Philosophy professor Arturo Fontaine Talavera (1952 – ) is the director of the Centro de Estudios Públicos (Center of Public Studies) in Chile.1 In a study of the impact of globalization on culture in Chile, he outlines the impact, in the last few decades, of the spread of evangelical (mainly Pentecostal) religion—particularly amongst the poorest people in the capital city, Santiago.
His findings remind one of the story of the “rich young ruler” in Matthew 19. Jesus homed in on the pivotal issue in this man’s life, namely love of possessions. If the fellow could master this, then his spiritual prospects were wonderful. Unfortunately, he could not turn his back on materialism, so his hopes for fellowship with God and anointed service to man were dashed.
In the case of these Chilean men, they have become convinced that their participation in their society’s drinking-party culture has been their ruin, so they have undergone radical behavioral surgery, whereby alcohol has been removed from their lives. For other believers in other cultures, it may well be something else, some other point at which they feel obliged to make a sweeping break with their past. What is common to all such decisions is regeneration, surrender to the lordship of Christ, and never-before-imagined fruitfulness.
The evangelicals are characterized by their dedication to work and by their rejection of alcohol. The man who converts transforms his life, especially his family life, abandoning liquor and “the lads.” The formerly absent father makes himself responsible for being in the house and providing for his family; he accepts the marriage and the paternity of his children, stops beating his wife, and goes to church with her and his children…
Investigations in La Pintana [the “garbage district” on the periphery of Santiago] confirm time and time again the thesis that evangelicalism produces reform in the family. It is testified to, for example, by Rubén Urrutia, a forty-five-year-old construction worker who converted to Pentecostalism: “The change is that instead of spending money on stupidities, it is invested in the family, to have a better life…”2
The most visible change [for men] is that they stop drinking, and in this it must be remembered that this is a habit that begins as they leave childhood and is practiced among a very close group of friends. It is a ritual that belongs to the masculine world; hence, breaking with alcohol is also breaking with friends and redefining oneself as a man. In this sense, evangelical conversion possibly represents a much more radical change for the man than for the woman, for how can someone be a man and not go out drinking with his friends? How can someone be a man, go out and play football, and not go out for a “celebration” afterward?
Both our focus groups and in-depth interviews in La Pintana demonstrate than this is [sic] change is fundamental to conversion. The convert stops drinking, orders his life, abandons old friends, partying, and women, stops spending wildly, renews his marriage on the basis of respect and love, becomes involved with the children, and takes part in domestic chores. The change is so complete that it is difficult to believe; the evidence is overwhelming, however.3
1 See Centro de Estudios Públicos Website, http://www.cepchile.cl/. For a biographical sketch, see “Arturo Fontaine,” Internationales Literaturfestival Website http://www.literaturfestival.com/bios1_3_6_702.html.
2 For a list of studies of the effect of conversion on the life of the family, see Arturo Fontaine Talavera, “Trends toward Globalization in Chile,” in Many Globalizations: Cultural Diversity in the Contemporary World, eds. Peter L. Berger and Samuel P. Huntington (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 292, note 13.
3 Ibid., 252, 265-266, 271.