15 February 2007

Religion in Argentina

Given the exposure I got after the YouTube censorship issue (involving the deletion of a video and a user account because the author listed Qur'an verses about hell and the treatment of nonbelievers), I thought I might give you a view on religion in my environment. Most of my readers are American or European, so they might be confused about the state of religious faith and supernatural beliefs in Argentina.

A more formal overview can be found in the Wikipedia article about religion in Argentina. I pride myself on being objective when I say so; I may not be that objective in this case, but I won't claim that anyway. My perception is coloured by the local perspective and by my personal history — like everyone's.

Well, religion is tricky and Argentina is a mixed country. The central areas (meaning the most populated, the more economically productive and wealthy) are generally more progressive than the peripheric ones, especially the provinces of the northwest. This is repeated in the local scale as well. In our province, Rosario is markedly more progressive than Santa Fe City.

What do I mean by progressive? A few examples should illustrate. Common people accept homosexuality, freely available contraception, teenage sex, unmarried cohabitation, nudity and obscenity on TV as a matter of fact; those are not matters of moral outrage or long-standing politically charged issues. A minority of conservatives (mostly aging Catholics) occasionally protest; tiny groups of fundamentalists do their thing sometimes. At the same time, political incorrectness is rampant. The very same people who accept their gay neighbours giggle and make silly jokes about gays for everyone to hear. The black immigrant selling merchandise in the street is a curiosity and prompts similar jokes, but is not discriminated and nobody would condone that. Anti-semitism, racism and blind ethnocentrism are as common as unobtrusive (in general). Prejudice is everywhere but doesn't affect public policy and is easily surpassed by common sense; it's caused more by ignorance than by malice, since the Argentine urban dweller lacks sophistication and exposure to the variety of the real world.

The Argentine citizen believes in God, prays to a stamp of the Virgin Mary, makes vows to pagan popular saints, wears a red wristband to divert envy, reads the horoscope, waits in line to see a Catholic priest with healing powers, kisses the statues of Catholic saints for luck, goes to a doctor who recommends a chiropractor who recommends a reiki master, and believes in eternal heaven and in reencarnation at the same time. He or she goes to Mass every now and then, picks and chooses from Catholic doctrine, pays respect to priests and then calls priests liars and thieves, trusts the Church over the media but doesn't feel the Church has any authority. Couples have all the sex they want using contraceptives and then solemnly promise the priest they'll keep Catholic doctrine (i.e. they'll breed like happy rabbits in Eden) and raise their kids in chastity. Duplicity? Confusion? Just regular human behaviour, I'd say — incoherent, illogical, and just right for modern life.

The downside is that real issues, such as the constant meddling of the Catholic Church in lawmaking, go unnoticed. The Church knows it can't rally the masses, so it works on the high places. Politicians are often rich, and the rich are often conservative Catholics, well-connected and influential. The upside (there's an upside!) is that fundamentalists are not well-received in public, and they're usually called what they are: bigots and fanatics, even if they're also archbishops.

My problem is with the middle ground..., the ridiculous superstitions and popular religious characters that I have to put up with. I have a few pet peeves I'll be letting you know about soon enough.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous15:03

    You better put out a glass of water for Difunta Correa and tie a red ribbon on a tree stump near your house for Gauchito Gil or you are courting some real trouble! Not to worry - the Virgincita of Lujan will protect you and I hear the Virgincita of Lourdes is making a strong comeback too! Roberto desde Miami


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