Paulo Coelho was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Maybe you’re checking out this article because you’ve read some of Coelho’s books, and their spiritual substance had you wondering about the author’s own spiritual background. After all, his novels are infused with what one writer called a “benign, forgiving, pantheistic brand of spirituality.”
So maybe it’ll come as a surprise to you that Coelho doesn’t consider his books to be spiritual in nature. He said,
I don’t set out to write about spirituality, I am free to do something different every time. . . . I am looking at something in an effort to understand it better. When you say spirituality, maybe it’s because I try to see something from a different perspective.
Maybe he doesn’t see his books in the same light as many of his readers because his own spirituality is so infused in everything about him, everything about life, that it ceases to be its own separate entity.
Coelho grew up in a strict Catholic family and was sent to Jesuit school where he learned to doubt his parents’ religion. On his blog, he wrote,
I remember being obliged to attend [mass] and the constant threats of hell in the mouth of the priests. Everything was sin, everything was forbidden, joy was ruled out.
As a rebellious young man, he defied his parents by declaring himself a writer and leaving the country as a travelling hippie, dabbling in black magic, the occult, and the writings of English mystic Aleister Crowley. But he eventually returned to the church of his youth because, as he put it, “it is in my blood, not because it is the best religion.”
Coelho laments the petty human meddling in Catholicism. He says Jesus was “much more open,” but that the church hierarchy thinks we’re still living in the Dark Ages. He called Pope Benedict XVI a “disaster” for, among other things, his opposition to condom use. So why is he a Catholic if he disagrees with so many church leaders?
Well, my religion is more important than the men that are trying to guide it. But the ritual of the Mass and the words of Christ. . . the Mass is a mystery. And for me, it is the most perfect ritual.
At the end of the day, Coelho doesn’t believe it matters which religion a person practices, only that it suits him.
All religions lead to the same God, and all deserve the same respect.
Paulo Coelho’s political beliefs, as you could guess from his low opinion of the Catholic hierarchy, are on the left side of things. While in his 20s he was arrested and tortured by the Brazilian military dictatorship for his supposedly subversive writing. And since then he’s expressed distrust for government figures. On his Twitter feed, you’ll find things like:
The current role of economists/politicians is to keep us alarmed -and hence easy to be manipulated
On his blog he posted a “Declaration of principles” which he said was a “new political attitude” based around the idea that individuals are the force for change. He said we should stop waiting for and blaming others:
We are the revolution taking place. We are responsible for the world in every sense – political, social, moral. We are responsible for the planet. We are responsible for the unemployed.
He focuses his own piece of the revolution on a group of underprivileged children in Brazil through the Paulo Coelho Institute, financed through his own royalties, and also through his work as a United Nations Messenger of Peace.
His focus on the individual as the catalyst for change reflects his distrust of government and his past experiences with them, but he’s hopeful for Brazil’s future and its government’s future. As he said,
Yesterday we thought we were just instruments of a most powerful game, beyond our control. Today we are proud of being Brazilians.