As promised, I’m reporting back with my impressions of “For Greater Glory,” a film depicting the Mexican Cristeros War of 1926-29, which opened this past weekend.
The film is not an American production – and its director makes his debut with it. I fear that this shows. Despite some genuine stars (Andy Garcia, Peter O’Toole, Eva Longoria), and beautiful visuals, the film lacks a certain polish. It is at times too fast and choppy, and at times too slow and drawn out. That said, the film has its moments – there are several excellent scenes. And overall, it is certainly watchable.
And given its subject matter and content, I suggest that it is certainly worth watching.
The Cristeros War was sparked by widespread popular resistance to increasingly severe anti-clerical laws and regulations enacted in Mexico after 1917.
Although I am not an expert on the Cristeros War, from what I do know about it (including some after-the-movie research), the film presents an accurate portrayal of the key events – and is even accurate with regard to many of the details.
Without belaboring those details, I would like to make a few points and share a few impressions – in no particular order.
1/ It is important to know history, as it serves to remind us what people are capable of (for good or ill). Like most Americans, I was not particularly well aware of the Cristeros movement – and the outright war declared against the Catholic Church that proceeded it (and yes, it was very much, admittedly, a “war” against the Catholic Church that the Mexican government chose to wage). Of course, we’re all well versed in all the atrocities committed by Catholics / the Catholic Church (actually and fabricated) from hundreds of years ago and across the ocean, but few Americans know about the Cristeros War which occurred in 20th Century Mexico.
2/ Although I don’t expect to see such a thing happen in the United States, I do find it incredible how such a war could be declared against the Catholic Church in a country (Mexico) that was overwhelmingly Catholic. It really suggests to me that anything is possible.
3/ Before it became violent, the war against the Church was primarily ideological. Catholic institutions were curtailed in their activities, and in schools children were taught anti-Catholic propaganda. Public displays of religion were largely prohibited. Perhaps, given its institutional memory, this is why the Catholic Church is so acutely sensitive to actions that would deprive it of its liberty in our own times.
4/ In one scene near the end of the movie, President Calles of Mexico confronts the general of the Cristeros. In it, he disclaims any war on religion (despite his earlier declaration of war on the Church). He declares that instead, the fight is simply about power – about who gets to decide what in Mexico. Whether he ever uttered those words or not, his declaration really does seem to get to the heart of the matter – and to why religion (esp. organized religion such as the Catholic Church) so often finds itself in trouble with governments. Governments and rulers don’t like competitors. In the U.S., because of the limited nature of the federal government, conflicts between Church and State were historically rare (even if one were to set aside the First Amendment). But as we enter the 21st century, with a federal government larger and touching upon more matters than ever before, it would seem that an increasing number of such conflicts is inevitable.