Friday, November 5, 2010

The political misuse of popular religiosity

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Popular religiosity is rising today, as it has been one of the cornerstones of the electoral campaign, especially in its fundamentalist aspect. It was induced by the opposition and a conservative wing of the bishops of São Paulo, unsupported by the CNBB [Brazilian Catholic Bishops Conference], assisted later by evangelical pastors. Without an alternative political project, Serra discovered he could reach the people by appealing to emotional issues that affect the sensitive soul of the people, such as abortion and gay marriage -- issues that require broad discussion in society, outside of the electoral campaign. Policy made on this basis is always bad policy because it neglects the main thing -- Brazil and its people, as well as arouses hatred and slander that go against the nature of religion and do not belong to Brazilian tradition.

Popular religiosity, as a decadent form of official Christianity, has historically suffered all kinds of interpretations. The children of the first Enlightenment (Voltaire, and others) saw it as an anachronism reminiscent of a magical world view; the children of the second Enlightenment (Marx and company) saw it as false consciousness, a numbing opium and an ineffective cry of the oppressed; the neo-Darwinists like Dawkins saw it as an evil for humankind that should be be removed.

These views are narrow because they do not do justice to the religious phenomenon in itself. The right thing is to take religiosity for what it is: as a concrete experience of religion in its popular expression. Every religion is the cultural garb of a faith, an encounter with God. Within religion, the major themes that drive human seeking are articulated: the meaning of life, pain, death and what we can expect after this weary existence. It speaks of the destiny of people, which depends on the behavior in this world. Its aim is to evoke, nurture and encourage the sacred flame of the spirit that burns inside of people, through love, compassion, forgiveness and listening to the cry of the oppressed, without leaving aside the question of the ultimate meaning of the universe. Therefore, what is at stake in religion and religiosity is no small thing. It exists because of these dimensions. A use that does not respect its nature, means disrespectful and secular manipulation, as has happened in the current election.

Despite all this, we must take into account the religious institutions that have social power and influence that go beyond the religious field. This influence can be manipulated in different directions -- to avoid discussing heavy topics like social injustice and the need for public policies directed towards the neediest, and other relevant topics.

This field is where the fight for the force of religious capital takes place. And it has been fierce in this election. Curiously, the opposition candidate became a pastor when he published something I saw in a newspaper -- "Jesus is Truth and Justice", signed with his own hand, as if the evangelists are not enough to assure us of this truth. The sense is to imply that Jesus is on their side, while the opposition candidate is demonized, the victim of hatred and rejection. This is a subtle form of religious manipulation.

A fervent Catholic wrote to me that he wanted to "cut me into a thousand pieces, burn them, throw them into the bottom of a well and send my soul to the deepest hell." All in the name of Him who commanded us to love even our enemies. The Brazilian people don't think this way because they are tolerant and respect differences, because they believe that along the way to God we can always join in and give each other a hand.

The only thing that does not misinterpret religion is the practice that enhances the ability to love, helps us in self-restraint of our dimension of darkness, awakens us to the best ways to achieve justice for all, guarantees the rights of the poor and makes us not only more religious, but more fundamentally human. Who is helped by slander and lies? God abhors them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Immigration News Roundup - 11/1/2010

1. Illegal Immigration Backlash Worries, Divides Latinos: A new survey by the Pew Hispanic Center finds that Latinos are divided over what to do with these immigrants. A small majority (53%) says they should pay a fine but not be deported. A small minority (13%) says they should be deported, and a larger minority (28%) says they should not be punished. Hispanics are also divided about the impact of illegal immigration on Hispanics already living in the U.S. Roughly equal shares say the impact has been positive (29%), negative (31%) or made no difference (30%). This mixed judgment stands in sharp contrast to views that Latinos expressed on this subject in 2007. Back then, fully half (50%) of Latinos said the impact was positive, while just 20% said it was negative. Today, more than six-in-ten (61%) Latinos say that discrimination against Hispanics is a "major problem," up from 54% who said that in 2007. Asked to state the most important factor leading to discrimination, a plurality of 36% now cites immigration status, up from a minority of 23% who said the same in 2007. Back then, a plurality of respondents-46%-identified language skills as the biggest cause of discrimination against Hispanics.

2. Court of Appeals starts hearing arguments on SB 1070: In an hour-long hearing on Monday, November 1st, three federal judges peppered lawyers on both sides of Senate Bill 1070 with testy rapid-fire legal questions as the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals began considering whether to keep portions of Arizona's immigration law from going into effect. Gov. Jan Brewer attended the morning hearing, arriving about 10 minutes before lawyers began arguing over whether the appellate court should lift a preliminary injunction that put portions of the law on hold in July. The court is not expected to make an immediate decision...Meanwhile, ImmigrationWorks USA has issued a new report on the status of 25 states that have threatened to pass laws similar to SB 1070. The report says the states most likely to pass a similar next year are Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Carolina, while Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia are being considered “maybes”. In Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island, the legislation seems less likely to pass. The report also adds that, from 2006 to 2008, municipalities passed a host of local laws and statutes cracking down on employers hiring illegal immigrants.

3. 287(g) and Secure Communities in Trouble: A series of reports and suits are questioning the Department of Homeland Security's local immigration enforcement programs:

a) According to AlterNet: "DHS’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently released an updated report on the Performance of 287(g) Agreements which provides the same dreary account of the program as the first one. The April 2010 OIG report found that ICE and its local law enforcement partners have not complied with the terms of their 287(g) Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs), that the standards by which deputized officers are evaluated are not in line with the stated objectives of the 287(g) program, that the program is poorly supervised by ICE, and that additional oversight is necessary. It included 33 recommendations to improve the program, 28 of which, the new report finds, still remain open."

The Associated Press's Suzanne Gamboa reports a particular concern in the report with lack of financial accountability. For example, "the inspector general's office said Immigration and Custom Enforcement reported spending $455,649 for "travel and transportation of things" The spending was for federal officials to review local agency compliance with the program's policies and rules. That added up to $6,329 per person for travel by 72 people who did 15 reviews of agencies not within driving distance of Washington, D.C., the inspector general's office said. The inspector general's office said its calculations of airfare, lodging and per diem rates, using costs from the most expensive place to travel to, added up to $2,300 per person."

b) And the program is snagging more minor criminals than felons, at least in Tennessee. Internal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement memos obtained by The Tennessean show that Hall's program was screening more than twice as many people with minor offenses as those with crimes such as murder, robbery and rape. An ICE memo from April shows that 73 percent of those screened by 287(g) in Nashville during the latter part of 2009 were arrested for minor offenses, while just 13 percent had been arrested for serious crimes.

c) The suits:

i) Late last week, the National Day Laborer Organization Network (NDLON), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law filed an injunction in federal court to require the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to turn over critical documents on the ability for communities to opt-out of the “Secure Communities” (S-Comm) program that enlists local police to become what ICE describes as a “force multiplier” for immigration enforcement. “Communities across the country are unanimously deciding that keeping residents safe means refusing to participate in the ICE dragnet ‘Secure Communities',” said NDLON Executive Director Pablo Alvarado. “Since the inception of the program, it has been marked by outright dishonesty from ICE. Now is the time for transparency. We are asking the courts to take action to prevent the agency’s misinformation from continuing to trample the democratic process.”

ii) Meanwhile, three immigrants in Georgia have filed a lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the 287(g) program, which has been used to identify more than 180,000 illegal immigrants for deportation nationwide since 2006. The lawsuit names U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton, Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren, an investigator for the Georgia Department of Public Safety and other officials as defendants. The lawsuit claims that the program is unconstitutional because it denied Corina Garcia Albarran, Luis Magana and Maria Lourdes Segobiano-De Soto their right to due process. It also alleges ICE has failed to train, supervise and otherwise oversee sheriff's deputies in Cobb County, where the three plaintiffs live. It also claims ICE has improperly delegated its power to local authorities.

4. Justice for Immigrants: Justice for Immigrants, the Catholic Church's project on immigration reform, will be holding its national meeting November 3-5 at the Four Points Sheraton - Chicago O’Hare, 10249 West Irving Park Road, Schiller Park, Illinois 60176. This year's theme is "Immigration in a New Congress". Registration is $150 for a shared room, $225 for a single room, $50 for just the conference with no sleeping accommodations. Registration information and a conference agenda are available on the JFI website.