If Oliver Stone bothered to go outside his Caracas hotel room into some of the small nearby businesses, he might meet the middle class folks who demonstrated many time en mass against Chavez’ attempt to become dicator.But if Stone went around the corner, he would find the lower middle class neighborhoods are dotted with small Pentecostal and Bible churches. And attending them would be the “people” he thinks he needs to save, who now are  learning how to save themselves, both spiritually and economically by attending small Pentecostal churches or Catholic charismatic renewal meetings.
One rarely reported story that may have drastic implications in the long run is that much of the third world is becoming Christian: And not just Christian, but Pentecostal.

Just like pundits bloviating on Pakistan being taken over by the Taliban ignored the Sindh and Punjabi educated middle class in Pakistan, so too those discussing Latin America need to recognize that there is a growing middle class that sees running a business for profit is not a sin of avarice but a deed blessed by Jesus, with whom they have a personal relationship.
An excellent series about this change can be found in a series of articles published last December in the Christian Science Monitor.

The Catholic answer, in the 1960s, came in the form of “liberation theology,” a Marxist-tinged approach to addressing the needs of the oppressed. It had enthusiastic supporters across Latin America, but soon got wrapped up in cold war politics. Religious scholars often quip: “Liberation theology opted for the poor, and the poor opted for Pentecostalism.”

This trend now includes not only small independent churches, but renewal groups in the Catholic churches such as the large El Shaddai Fellowship here in the Philippines, all of which are grass roots organizations. Even though they often were started by outsiders and connected with larger churches, it is the small local fellowships that are the key to their success.
For those displaced from the family villages by war, disaster, or economic poverty, these church groups replaced the family as sources of friendship and support, and the cheerful services replaced the family fiesta like masses of their villages and run by pastors from the lower middle class. (often Catholic churches in cities are large, impersonal, and run by upper class priests who are highly educated).

In addition, many of these churches stress a “prosperity Gospel”, a variation of Calvinism that has a bad name in the US, but does empower poor people with the idea that God blesses prosperity and hard work. Instead of telling people: God loves the poor and suffering, so grin and bear it, the churches help people to learn how to better one’s own life and the lives of their family members with practical advice (including support for the truly needy).
Finally, the idea of a personal and positive emotional relationship to Jesus is a powerful way to give meaning to lives in turmoil. Many who turn to drugs to numb their loneliness and frustration– or who in the past would have joined revolutionary movements– now will find a powerful outlet to renew their lives, based on the Bible.
(The Bible stories of morality and holiness make a lot more sense to third world Christians, who see the similarity of those times to their own lives than, say, the elite of New York or London.)

What does this mean in the long run?

An ethical way to implement the capitalistic style of economy in those areas.

The Asian Tiger nations used the Confucian work ethic as a philosophical way to promote business. In Latin America, both the liberation theology and the feudal/traditional church branches of the Catholic church were blind to these ideas, but with Centesimus Annus  the church is now open to the idea that capitalism might be good and one can be holy while running a profitable business.
But more important are the grass roots changes:  a renewed Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, that stresses hard work, personal honesty, and that promote practical ways to actually make a living in business.
Professor Phillip Jenkins has a book where he predicts this explosion of world wide Christianity that will be Pentecostal rather than Aristotilean; some worry correctly that such trends might lose the underpinning of Greek logic that made Christianity so open to the modern world.

Yet who is to say that a Christianity that survived the Thomasian/Aristotle rewriting of theology of the 1100’s  that allowed science, and the Calvinistic reforms that allowed the modern world’s economic system could very well evolve into a vibrant mystical yet practical Christianity of this bible based renewal?


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket and she writes about ethics/religion at Boinkie’s blog

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