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.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Salvador Abascal: Prophet or Crank?

In the late 30s and the early 1940s (until Dec. of 1941), the most powerful man in Mexico outside of the ruling party was Salvador Abascal. Called a caudillo by some, he rose to become the leader of the Union Nacional Sinarquista - UNS. The group operated as an anti-political, quasi-fascist organization based on Catholicism and corporatism and the idea that the Mexican Revolution had impoverished Mexico worse than Porfirio Diaz. As he grew the ranks of the UNS to well over 500,000 members (I've seen the figure of 600,000), he inspired fear in the heart of Rome's priests (Abascal believed Catholic practice was a local matter), other members of the UNS (who feared his influence), and the loathing of Manuel Avila Camacho and Miguel Aleman who feared he posed a real non-violent threat to the Revolutionary Family's control of the peasantry and the Catholic middle class.

As expected, Abascal was no fan of non-Catholic religion, and he often argued that the introduction of Protestantism into Mexico would lead to the division of society and a collapse of family and community unity. Of course this has been one of the talking points of the Madre Iglesia for centuries, and such a statement from a medieval mind like Abascal is no shock. However, while looking at many of the headlines in Latin America over the last week, one has to begin to give Abascal more "props" than as a simple conservative Catholic crank.

Headlines out of Argentina discuss a murder in Santa Rosa where a man murdered his daughter over a religious dispute. Brazil is abuzz with the increasing influence of the Pentecostal community in going after the minimal protections there for gay society. In Chile the Concilio Nacional de Iglesias Evangelicas has ranked higher than the Catholic church in discriminatory behavior and the rejection of human rights. A glance at the United States will even see evangelical and pentecostal groups cheering on the idea of leaving the Union so that they can impose their own theocratic moralities. While Abascal would be right there with the Pentecostals in degrading the human rights of homosexuals or religious movements that disagree with him, I think he has hit on an important idea that Protestantism tends toward the division of civil society.

I have a grad student who is a vocal, vocal, vocal Baptist (as in witness to people during class Baptist) that once made a joke on Matthew 18:20 (where two or three are gathered in my name) saying "Where two are three are gathered in my name, there also are two or three potential Pentecostal churches."

While I certainly agree that people can - at at times should - stand by their ideas of absolute truth, I find it entirely unreasonable to demand that others adhere to those norms. If they would like to believe that everybody is bound for Hell then so be it, but if they insist on the dissolution of civil society, the disintegration of the community, and the movement away from national entities that have the potential to protect the rights of all, I think we have moved beyond religious dispute into entirely dangerous areas of national and civil security. As Tariq Ali so eloquently calls it (in a book that is not so good otherwise), we have something of a "Clash of Fundamentalisms" on our hands.

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