See For Greater Glory

Of special interest to all freedom lovers is the sweeping, new, epic, independent film directed by Dean Wright, written by Michael Love and starring Andy Garcia, For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada, that has just been released in theaters across the U.S. This story is one with particular interest to Garcia, the Academy Award-nominated, Havana-born actor, director, and producer, who has produced two major films depicting the terror and oppression of communist rule in Cuba (For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story and The Lost City). For his brilliant and courageous work in defending liberty, the Independent Institute presented him with its Alexis de Tocquevile Award at A Gala for Liberty in 2008. (Here are the presentations by Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa and Andy Garcia at the event.)

Headlining a superb cast in For Greater Glory that includes Eva Longoria, Peter O’Toole,
Santiago Cabrera, Eduardo Verástegui, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Rubén Blades, Oscar Isaac, and Bruce Greenwood, Garcia portrays Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, the retired army general who from 1927 to 1929 transformed an unorganized, minimally armed, indigenous insurgency into The Cristeros, a powerful, country-wide rebellion against the government of Mexico that had embarked on a campaign to rid the country of Christianity (Law for Reforming the Penal Code) beginning with the persecution of Catholics and ban of public religious practice (including all worship ceremonies, baptisms, weddings and funerals). Priests and religious sisters were denied the right to vote, fined for wearing religious attire, and imprisoned for exercising the right to free speech. When widespread peaceful protest, petitioning of the government, and an economic boycott resulted in 1926, the militant Marxist (i.e., atheist) Mexican president Plutarco Elías Calles denounced the dissent as treasonous and responded brutally with repression, torture, hangings, firing squads, and mass murder by federal troops. In 1927 the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty recruited Gorostieta to lead the Cristeros against the government forces of Calles, who incidentally was publicly supported in the U.S. by the Ku Klux Klan.

This conflict is actually rooted in the imposed secularization of the Mexican Reforma (1855-1861) which in turn led to the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the subsequent Mexican Constitution of 1917 and sought to impose a secular, socialist state over the entire country, at the same time the Bolsheviks were doing so in Russia. In imposing a system of compulsory government education, this Constitution reads, “Education services should be secular, and, therefore, free of any religious orientation. . . . The educational services shall be based on scientific progress and shall fight against ignorance, ignorances’s effects, servitudes, fanaticism, and prejudice.”

In my article “Secular Theocracy,” I note how in the modern world secularism has hypocritically been the driving force for intolerance and the creation of nation states, collectivism/statism on a gigantic scale and massive and invasive wars, and the Mexican government is Exhibit A. As Wikipedia correctly notes, to this day and in keeping with its own “secular theocracy”:

The Mexican constitution prohibits outdoor worship, which is only allowed in exceptional circumstances, generally requiring governmental permission. Religious organizations are not permitted to own print or electronic media outlets, governmental permission is required to broadcast religious ceremonies, and ministers are prohibited from being political candidates or holding public office.

And as part of this secular censorship, propaganda, and repression of religious freedom, there is virtually no mention of the Cristero War in the history books, films, and other media of Mexico, the U.S. or elsewhere. Indeed, both most Mexicans and Americans have been utterly unaware of this story in which between 90,000 and 200,000 people were killed (out of only a population of 15 million), and only now with the film with Andy Garcia are they able to learn vital lessons of their own history with more than obvious relevance for us all today. In this regard, the solution to the problem of church-state power is to de-socialize and privatize the public square, not seek to “take it over” and erect yet another theocracy.

UPDATE (6/20/12):
One aspect of the full story that unfortunately does not get presented in the film is that after the U.S. brokered a flawed peace agreement in 1929, during the following five years and as a secular theocracy the Mexican government broke the agreement by hunting down all of the surviving Cristeros leaders after they were disarmed and massacred them.

David J. Theroux is Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Institute and Publisher of the quarterly journal, The Independent Review.
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