Monday, July 9, 2007

On Sunday it's not a tourist town

People go to church around here. Catholic? Lots of them. The morning service was overflowing onto the steps and into the street at the cathedral in Puerto Vallarta yesterday morning. The better shops were closed -- which was fine with us, anyway. It was too hot to wander around and spend money. Much easier to spend it sitting at The River Cafe, lingering over drinks and food that you can't find in Guayabitos and La Penita. Even the iguanas stayed hidden out of the sun.

But back to the church thing. Catholicism isn't the monolith down here that Americans often think it is. There is a big brick LDS facility on the road out of PV going to San Sebastian -- basketball courts and everything. There's also a Baptist church, and a lively group of PV Episcopalians that my friend Char belongs to. LOTS of evangelical churches, in all shapes and sizes. Storefront, humble houses, open air in vacant lots. We've seen the scrolly spires of "El Luz del Mundo" all over, including one here in Guayabitos. Jehovah's Witnesses, Testigos de Jehova are one of the fastest growing denominations down here. You see their neat little temples in almost any pueblito -- always freshly painted.

Our whole work crew putting up the shade structure upstairs are Seventh Day Adventists. They have to be finished at 1:00 Saturday afternoon, to get ready to go to church later that day. A state-wide Adventist congress late last year in Tepic drew well over 4,000 people. Gil the gardener down the street gave me a full account. Think about it. Nayarit is a pretty small state!

Another interesting trend is more and more Muslim names in the up and coming generation. I keep running into boys named Said. Our housekeeper's daughter is Yagaira, named for the Muslim doctor who delivered her 16 years ago in Fresno, CA. The cultural differences between Latin America and the Mid East are not that far apart in many ways. After all the Muslims occupied Spain for over 900 years. Try googling "Muslims in Mexico." Interesting.

Maria, the former nun, Jeanette-across-the-street's housekeeper, gave me a thirty minute diatribe the other day about PAN (the political party of President Calderon) and the Catholic Church being hand in hand. (She's obviously an Obrero supporter, referring to Calderon as ese fulano quien en realidad no fue elegido, or "that so-and-so who wasn't even really elected." Where have I heard that before?) It's her contention that people are leaving the Catholic church because it's become so political.

Ahem. Become??? And ahem and ahem again. It's a little late these days to warn against "mixing" religion and politics. That is the name of the game in every part of the world.
Actually, it's always been that way, though you wouldn't know it from studying history in the U.S. where public schools are thoroughly sanitized of any mention of religion in any context.

No I'm not advocating reinstating prayer in public schools. Prayer is just too private, too One-to-one and one-to-One to even consider it falling under the purview of legislation. Frankly, I'm glad the days of public prayer in public schools are over. I was always having to mentally edit those Morning Watch devotionals that opened school days over the loudspeaker when I was growing up in Texas. There was just a lot in the Southern Baptist litany that didn't jive with what I believed -- and that went for my friend Janie Ginsburg, as well. If the devotionals served any purpose for people like us, it was to remind us emphatically that we were definitely "different." Great way to start the day. Not.

What I'm talking about is that to consider ourselves "well-educated," we should be exposed to some basic religious literacy: Biblical, Talmudic, Koranic -- just for starters. The sooner the better, time-wise and age-wise. No matter our political stripe, whether we plan on making peace or making war, we need to know what "those" people -- whoever we're talking about --are thinking, because (and here I go quoting Mary Baker Eddy again) "our ideas of divinity form our models of humanity." Whatever the divine "ideal" is, it's eventually going to be played out on the human scene. Sometimes for better. Often for worse. Mix religion and politics? I don't think, when all's said and done, you can separate them. Two sides of the same coin. These days, that coin is up in the air.

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