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Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is – like Camacho and the others – rooted in these transnational evangelical neo-Pentecostal networks. But this is not an affliction of the fundamentalist versions of Christianity – such as neo-Pentecostalism – alone; there is evidence from around the world of these sorts of authoritarian religious movements that are pickled in hatred and rooted in praise of militaries and capitalism. It is no wonder that the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – who emerges from his own authoritarian religio-political movement – invited Bolsonaro to be the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day Parade on 26 January 2020. There is little that divides Modi’s fascistic Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and his Vishwa Hindu Parishad from the piety movements of Tablighi Jamaat (with its millions of Muslim followers) and these neo-Pentecostal formations.
There is an enormous amount that they share in common.
Our researchers in Buenos Aires (Argentina) and in São Paulo (Brazil) have developed a preliminary theory of these neo-Pentecostal movements in South America. The team in Buenos Aires has published a report (in Spanish) on the Evangelical Question, while the team in São Paulo has produced an as yet unpublished document on the rise of neo-Pentecostalism in Brazil (André Cardoso and Fábio Miranda, ‘Contribuições para entender o crescimento pentecostal e os desafios para o campo popular’).
One of the common features of the findings in Argentina and in Brazil is that these movements are growing at an astronomical rate, doubling in twenty years. In both countries, these movements have jumped into the electoral sphere, where they have begun to define an ‘evangelical vote’. This consolidation of evangelism in politics polarizes sections of the working class and peasantry. The analyses from our two offices are very close to each other, and they both point to at least five features of these movements:
Heart in a Heartless World
Over the course of the past few decades, as social inequality has increased, the purchasing power of the urban and rural poor has declined while the time and money for leisure activities has been reduced. With the cuts in social spending, State-funded community activities have also lessened. This has meant that in the neighborhoods of the poor, commercial and State-funded avenues for social life have vanished. Near Brazil’s favelas, the storefronts are now occupied by a line of neo-Pentecostal churches, by liquor shops, and by a few restaurants. It is these neo-Pentecostal churches that operate as one of the key places for social life in these working-class communities and as an employment agency for its members. As the Church becomes a hub for social life – including music lessons – it attracts young people into its ranks. Few other outlets are available for the working class.
In South America, the feminist movement, particularly the movement for abortion rights, has strengthened. In reaction, these religious currents have consolidated a patriarchal response. They make the argument that the elite is trying to colonize the families of the poor by eroding the authority of the father. These piety movements and their political allies routinely uphold patriarchal attitudes towards women, seeking to retroactively control all aspects of their lives and keep them subdued and submissive.
RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat often says that women should not work, that they should rely upon their husbands. By putting the Father on a pedestal, these movements take their authoritarian ethos of the Strong Leader into the heart of the family.