A fascinating article from the UK pits Evangelicals versus Catholics in the battle for Brazil's religious self-identity. Pictures from the story show young, enthusiastic worshipers pouring their hearts out in worship.
This ain't your grandma's Sunday school.
The vibrancy of commitment seen here can be excused as being "Brazilian" - the Latin passion manifesting itself through worship. Except this same style of worship can be seen in the contemporary Evangelical churches in the American mid-west.
It's not an ethnic religion, but a charismatic worship that's being seen here.
Instead, we are seeing continued evidence of the Global South embracing forms of ecstatic Christianity. From the article:
In the past 20 years or so, Brazil, cited as the country with the biggest catholic population in the world, has witnessed a migration from Rome to the booming evangelical churches. According to IBGE (the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), the Catholic population in the country was 91.8% of the total in 1970. But the most recent survey, in 2000, revealed that the number of Catholics had fallen to 73. 8% with the number of evangelicals up from 5.2% to 15.6%.The shift is accompanied by new methodologies of "doing church" similar to things we've seen in the United States. According to the article, "Rock concerts, fighting events and surfer rituals are some of the activities laid on by new churches that are garnering increasing numbers of followers."
But can we explain away this spiritual vitality by approaching it as savvy marketing?
I don't think so.
According to Antonio Flávio Pierucci, professor at the department of sociology of the University of São Paulo and a specialist in the sociology of religion, "the new Pentecostal churches [are good at] media and marketing..." BUT "analysing the statistical data shows that older evangelical churches have grown too."
For Pierucci, "It means that Catholicism is struggling against older Pentecostalism as well as the new varieties."
Pierucci says a key reason for churchgoers' change in allegiance is the development of the religious freedom, a process which began at the end of the 19th century. With the end of the empire and the advent of the republic in Brazil, the Roman Catholic church lost much of its power. And although the article does not explain how this works, Pierucci also states that the military dictatorship (1964-1984) also helped sow the seeds of the evangelical "boom".
We've got to look at the bundle of social changes that stimulate new religious developments. Media push and marketing "tricks" are simply not enough to sustain broad growth in any religious orientation.
And the new wave in Brazil is experiencing it's own challenge in how people understand the new movement. "It is really rare to find a student who is brave enough to say that he is a new Pentecostalist. There is still some prejudice."
"It is not just about class, but about the status of the new Pentecostalism."