Under the anti-clerical Mexican Constitution of 1917, the Catholic Church faced escalating levels of official persecution, eventually culminating in a full-fledged civil war between the state and the religious peasantry during the second half of the 1920s. Marta Jimenez over at Catholic News Agency posts a brief article featuring snippets of interviews with children and grandchildren of participants in Mexico’s Cristero War. And the war itself, famously the backdrop of Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, is now the subject of an upcoming film entitled For Greater Glory (featuring, among others, the talents of Andy Garcia and Peter O’Toole).
Though interesting on its own for historical reasons, some will inevitably see parallels between the timing of the film’s release and the contemporary fight over religious liberty. Indeed, the marketing of the film certainly seems to reflect this (the trailer makes heavy use of the motif of “standing up for freedom”). Of course, by almost any metric, Mexico’s legal, historical, and cultural situation is drastically different from the United States. Our constitution and political atmosphere have an embedded aversion to trespass against religious freedom, and rights language still retains great sway. Mexico’s modern founders sought gold and land rather than the realization of a Biblical metaphor.
Still, it should be sobering to remember that this level of conflict between church and state, which in some ways resembled the intermittent Roman crackdowns of old, took place on land that adjoins our soil. Yet the Cristero War was also an element of (and prelude to) other, historically-unprecedented persecutions of Christianity that took place later in the twentieth century. Americans should certainly be thankful our nation has never undergone such an experience, and that the thanophilia of the twentieth century, of which the Cristero War is an oft-forgotten skirmish, still seems irredeemably strange and “foreign” to us.
Nevertheless, perhaps even those who find the analogy to current religious liberty debates to be a stretch can agree that it’s worth bearing in mind that this very literal battle took place not across an ocean or “over there,” on an old, fading continent, but in the house of a geographical neighbor. And that should serve, at the very least, as a ward against our own tendency to historical complacency.