The omnipresence of flags of the State of Israel at a recent far-right demonstration on Avenida Paulista, in São Paulo, emerged as confirmation of an expanding phenomenon: theological confusion and biblical quackery as strategies for ideological and political combat. On that occasion, two women with Israeli flags on their backs, approached by reporters, responded to the question “Why are you with Israel?”: “Because you are Christians like us”. In fact, Christians make up just 1,9% of the Israeli population, with Jews making up about 83% of the people of Israel. Christ is not recognized as the Messiah by Israel. In other words: Israel is not Christian.

The escalation of this schizophrenia that grows by deliberately mixing creeds and hybrid beliefs, which relies on the demonization of others, purging and censorship to trigger political, cultural, social and anthropological persecutions, is spreading with astonishing speed throughout the country and the world. It is absolutely no coincidence that, a few days ago, former US President Donald Trump loudly launched his own version of the Bible, dubbed God Bless the USA, in the United States. In the middle of his re-election campaign, Trump is betting on this gospel reiteration of white power supremacy to continue sowing terror in international politics. Subsequently, Harvard's theological studies sector published an extensive analysis of Trump's “Gospel” strategy, recalling that, in the recent past, Protestant pastors used the Bible as a way of threatening enslaved black people who rebelled against their tormentors. In 1749, the Reverend Thomas Bacon, an Anglican pastor from Maryland, delivered a sermon in which he said that enslaved people should glorify their white masters as if they were “Overseers of God.”

In Brazil, the resonance of these strategies can already be seen from the advance of the Bible Bench in Congress (already with two hundred congressmen) to the territory of mass culture. The recent clash between the singers Ivete Sangalo and the evangelical Baby do Brasil during the Salvador Carnival, the famous episode of “hacking the apocalypse”, drew attention. And, later on, the clash continued with the evangelical singer Claudia Leitte who, also under arguments of religious zeal, changed a song lyric live (also during Carnival) to promote a “purge” of an icon of Afro cults. In the song “Caranguejo”, which is 20 years old, Claudia – who got rich singing the Afro tradition in Bahia – changed a part of the lyrics and replaced Iemanjá with “Yeshua”, the name of Jesus in Hebrew. And the veto on the use of the Maracanã Stadium, in Rio de Janeiro, for the Caetano Veloso and Maria Bethânia tour, recently revealed, doubly opposes freedom of expression and politics: the boycott came from governor Cláudio Castro, former gospel and evangelical singer that took place in politics under the umbrella of faith.

The movable scaffold on which religious and cultural intolerance is based, throughout the History of Brazil (and the world), has in the past promoted (and continues to promote) ethnocide, becoming the basis for the extermination of original peoples. Afterwards, it was consolidated in the growing persecution of cults of African origin in Brazil. It spreads across behavioral territories, besieging gays, women, black people, transgender people and dissidents of all kinds, such as artists and cultural manifestations. Arte! Brasileiros publishes in this edition texts that go back to the historical roots of these wars, seeking to clarify how faith militias act – with the blessing of extremists allocated in the political order.
There are recent cases that illustrate how religious intolerance seeks to find shelter in the institutions of the Brazilian State. In 2021, arte!brasileiros exclusively denounced an insidious maneuver within the Brazilian Institute of Museums and Iphan: the attempt, by a representative of neo-Pentecostal extremism sheltered in the Bolsonaro government, to sabotage the cataloging and preparation of a historical collection of historical objects of Afro culture Brazilian – the Our Sacred Collection.

Demonstration in solidarity with the Palestinian people, London, October 2023

An indifferent society may end up victimized by its inertia. Brazil is a secular country, the Constitution protects all religious manifestations and there is freedom of worship. It is necessary to report and react. The complaint of arte!brasileiros regarding the case of sabotage of the Our Sacred Collection had positive repercussions from civil society. IPHAN, responding to a request from the Museum of the Republic, officially adopted the collection's name as Nosso Sagrado (its previous name, coined by the Civil Police, was Black Magic Collection). In 2023, the Minister of Human Rights and Citizenship, Silvio Almeida, signed an agreement with the Museum of the Republic to promote a survey of all processes in Brazil involving the seizure of objects from Afro-Brazilian cults. Shared management was also established (the first in the country) between the museum and religious leaders of African origin (led by Mãe Meninazinha, from Ilê Omolu Oxum, in São João do Meriti). Now, the researcher and former curator of the Instituto dos Pretos Novos, Marco Antônio Teobaldo, is doing a pioneering master's thesis (supervised by Mario Chagas, director of the Museu da República), on Terreiro Museology, to update the academy on the importance for the historical and intangible heritage of the terreiros. He himself is an iaô (son of a saint) of Ilê Omolu Oxum, and has already had other agreements between Ilê and the museology faculty at Unirio. And, recently, at an international museum congress in Sicily, he included the Museology of Terreiro in the event's final document. The importance of this is the technical recognition, on the part of museology, that one cannot take a piece of land, a sacred artifact of ancestral worship, and treat it with conventional European methods: placing it in a showcase, classifying and restoring the based on the traditional parameters of museology. It is a significant advance.

Afro cults have been the target of religious hatred for centuries, and this hatred is being renewed among neo-Pentecostal hosts. A few days ago, in Sepetiba, in the West Zone of Rio, faithful from the Ogum Beira Mar Spiritist Center found their Umbanda terreiro overturned and with images of saints broken, an action that has been constantly repeated. It is not exclusive to Brazil: there is intolerance on all sides. Often, fear is an ally of obscurantists, as in the recent case of a university in Texas, Houston, which canceled Pakistani artist Shahzia Sikander's lecture due to attacks she suffered for a public art sculpture called Witness, a figure with goat horns and tentacular arms. A Texas far-right group accused the figure of praising “satanic images”.

To the advance of obscurantism, it is necessary to respond with information and legal action. The darkness has always used an alliance with violence to reach its objective, which is undoubtedly the establishment of a theocracy, a theocratic, dogmatic and authoritarian State. We are now witnessing the emergence of an “evangelical” current of drug trafficking, the so-called “narcopentecostalism”, claiming prominence in the communities and hills of Rio de Janeiro. The mystical association between evangelicals and Israeli symbols is also pronounced in this context – there is even an area named Israel Complex by a criminal faction. Complexo de Israel is the name given to the group of favelas dominated by drug trafficker Álvaro Malaquias Santa Rosa, known as Peixão, who dominates the areas of Cidade Alta, Vigário Geral, Parada de Lucas, Cinco Bocas and Pica-pau. Around 134 thousand people live there. The expansion of the gang to two locations that have never been dominated by drug traffickers is also being investigated: Estrada do Porto Velho and Rua Lyrio Maurício da Fonseca, in the Brás de Pina region.

Theologian Romi Bencke, who is pastor of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil, points out a clear polarization around the biblical image of the God of War (or God of Armies), an image that sacralizes the subjugation of one people over another and ethnic cleansing; an anti-image of the sacred, contrary to life, because it authorizes bombings, censorship and prohibits any attempt at peace. “There is a tendency towards the advancement of a religious culture that is less open in relation to behavior, arts and acceptance of other religions. This is noticeable in Brazil through a Christianity that is increasingly self-centered and closed to accepting new agendas on human rights and cultural and religious diversity. Moralism is taking precedence over the ability to welcome, without prior censorship, the different manifestations of human creativity”, analyzed Romi. “In other countries, like India, we see the same thing, only in the Hindu version. I think that, if the Brazilian State better understood the meaning of secularism guaranteed in the Constitution, its agents could play a relevant role in guaranteeing coexistence between different world views. Unfortunately, however, governments tend to establish a utilitarian relationship with religious groups, with only possible electoral gains as their horizon. This happens both from parties that present themselves as left-wing or progressive, as well as from right-wing and extreme-right parties.”

Censorship is also expanding. In the wake of informational hegemony, artists began to be punished for expressing themselves critically about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, particularly if it was unfavorable to the State of Israel. Attacks against free expression have become commonplace. In November, the venerable Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei had his exhibitions in London, New York and Paris suspended after questioning the war's arguments on social media. Other artists, such as actress Susan Sarandon and singer Roger Waters, lost agents and contracts because of their critical attitude.

But it's difficult to cover the sun with a sieve. On Hollywood Oscar night in early March, music and film superstars like Billie Eilish and Mark Ruffalo sported red pins in support of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. There were also protests outside the Kodak Theater, one of the places where the Oscars ceremony was held, with hundreds of protesters calling for an end to the massacre. And, upon receiving his award for Best Foreign Film, Briton Jonathan Glazer, the director of Zone of Interest, a film based on a story about the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz (based on a novel by Martin Amis), also drew attention to the massacre in the Middle East. Taking the stage with producer James Wilson, Glazer, who is Jewish, said: “All of our choices are made to reflect and confront ourselves with the present. Not just to say 'look what they did', but also 'look at what we're doing now'. Our film shows that dehumanization leads us to the worst,” he said. ✱

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