Church Bells in Tochimilco, Mexico: An Old Feud Revisited
by Christoph Rosenmüller
©Javier del Rio/Flickr
I spent a few weeks last summer in the Mexican town Tochimilco, a municipalidad in the state of Puebla. Set to a breathtaking scene with the majestic Popocatepetl Volcano in the backdrop, this charming town boasts a former Franciscan monastery built in the sixteenth century.
In this quaint town, which is about a four-hour bus ride from the bustling megalopolis Mexico City, the church bells ring every quarter of an hour. Every full hour the large loudspeakers mounted on Tochimilco’s town hall broadcast secular tunes such as the canción mixteca, a song on the emigrants’ plight. The chiming and broadcasting go on through the night. I found myself waking up at three in the morning to the sound of “Mexicans, at the Cry of War,” the stirring national anthem.
The government makes an audible point that it has the right to keep its citizens apprised of important civic events and the time, and does not yield this to the Church. In some ways this is part of the long-standing rivalry between the secular and religious power dating back to at least the colonial times of New Spain, as Mexico was then known (1521–1821).
In 1508, the kings of Castile obtained the patronato, the right to appoint bishops and other important clerics in the Americas, thus expanding the royal influence over the Church there. In the mid-eighteenth century, the crown began evicting the friars from the indigenous parishes (Tochimilco in 1767), and in the first decade of the nineteenth century, the crown seized much of the Church wealth that was given as credit to debtors. In the nineteenth century, the Liberals issued the Reform Laws, establishing religious freedom, and wresting from the Church the civil registry as well as much of the remaining Church land. Finally, the Constitution of 1917, born out of the violent upheaval of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1917), decreed the nationalization of even the church buildings. In practice, however, the laws have been loosely applied in the past decades, so that the priests retain much control over the buildings.
In 2010 the PRI, the party of the Mexican Revolution, was voted out in the municipal elections of Tochimilco and replaced by the more Catholic-leaning PAN party. Local relations between the municipality and the Church became more amicable. The government turned down the volume of nightly broadcasts. Still, Tochimilco (in the native tongue Nahuatl: the place where the rabbits abound in the corn field) remains by all measures a Catholic town. A bordello was recently shut down, and the Protestants play only a minor role, if any, here, although they flourish in other towns of the area.
In the neighboring town Magdalena Yancuitlalpan (in Nahuatl: place of the new land), one of the few remaining Nahuatl-speaking communities in the area, several people insisted that their town was even more devout. A large sign over the church entrance implored the Virgin Mary to protect the town’s offspring living in New Jersey.
All Church services, including weddings and burials, are broadcast via loudspeakers. At noon Schubert’s Ave Maria rings out, soon followed by announcements that fresh meat is sold at the stand next to the church. The temple uses the loudspeakers along with the auxiliary town hall (junta auxiliar). The community largely agrees to this arrangement, it seems, given its scarcer resources and the more traditional outlook. Even visitors from Mexico City find it remarkable that in times of electronic communication, which some inhabitants of the two towns use avidly, the loudspeakers still play such a commanding role.
In any case, the PRI on the national level emphasized the pre-Hispanic origins of Mexico and invested much in restoring the pyramids. In 2000, however, the PRI lost the presidency of the country to the PAN. The change fostered a greater political appreciation for the colonial arts and architecture that contributed much to the Hispanic and Catholic heritage of the country. The National Institute of Archeology and History (INAH) is busily restoring the colonial ex-cloisters. About a year ago, INAH finished its work on Tochimilco’s Asunción de Nuestra Señora church. This imposing temple is a part of a chain of stunning monasteries in the foothills of Popocatepetl, which were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. This shines a bright light on Mexico, especially considering all the bad news coming from the border. Now if they could just turn down the speakers a little bit at night…
Christoph Rosenmüller is associate professor in the History Department at Middle Tennessee State University. He is the author of Patrons, Partisans, and Palace Intrigues: The Court Society of Colonial Mexico, 1702–1710.
This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Well, I think faith is just an interesting topic, and it’s something that I quite honestly struggle with. But I always find, however much I believe about the Catholic Church — and I have some major problems with it — I always find that going to church is a very peaceful and a really nice time for me. Sitting through Mass, and sitting in Mass. You know, the thought of forgiveness, redemption — those are things that hold an awful lot of beauty for me, and really relate to our lives, no matter who we are. So those are the kind of parts that I focus on. And obviously there are things that are really scary and awful that I try to forget about.
For many of Finn’s fans, you’ll probably enjoy this interview, but the Friday Night Lights die-hards will like it even more. I just wish the interviewer would’ve probed a bit deeper on this religion question rather than using it as a toss-away paragraph that doesn’t draw Finn out on the depths of his experience or at least follow up on his answer. What are his “major problems” with the Catholic Church? Forgiveness and redemption are present in many denominations and various religions; what is it about the Roman Catholic Mass that draws him in despite his misgivings? What does he think about and take back to his work and relationships? When he cites David Foster Wallace’s idea about “reading fiction as a form of meditation,” how does Finn put that into practice in his own life and art and faith?
Photo by dsopfe/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The news from St Paul’s comes in a brief press release received by Riazat Butt. It reads:
‘The Chapter has previously asked the encampment to leave the cathedral precinct in peace. This has not yet happened and so, following the advice of our lawyers, legal action has regrettably become necessary.
The Chapter only takes this step with the greatest reluctance and remains committed to a peaceful solution. At each step of the legal process the Chapter will continue to entreat the protesters to agree to a peaceful solution and, if an injunction is granted, will then be able to discuss with the protesters how to reach this solution.
Theirs is a message that the Chapter has both heard and shares and looks forward to engaging with the protesters to identify how the message may continue to be debated at St Paul’s and acted upon.’
In short: we’re officially sympathetic to you, but we’ll still call the police in.
During live coverage, The Guardian’s Peter Walker sums up St. Paul’s Cathedral’s stance as it seeks to remove Occupy London protestors from its steps. Only the Brits can cut through the muck with one succinct line.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Americans Have More Confidence in the Military than in the Church
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
What does it say about us Americans when the only institution with “a notable gain in public confidence” is the U.S. military — not churches, not labor unions, not even the U.S. Supreme Court?
The Pew Research Center notes, ”Public confidence in the military surpassed confidence in religious organizations in the late 1980s and has stayed there ever since.” Of the 16 institutions listed in a 2011 Gallup survey, only three have a confidence rating above 50 percent. Here’s the complete list of the percentage of Americans who say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in them:
- 78% - Military
- 64% - Small business
- 56% - Police
- 48% - Church or organized religion
- 39% - Medical system
- 37% - U.S. Supreme Court
- 35% - Presidency
- 34% - Public schools
- 28% - Criminal justice system
- 28% - Newspapers
- 27% - Television news
- 23% - Banks
- 21% - Organized labor
- 19% - Big business
- 19% - Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs)
- 12% - Congress
Financing Churches in Slovakia: Debate and Dilemma
by Lubomir Martin Ondrasek, special contributor
A fairly large portion of the Slovak public believes that an inordinately important concern of churches — especially the dominant Roman Catholic Church — is to pursue their economic interest and extend political influence. As a result, Slovak churches face a serious challenge: In the process of negotiations with the government concerning economic security, the decline of trust could turn into a full-blown crisis of confidence, with possibly irreversible consequences for churches.
Under the current system, the state pays the wages of the clergy, even though it does not regulate the number of clergy hired each year. Over the last decade, state expenditures for registered churches that have exercised their legal right to receive funding (13 out of 18) have more than doubled. Yet, in order not to be viewed as interfering with the church’s internal affairs and thus compromising religious freedom, the state has not tried to influence policies regarding the church and its clergy.
Changing the system of direct state financing of churches and religious societies is currently the most pertinent and widely discussed issue concerning state-church relations in Slovakia. The present system of financing of churches and religious societies is problematic and untenable in the long run, but the absence of social consensus and political will has precluded its replacement with a more appropriate model. The law that governs the financing — passed shortly after the forced nationalization of church property by the Communist Party — has been in effect since 1949, though the model of direct state support of churches stretches back to the eighteenth century. This long history indicates that any fundamental change in the financing model, which would be derived from the doctrine of strict separation of church and state, is unrealistic and, to many Slovaks, also undesirable.
In February 2011, Daniel Krajcer, the Minister of Culture of the Slovak Republic, met with representatives of the registered churches, taking the first step toward fulfilling the government’s commitment, in cooperation with the churches, to “open an all-society dialogue on the problematic issues of funding the churches.” This meeting represents an official attempt to identify and implement a mutually suitable financing model. Although there is no guarantee that this effort will prove more successful than previous attempts, both the state and the churches are better equipped to bring this task to fruition than ever before. Considering the social, religious, and political contexts surrounding the debate, it may be several years before a sufficiently broad consensus is reached and a new model of financing takes effect.
Recent discussions indicate that Slovakia will not indiscriminately copy foreign financing models, even though these models — especially the European ones — are being carefully considered. Most likely, the state will continue to subsidize religious schools, restoration and preservation of church buildings that represent national cultural heritage, wages of clergy serving in the armed forces, and various public benefit activities for the foreseeable future.
The new model will probably affect the two most controversial aspects of the current system of financing: clergy salaries and financial support for the operational costs of denominational headquarters. Undoubtedly, Slovak churches will have to rely more heavily on self-financing, but their revenue will likely continue to be indirectly supplemented by the state through a church tax or tax assignation.
Since the model of financing churches through a church tax (i.e., an additional tax imposed by the state on believers) is unpopular in Slovakia, its establishment would almost certainly lead to an outflow of members from traditional churches, as recently witnessed in Germany and Austria. Thus, the most feasible model appears to be tax assignation. In this case, every citizen would be required to designate a specific percentage of their income tax to one of the recognized churches or other previously approved cultural or charitable organizations.
Though the Slovaks’ trust of the institutional church seems to be gradually declining, they are not withdrawing their church affiliation, as has happened in some Western European countries. However, the Slovak churches must now realize that the challenge is not only economic but also ethical.
About the image: The Catholic church tower in Bratislava, Slovakia. (photo: Riviera Kid/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
American Christians Believe Church Teachings Contribute to Negative Messages of Gay and Lesbian People
by Anne Breckbill, associate web developer
Our recent show on civility with Evangelical leader Richard Mouw elicited many impassioned responses from our listeners, especially on his comments about homosexuality. Some questioned whether Mouw can truly strike a civil tone and see LGBT people as “a work of art by the God whom I worship” while still condemning homosexuality as a sin and opposing laws that would grant the same rights to same-sex couples as heterosexual couples currently receive.
Last Thursday, the Public Religion Research Institute released findings from a poll showing that two-thirds of Americans see a connection between the negative messages that come out of places of worship and the suicide incidence among LGBT youth. The pie chart above illustrates how Americans view the relationship between negative religious messages about homosexuality and the incidence of gay suicides.
This same poll shows that less than one in five Americans believe churches have done a good job dealing with homosexuality. Who feels that they do the best job in handling this issue? I found those results particularly interesting:
"Of all religious groups, white evangelicals are most likely to give their own church high marks for handling the issue of homosexuality. Three-quarters of white evangelicals give their church an "A" (48%) or "B" (27%). Among white mainline Protestants and Catholics, only about 4-in-10 give their church an "A" or "B." Catholics were most likely to give their churches negative marks, with nearly one-third giving their churches a "D" (15%) or an "F" (16%).
If you’re interested, you can view the topline questionnaire on the PRR website.
The Nashville Flood: “Our Eyes Being Directed Toward God”
Colleen Scheck, senior producer
"Would one of you be willing to blog about the flood in Tennessee/Nashville? I read a poignant tweet last night in which the person was begging the media to cover what has happened (the flood) rather than what might have happened (NY car bomb). And we also received this tweet from a follower, @bigjohnscott: @softweets checkout @pwilson in Nashville & what churches across the country are doing fighting the flood. Sounds like an incredible story.”
I scheduled an interview with Pete Wilson (download mp3 of unedited interview), senior pastor of Nashville’s Cross Point Community Church, for Thursday morning, only to learn that morning that I had been "bigfooted" by CNN’s Anderson Cooper (happens all the time). But Pete and I still had a chance to speak yesterday about his reflections on the devastating floods in Tennessee and the relief efforts he’s organized through his church.
With their permission, we’ve produced this multimedia package pairing our interview with photos from this past week posted on Cross Point Church’s Flickr page. We’d love to get feedback and thoughts.