A film about the Cristero War opened last weekend, For Greater Glory. Most Americans will be at a loss to know where or when this took place. But it was on their doorstep, in Mexico, not so long ago, from 1926 to 1929, and it lingered on for years. An estimated 90,000 people died – far too many to be forgotten.
Mexico is a complex country steeped in deep Catholic piety, fierce anti-clericalism, a history of ghastly violence, and weak democratic traditions. So its wars are bound to be complex as well. But the spark for this conflict was simple: a harsh persecution of the Catholic Church by the government of Plutarch Elias Calles. Churches were closed, priests were shot, property was seized.
Much of this was justified by referring to the Mexican Constitution of 1917, whose third article stated: “educational services shall be secular and, therefore, free of any religious orientation [and] … educational services shall be based on scientific progress and shall fight against ignorance, ignorance's effects, servitudes, fanaticism and prejudice.”
Of course, it was Calles who determined what constituted “fanaticism and prejudice”. He and his myrmidons punished them with death.
What struck me in reading some brief sketches (relatively little has been published in English, or in Spanish, for that matter) of the war was how uncannily similar those articles from the Mexican constitution are to rants on blogs and in newspapers nowadays.
It is no longer uncommon in the US, the UK or Canada to encounter petty persecution of Christian “fanaticism”. How will it end? Violence and martyrdom seem preposterous, even unthinkable. But along with many other people, I do wonder how our increasingly bitter conflicts over abortion and same-sex marriage will eventually be resolved. From that perspective alone, For Greater Glory is a thought-provoking film.
Related reading: Review of For Greater Glory by Patrick Fagan