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“They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil.” The song does not add that they also have an awful lot of religion down there too. South American Catholicism has always been in competition with local traditional pagan religions. The current new competitor is North American evangelical Protestantism. But during my recent week in Rio, I was constantly reminded that the Christian religion in two of its three expressions has really only one rival in Brazil : soccer, the devotees of which play the game seriously all day every day on Copacabana beach and on playing fields around the city, even at midnight !

The 38-meter high statue of Cristo Redentor with outstretched arms, towering at 710 meters over the vibrant city of ten million, is recognized around the world. It is Christ crucified without the cross. Everyone knows its name, whether or not they understand the concept of redemption, and whether or not they believe what the statue represents : God’s Son who offered Himself in sacrifice to pay off the debt incurred by the Original Sin of our First Parents as well as our own (well, yours anyway : I am one of those Pharisees “without sin” …).

It is hard to understand why this central, awful doctrine of Christianity does not trouble believers. I guess the dominant attitude is one of gratitude that Jesus took the rap for us, rather than of wondering why this “debt” demanded the torture and death of a human victim, and to whom the “debt” was being paid. Sermons on the “Paschal Lamb” refer unashamedly to the animal sacrifices of Judaism, and even though Jews today would find such abominations disgusting, Christians seem to overlook the even more frightful idea that God demanded not just a pound of flesh but the excruciating execution of His own Son.

The massive concrete statue is there to remind us that God so loved the world that He watched the Son He had abandoned suffer and die so that we would not go to Hell. A curious way of revealing His love, and a constant cause for wondering about divine “justice” and blood-lust (He would have loved the corrida), and for pitying people who could believe in such a ghastly God.