Catholics and Protestants in Brazil


The loyal Catholics are also far more likely to believe in good luck charms, fortune-tellers, faith-healers and astrology than are converts to Protestantism. While official Catholicism rejects these beliefs as superstitious, they are a risk inherent in the Catholic imagination, which sees God as present in the objects, events and persons of his creation. Perhaps those who became Protestant rejected not only patent superstition but also images and stories of God that might be conducive to it. Or the rejection may have come after conversion, as the new Protestants learned to dislike the overlay of syncretism in Brazilian Catholicism. Perhaps they did not like the New Year’s Eve ceremonies, the Bonfim (feast of the happy death) or Carnival before their conversion, or perhaps conversion developed latent dislike for such apparently pagan ceremonies.

The converts are also more likely to believe that God cares for humans as individual persons (76 percent versus 69 percent) and that God makes life meaningful (87 percent versus 74 percent). Once more the Brazilian scores on these items are the highest of any country I.S.S.P. has studied.

Brazil, then, is a country where the Catholic imagination and its unfortunate links to superstition and syncretism are very strong. The converts to Protestantism tend to reject these elements of Catholicism either as a cause or a consequence (or a possible combination) of their conversion. In their intense and devout fundamentalist Protestantism, there is no room for such images and metaphors.

Very interesting!


no source or no link for the allegation
also very interesting


Syncretism with regards to Latin American Christianity is really not so uncommon. The classic example is Dia de los Muertos. It is rooted in the Catholic All Souls day but has numerous elements of native culture blended in with it, such as ancestor worship and traditional dance and food.

I was visiting the Amazon rainforest once and a biologist who worked at a research station there told me about a time he helped a local native woman bury her husband who’d been killed by a collapsed roof. It was a Christian burial, with a cross at the head and everything. But as they buried him his wife talked about how the collapsed roof that killed him was caused by a vengeful spirit.


As a Latin American historian by profession, I’d say that there is a lot of truth to this. Syncretism is certainly very common in Latin America, as witnessed by the many syncretic religions that emerged from slave culture, such as Voudun (Voodoo), Santeria, and Candombole. These religions took elements of African tribal religions, and mixed it with elements of Christianity, to form something completely new that wasn’t African or Christian anymore. The main difference between the three would be the region of Africa that the tribal religion portion was taken from, since African tribal religions varied substantially between tribes as well.

Further, not all syncretism resulted in formal splits from Christianity. You will still find Maya Indians who will go to church on Sunday, and then go perform a sacred Maya corn ritual to pray for rain during a drought. Syncretism is probably more powerful in South America, however, since the Aztecs adapted somewhat easier to Christianity partly due to a better caliber of priests during the inital contact. Also, as a culture that sacrificed victims ritually, they could understand the logic of a final, supreme sacrifice in Jesus. Their worldview was a better fit for Christianity than say, the Inca, which had more problems adapting (and many still practice ONLY tribal belief).


From the same article:

Brazil is a large and profoundly Catholic country, in which the Catholic imagination is very strong, as is syncretism and superstition. Those Catholics who convert to fundamentalist Protestantism are more devout, more moral, less anticlerical and more Protestant in their imaginations than those who remain Catholic. One might speculate that their conversion is a massive reaction against the syncretism and superstition that seems (to them) to permeate Brazilian Catholicism in favor of a more stern and sober version of Christianity, with intense levels of superstition-free devotion. One wonders how many of the Brazilian Baptists and Evangelicals and members of the Assembly of God participate in Carnival. Claims that Protestantism is sweeping Brazil are not sustained by the data. Nonetheless Protestantism is making some progress, a growth that is threatened by the inability to hold two-fifths of the children of converts. The data from our research provide a benchmark for further studies. We hesitate to draw any policy conclusion for Catholicism in Brazil, except that to some extent it would seem that the swing to evangelical religion may represent a strong critique of Catholic syncretism. More research must be done if the church is to respond intelligently and pastorally to the situation in Latin America, but there is little reason to expect that Brazil will abandon its unique and vibrant form of Catholicism.

It seems that Brazilians with a “Protestant-psychology” (God as totally transcending the world; non-sacramental view of nature) simply now have the choice to actually convert to Protestantism (whereas before, in the 19th century, they would have simply remained Catholic). Alternatively, it is possible that conversion to a Protestant church produces a corresponding “Protestant-psychology”.


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