New film on Venezuelan spiritism

31 08 2010

You can watch the whole film in Spanish starting with the above video.

When watching this, I cannot help but think that the surge of spiritism in Latin America, tied in intimately with the emergence of “folk saints”, has to do with the growth of secularism in the discourse of civil society. Practices and attitudes that always existed in the Catholic framework detach themselves and become “separate religions”. In most places, the hegemony of the Church was challenged with the independence movements in the 19th century. By the 20th century, the elites were often secular positivists or even spiritists in one form or another (Allan Kardec making spiritism seem to be a “science of the soul”). The first president during the Mexican Revolution, Francisco Madero, was a devout spiritist.

The syncretism seen above often is the result of these beliefs trickling down to the “lower classes”. Catholic figures and symbols, being part of the communal and national consciousness, are effortlessly grafted onto spiritist beliefs, and vice versa. With the invasion of other sects and forms of religiosity, it is easier for these tendencies to identify themselves as other religions altogether separate from “official” Catholicism. Curanderos become priests, “superstitions” become dogma, and religious identity becomes less complex for some people, while more complicated for others.

Three NCR articles

30 08 2010

The first by their token Latina pundit:

But, in Latino healing practices called curanderismo, it is just the opposite. Curanderismo, which is often taught under the guidance and protection of the older women, is the spiritual practice, most often devoted to intercession through Jesús y Maria, toward the healing of spirit, soul, mind and body.

This spiritual discipline is specific and varied in each locality. It can be said that in parts of Mexico, it is a combination of the ancient Nahua people’s (the original tribal name which Spaniards overlaid with their word, Aztec) spiritual understandings, blended with very old Sephardic traditions that had entered the Catholicism of the 16th century Conquistadores, and sometimes merging further with spiritual practices from 15th century Africa, via slave women and men forced to the east coast of Mexico and Central America.

Such militant cultural posturing does a disservice to our ancestors in that it fails to acknowledge the complexities of the origins of their beliefs. Notice that she lays the credit for curandero practices at the feet of Aztecs, Africans, and Sephardic Jews. That seems to be a sort of “reverse” colonialism: anything exotic must be foreign to the Christian ethos, because “real Christianity” would never permit that sort of thing. The problem is that in the Catholic world such healing systems were so ubiquitous even in the “old country” that you cannot trace their origins just to Aztecs and African slaves.

(Note: the Aztecs are not the only indigenous people in Mexico, or even the valley of Mexico. Associating all Mexicans with them is an exercise in bourgeois nationalist posturing.)

Also, making it an exclusively female thing is aligning such practices to American “liberal” thought. Some of the greatest practicioners of “curanderismo” were men such as Don Pedro Jaramillo and el Niño Fidencio. These people should really check their facts before using traditional culture in their rhetorical wars.

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Sheesh, are Catholics really this stupid?

28 08 2010

Probably the most idiotic thing I have read on the Internet all year:

“A declaration of invalidity is a statement of fact issued by the Catholic Church,” they write. “After carefully examining a couple’s broken relationship, the Church states that a marriage, as the Church defines marriage, never truly existed between them. The relationship may have enjoyed some of the external trappings of marriage: There may have been a big wedding followed by a common address and the birth of children. However, not all weddings bring about a marriage.”

And to understand this, one needs to understand what a marriage is in the eyes of the Church. Vere and Rapp, in the first half of the book, explore the teaching of the Church on marriage. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, they write, the Church viewed marriage more as a contract but after the Council, the Church understood marriage more as a covenant between a man and a woman, the goal of which is twofold: “the mutual welfare of the spouses (physical, emotional and spiritual) as well as openness to the procreation, welfare and education of children.”

Okay, let’s do another version of this:

After carefully examining the act of a bank robbery, the Church states that such violent theft, as the Church defines theft, never truly was a theft. The act may have enjoyed some of the external trappings of a violent bank robbery: There may have been a guns, ski masks, and various people killed followed by an escape to Paraguay and living under an assumed name. However, not all violent robberies constitute criminal theft.”

And to understand this, one needs to understand what theft is in the eyes of the Church. Schugelmeier and Finkelstein, in the first half of the book, explore the teaching of the Church on theft. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, they write, the Church viewed theft more as a violation of the social contract but after the Council, the Church understood theft more as a radical redistribution of wealth to ameliorate the injustices of society caused by the structures of sin.

Wow, that was fun. Who says reason is dead in the Church? Because you could show up at church, blow thousands of dollars on a dress and the reception (not forgetting a stipend for the priest), buy a house, have kids, bandage their cuts when they fall off the bike, attend PTA meetings, go on family vacation, see them off to college, but…the joke’s on you, because you were NEVER MARRIED. Why? Because some Vatican bureaucrat has now determined that you never had the burning in the bosom that is the real mark of marriage. You never had a covenant, silly! So when your husband runs off with his secretary due to a mid-life crisis, don’t pretend to be shocked or anything. You should have known better.

One wonders how the hierarchy could trust us with any moral decisions at all.

Seriously, is Catholicism so shot through with epistemological pessimism that only the hierarchy can determine whether you are actually married or not? What is this, some sort of nightmare of unreason?

The other side of the coin is that if the Church is so determined to bend common sense out of shape to keep good, wholesome heterosexual couples procreating and tithing, why is it so committed to excluding others on the basis of convoluted natural law arguments? And some Catholics wonder why people on the outside look at us like a bunch of hypocrites! We’re are a laughing stock even to ourselves.

Or perhaps this is really just becoming some fertility cult in which the highest act of religiosity is approved heterosexual intercourse (missionary position) to produce more Catholics to fill convents, monasteries, and Opus Dei houses. If the first union doesn’t work out, don’t worry, you weren’t actually married. We’ll give you an annulment as long as you keep banging out those kids. Here’s a rosary and a thermometer.

My curmudgeon answer to all of this is to retroactively surrender to the Jansenists and say that no one who is not ordained should be permitted to receive Holy Communion on anything more than a yearly basis, and only after confessing. That way, we can all be treated like the royal f%$k-ups that we really are. Sancta sanctis.

In Re Don Giovanni

27 08 2010

Michael Nyman

On credulity

26 08 2010

I just watched a film on Slavoj Zizek, who I will no doubt comment on in the future. (The above has nothing to do with the film, but was an interesting clip from another source.) One point that Zizek made was that we live in a much more credulous age than our ancestors (just as we live in a more restrictive age). He made the point by saying that a deconstructionist will never say that “this is a glass of water”, but rather something like, “if we are to accept the dominant discourse wherein we can assert that words can indicate the presence of objects, and if we are to trust our sensory perception, etc. etc., then one could assert that this is a glass of water”. For me such an illustration sort of alludes to various issues of assent that I have been speaking of recently. Zizek also draws a line between culture and religion. When religion is not taken seriously, it is known as culture. It exists in the social space, but without much “moral impact” (like existence of Santa Claus for adults). When people begin to take it seriously, it becomes religion as modern people know it.

When the friars first encountered Mexican neophytes at the beginning of the conquest in the sixteenth century, the indigenous people were taught the Credo, the Pater Noster, and the Ave Maria, and that was pretty much it. Within at least a generation or so, one of them would be able to say that he believed in every aspect of the creed, but would he believe in the same way as a modern person? Modern religiosity across the board has always meant “interiorization”. It is not enough to “follow the rules” or to do something “out of obedience”. Like the hypothetical child in the second video, you have to want to believe in the absolute sense, and will every article of your creed. It has to consume and define you.

This sort of goes with my comment on Stockholm syndrome religiosity: if I am not being treated like shit in terms of my most profound beliefs, the experience must somehow be inauthentic. Everyone wants to be a Kierkegaard with their own Abrahamic leap of faith.


25 08 2010

Okay, I am really lazy this week, so I am posting a lot of clips from movies I have watched recently. This film was just very interesting in terms of the fetishization of objects, making me nostalgic for Marxist theory. A very cerebral film, but interesting nonetheless.


24 08 2010

I have never been a Zionist, but regardless of that the above was a disturbing film. (Spoiler alert) I thought that the last scene with the Israeli kids at Auschwitz working themselves up to some sort of emotional catharsis whereby they would hate the enemies of Israel forever was particularly illuminating. It really was ideology at its worst.

The fount of philosophy

23 08 2010

Souls cannot ascend without music.


The common intellectual history of the West, especially since the Enlightenment, has stated that philosophical thought grew out of a rejection of the old mythologies that had come before it. The Greeks were the first “Europeans”: those who truly began to question the ungodly superstitions of the Egyptians and Babylonians, as well as their own. The evident skepticism of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle is thought to be at the very least inimical to the interests of classical Greek religion. Philosophy is thus seen as the beginning of the death of myth, and the prelude to the rational world in which we inhabit today.

It is a very reassuring story, but it is not necessarily the real one. Recent scholars have begun to dig into the roots of ancient philosophy, and are finding more continuity than rupture; more sympathy with “ancient superstition” than an inveterate form of rationalist positivism. There was of course the hubbub of a couple of months back when a scholar came up with evidence that the Platonic dialogues were embedded with Pythagorean musical scales. There came forth the idea, quite foreign to modern people used to the “data in, discourse out” model of philosophizing, that the text has more in it than words and ideas. It is a sort of divine play in itself: a representation of the eternal cosmogony. On the other hand, many scholars are seeing at the root of the philosophical enterprise an ancient method of inner transformation that is quite distant from our own ideas of philosophy. Philosophy was more tied to ritual and religion than it is in contemporary practice. What philosophy was trying to do initially was not break free from the “mythology” that came before it, but radically return to its source.
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More Morton Feldman

20 08 2010

Sex and the Latino family

19 08 2010

The catalyst for this post comes again from the Conservative Blog for Peace, and it is an interview done a couple of years ago with writer Richard Rodriguez. I quote the relevant passages:

Once my partner became part of my life, he became part of their life too. They didn’t want it said, they didn’t want it named or defined, but they assumed it and accepted it. At family events, when my partner wasn’t there, my mother would get on the phone and call him and insist he come over…

I have not been to a Mexican family without some suspicion of homosexuality in children or grandchildren. But people deal with it within the larger context of family. That’s why I suspect the revolution will come not from the male church but from how women treat their children, and whether or not women are willing to reject their children. I don’t think they are. I saw too many times during the AIDS epidemic that when death came and the disease took its toll, if one parent was there, it was almost always the mother and not the father. That bond is so powerful.

Perhaps the lack of moral severity in the Catholic family has little to do with lack of catechesis, and more to do with the inherent inability of people to shun others for their sexual transgressions. Rodriguez’s case above is a prime example of this. While some would say that his mother is a “heretic” for not shunning her son or his lover, most would not feel comfortable disowning their son for such a consensual situation. In other words, people are not able to consistently live their lives according to the teachings of the Church because what is required of them is something that they are not willing to do.
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