one constellation of different creeds. Protestants, Pentecostals, neo-Pentecostals are part of it, but new Churches are born not too rarely. Their origin is Anglo-Saxon and dates back to at least the 16th century. Developed in northern Europe, from England they reach North America. Here, free from persecution, they have the opportunity to develop in dozens of variations and they are very present and rooted today at all levels of the American nationfrom the small town of Alabama to the halls of power in Washington.
They have strongly influenced the mentality of the populations that have welcomed them in the direction of one greater personal responsibilityaccording to many historians even coming to be considered forerunners of liberal thought which, not surprisingly, still finds its main prophets in the United States today. The Evangelical Churches therefore maintain a certain diversity from each other but there are many elements in common which, for now, make the Evangelicals an almost unitary community.
Religion in Brazil
Brazil is the first Catholic nation in the world with about 140 million citizens who define themselves as faithful to the Church of Rome. However at least 30% of the population (more than 65 million individuals) recognizes themselves in the Evangelical religion; in 2000 they were barely 15%. According to theBrazilian Institute of Statistical Geography, Catholicism will come to represent only 40% of the population in 2032. This will be the year in which it is expected that Evangelical churches will become predominant in the country.
The changes in the religious demographics of Brazil can already be seen in its current political situation. In 2018 Bolsonaro promoted a relentless electoral campaign against issues such as abortion, bioethics and lgbtq rights. Thus she was able to count on the 70% of evangelical votes, ensuring victory in the elections. The lesson has been learned by the opposition party, but little has been done. The candidate and former president Lula has repeatedly appeared at meetings of the faithful and evangelical offices during the 2022 election campaign. However, the evangelical vote still rewarded Bolsonaro. Although this was not enough for him to win the election, he outlines theattitude of growing attention that even the country’s elite pays to the phenomenon.
The main reason that drives the growth of Evangelical Churches is also the common element that brings them closer to each other. This is the narration, which can be summarized in the concept of prosperity theology. The periods of economic crisis experienced by the country have made one blossom more individualistic mentality. Mentality that finds the fulfillment of personal effort in material and earthly success. This mentality has become widespread in the suburbs and among the most fragile classeswhich quickly became the main crop for the new creed.
A new narrative?
The Evangelical religion is a creed from strong Anglo-Saxon value which for the first time seems to take root also in those segments of the population which, due to history and culture, would actually represent the Latin identity. The direct corollary of this spiritual metamorphosis of the country is clear: an even closer proximity to the United States, seen today by many Brazilians not only as an economic model but also as a religious seat to turn to.
This situation could make Brazil the laboratory to experiment with a new type of storytelling, to date never adopted by the United States, that of the Evangelical religion. For the moment, in fact, evangelical ecumenism only helps to keep in the American orbit the only country which, if it resolves its internal shortcomings, could in the medium term have the capacity to question its role in the region. In the future, however, Washington’s attention to the phenomenon could increase and with it the will to direct it to other areas of the planet.
Rome’s reaction to the Evangelical religion
There is obviously another subject who looks very closely at the development of the Evangelical religion in Latin America. A subject that cannot properly be defined as hegemonic in the sense used up to now, but which certainly is capable of exerting its influence over a large part of the world and that he has some experience dealing with empires. There Roman Catholic Church she is aware of the decimation of the faithful in what was her main source of souls until the 1970s. To date it seems that her politics are moving in the direction of a recovery of those areas of the planet that are slipping from its hands.
The election of Pope Francis, the pontiff coming from the end of the world, can be understood as the starting point of this reaction of the Church of Rome. The Church does not seem to have any intention of losing the peripheries of the world and it is very probable, given the large number of cardinals appointed by Francis (who tend to belong to the same Third World current as himself), that the next pontificate will also pursue this lineputting the recovery of the southern hemisphere at the center of its agenda.
The near future may then show us a further rift within Brazilian society, which could add the religious question to the already numerous internal crises that the country sees flaring up day by day. Washington and the Holy See observe.