Back to Index

RELIGION: Catholicism in Spain, Mexico, and the Philippines



Stephen Schwartz writes:

"I too have studied the histories of Spain, Mexico, the Philippines, and also the Marianas, the latter which are often left out of the equation. I commented on their common history in my book on California: FROM WEST TO EAST: CALIFORNIA AND THE MAKING OF THE AMERICAN MIND (Free Press 1998).

1. Spain in the first half of this century was deeply anticlerical and antireligious. The clerical class were viewed as parasitical and ultrareactionary, and religion itself was viewed as a reactionary phenomenon.

2. Mexico in the first half of this century was deeply anticlerical but not antireligious. That is, Mexicans hated a church they identified with a foreign, "peninsular"/"gachupin" and colonial stratum. They did not reject religion per se. This resulted in such phenomena as the Mexican anticlerical laws which remained in force until the late 1980s. Octavio Paz once pointed out to me the tragedy of the fact that the Mexican church in 1988 had only about 2,000 priests, most of them poorly educated, because of the anticlerical laws... which he ended up opposing. Don't forget, by the way, the virgen de Guadalupe is a pure syncretic representation of Tonantzin/Coatlicue.

3. The Philippines is an extraordinary society with little in common, in the final analysis, with either Spain or Mexico, in my view. The basic Malay cultural layer and the presence of Islam create a situation completely different from Mexico. The Malay and Islamic strata were much hardier in The Philippines than were the indigenous power classes in Mexico.

Filipino anticlericalism is new to me. I know Filipinos are great enthusiasts for millenial movements, and that Rizal, the famous Filipino patriot, was an associate of the Catalan anarchists.

The Philippines were a creation of New Spain, i.e. Mexico, rather than Spain, but that is another story. My understanding is that the Magallanes/Elcano expedition represented the first European explorers of the Philippines, but that New Spaniards, i.e. Mexicans actually established the colony there.

Both Iberian political hagiography and Filipino political hagiography, i.e. the transference of saintly/magical status to political leaders, originated in Islamic culture. Spanish Catholicism is deeply Islamized. As noted, the Philippines retains an immense amount of Malay, i.e. Islamic influence. This has much more to do with the Islamic concept of awliya, i.e. friends of God, than anything else.

I just spent four months in Kosovo, and regardless of the nonsense peddled by my colleagues in media, my own observation was that Albanian Islam, Albanian Catholicism, and even Serb Orthodoxy as represented by jeromonah Sava Janjic played an admirable role as peacemakers. The difference between the situation today and that in the past is that today religion is a subordinate tool of political interests that make war. The religions do not function as autonomous institutions that make war themselves. Don't believe the hype on Kosovo or even Bosnia. The wars here were not religious in nature. even though 40 percent of mosques in Kosovo were destroyed and 20 percent of those in Bosnia."

Ronald Hilton - 10/28/00


Webmaster