Religious practices in the Caribbean are very diverse. In the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico,Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, the Cayman Islands, the Netherlands Antilles and in the countries of Central and South America, Catholicism is the dominant religion. But Anglicanism is widely practiced in the former British colonies and various Protestant religions are widely observed. With all of these Christian religions, Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the highest percentage of Christians among its population in the world, above 90 percent. Beyond these strictly Christian religions, Hinduism is practiced on islands such as Trinidad and Tobago, Judaism is present on almost all of the islands, as well as syncretic religions (mixtures of beliefs from African and Christian religions) among the black populations, such as Santeria in Cuba and Puerto Rico or Vodou in Haiti. It is estimated that a large part (according to some, up to 70%) of the Cuban population practices one form or another of Santeria. Finally, we also find religious movements such as Rastafarianism in Jamaica.

Because of its nature and its reformist origins, the Protestant churches (particularly the evangelical and Methodist churches in the former British colonies and the Moravian church in the former Dutch colonies and Jamaica) were those who faced the most conflict with the political authorities during the slavery era, given their tendency to preach to slave populations. Many of the plantation owners considered the Christian teachings these churches imparted to their slave followers as subversive. On the island of St. Eustatius, a plantation owner wrote, “if the British Parliament had, in their great wisdom, prohibited the exportation of Methodist preachers into the West Indies, thousands of those poor deluded wretches would now be in the land of the living who have died terrified with the idea of Hell fire and flames.” The teachings of the Baptist church about freeing slaves were the cause of a mass slave rebellion known as the Baptist War in 1831 in which 300 rebel slaves were executed.

Some authors have also argued that there is a close relationship between the Christian religion and political trends that are so widespread in Latin America and the Caribbean: nationalism and populism. More than political ideologies clearly situated along the axis from left to right, from democracy to authoritarianism, populism and nationalism bring together a conglomeration of political movements that seek to preserve a pristine organic unity, usually religious or ethnic in nature, in the face of external forces that threaten to destroy them. All of this is done under the ideal that the people come before any lineage or aristocracy. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the external threat has taken various forms: U.S. imperialism, communism, Protestantism, Masonry, or globalization, depending on the case and the era. Despite placing the people’s will in a position of primacy, its anti-democratic mood (clearly inherited from religion) comes from the view of its leaders as near-messiahs. Populism is often expressed in an unambiguous voice that does not represent, but rather embodies, the people, and is accepted as a guide to the road to redemption and salvation.

Author: Luis Galanes
Published: May 24, 2012.

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