About Secret History

Commentary on Latin America.
Mostly about Mexico - but not always.
Designed to encourage readers to learn about
the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people
spread across two continents
- but not always.
You can always count on a little snark.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cristeros, Mr. Calles, and Prop 8

Having left California just over a year ago, I still have a large number of ties to the area and two friends on either side of the Proposition 8 firestorm have been in frequent contact. One was for prop 8, and in the span of 36 hours he had his sign vandalized 10 times. This is what was left after he finally replaced his official sign with spray paint and plywood.

The other friend is, as I quote him now, a "fat, white, hopelessly heterosexual Jew" that lives in the mission district of San Francisco. He stands firmly against the results of the November 4 vote, and he is truly moved that many of his neighbors were heartbroken at the passage of Prop 8. As he kept in contact with me, he recounted a growing conflict among some of my former colleagues - some of whom are evangelical Christians and Mormons - and others who are firmly opposed to those beliefs. Most interesting of the emails he forwarded on to me was the reflection of a colleague who justified his statements by saying he was a "Chicano from Bakersfield" and so his observations on why rural minorities voted for Prop 8 were supposed to have extra legitimacy. The thrust of his email was that rural minorities were uneducated and poor, thus they were in the grip of their pastors and preachers, and without the money to pay for access to other sources of information, these Latinos and blacks were mere dupes.

For me, this brought to mind the position of the Sonoran generals during the consolidation phase of the Revolution in Mexico. Doing research in Guadalajara and Mexico City, I had occasion to read not only the official public documents, but also those letters and programs designed by the official party's anti-clerical association whose motto decreed that "God is a Lie and Religion is a Farce." Their stated duty was to "liberate" the masses from the oppression and tyranny of the Catholic clergy and bring light and truth to the masses via the public education of the Revolution. Benighted Indian mobs, they maintained, waited to be brought into the Revolution by education, and women, silly and seduced in the confessional, were banned from voting in Mexico until 1952. I'm not sure that this was what my former colleague was after (and I'm sure he would balk at my comparison between him and Mr. Calles) but I was certainly struck by his language. The war that grew out of this state sponsored control of religion killed 80,000 people in 3 years.

Mexico "resolved" its conflict by simply casting aside the rule of law and allowing churches free reign, while continuing to hold the Revolutionary laws at the ready in case the clergy should insert themselves into politics in the future - a condition that was supposed to change in 1991, but in real practice never was modified.

I might observe here that the work of Jennifer Purnell has pointed out that many of the Catholics that revolted against the state's attempt to restrict religion did so because of accompanying economic issues (read the book - there is not enough space here). It might be a fun little study to pay attention to the divide that exists between those that voted for prop 8 who sip coffee at the cafes of urban California, and those that voted against it who serve that coffee.

And please, considering what I have seen on the net on this topic, take note that I am not insinuating that those who voted against prop 8 hate religion and religious people. I'm simply pointing out that those who voted against the measure and found that they were opposed by the very people that they champion in their scholarship, exist in the same situation as those Sonoran generals who claimed to have fought the Revolution for the peasants, but found that many of the people on the ground rejected their version of this Revolution. Those generals, unfortunately, reacted with violence and intolerance, and only when a "modus vivendi" was worked out were both parties able to move forward. Both the Revolution and the opponents of prop 8 should have viewed their opponents through a more complex lens than that of "oppressed people."


richmx2 said...

Then, as now, religion has been a pawn of political reactionaries. While the Cristeros were often motivated by religious conviction, the "real" fight was between the modernists in the Revolution (which, for other historical reasons was rooted in anti-clericalism going back to the 18th century) vs. the old porfirate elite. Financing and weapons for the Christeros came from the United States (as do the supplies for the narcos today).

The number of deaths does not just include Cristeros,but those from all sides in the conflict, including innocents, like those massacred by the Cristeros at the start of the war, when the passengers on the Guadalajara-Mexico City train was attacked.

The end of the violence came not by illegally allowing the Church to function (it always could, but not under the conditions it had pre-1917), but under a carefully crafted informal agreement with the Vatican, largely worked out though the good offices of Dwight Morrow and the Bishop of Houston. In some areas, official anti-clericalism persisted much later (Chihuahua and especially Tabasco, the setting for Graham Greene's "Power and the Glory") while for the most part, the Church was able to function within the legal proscriptions on its activities. As one wag put it, "the state is deaf, and the church is blind."

Constitutional changes in 1992 allowed the Church(es) more leeway, but they do -- as in the United States -- regularly over-reach, as in the recent attempts to overturn the Federal District's abortion law.

The Fam said...

Once more I'm less comfortable with chalking up the revolt of the peasantry to their use as the dupes of the Porfirian elite and the Knights of Columbus - it simply sounds like the ruling party line. It has been a bit since I read Jean Meyer on the topic, but I think he certainly does a fitting job on the subject and the multi-varied motivations involved.

As I stated in the post, the deaths were a result of the war - not of "faithful Catholics slaughtered by the barbarian Revolution" or some such rubbish as that. But as much as the Bishops used inflamatory language, the Revolution's antagonistic behavior toward Catholic Revolutionaries was certainly a precipitating factor: Why else do we also see so many Zapatista and PCN members that also participated in the overthrow of Diaz?

I'm not sure it is fair to write of the Revolutionary decision to cut out Catholics as a mere decision of history based on the Bourbon Reforms when Catholics and people of other religions had demonstrated a desire to participate in the Revolutionary state. Robert Curley's dissertation and Quirk's (Quark's - I always forget which it is) work on Catholics in the Revolution provide ample examples of parties willing to participate in a multi-party state. They chose (some times for personal reasons) to see the Catholic peasants as possible participants of a different stripe, they saw them either as pawns (agraristas) or enemies (Cristeros). I think Krauze's position on those personal reasons is a good illustration.

And certainly, one point of clarification, while looking at the resolution as either "legal or illegal" is a very American approach, I simply pointed out that "the rule of law" was cast aside (which is not the same as illegal) and that a "modus vivendi" was worked out (the phrase they used). This position, however, was certainly later seen as unworkable by the technocrats of the Salinas administration as well as the United States Congress, all of whom wished to see the "normalization" and "clarification" of the status of relgions in Mexico as there existed a gap between the 1917 Constitution and the Modus Vivendi as practiced. Roderic Ai Camp's "Crossing Swords" as well as the work of Roberto Blancarte are fairly illustrative of the real position of the Catholic Church after the Modus, and "legal" as US Americans conceive of it might be something of a stretch - especially in the spirit of the Revolutionary law, if not the letter.