Studying voodoo isn't a judgment

The USA Today:

*Studying voodoo isn't a judgment *

Did you hear about the Protestant minister who said that Haiti "has been in bondage to the devil for four generations"? No, it wasn't Pat Robertson but Chavannes Jeune, a popular Evangelical pastor in Haiti who has long crusaded to cleanse his nation of what he believes is an ancestral voodoo curse. It turns out that more than a few Haitians agree with Jeune and Robertson that their nation's crushing problems are caused by, yes, voodoo.

I know this not because I read it in a newspaper or saw it on TV, but because of a blog. University of Tennessee-Knoxville cultural anthropologist Bertin M. Louis Jr., an expert on Haitian Protestantism, posted an essay exploring this viewpoint on The Immanent Frame, a social scientist group blog devoted to religion, secularism and the public sphere.

Elsewhere on The Immanent Frame, there's a fascinating piece by Wesleyan University religion professor Elizabeth McAlister touching on how the voodoo worldview affects Haiti's cultural and political economy. She writes that the widespread belief that events happen because of secret pacts with gods and spirits perpetuates "the idea that real, causal power operates in a hidden realm, and that invisible powers explain material conditions and events." Though McAlister is largely sympathetic to voodoo practitioners, she acknowledges that any effective attempt to relieve and rebuild Haiti will contend with that social reality.

Interesting idea -- I think the author is right that the press is reluctant to criticise "indigenous religions" perhaps for fear of seeming racist.

I do think there are interesting allegories one can draw upon for such a discussion, while I also think that the knee-jerk reactionism of folks like Robertson is dangerously inept.

In the human person, we have a spiritual contest between good and evil-- the old Adam, and the New Man in Christ, born from above by water and spirit. Luther likened this to the maxim simil iustus et peccator, at the same time sinner and saint, pointing to the reality that the Christian person in particular is caught in a struggle against sin, death, and the devil, while at the same time living in the grace of Christ by faith. However, in each individual person, this battle rages differently, and the infestation of sin can be of greater or lesser degree.

I think the idea can be applied to cultures, at least to some extent. A culture is an aggregate of individuals, who each struggle with their existential problem of sin. Each person is infested with it to some degree, and each person contributes to the whole of society. Witchcraft, or in this case Voodoo, is inherently evil. There are many practitioners of this evil in Haiti... and so, we can say that Haiti as a community has a problem with the evil of Voodoo. What the extent of that infestation is, I think is hard to quantify, first because a society is difficult to gage in terms of its totality, and secondly because each individual is difficult to disect in terms of personal motives or convictions.

All that just to say, I think Haiti might have a legitimate problem, being infested with the evil of Voodoo, to an extent that causes dire harm to the people individually and collectively. Americans also have particularly ugly infestations of evil, too. Where I think the Church can speak to both cultures and individuals, is as she calls the world to faith and repentance-- each person before God, and each culture collectivelly. Fundamentally, the conversion of a nation or culture is a work done at the individual level, as each person begins upon the path either of righteousness in Christ, or of evil in the world.

I wonder, though, if we can speak of a cultural infestation of evil based upon the number of people who are themselves infested to a particular degree with that same evil. I'm not sure we even have tools to deduce such things reliably, though I do know we have the power of the Word and Sacraments to confront each person as a sinner in need of repentance and grace. If the Church as a community of individuals, reaches out with her gifts for the conversion of individual souls, it would seem that the cultures within which those individuals reside, would experience conversion as well.

[quote="didymus, post:1, topic:191012"]
The USA Today:

Interesting idea -- I think the author is right that the press is reluctant to criticise "indigenous religions" perhaps for fear of seeming racist.


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