For Greater Glory: Thank God We Have An American Constitution

Some cultures are prone to democratic politics, while others resist it. In his classic Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville made an observation in the 1830s that is relevant today: “Mexico, as happily situated [geographically] as the Anglo-American Union, adopted these same laws but cannot get used to democratic government—Francis Fukujama 

Americans assumes that the separation of church and states is straight-forward issue. The government should never prohibit religious freedom, and religion should never meddle in the federal institutionalism the creation common civic culture.  However, Latin America cultures and this type of separation between the clergy and Constitutionalism was never clearly established.  For Greater Glory is a movie about a revolt of Catholics in Mexico who called themselves, Cristeros  and fought the secular Mexican government for religious rights.  When one of the Priests learned that the government was looking for him, he was asked by child if he was not afraid to die. The Priest replied with resignation stating that “there is no greater glory than dying in the name of Christ;”  and hence, the name of the movie.   In the movie, the rebel’s hymns Long live Christ, the King to evoke their devotion to Christ and the dedication to the cause.  Though, surprisingly, the movie never underlines that the Cristeros too, were fighting for a type of Catholicism that had more with maintaining  indifference towards  institutionalism and the creation of national of government.

For Americans, especially conservatives, this movie will appear to be easy to understand, as the conflict was about a group of catholic priests leading thousands of Mexican peasants to defend their religious freedom.  However,  in reality  it is not that simple.  For one thing, here in the US no religion can trump our “common civic culture,” the Constitution.  Also, in America, all religion is free of persecution, but all religions and states agree on common civic culture—institutionalism, the Constitution.  Additionally, in American, people die to protect  the Constitution when citizens pledge alliances to this nation. Therefore,  no religion is above the Constitution in America; and citizens will never pledge allegiance to any religion over the Constitution, which is opposite of  what happened to the Cristeros in Mexico.  The Cristeros  pledged alliances not to a Mexican flag or a Constitution, but rather to the Pope and  Christ, the King.

America is a nation whose political ideals were created by religious tenets. For example, according to John Locke, man was God’s creation whose goal is to create society.  Nevertheless,    man also sees man’ purpose, and rights, of creating society and government.  When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the first paragraph about laws of nature and Nature’s God in the Declaration of Independence in 1776, he was clearly speaking of the “Natural Rights” that John Locke had described in the Two Treatise of Government.  However,  these rights are more designed to create a society and government than the promotion of any religious mandate or hierarchy. But, Thomas Hobbes believed that man had supreme rights to whatever is necessary to protect him from pain, death, and chaos.  This “right” can be transferred or renounced under some voluntary reciprocal act, a social contract. This mutual transferring of Rights, according to Hobbes, is called a “covenant,” which has its basis on God‘s own creation.  Hence–man being a creature of God, and set in motion by God’s own cause (an act of reason) come together voluntary under this covenant.  Yet any of man‘s acts are to be considered a cause set in motion by God, God himself is the cause of the covenant and man’s perpetual liberty and government.

Thus, if we were to apply our own religious values that the Founders of this nation used to create our national character, we would have to conclude that rebel in Mexico were not fighting for God since the rebels were not fighting for a Mexican Constitution or a Social Contract but rather for religious zeal that ran counter to interest the national government and society as a whole, which in Lockean or Hobbean terms are the institution are embodiment of God, too.   These principles of constitutionalism have applied equally to Catholics here in the US, too.  So why would Catholics in Mexico not see it this way?

For example, in the past, at the beginning of 20th  Century, many argued that Catholicism had innate advertion  to democracy and capitalism. But in the US, in the 1920 (the same period of Cristeros movement in Mexico) Catholic and Jewish groups pushed for integration of their immigrants in the common civic culture. The Catholic Church used its clergy, schools, press, charity, and fraternal organizations to persuade immigrants to give up their foreign culture and adopt Anglo American culture.   Irish Bishops had difficulty in convincing Irish immigrants to abandon their traditions so as to conform to a more  “Anglo-American protestant tradition of values and moralism.”  By the turn of the 20th century, Irish catholic schools and churches became a propagation of American values and American nationalism. Our nation, our Natural Rights, and our laws are based on Protestant individualistic ideals that are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.  And our Rights are enshrined to protect us from government and other individuals.  These ideals dictate that neither government nor groups–social or religious–have more power, under the law, than the individual. So Catholics here in the US adapted quite fine. Therefore, the problem for the development was not Catholicism itself, since Catholics adjusted quiet fairly to institutionalism in America while maintaining their core religious values.

So why did Catholics in the US embrace institutionalism while in Mexico Catholics during the same period turned into resistance theology against the federal government?  In the movie, we are offered two options: One could be that the Church had too much power that it was not ready to relinquish.  Two, the rebels were just fighting a Bolshevik godless government that suppressed their religious freedom. But both this options are wrong. According Francis Fukuyama:  

 One of the most obvious ways that development in the United States has differed from that of Latin America concerns political institutions. While Latin America is on the whole more democratic than other parts of the world  democratic rule, and the deviations in the region, in terms of authoritarian government, suppression of human rights, civil conflict and violence, have frequently been severe.  Democracy and rule of law are ends in themselves (see Sen 2001), and they are also obviously related to a society’s ability to achieve other objectives like economic growth, social equity, and political inclusion, and freedom of religion.  

Thus, the less democratic and lacking of institutionalism, the more regimes are prone to suppressed religious freedom and democracy movements.  Yet, respect for the institutions of governments and the democratic process has to be equally from individuals and groups, including religious groups.  However,   this is not what the Cristeros were doing because they had their own social and economic agenda to turn peasants, in rural areas, into ardent followers, but never sought to promote  education about institutionalism, like Catholics in the US did.  The movie, apart from its romanticized nuance,   is more about where a religion should stop, and where the national government has exercise its right to create laws that will build a national character.

In Mexico, the Catholic Church took advantage of this lack of institutionalism and taught Catholicism, pledged allegiances to the Pope instead of a common civic national culture, which led to this Cristero religious movement.   The producer left out the fact the Catholic Priest did not talk about a Constitution or institutional reforms, such as education. Instead, the priests, all who were trained in Rome, spoke as representatives of Rome, not Mexico. Thus, they wanted to continue teaching social economic projects dobbed The Catholic Social Teaching. This Catholic Teaching involved anti-private Property Rights, anti-Capitalism, and instead focuses on social teachings in rural areas:         

The movie is around religious movement but it neglect the fact of the importance of a federal government, and institutionalism to develop cohesive national identity. This lack of a common civic culture and intuitionalism led to Catholic Clergy to want to teach their social theology and but it also led to the federal government to supreme religious services.    As a result, if the states, or federal government, do not have respect for religious freedom the people have the right to rebel. But the task of a national government is to create national identities through elementary schooling.  But, likewise, if the Religious groups don’t have respect for a common civic national culture in which a national identity is instilled, at what point does it becomes a subversive movement that threatens the national common civic culture, or what we call in the US American-ness.

One of main themes for Greater Glory  is that the Cristeros were persecuted and murdered for fighting for their right practice their faith;  and this is true because a democratic government should never impose a religion. But the movie also underlines that the Cristeros main zealous devotion was Christ, and the Pope, not to Mexico and or national Constitution. In fact, the Cristeros not one time mentioned the Constitution, individual rights, or other separation of powers.  They were driven by religious fervor that ran counter to building national identity. Furthermore, the leading  priests were not preaching the religious civic values argued by Hobbes or Locke that are essential to develop social cohesion and institutionalism.

In the U.S., Most Americans would assume their Rights for religious freedom –and demands for the protection of these rights–are universal, but in reality all of our rights are superficially constructed by governments.  As a result, there some  provision in the US Constitution that does not exist in Latin American, and that accounts for the difference in the quality of government, because they  do not promote institutionalism. Latin American countries deliberately modeled their political order on that of the United States.  However, elites never taught their citizens about John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and Rousseau, the actual inspirations for our Constitution.  Both Locke and Hobbes argued that our alienable Rights are created by God, but in their writing they also argued that the Institutions of movement are equally Godly.   Thus, in American, we have religious common civic culture or Constitutionalism.   As a result, we ought to be thankful to the Founding Fathers for making this clear.

Thus, formal political institutions in the United States were deliberately designed to inhibit strong political action and to limit the power of government, but with a strong decentralized institutional structure with a political culture that has prized consensus and compromise even as it promoted competition. Therefore, social conflicts have been mediated within the constitutional framework originally laid out by the American founding fathers. Thus, “American national identity has not simply been a political one defined by institutions like the Constitution and system of laws but also rooted in certain religious and cultural traditions.”  Without Institutionalism, we would not Constitutional Rights, respect and protection for private property Rights, or states’ rights and religious freedom could not be protected. God gives rights, but those rights are conditioned by common adherence to a common civic culture that respects the Constitution.

In Mexico, social conflicts have been severe, and the ability of social groups to use formal political institutions to resolve, mediate, or mitigate them has been much less effective.  So the root causes of political instability and weak governance, and lack of institutionalism, is likely to exist at the deeper levels of social structure or political culture.   Likewise, in the late 18th century, there was a need to broaden the characterization of American ethnic identity to include Catholics from Ireland, Italy, Southern and Eastern Europe.   As such, The Catholic church utilized religion to transform their alliances from Roman Catholicism to American Catholicism, alliances to the American institution, not Rome. These new religious Catholic groups adapted to American institutionalism as their new religion became institutionalism, but that was never the intention of the Cristeros, in Mexico.  American Catholics, too, only pledged allegiance to the Constitution of their new home country. And they saw this as prerequisite to build a stronger national character in the US.

Therefore, Pledging alliances to the Pope was never a real intention of building  a strong Mexican nation character that could serve the economic, social , and political interests of Mexico. Any American wanting to cast President of Mexico as too oppressive should  ask him/herself what would Teddy Roosevelt have said about a religious  group preaching allegiances to the Pope over the National Constitutions or national flag?, What would Roosevelt said about group that  promoted religion over institutionalism and a national character?

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