TRAVEL TALK: SUMMING IT ALL UP
Our return to Dallas was blissfully uneventful. I’ll spare you the details. I entertained myself with Michener’s Mexico, but as I read, another part of my brain was sorting out what I’d observed on this short vacation. My initial impressions required a lot of thought and my arrival in Dallas did not end my meditations.
Capturing My Travel Thoughts
I’ll start with the relationship between Mexicans and Spaniards. I’m actually amazed at how good their current relations are considering the history of the natives and the invaders. Spanish architecture is appreciated just as much as the ancient native sites. There doesn’t seem to be a resentment between the Mexicans and their Spanish heritage. Spain’s Catholicism has been embraced and there doesn’t seem to be any factions hoping to reignite the worship of gods who demand human sacrifice, which were the Mayans gods.
Granted the Mexicans overthrew Spanish rule during an ugly period that lasted more than a decade, but they got over it. They didn’t reject Christianity along with the rulers they ousted or tear down Spanish cathedrals. Though I am sure there was a lot of burning and looting during the war, since its been over, they seem to have developed a great working relationship. The Mexicans I have observed seem just as proud of the beauties of Spanish colonial architecture as they are of their own pyramids. Even when I visited Mexico back in the Seventies and Eighties, this seemed to be so. Most specifically, there is not the tension over monuments and flags we Americans seem to harbor in relation to our own Civil War and slavery.
I Wouldn’t Be Quite as Nice
Personally, as a Christian, I resent the Spanish for the brand of Christianity they forced down the throats of the Mexican Indians. They made most of them slaves and threatened to kill them if they didn’t convert. Not that the Europeans did a much better job anywhere else, but the Spanish Conquest of Mexico seems particularly repugnant, in both their hunger for gold and their forcible spread of Catholicism.
My guide on the Chichen Itza excursion pointed out something I’d never quite noticed before. He showed us a church decorated with serpents. According to the guide, killing those who were unwilling to convert did not seem to be all that effective with some groups of natives. So, instead the friars invited the natives to come to the Catholic Church to worship their own snake god. Though this is more humane than murder, it’s still a trick and I didn’t like to hear of it.
The Question of Christianity
Had I not mulled over the question of religion for several days, this post might have turned into a rant against the Roman Catholic Church. They’ve done a lot of things wrong from the inception of formalized religion, but in truth, little about Christianity is attractive to many outsiders today. In some places, like Central Asia for example, people are turning to Christianity in droves. They are hungry for the hope it offers, but the concept of hope is alien to Americans who see Christianity the enemy. They pull verses out of the context of the rest of the Bible and try to hold them up as messages of contempt. I fear these people miss the point.
Christianity fails any time it gains an official capacity in government. It’s one thing to have a Christian king or president, quite another to have that leader promote his faith with his power. Lead as a servant, sure. Wield your power to grow your religion – NO! Christians have made a lot of mistakes in America. They have judged others based on a faulty understanding of what they think God wants. They also took advantage of their majority and wrote laws favorable to themselves. Now we are paying the price for that power.
During the Byzantine era, the Roman government encouraged its citizens to be Christians. The emperor was Christian and he promoted Christianity in many ways, including paying bishops. Many of the subjects of the emperor joined the church, not because they embraced Christianity, but because they wanted access to their ruler. Others joined the clergy, not out of piety, but because it was a steady paycheck. The Church may have prospered under these circumstances, but true Christianity has not. The intentions may have been good, but the results were not.
Conversions which are coerced or forced in any manner are just wrong, period. A conversion to Christianity should be about faith, relationship and hope. I do blame the Roman Catholic Church for much of the antipathy felt towards Christians. It would take me thousands of words to discuss the atrocities of history, the distractions of Mariology and the veneration of saints, indulgences, Apolstolic Succession, the inerrancy of the pope, the practice of confession and absolution, transubstantiation, and so many other Catholic traditions which make me crazy. However, all Christians are human first and we all screw up really badly. Unfortunately, people judge God based on us, rather than judging us by God’s standards – and we all fall short of those.
As I stood in the plaza of Chichen Itza and considered the awful human sacrifices which were made there, it seemed to me anyone in that city should have been thrilled to learn of the God of the Bible. Instead of a stone god who expected sacrifices, the Spanish could have offered a Creator God, who sacrificed His own Son. But the message was garbled, threats were made, abuses were committed and today many Mexicans are still caught up in a religion of works, rather than a joyful relationship with the Most High God.
These misconceptions about God, Jesus and the Bible still abound. God is seen as the big killjoy of the world, because the message is still garbled. The code of conduct outlined in the Bible is seen as a list of criteria to get into heaven, but that’s a total misrepresentation of Truth. Shame on the religious people who promote this heresy.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. Next week I will leave religion and move on to politics.