Thursday, 21 April 2011

Was Jesus Christ a Trotskyist, a Maoist or a Chavista? A banana republic discusses

Had they been Venezuelans, they may have voted for Chávez

There is a bizarre discussion right now in Venezuela, as usual.

Venezuelans tend to be religious or, at least, superstitious. They do not usually go for religious extremism, but they are more religious than, say, the Belgians or the Argentines.

They don't like much the celibacy part of catholicism, so they used to import nuns from Colombia and priests from Spain. Now that last part is rather difficult as Spain is short of religious people, specially those who have to live in celibacy.  Still: churches are still much more visited than anywhere in Western Europe.

Theoretically, all religious groups claim to be outside politics. Reality is a bit different. 

In the last decades US American groups have penetrated a lot particularly in middle-class to low class areas. They have gone to the native American areas, specially with the New Tribes, until those New Tribes were expelled by Chávez a couple of years ago.  All kind of churches have found their way in Venezuela. Most of those groups behave very independently. In general we can say: pentecostals and other groups that go very much into the emotional ("speaking in tongues", getting in trance, etc) tend to be pro-Chávez. Baptists tend to be anti-Chávez or at least rather critical of his government. This is, of course, a generalization. There are a myriad of churches and most depend on what their leaders say.

The Catholic church has been critical of Chávez. It has also played a big role in social programmes in Venezuela, so that Chávez sees it as some form of competition. Although I am not a Catholic myself, I have to own up the Catholic church in Venezuela has been more down to earth in Venezuela than in many places I have been to. They still have been very reticent about birth control, which is a real shame seeing how things are in Venezuela. They are usually conservative and yet they have been less conservative than in other places. And they have played a vital role in some of the few programmes for helping drug abusers, prostitutes and other groups.

I remember once as a student I was looking for a church in Caracas. I was just looking for any church, just to see. My take in religion is rather non-conservative. I grew up with books about evolution and discussions at the table about archaeology and religion, history and evolution of religious beliefs, the importance of analytical thinking and questioning everything.

I got into a church and it turned out to be a Pentecostal one. I sat and listened. Suddendly, the priest told people to pray for what they wanted most. They all started to pray loud, each one with his or her own message. And there was this girl next to me who started to thank God very loudly for bringing her someone like me. Suffice it to say I got up right away and vanished as soon as I could. These are the groups that are the closest to Chávez.

Anyway: Pentecostals tend to approach the poorest and the most superstitious, whereas the Baptists are more diverse. Professionals tend to go for Baptists or other groups or simply keep up with Catholicism. Baptists tend to be rather very pro-US, whatever it is.

It's amazing how superstition can play a role in politics. In my own family I had a couple of pro-Chavez aunts and cousins (there is still one). We had a very similar background. One of the few differences between them and the rest of us was - curiously- that those who would turn -at least for some years- into Chavistas also believed in the "mal de ojo", in the Evil Eye. The only one who was also pro-Chavez and did not believe in the Evil Eye was a formerly Marxist uncle who was a resolute atheist and was very adamant about rejecting anything to do with religion.

So it seems to me people going for the absolute extremes tend to have an issue. 

Now let's go to what is happening now. Chávez is a very superstitious man and he also knows showing some form of religiosity pays. He has often said Jesus Christ was a socialist.

The Catholic bishop Urosa was pissed off with this and he said just a few days ago that Jesus was not a socialist. And of course, the national TV channel, which - unlike Globovisión- can be watched by 100% of Venezuelans- showed an evangelical priest saying Jesus was a socialist and a revolutionary. If you speak Spanish, just read what the pro-Chavez priest says.

We all know what -according to the Bible- Jesus said about "blessed the poor". Still, this whole discussion is not about religion at all. It is about Chávez and his regime: whether he and his boliburguesía are the representatives of the poor and of Venezuelans in general. Expect that pro-Chavez priest to get some more dosh for his social programmes. Expect the Catholic church to get less.

Ps. journalist Setty sends me a link from the official National Assembly site -mind: not the PSUV, but the theoretically pluralistic National Assembly site-. It is about how "the revolution resurrected on the third day...talking about the "revolution".


  1. This is a great blog, Kepler. I'm sorry I haven't visited it before...

    The post on the Church was very relevant. I'm currently researching on the Church-Governmet relations under the Chavez era, to see if data supports the contention that the Church has lost some clout and social influence over these few years.

    I must say, however, that not all of the Protestants, especially not all Pentecostals, are Chavez' supporters. The rise of the revolution split the leadership of the council of christian churches, and there are many pro-market, anti-State leaders within the evangelicals and other splinter groups.

    For instance, this very publicised and fast-growing church, "Pare de Sufrir" used to handle newspapers around its temples... They wer filled with pro-entrepeneurial messages, and assertions that God supported prosperity and hard work.

    My main research gos for the Catholic Church, but I will deal with the protestants in years to come.

    Great blog.

  2. Thanks for your visit, Guillermo. Always welcome.
    I know, not all Protestants are pro-Chávez. In fact, my impression and that of some friends (who are protestant themselves) is that
    grosso modo
    * Pentecostals tend to be pro-Chávez
    * Baptists tend to be against Chávez.
    But as I said, that's just a tendency. You will find more Baptists tend to be better educated than Pentecostals.
    All in all, there is anything in any group. All those churches are very independent.


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