Since the mid-20th century, many Protestant and Pentecostal religions have been growing quickly in Latin America. The phenomenon is rooted in strategies for geopolitical influence, mobilized by the United States, in order to influence social movements on our continent and thus neutralize any budding rebellion or subversion among our society’s least privileged. This strategy began during the context of the Cold War: using brand new marketing techniques, these religious groups were able to reach the public via TV programs, marches and public gatherings, as well as by whittling away house after house, to win over new devotees.
The soil was fertile. The Roman Catholic Church, with its unchallenged and undisputed preeminence in Latin American societies and governments, never worried much about defending or broadening its influence, which it considered to be nothing more or less than a cultural fact. Because of its unbothered monarchical attitude, the Catholic Church was undermined, and slowly but surely, members of its fold have been attracted elsewhere, moving to religious groups that better identify and attend to their needs and desires. Conservative Catholicism’s elitist structures were unable to avoid the rise of prosperity theology, whose influence continues to grow, as can be seen as new churches, which offer spiritualities more in-touch with the lower classes, pop up constantly.
Prosperity theology is one of the most egregious tools of neoliberalism, used to convince the population of a relationship between their closeness to God and material comfort. Usually, this “connection” works best for the pastor, and through his success, for the expansion of the church. Such theological ideology also supports the idea that prosperity comes from individual work, and not through the state’s redistribution of the country’s wealth. A further aspect of the ideologies associated with these religions is the negation of all forms of equality: gender, sexual orientation, sexual and reproductive rights, women’s equality and any other form of democratization that might challenge their ultra-conservative doctrines.
This religious movement—mainly, and successfully, a political strategy—now threatens the civil rights of citizens in a majority of Latin American countries, where members of these religious groups have infiltrated the political realm. Their presence is strong, and they have an outsized impact on society as a whole. Two clear examples are the threat to our right to religious liberty as well as to the guarantee of a secular state, both of which are ensured in our constitutional documents. Manipulating faith, a phenomenon helped along by many people’s lack of access to quality education, is one of the most insidious ways to neutralize the nuanced and intelligent participation of a responsible citizenry when it comes to our societies’ most decisive public events.
The thinking that comes out of ultra right-wing groups has always been focused on obtaining maximum benefit from a predatory, unjust and individualistic system. Such thinking has entered public political debate under the guise of religiosity and is influencing electoral processes and labor legislation. Behind these changes is the urge to cut large portions of the populace out of public participation, as well as the desire to consolidate the political and economic status quo that the United States established decades ago in its “backyard.” The show that corrupt, despicable and avaricious businessmen and politicians put on of praying in their offices, so common these days, is among the worst of their crimes.