Wabash Blogs Immersion 2008: Mexico

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Compromise and Controversey

The views and opinions below offer commentary on very sensitive subject matter.  It is the opinion of the author that, given the sensitive subject matter, it should be known that the opinions expressed below are those of the author only and not representative of the other students or professors on this immersion trip or Wabash College.  Thank you.


Robert Campbell '10

Since the time of the Spanish Conquest, Mexico has been, by and large, a Catholic state; however, as we have learned in class, the Mayan culture has very different view on religion than modern religions, such as Catholicism.  Logically, one would assume that during and after the time of the Conquest, these Mayan Indians would have adopted the views of the Catholic Church.  Those who assume this are correct; to a certain extent.  The modern Mayan culture has adopted the terms of Catholicism, but on their own terms.  This was the subject of our final day in San Cristobal and in Mexico; a further look at the Modern Maya and their way of life; this time through the lens of religion.

Chip Morrison, a native of Boston, Massachusetts, has been living in Mexico on and off since 1972.  This afternoon, we had the opportunity to take advantage of his thirty-plus years of experience with local Mayan tribes.  He took us to two Indian villages, one celebrating a festival of the saints, and one where healing rituals are an almost everyday occurrence.  Both situations are worth of their own twenty page research papers, however, there were some differences which astounded me.  For instance; in and out of both churches, turquoise crosses were on display in the fashion which we would find a plane wooden cross in the United States.  In the case of Chamula, the second village we visited, the tribe has added saints, has regular “healing rituals” at which chickens are often sacrificed, and has incorporated other aspects of the local religion into their own blend of Catholicism. 

I must say before I go farther that I am not a Catholic, but rather a Protestant.  Instead of delighting, however, in the anguish and frustration these tribes surely cause devout Catholics, I find an interesting correlation to the modern Protestant religion.  Chip said something that struck me during the day, and while I do not know the exact quote, it basically stated that these people believe in Christ, they believe in his divinity, and they actually feel as though they are talking to God.  At this point, a light bulb went off somewhere deep within the deep recesses of my memory.

As Christians, there are several different denominations; Baptist, Church of Christ, Nazarene, Lutheran, Evangelical, Pentecostal, the list goes on and on.  Often times, I am asked by friends who may not have the beliefs which I hold so dear to explain these differences.  I often find myself dumbfounded, as either I do not know the differences, or they are so subtle that I have forgotten.  Often, I get frustrated because the differences between these denominations cause petty bickering, or petty bickering will often lead to new denominations.  Either way, when I find myself thinking about these differences, I always ask the question, “don’t we all believe in the same basic principal?” 

Please note that I am not calling for an end to denominational worship, or any large scale change, I am not calling for a world where no one has disagreements, it is my belief that disagreements are healthy for humans.  What I am calling for is some consideration.  The people we observed today are incredibly accepting, why can we not be the same way?  Why is it so impossible for two people in one church have their own personal beliefs and not worship they God that they both believe in?  This is exactly why I declare myself a Non-denominational Christian.  I can have a different belief or interpretation of the Bible than my neighbor who is Baptist, and yet I can put that aside and worship the God whom we both believe in right alongside him.  The same can be said across religious beliefs; and I point to our very own Wabash College as proof.  I study right alongside Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and Atheists, and though our personal views may clash, we all are reaching for the same end, higher knowledge of the world, and people, around us.


Above; the arch leading into the courtyard of the Chamula Church.  Below; the front of the Church.


I would like to add to Robert's blog that this day trip was the most enlightening experience of the trip. What we experienced was a public yet intimate rituals. Every Friday during Lent, the people of the San Andres perform a holy festival. We were fortunate enough to observe the parading of the Saints. Our guide Chip was, in his own words, "a guide extradonaire" and he lived up to his reputation. It seemed that everyone in town knew him. He seamlessly transitioned from English to Spanish to Tzoltzin and it was just awesome. We were allowed to go inside the church before the Saints went on procession. The floor was covered in pine needles (considered to be "the flower of the gods") and there was a rich aroma of copal in the air. Dr. Rogers had purchased a "stick of power" (to use on his us) and he was approached by a policeman who showed him a real stick of power. One of things that I found unique was the public nature of the festival. With Chip leading the way, we were allowed to sample Posh (moonshine made from sugarcane used in rituals) and be part of the ritual.

We were also able to observe the rituals at the church in Chamula. Once again, we were able to take part in the ritual. For the Mayan, holiness and sacred rituals are public events and anyone can take part even by being an observer. I could not help but smile as I loved to be part of something I have never experienced.