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‘God Even Blessed Me with Less Money’: Disappointment, Pentecostalism and the Middle Classes in Brazil

Abstract
Abstract

Through shedding light on traditional Pentecostalism in Brazil this article reveals how middle-class people in São Paulo, Brazil, manage disappointment relating to current socio-economic conditions. Ethnographic research on Brazil's oldest Pentecostal church, which preserves an anachronistic style of practice, shows how people embrace a marginal identity and thereby critique social conditions in the country. In stark contrast to newer forms of Pentecostalism, people featured in this paper respond to an ‘anti-prosperity gospel’, in which failures and setbacks are construed as signs of spiritual purity and development. In a country where a ‘new middle class’ is supposedly finding prosperity, this study shows a religiously-oriented way in which people confront the disappointing gap between the promises of neoliberalism and the realities of jobless growth.

Spanish abstract

Al analizar el pentecostalismo tradicional en Brasil, este artículo revela cómo personas de la clase media en São Paulo, Brasil, manejan sus frustraciones relacionadas a las actuales condiciones socioeconómicas. La investigación etnográfica sobre la iglesia pentecostal más antigua de Brasil, cuya práctica preserva un estilo anacrónico, muestra cómo la gente adopta una identidad marginal y por lo tanto critica las condiciones sociales del país. Con un marcado contraste con formas más nuevas de pentecostalismo, las personas analizadas acá responden a un ‘credo de la anti-prosperidad’, en el cual las fallas y los fracasos se construyen como signos de pureza y desarrollo espirituales. En un país donde una ‘nueva clase media’ supuestamente está encontrando prosperidad, este estudio muestra formas de ser orientadas religiosamente en la que la gente confronta la frustrante distancia entre las promesas del neoliberalismo y las realidades del crecimiento sin empleo.

Portuguese abstract

Ao analisar o pentecostalismo tradicional no Brasil, este artigo revela como a classe média de São Paulo, Brasil, lida com a decepção relacionada à situação socioeconômica atual. A pesquisa etnográfica na igreja pentecostal mais antiga do Brasil, que preserva um estilo anacrônico de prática, demonstra como as pessoas adotam uma identidade marginal e assim criticam as condições sociais do país. Contrastando profundamente com novas formas de pentecostalismo, as pessoas representadas neste artigo respondem a uma ‘teologia da anti-prosperidade’, na qual fracassos e adversidades são considerados sinais de pureza e desenvolvimento espirituais. Em um país onde uma ‘nova classe média’ supostamente está encontrando prosperidade, este estudo apresenta uma forma orientada pela religião pela qual as pessoas confrontam a frustrante distância entre as promessas neoliberais e as realidades de um crescimento sem trabalho.

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1 According to 2000 census data from the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (Brazilian Geographical and Statistical Institute, IBGE), of Brazil's 17.7 million Pentecostals around 2.5 million belonged to the CCB, or just over 14% ( Campos Leonildo Silveira, ‘As origens norte-americanas do pentecostalismo brasileiro: observações sobre uma relação ainda pouco avaliada’, Revista USP 67: 100–15 (2005), p.113). The subsequent 2010 IBGE census showed a decrease in CCB membership from 2,489,079 in 2000 to 2,289,634 in 2010. However, the 2010 data still show the CCB as the second largest Pentecostal church in Brazil (accounting for 10% of Brazil's Pentecostals), with several hundred thousand members more than the third largest, the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God). In my research church Elders told me that CCB's own records showed between 3 and 4 million members, and that government statistics understate the number because CCB members are usually discreet about their affiliation.

2 See Bartelt Manoel (ed.), A ‘nova classe média’ no Brasil como conceito e projeto político (Rio de Janeiro: Fundação Heinrich Böll, 2013).

3 The alphabetical class nomenclature is derived from the Critério de Classificação Econômica Brasil (Brazilian Economic Classification Criterion, CCEB), a statistical report produced by the Associacção Brasileira de Empresas de Pesquisa (Brazilian Association of Research Bodies, ABEP). This categorisation uses as indices household characteristics – principally the presence and quantity of domestic luxury items – in order to differentiate the market into economic classes. A correspondence is made between household purchasing power and economic strata, defined as (highest to lowest) A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2, D, E.

4 Bartelt (ed.), A ‘nova classe média’ no Brasil.

5 Neri Marcelo, A nova classe média: o lado brilhante da base da pirâmide (São Paulo: Saraiva, 2012).

6 Caldeira Teresa, City of Walls: Crime, Segregation and Citizenship in São Paulo (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000).

7 Pochmann Marcio, Nova classe média? O trabalho na base da pirâmide social brasileira (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2012); Yaccoub Hilaine, ‘A chamada “nova classe média”: cultura material, inclusão e distinção social’, Horizontes antropológicos, 17: 36 (2011), pp. 197231 ; Souza Jesse, Os batalhadores brasileiros. Nova classe média ou nova classe trabalhadora? (Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG, 2010).

8 On the significant role of the Casas Bahia department store chain in facilitating consumer credit, see Yaccoub, ‘A chamada “nova classe média”’, pp. 224–8.

9 Bolsa família (family grant) was part of a network of federal assistance programmes set up by the PT government. It provided financial aid directly to poor Brazilian families.

10 Neri, A nova classe média.

11 Friedman Thomas L., The World is Flat: The Globalized World in the Twenty-first Century (London: Penguin, 2006).

12 O'Dougherty Maureen, Consumption Intensified: The Politics of Middle-class Daily Life in Brazil (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002); Owensby Brian, Intimate Ironies: Modernity and the Making of Middle-class Lives in Brazil (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002).

13 Caldeira, City of Walls; The Paradox of Police Violence in Democratic Brazil’, Ethnography, 3: 3 (2002), pp. 235–63.

14 Torresan Angela, ‘A Middle Class Besieged: Brazilians’ Motives to Migrate’, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, 17: 1 (2012), pp. 110–30.

15 O'Dougherty, Consumption Intensified.

16 Caldeira, City of Walls.

17 Bartelt (ed.), A ‘nova classe média’ no Brasil.

18 Holston James, Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

19 According to the 2010 IBGE census, there are just over 25 million self-declared Pentecostals in Brazil, or slightly more than 7.5 per cent of the population.

20 Rolim Francisco C., O que é pentecostalismo? (São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1987); Chesnut Andrew, Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the Pathogens of Poverty (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997).

21 Rolim, O que é pentecostalismo?, p. 82.

22 Mafra Clara, ‘Casa dos homens, casa de Deus’, Análise Social, 42: 182 (2007), pp. 145–61; Saintliness and Sincerity in the Formation of the Christian Person’, Ethnos, 76: 4 (2011), pp. 448–68.

23 Martin Bernice, ‘New Mutations of the Protestant Ethic among Latin American Pentecostals’, Religion, 25: 2 (1995), pp. 101–17; Cleary Edward L. and Sepúlveda Juan, ‘Chilean Pentecostalism: Coming of Age’, in Cleary E. L. and Stewart-Gambino H. W. (eds.) Power, Politics and Pentecostals in Latin America (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997), pp. 97121 .

24 de Oliveira Lima Diana Nogueira, ‘“Trabalho”, “mudança de vida” e “prosperidade” entre fiéis da Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus’, Religião e Sociedade, 27: 1 (2007), pp. 132–55; Roca Roger Sansi, ‘Dinheiro vivo”: Money and Religion in Brazil’, Critique of Anthropology, 27: 3 (2007), pp. 319–39.

25 Lima, ‘“Trabalho”, “mudança de vida” e “prosperidade” entre fiéis’; Prosperity and Masculinity: Neopentecostal Men in Rio de Janeiro’, Ethnos, 77: 3 (2012), pp. 372–99.

26 Neri, A nova classe média.

27 Lima, ‘Prosperity and Masculinity’, p. 374.

28 Ibid., p. 388.

29 Mariano Ricardo, ‘Mudanças no campo religioso brasileiro no Censo 2010’, Debates do NER, 2: 24 (2013), pp. 119–37, here p. 132.

30 Martin David, Tongues of Fire: The Explosion of Protestantism in Latin America (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990); Stoll David, Is Latin America Turning Protestant? The Politics of Evangelical Growth (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990).

31 See Birman Patricia and Lehmann D., ‘Religion and the Battle for Ideological Hegemony: The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and TV Globo in Brazil’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, 18: 2 (1999), pp. 117 ; Birman Patricia and Leite M., ‘Whatever Happened to what Used to be the Largest Catholic Country in the World?’, Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 129: 2 (2000), pp. 271–90.

32 Mariano Ricardo, Neopentecostais: sociologia do novo Pentecostalismo no Brasil (São Paulo: Loyola, 1999).

33 Burdick John, Looking for God in Brazil: The Progressive Catholic Church in Urban Brazil's Religious Arena (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993); Lehmann David, Struggle for the Spirit: Religious Transformation and Popular Culture in Brazil and Latin America (Oxford: Polity, 1996); Chesnut, Born Again in Brazil.

34 Coleman Simon, The Globalisation of Charismatic Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); see also Lima, ‘“Trabalho”, “mudança de vida” e “prosperidade” entre fiéis’.

35 Ribeiro Suzana Barretto, Italianos do Brás: imagens e memórias, 1920–1930 (São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1994).

36 The church conducted all services and printed documents in Italian until 1935.

37 Almeida Ronaldo, A Igreja Universal e seus demônios: um estudo etnográfico (São Paulo: Editora Terceiro Nome, 2009), p. 53 .

38 Freston Paul, ‘Pentecostalism in Brazil: A Brief History’, Religion, 25: 2 (1995), pp. 119–33; Mariano, Neopentecostais; ‘Mudanças no campo religioso’; Expansão Pentecostal no Brasil: o caso da Igreja Universal’, Estudos Avançados, 18: 52 (2004), pp. 121–38, here p. 129; Brandão Carlos R., ‘Fronteiras da fé – alguns sistemas de sentido, crenças e religiões no Brasil de hoje’, Estudos Avançados, 18: 52 (2004), pp. 261–88; Almeida, A Igreja Universal e seus demônios.

39 In the early 2000s Brazilian media widely publicised high-profile scandals in which prominent Evangelical church leaders were implicated in financial crimes including tax evasion and illegal capital flight.

40 ‘nepotism’: a common local trope used by my informants, referring to an inherited, supposedly endemic way in which Brazilians relate to one another by seeking special individual treatment. See DaMatta Roberto, Carnivals, Rogues, and Heroes: An Interpretation of the Brazilian Dilemma (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, [1979] 1991), pp. 133–4. Among other things, personalismo refers to a way for people to get things done through appealing in a personal, emotional way to the sympathies of others who can help them bypass norms and regulations.

41 ‘The work of God’ is a phrase of diverse, longstanding importance in many forms of Christianity, preceding by more than a millennium its use in Pentecostalism or in the CCB. I highlight in this paper only the vernacular ways that the phrase is used within the CCB, as inherited from the scant writings and preaching of Louis Francescon.

42 Congregação Cristã no Brasil, Resumo da convenção: realizada em fevereiro de 1936. Reuniões e ensinamentos: realizada em março de 1948. Pontos de doutrina e da fé que uma vez foi dada aos santos (São Paulo: Congregação Cristã no Brasil [1948] 1998), Article 25.

43 Latour Bruno, We have never been Modern (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).

44 Ibid., p. 33.

45 For a helpful discussion of instrumental understandings for the growth of Pentecostalism in Latin America, and their implications for analysis, see Smilde David, ‘Skirting the Instrumental Paradox: Intentional Belief through Narrative in Latin American Pentecostalism’, Qualitative Sociology, 26: 3 (2003), pp. 313–29.

46 Martin, Tongues of Fire.

47 Meyer Birgit, ‘Aesthetics of Persuasion: Global Christianity and Pentecostalism's Sensational Forms’, The South Atlantic Quarterly, 109: 4 (2010), pp. 741–64.

* The author would like to thank Professor Deborah James for valuable discussions of key themes raised in this paper, and for patiently reviewing versions of this article. Max Bolt and Alice Tilche also provided key insight and critical comments on this paper. Finally, the anonymous reviewers’ input added the necessary depth and context to this paper.

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Journal of Latin American Studies
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