Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Voodoo, Missionaries, and the Haitian Earthquake...

As if Haiti did not have enough problems before the catastrophic earthquake. The recent events in this poor country are helping to widen a growing rift between Christianity and the local Voodoo adherents. While true Voodou is a strange combination of Roman Catholicism and ancient beliefs from Africa, the mass influx of protestant missionaries has heightened stress levels amongst the locals. True to its roots, Roman Catholicism has traditionally been very tolerant of syncretism with local spiritual beliefs and customs. Ever mindful of their shrinking worldwide Catholic population, these practices have been considered native customs and have not been outright banned by the Vatican.

In a world like Haiti, where most of the population steadfastly believes the world's events are shaped by the unseen spirit world, the influx of Protestant missionaries is creating hardship and widening the gap between the Protestant world and their own. While seemingly well intentioned, many of the largely Protestant aid organizations are well known for promoting views that the Haitian lifestyle comes from the "Devil", as evidence by Pat Robertson's notorious comments on the subject.

These very same organizations are also being accused of withholding aid from Voodoo practioners. Max Beauvoir, who is sort of like the Haitian Voodoo Pope, has claimed these Evangelical aid organizations are the very same who stand in the way of helping his people. He also claims these organizations are doing other things unrelated to aid, like spreading the idea that the earthquake was "divine retribution" via the mass media.

Some in the Haitian populace view the missionaries as simply taking advantage of their predicament. They see the missionaries as using the fact that Haiti is in trouble, as being their ticket for mass conversion of the Haitian people. We are seeing the results of this in the recent arrests of the Baptist missionaries under Human Trafficking charges. On the other hand, the Haitian belief structure is also being challenged. The population has a very fatalistic view of the world, and the fall of their spiritual icons and wholesale devastation of their land is sure to sow the seeds of pestilence.

We will surely see a Haiti which emerges from the ruins, far less trusting of the outside world than it previously was. This region is doomed to be a powder-keg for many years to come.

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