Essay: Mexico Religion and Mexican Resistance

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Mexico Religion

Religion and Mexican Resistance

Mexico is a nation which has throughout its history suffered violence, instability and a rapid-fire change of leadership that even to present day leaves it in a deeply afflicted state. Beginning with the ebb and flow of the great Mesoamerican empires and culminating in the conquering of the Aztecs at the hands of the invading Spanish conqueror, Hernan Cortes, the observable history of Mexico suggests that its people have been historically vulnerable but fiercely resistant. Quite to the point, this is the internal paradox that defines the nation's sense of religiosity, a force which has been both central to its evolution from oppression and implicated in the frequency with which its people have been so terribly exploited.

We can associate today its religious tradition with resistance and martyrdom, especially in the face of a waning Spanish occupation at the start of the 19 thth century. But the ease with which history presents the transition of the Aztecs into the adoption of Jesuit and Catholic ideas denotes a presence of an entrancing religiosity even prior to the arrival of colonists. Indeed, the mythology of the Aztecs, highly based on visions, dreams and the interpretations of diviners, had presented a spiritually inclined monarchy with the promise that soon conquerors would arrive from a distant land to bring the destruction of their culture. The acceptance of this divinely offered vision would allow Cortes to achieve a relatively fast victory over a culture that was deeply entrenched and rather sophisticated.

Additionally, the consistency of the arrival of these Christian conquerors and the missionaries which naturally accompanied them with religious folklore amongst the Aztecs would make these a people easily convinced on the premises of Christianity. It would be a fast transition for the faith, which now describes well over 90% of modern-day Mexico's inhabitants. That said, it is of some great interest that the very force which would be used to exploit and subjugate the Aztecs -- helping to breed the destruction of a grand and remarkable culture -- would also become an instrument of those seeking change prior to and during the revolutionary period.

As with a great many other cites occupied by feudalist Europe during the 18th century, Mexico would increasingly come under the pale of enlightenment ideals pertaining to the existence of natural rights, the entitlement of all to self-governance and an ever-growing rejection of the ideals of monarchy. Quite to the point, the events which unfolded in the emergent United States at the expense of the British, and those which had driven the Bourbons out of rule in the now populist France, would strike fear into the Spanish. The would endure the change with a sense of caution where Mexico was concerned. The caution was warranted, as leaders in various religious capacities began to adopt an increasingly common thread between morality and the right to independence from tyranny.

This would begin the relationship between popular resistance and Christianity in Mexico, where the values implicit to the faith seemed to run contrary to the behavior of the colonial forces and the imposition of the Spanish Crown. So would this be demonstrated in the rejection of the behavior perpetrated especially against the natives over the course of Spanish occupation. A sense of European cultural superiority -- ironically the very same impulse which helped to proliferate Christianity throughout Latin America -- would also result in deeply oppressive and unequal treatment of natives. With the global inception of a philosophical impulse toward human rights, many of the ethically inclined leaders of church communities throughout Mexico and frequently in the rural countryside where disenfranchisement was typically at its highest, would begin to object to Spanish occupation.

An early example would be found in the Jesuit Friar Francisco Juavier Clavijero, in the middle of the 18th century, channeled his Mexican birth into a greater understanding of the Nahuan culture about which the 'Aztec' term is historically used as a catch-all. His dedication to learning the language and teaching it to other clergy would represent something of a transition in the approach typically taken by religious missionaries. The Eurocentrism which demanded religious education with distinct cultural and linguistic biases toward Spanish would be countered by the notion of reaching across to native cultures. Indeed, it would be Friar Clavijero's view that many of the negative cultural qualities derisively attributed to Mexican indigenous peoples such as laziness and drunkenness were actually traits foisted upon them by the rigors of Spanish occupation. Clavijero made strenuous arguments against Spanish colonialism as a matter of moral obligation relating to a personal sensibility and sense of responsibility to God to right the injustice brought upon the indigenous people of Spain for so long. It is no coincidence then that the friar would also leave behind a rich body of work endorsing the preservation and proliferation of indigenous art, culture and political advancement.

Another example from this era would be the rather eccentric Dominic Friar Servando Terese DeMier, who would help to push forward with boldness the imperatives of Mexican revolution. Vocally supporting the French Revolution in 1789, he rendered himself clearly as an enemy to the Spanish colonial occupation. His affiliation with his church would be a political platform to espouse real and meaningful resistance to the foreign invaders, with his emphasis on the spiritual invocation of Our Lady of Guadalupe helping to establish a perpetuating correlation between the performance of this sacrament and one's entrance into battle. More importantly, Such figures would help to raise the visibility and rhetoric associated with the burgeoning Mexican resistance.

Figures such as Clavijero and DeMier would be significant in the initiation of popular resistance as these figures had access to doctrines which seemed more consistent with emerging ideals about human rights and independent statehood than with concession to foreign occupation and monarchy. Pointing to these inconsistencies and simultaneously occupying a place of influence within indigenous communities where oppression reigned, religious leaders would find value in the spiritual fervor of those with genuine motives to demonstrate resistance.

This would culminate in the early 19th century with the rise in power and influence of Miguel Hidalgo y Castillo, a priest with no military training in his background but with extensive interest in the activities of the Enlightenment. In his study toward the priesthood, he engaged deeply in consideration of these principles, and parlayed this into involved with political activist groups designed to undermine Spanish authority in Mexico. This would coincide with the spreading of popular resistance throughout Europe, as the ideas of the Enlightenment rapidly gathered steam in the rage of the long-oppressed European peasantry. Thus, when the Spanish Crown retired itself form authority on the Spanish mainland, Hidalgo would find himself at the center of a boiling inflection point. His participation in political resistance to Spanish authority would invoke the attention of local colonialist military leaders who vowed swift action against Hidalgo and his allies.

Using his position as a leader within the religious community, Hidalgo summoned the assistance of the Mexican peasants and had soon gathered an army of religious devotees. With that, it was in September of 1810 that Hidalgo boldly declared independence from Spain, touching off a war with the Spain that would persist until 1821. Likely, our collected reading ventures as a recurrent point, many of Hidalgo's followers were driven to this spiritual commitment by a sense of outrage and commitment to the moral imperatives of overthrowing Spanish rule. Nonetheless, this would be lived out in a religious commitment to which Hidalgo himself would become a martyr, executed less than a year into the conflict by a British firing squad. He would, however, instigate the events and help to instill the religious imperative that would maintain the resistance until an official treaty for recognition of independence could be reached a full decade thereafter.

Just as religion had once been a force for the subjugation of the inhabitants of the land, so too would it prove to have drawbacks with respect to its use as a catalyst to popular resistance. Among them, the religious zealotry invoked in many of the civilians who would take up arms would be difficult to contain, even according to Hidalgo's authority. In the wake of its capturing of towns from Spanish rule, the morally driven force would engage in acts of violence and looting that were contrary to its endeavor but excused by a sense of divine entitlement.

More problematically though would be the controversial role assumed by the dominant Catholic church in early Mexico. In many ways, the popular resistance that had used Catholic imperatives to retain its commitment to a long and bloody war would thus make itself vulnerable to the types of Catholic Church devices that had also controlled the populations of Europe through its affiliation to the crown. We can see through the authority of the Catholic Church in post-revolutionary Mexico that there was a period in which much of the social progress sought by those Enlightenment Era… [END OF PREVIEW]

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