Jobu doesn’t help with curve balls either

santeriaAfter I posted Tim Townsend’s story on Christian Family Day at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, a few readers sent along an article on baseball and Santeria. Los Angeles Times sportswriter Kevin Baxter penned a thorough and engaging account of the rise of Santeria practice among Major League players from Latin America:

On a shelf in the office of Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen, mixed in among the family photos, the Roberto Clemente bobblehead and the Napoleon Dynamite figurine, are four small but intimidating religious icons.

“If you see my saints, you’ll be like ‘Golly, they’re ugly,’” Guillen had said before inviting a visitor to come in. “They’ve got blood. They’ve got feathers. You go to the Catholic church, the [saints] have got real nice clothes. My religion, you see a lot of different things you never see.”

Guillen’s religion is Santeria, a largely misunderstood Afro-Cuba spiritual tradition that incorporates the worship of orisha — multidimensional beings who represent the forces of nature — with beliefs of the Yoruba and Bantu people of Africa and elements of Roman Catholicism. And Guillen, born in Venezuela, is one of a growing number of Latin American players, managers and coaches who are followers of the faith.

The article is fantastic, but I had one problem with it. Baxter repeatedly says the religion is misunderstood without substantiating that it’s misunderstood. He references a scene from the movie Major League where the religion is joked about (I riffed on this for the post’s headline) and says that “Judeo-Christian society” dismisses the religion as a blood-letting cult. But no one who has a problem with Santeria is actually quoted in the article — either anti-animal cruelty advocates or religious opponents. It is at the very least theoretically possible that people oppose, joke about or dismiss Santeria while fully cognizant of what it teaches. I’m not sure it’s up to the reporter to be the arbiter of what’s understood and what’s misunderstood. Rather, he should report about it and let the reader decide. Including quotes from practitioners who feel it is misunderstood is perfectly acceptable, but crossing the editorial line to make a judgment about same is questionable.

Other than that, however, the piece is remarkably thorough and smart, particularly considering its writer’s expertise is sports. Baxter explains how Santeria practitioners sacrifice vegetables as well as animals and have complex relationships with chosen saints. He also talks to athletes who have felt their religious views were under attack:

“When you talk about that religion in the States, people think you’re a monster,” said Guillen, whose children were baptized in the Catholic faith and have become, like their father, babalaos. “Sometimes you have to be careful what you say about religion and when and how. Because in this country there’s so many different ideas, people get offended so easy.

“People call me a criminal because we do stuff with blood and animals. I don’t blame these people. They believe what they believe and I believe what I believe. Have I ever killed an animal in the States to do my religion? No. I did in my country.”

Guillen said there’s another popular misconception with Santeria — indeed, with many religions — and that’s the belief that how you worship will determine how you play.

“Some people think because [their] religion works they’re going to get a hit or pitch better,” he said “That’s no reason to do it. I think the main reason to have a religion is faith and belief. No matter what you believe and what you have faith in, you have to make it work.

Not that I don’t find baseball to be the game with the most similarities to religion, but it’s still shocking to see a sportswriter get religion better than almost all the other reporters out there. Good work, Baxter.

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  • http://religion.beloblog.com/ Jeffrey Weiss

    Um…Mollie, would you have the food section quote PETA with every recipe about barbecued ribs? Should we cite an expert on ritual cannibalism when we write about transubstantiation? Seriously, not every story requires every another side. This story tells the reader a lot about Santeria — enough to let us start forming our own newly informed opinions.

  • http://religion.beloblog.com/ Jeffrey Weiss

    Arggh. Got interrupted and hit the send key too fast.

    Beyond that — is there any question that Santeria is misunderstood in the US? Would you need evidence for a claim that, say, Hinduism is not well understood here? Heck, Barna has polls out the wazoo showing that many Christians don’t understand the denomination they say they belong to…1:-{)> So I don’t feel as if I need much backup to a claim that Santeria is misunderstood.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Um . . . Jeffrey, when you characterize opponents views then maybe you should quote them? This is pretty basic stuff, no? You don’t have to talk about Santeria’s theological opponents but when you do, you should probably, you know, interview a few for their side of the story.

  • bob

    Taking bets now on when Rev Redding will get into this, how delighted her bishop will be, and when Bill Moyer will interview her about it.

  • Dennis Colby

    I think it’s a great article, but I don’t know if it’s such a stretch to say Santeria is misunderstood. Sometimes, reporters can clutter stories with needless attribution. It wouldn’t have been terrible to include an example of someone misunderstanding Santeria – a fellow player creeped out by the altars or something, but I don’t know if this is a situation for playing dial-a-quote with “opponents” of Santeria, whoever they may be.

  • Eli

    Not sure I can agree with Dennis and Jeffrey on this one. Obviously can’t speak for the rest of you folks but I was definitely brought up thinking zombies and Voodoo were pretty messed up — even though Voodoo is the Haitian equivalent of Santeria. It may have something to do with how Papa Doc Duvalier used the vodouns to control the people of Haiti through pretty much any means necessary in the 60s and 70s. Would also have to admit to a pretty vast misunderstanding of what the religion was really about until I actually took the time to learn about it. Maybe he should’ve interviewed me….


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