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tv   Believer  CNN  March 19, 2017 7:00pm-8:01pm PDT

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and we may never know the answer to that question. a battle is raging for the soul of the haitian people. one claims they're in the group of satan. all of it's social, political, economic problems with the result of a blood pact made with the devil. the other side sees the faith that helped liberate their ancestors from the shackles of slavery threatened by outsiders. they are now struggling to simply keep that faith alive.
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i'm in haiti to explore the conflict that has gripped this nation between evangelical christianity and vodou. >> reza aslan is author and scholar. >> he's a scholar of religions. best-selling author, reza aslan. muslim, american. what's your reaction -- >> i've been studying the world's religions for 20 years, and now, i'm going to live them.
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>> there's an old saying, haiti is 70% catholic, 30% protestant, and 100% vodou. chances are when you think about vodou, your mind is filled with images of zombies and vodou dolls and demon possession, the stuff of nightmares and horror movies. the essence of vodou is the melting of the spiritual and material worlds. there are thousands of spirits or lawa, which act as intermediaries between believers and god. they can be worshipped through gifts and offerings. through a alters made in their names. for music and through dance. the goal of a vodou ceremony is to invite a lawa to take possession over the body of a priest or a priestess. this is called mounting. and it is the key component to
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vodou rituals. each lawa has a unique personality, and a specific function. this is a lawa, a spirit. she represents love, passion, even eroticism, this is h and her mother form with her child. does this look familiar to anyone? vodou traces itself back 6,000 years all the way to the african continent, but it was brought here on slave ships. and in haiti, you had african vodouees from all over the continent coming nogt one island, and then having to mix and match each other's version of vodou while also adopting the
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catholicism of the slave masters. the result is a religion that comes in a thousand different forms and borrows from everywhere. when catholics first encountered vodou, they absorbed it into catholicism, transformed into catholic saints. which is why the lawa looks like the virgin mary. years later, when protestant missionaries arrived in haiti, they simply ignored the lawa. things changed in the devastating earthquake in 2010 which left the country in ruins. a wave of missionaries arrived and in the process converted thousands to christianity.
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and far from absorbing or ignoring, they take them very seriously. they believe in them, they believe that they exist, that they're real. they just think that they're demons. they believe that anyone mounted is pes edpossessed by the devil. indeed thebelieve t entire country is possessed by the devil. they base that belief on an event that took place one night more than 200 years ago. a night that launched the only successful slave revolution in history. a night that gave birth to the nation. >> haitian history tells of a famous ceremony called the ceremony. and apparently enslaifd africans came from different plantations.
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they sacrificed a pig, they took an oath together that they would fight the french. they'd get possessed by their spirits who then say to them, we're your back-up. two weeks later they start poisoning wells and lighting fires and the revolution is on and the white french are freaked because the africans have this multi-pronged rebellion. by 1804, they liberate the country and declare it independent, they apolish slavery, and they make every haitian person a free citizen who is eligible to, you know, work the land and be equal. >> so in a sense, vodou becomes this force for liberation. >> it was unthinkable to the west, to france, that a non-christian power could overcome a christian power. >> tha conflict is still going on, the idea of this conflict between christianity and vodou and what it means for the
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island -- >> so the evangelicals think vodou is demonic. they looked at the ceremony and say, huh, gathering of people, possession by spirits, i.e., demons, sacrifice of a pig. they say this is a blood packed with satan, and that's why haiti has been in this downward economic spiral and political spiral. e vn jell calls surmise that in this founding moment of the nation, the leaders of that ceremony dedicated the nation to satan. >> they succeeded because satan helped them succeed. >> it's part of the devil's work. >> many of haiti's e venn evangelical calls missionaries blame the blood packed with the devil for everything that's wrong with the country. haiti is racked by poverty. disease is rampant, corruption is endemic, unemployment is
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through the roof, and infant mortality rates are the highest in the western hemisphere. [ speaking foreign language ] >> he's a passer from illinois coming to haiti to preach the gospel for years. in 2014, he moved his family here permanentlynd while he doesn't have his own congregation, he goes from chur to church preaching to haiti's rapidly growing community of evangelicals. tell me about that conflict between christianity and vodou. >> the protestant evangelical understanding is that the spirits of vodou are demons. and then their authority comes from satan. there is good and there is evil.
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there is right, and there is wrong. and they emanate from the spiritual entities that are god and satan. >> right. >> satan wants to kill, steal, and destroy humans. >> and you think that vodou has allowed satan in to take hold of this nation? >> haiti's a little unique in that the nation was goin satan. it's kind of the opposite what happened with the american slaves. the american slaves, somehow, got the religion of the slave masters, but they got it right. so what they were doing meeting, skraet, and stuff like that, singing and praying and worshipping the lord and calling upon him when their release came, it was a blessing. >> but that wasn't the case -- >> in haiti, they turned to the
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loa and said, basically, we give our nation to you if you will deliver us from the french. [ speaking foreign language ] >> is that what victory in this spiritual battle for theoul of haiti looks like? >> that's thousand starts. it can't start any other way. and so -- >> how does it end? >> it ends with the economy of a nation going up with things that people thought could never happened happening. >> god's waiting for the unity, repenitence, humility, love of the christians in this nation to invite him to come and take
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in haiti the evangelical message boils down to this, they never liberated themselves from the bonds of slavery as history teaches us. they replaced one slave master, the white man for another, the devil. shalom tabernacle, upwards of 50 thours members, the founder is the preacher, pastor andre. >> what kind of message did you give to your congregation after the earthquake? >> the message -- [ speaking foreign language ]
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>> it sounds as though you're saying there is a real demonic presence in haiti. >> y [ speaking foreign language ] >> almost everyone here converted om christianity to vodou.
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and in doing so, they left the loa behind, but they don't believe that the loa have left them. in fact, they're convinced that the loa are still battling to possess their bodies. to mount them, and they look to the pastor to set them free. [ speaking foreign language ] [ speaking foreign language ]
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[ speaking foreign language ]
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>> ever since the devastating earthquake that nearly destroyed haiti, money has been rolling in from evangelical churches abroad and more and more haitians are turning their backs on vodou in favor of the gospel. what was it about christianity, particularly the evangelical brand of chrtianity that drew you in? [ speaking foreign language ] >> jacques is an assistant pastor at tabernacle. he grew up the son of a vodou priest and priestess, abandoned it and left his family when he converted to christianity at the age of 18. [ speaking foreign language ] >> one of the things that vodou does in haiti will often say is
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that almost every one of those schools and almost every one of those hospitals was built by foreign christians. by christians outside of the country. there aren't a lot outside of the country. [ speaking foreign language ] wait, wait.
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in the evangelical imagination, vodou is a demonic religion that has held haiti captive ever since it's
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liberation from french colonial control. of course, that is now how vodouists here understand their religion. to get a different perspective on vodou, i'm meeting with a vodou priest. he's invited know tour his temple. >> i always say it's my temple to facilitate things, the temple doesn't belong to an individual. it's like a church. church doesn't belong to the catholic church, but it doesn't belong to priest. >> can you explain the pole in the center? >> yes, the center pole is the link between the world and the earth. because we believe that we are connected. >> and this is the center of every vodou temple? >> this is the center of everything. >> and these designs -- >> these are called veve.
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they present a spirit. what it is, it's a canal for the spirit to come in. >> john's has separate rooms, each dedicated to a specific loa or spirit. each room is decorated to represent the loa's distinct personality. there's a saying that i've heard before, it says something along the lines of, you go to a catholic church to talk to god, you go to a vodou temple to become god. >> god is far away, up there, but to become a god. that's not so good to see a god because we believe there is one single god. >> so there's one god, and that's the creator god, but he's distant. >> very distant. >> you know, he's unconcerned with us, and the loa are how we,
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in a sense, communicate with that god. the loa are aost intermediaries between us and god. >> you're totally right. >> the knocking is to let the spirits know we're coming. >> to let the spirit know you are coming. sometimes they're busy. if you come unexpectedly -- >> you don't want that. >> this is -- >> yes. >> it is very important spirit. and i think maybe the spirit that most people trust is really the image of the model. tough model, but she is always there. she will never give up on you.
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>> this is really the symbol of war, the symbol of many kingdoms of africa. and ran with the spirit of nights, led the war of independence. >> for jon, the loa are like friends, there's an intimacy he shares with them, but there is a dark side to vodou, malignant spirits that seek to cause harm to human beings. these spirits even jon fears. this room is dedicated to simbi, it's a room of dark power, of negative energy. in many ways it contains everything that evangelicals think about and fear when it comes to vodou. before we can enter, jon must perform an elaborate ceremony to cleanse this energy, to prevent an unwanted mount iing.
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>> this room is a reminder of slavery and of harshnessf the life of a slave. this is where you would find things that compliment elements of a past. and constant reminder of what we as a nation had to go through to become a nation. there's an african saying that the westerners came with their bible, taught us how to pray. they told us to close our eyes as we were praying, give us the bible, and we prayed really hard, closing your eyes and speaking to god. and when we got open our eyes, they have stolen all of our sins. we don't believe in heaven and hell. there is no heaven for us. there is no hell. there is only life.
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>> as a vodou priest, jon is a servant and the summoner of the spirits. he holds regular ceremonies where this congregation comes together to dance and sing and play the drums, all as an invitation for the loa to come upon them, to take hold of them, to possess their bodies. to mount them. >> being mounted by a spirit if you're not fully in control of
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yourself. not fully aware, but you have a sensation of freedom. i think it's a privilege. i think it's an honor. and i believe it's a gift. >> seeing someone mounted by a loa is strikingly similar to what i saw at the evangelical church. there is one major difference, at the church, they exercised the spirits out, but here, they invite the spirits in.
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we're on our way to a very sacred spot, a water fall that has had a holding place in vodou for centuries here in haiti. it's a place in which we'll begin my initiation into vodou so that i may actually immerse myself in this tradition.
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one that's been, i think really misunderstood for many, many years by the western world. what draws know vodou is the belief that there is no division between the physical and the spiritual realms. christianity says we are bodies now, but that one day we will be spirits. vodou says we are both. spirit and body. the dead are as real and as present as the living. there is no boundary between them.
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>> you have to cleanse yourself from anything negative that there is so you can become new and reborn. all positive. ♪ ♪
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>> water rituals are an essential feature of almost all great religious traditions. whether it's the jewish or christian baptism on hindus bathing. water has the power to purify believers, to cleanse them of their sins, to prepare their souls for ascension into heaven. in vodou, water is a sacred element. bathing in this water fall makes one worthy of coming before the spirits. of being mounted by them. after my initial cleansing, the priest of the falls alled me an unexpe honor. to immerse myself fully in the sacred waters.
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♪ ♪ ♪ ♪
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now that i have been eansed by the sacred waters, i've been invited to take part in a tradition vodou ritual by a temple family in the town. >> welcome. >> thank you so much for having me. beatrice is a vodou priestess.
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she will act as my guide throughout the ceremony. >> first we're going to call on the spirits so we can offer them the sacrifice. it will be sacrificed. the family is waiting for you. ♪ ♪ >> the first action in any vodou ceremony is the drawing of the veve. each veve corresponds to a particular loa. they act as a kind of spiritual beacon, inviting the spirit to enter the lacu. >> this is opening the case for the spirit. to make sure that they participate. >> the hope is once a spirit finally descends, it'll take hold of one of us, though no one in the room will be mounted.
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>> now we're charging the veve. >> once the veves are charged with offerings of alcohol, the gate to the spirit would can be unlocked and the call to the spirits can begin. >> when we're calling the drums, it's to make sure that everybody that is connected with the vodou need to follow the spirits o the ancestors. ♪ ♪ >> they're trying to summon the spirit of ogo, a very powerful loa. loa of metal and war, then will present the sacrifices.
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♪ ♪ >> finally, after hours of dancing, chanting, and pleading, ogu arrives. he mounts one of the priests in the lacu taking control over his body. ♪ ♪
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the possessed priest can only speak in grunts and exhillations. >> he wants to salute you. >> i need beatrice to interpret his commands. >> be strong. >> we have to go and get it off now. watch out. >> that's it. wash out. you're good? okay, let's walk together. >> put a knee down. this is where you will gather your strength.
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the strength that is with you. you take it because this life will not be given in vain. you need to take the energy from it. strength. it's strength. let the spirit be with you. >> animal sacrifice is very likely the oldest religious ritual in the world and an important part of many vodou ceremonies. >> he's very happy with the offering and the feast that is provided for him. >> the offering is given to the spirits with hopes obtaining blessings and good health. ♪ ♪
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surf, because he is giving you energy, and it's senseless, you know, and we have to make sure that we honor the life that he was, and he's going to feed us, and spiritually, his energy is feeding us, too. the energy is transferred to you, and that life is not lost. ♪ ♪ >> you know, we are one in vodou, and we know we are one with nature. >> and then just as suddenly as he arrived, ogu is gone.
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>> that was an intense experience. the energy in that room, the heat and the smell of alcohol and blood, my tongue tastes like pwrud, and it was like trance-like and hypnotic, and he was so enerdifferent when ogu w there, and it felt like lightning and a thunderstorm, and giving him the sacrifice connected us together. definitely one of the most extraordinary exspaeperiences o life. wait, wait.
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♪ ♪ i was raised catholic until i was 13 or 14, and started questioning the bible. >> how did you get reconnected with vodou? how did that happen? >> they got connected to me. >> they found you? >> yeah. to me it was a defining moment because i wanted to come back to haiti. >> i feel like kcatholicism in haiti came back to vodou in a
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way protestant chris christian anti-has not. >> i am still the devil to them. >> haitians are believing eupt and adopting that message. >> giving them food for fate, but i believe we need to be respected. i don't go and attack their religion, and just respect the fact that i worship my ancest s ancestors, and they were free people in africa and minding their business and invaders came and took everything from them and the only thing they brought with them is vodou, and i believe their lives and the sacrifice of their lives was not done in vain. >> there's a powerful message being spread by some of these missionaries, which is if all of haiti's problems are spiritual and satanic, then the answer is
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easy, jesus, and so that will take care of all of haiti's problems, and i wonder what is vodou's answer to haiti's problems? >> when we are in a community, we make sure that we take care of one another. we should put more emphasis on that, and we don't have a school. >> there are no vodou schools. how come? >> because it's not financed. >> and christian schools, almost all of them are financed by outsiders, and it's hard to find outsiders to pay for vodou? >> yeah, the vodou population is the poorest, and you have to convert, you have to be christian to be able to have a school, and they pushed aside a big chunk of the population, and what i want and expect and what
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i am working for is the respect part and we can sit down together for the community no matter the fate. >> uh-huh. haiti's got a lot of problems. but i spent a lot of time with vodouees in their homes and temples, and i did not encounter state satan. i did see those who continue to shape its national narrative, and even as the narrative is being twisted by outsiders. no matter how many churches or missions are established here, no matter how many pure-hearted missionaries arrive, vodou will never be eradicated from haiti, and vodou is haiti and haiti is
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vodou. >> i believe as vodou as my roots, it's also my wings. >> i believe in the strong beating heart of haiti. [ speaking spanish ] . i believe that jesus is coming back. >> i believe that jesus is our only hope to have a better country and a better world. >> i think vodou come from [ inaudible ]. >> i believe the only hope for haiti is for the church of jesus christ to rise up and be a blessing on tall the people of their nation. >> i believe in vodou and i believe in the human beings and the power of gods. >> i believe in jesus every day, in school god helps me do things. >> i believe that vodou is a religion of nature, the religion
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of love and the religion of the future. good evening. i am john berman. welcome to cnn's special coverage a. moment of truth for this white house, and we mean that literally and seriously. within the next 12 hours the fbi director could affectively call the president a liar and testify under oath that president obama never ordered wiretaps on trump's phones or any phone in trump tower, and that's what trump said with no evidence, and if that's what we hear from james comey tomorrow, no evidence or wiretaps he would join a trance atlantic all-star team of politicians


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