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David Kersh

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God is Brazilian

Posted: 01/27/2012 5:26 pm

As a lover of Brazilian music, I wish I had come up with that title, but it is actually the name of a quirky comedy by Carlos Diegues, the same director who made the popular Bye Bye Brazil and the updated version of Black Orpheus.

I recently rented God is Brazilian through Netflix not just because of my love of Brazilian music and culture, but as a way to help my wife and I deal with the ongoing dilemma of the religious instruction of our kids. We have decided to give a pass to my Judaism and her Catholism, and we sometimes find ourselves with doubts as to whether the lack of organized religion will have a negative impact in their lives. Over the years, we have poked our heads into Buddism and meditation as ways to experience the spiritual, so why not see if maybe God is, after all, Brazilian?

The film centers on a fisherman/con artist named Taoca and a man who claims he is God (played by the elderly soap opera actor Antonio Fagundes). At first, Taoca doubts the man's heavenly origins, but after witnessing demonstrations of His power Taoca becomes convinced that it is Him. It turns out that God has decided to take a break from his eternal task of having to preside over humankind and is seeking a temp to take over the job. Looking for someone saintly enough to replace Him, God traverses Brazil with Taoca; eventually, they come across a young man with the right qualifications, but there is one minor issue -- he doubts the existence of a higher power.

Unlike the mean and muscular bearded God of my childhood Hebrew school classes, this God is warmer and slimmer, as if he had been on a low-carb diet for several weeks. I am not sure what role the actual God, if he does exist, played in casting the actor to play His part, or if He just gave the film makers total freedom to choose as they saw fit, but Antonio Fagundes does a fine job in filling such lofty shoes. Needless to say, the enjoyable movie did not help at all with the religious issue at home. It did, however, have other consequences, less to do with my family and more with me. Who knows? I might have, finally, after all these years, found God.

Since God is everywhere, I keep seeing or imagining Antonio Fagundes, the elderly Brazilian God, everywhere. For example, when my sons are at middle school reciting the Pledge of Alleigance, I see Him standing in the back of the class, with his gentle arms crossed and Chega de Saudade as background music, while the red, white and blue stars and stripes of the American flag transform into the green, yellow and blue of the Brazilian flag. As every political speech in this country never fails to end with "God Bless America," I see Him hanging around at the political rallies or town halls, sitting lazily on a chair in the front row while the samba drums beat away. In terms of foreign policy and the State Department, He definitely complicates matters for both Republicans and Democrats, and would require to add Brazil (a reliable regional ally during the Bush and Obama presidencies) to the list of delicate diplomatic situations along with Syria, Nigeria, Venezuela and Iran.

While a Brazilian God would fit in fine and be welcomed in the more tolerant coastal and urban enclaves of the U.S. (and maybe expand the number of believers), it will surely be problematic in the more reactionary fundamentalist areas of the country, meaning those areas being targeted by Newt Gringrich. Already troubled by having a black president, the possibility of having a foreign Brazilian God on top of that might be enough to send these folks over the edge.