Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Pentecostalism in Latin America

AMDG HAS POSTED several articles inspired by Pope Benedict's trip to Brazil, discussing the rapid growth of Pentecostalism in Latin America:
Pope Benedict XVI Is in Brazil...
Brazilians Welcome Pope but Question His Perspective
A glimpse into the future of the Church?
Stats from Magister's article...
Pentecostalism is inspired by the Book of Acts and dates from January 1st, 1901. It emphasizes what are believed to be the Gifts of the Holy Ghost, including speaking in tongues. This is not a separate Protestant denomination, but is a movement within the denominations; in Catholicism it is called the Charismatic Movement. Pentecostal meetings tend to be wildly demonstrative and emotional, and can hardly be more in contrast with the solemnity of the traditional Roman liturgy.

Some claim that Pentecostalism is the plurality religion in the United States, and certainly the large Latin American immigration into this country is more often Pentecostal than Catholic. But this may just be the chickens coming home to roost.

American politicians piously proclaim the Separation of Church and State, but this attitude stops at the nation's borders: in foreign policy, religion is merely one other factor of influence, along with money and military.

I happened across an old copy of Foreign Affairs magazine, dating from the late 1960s. This magazine is still published by the highly influential Council of Foreign Relations, and while it is not quite the official foreign policy magazine of the United States federal government, it still has enormous influence with official thinking in both political parties. This old magazine article was considering the problem of the Liberation Theology movement in the Catholic Church in Latin America. Liberation Theology sees Christ as a subversive revolutionary and is a Marxist debasement of Catholicism; this movement was encouraged and supported by the Communist rivals of the U.S. during that time period. The magazine was prescient: it saw that a military solution was impossible (especially considering the problems then associated with Viet Nam), and that the standard diplomatic policies were unworkable. So what to do? At that time, the question was open, and no obvious solution was available, but clearly, the main problem was with the Catholic Church (although the author was laughably ignorant of Catholicism).

The Church has existed for centuries, and often takes centuries to solve problems. By the time that Liberation Theology was declared a formal heresy in 1984 by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict), the damage was already done, and the American foreign policy establishment had already came up with a solution to the Liberation Theology problem. The Church has little material means for enforcing doctrine, since each bishop is a monarch over his diocese: if a bishop supported Liberation Theology, there was little that the Vatican or anybody else could do about it. This fact was the key to increasing U.S. foreign influence in Latin America. Pentecostal preachers were far cheaper than helicopter gunships, and far more effective, so the U.S. supported a change in religion to counteract the influence of the heretical Catholic bishops.

The Pentecostal movement is not passive, and can be very tough with the State, and so both the U.S. and Communist governments supported the movement. However, since the movement is not denominational, individual preachers can sway their own part of the movement in various ways. So religion became a political free-for-all in Latin America, and was no longer a rock of moral certainty. The emphasis of the movement on emotionalism makes political influence all the more easy, especially if you don't have to answer to Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the Saints, the Liturgy, and the Magisterium.

The chickens have come home to roost as the newly Pentecostal Latin American immigrants flood over our borders. This is a chaotic situation, for the moral theology of the groups vary widely, and the future can hardly be predicted. This situation is being exploited by political operatives on all sides, and so we have Pentecostals who are now followers of the Health and Wealth gospel, while others are highly communitarian, and all are becoming more strongly affiliated with various political factions.

The Gifts of the Holy Ghost are de fide, that is, must be believed by the Catholic faithful. What we see specifically in the Charismatic Movement is certainly open to interpretation, and belief in individual purported contemporary manifestations of Gifts of the Spirit is not required of the faithful. Even the visions of the great mystical Saints are not matters of faith. The subjectivity often seen in the movement, like private interpretation of Scripture, is problematic, and so makes liturgical restoration and good catechesis all the more important.

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