Brazil: The Land Where Spirits Thrive

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The influence of spiritism, which claims millions of adherents, shows no signs of waning.

Less than 30 years ago, Christian anthropologists were predicting the death of spiritism. Surely, they reasoned, the complexities of the urban age would create problems spiritism simply could not solve.

But it hasn’t happened that way. Today in Brazil, the most urbanized and industrialized of all South American nations, spiritism flourishes. “After more than 20 years in Brazil,” said Mennonite Brethren missionary James Wiebe, “I’ve never met one family that didn’t have at least some involvement with spiritism.” Wiebe challenged the theory that spiritism is dying in his 1979 doctoral dissertation at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Recently, the Brazilian Commission for Evangelization held a major meeting at which theologians and denominational leaders discussed spiritism and how to combat it (see p. 50).

Broadly defined, spiritism refers to the belief that man can contact spirits and influence them to act on his behalf. Through a variety of practices—some unusual and grotesque—spiritists seek to capture the attention and power of spirits, hoping for help for a problem or situation. People go to spiritist leaders, believing they have special abilities to summon and influence the spirits.

Wiebe is not alone in his assessment of spiritism’s popularity in Brazil. Pentecostal bishop and writer W. Robert McAlister cites census figures of 30 million Brazilian spiritists. But he says it is likely the true number is much higher. C. Wesley King, director of the Free Methodist Seminary of São Paulo, estimates that up to half of the Brazilian population is connected in some way to spiritism. ...

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