Tag Archives: Politics

!Viva Cristo Rey! Some historical background for the movie “For Greater Glory”

15 May

I haven’t seen much publicity for it, but the movie titled Cristiada in Mexico and For Greater Glory in the United States is coming to theaters June 1st.  I imagine a sizable number of moviegoers will fill the seats so they can watch Eva Longoria (or, for ladies who prefer older gentlemen, Peter O’Toole).  I don’t imagine that many U.S. viewers, however, will know much about the historical event the film revolves around: the Cristero War of the 1920s in Mexico.

I did an undergraduate research project on press surrounding the Cristero rebellion, two years ago, and with this movie coming out so soon I’m hoping that some of that research proves useful.  If you can read Spanish, I commend you to the Spanish-language Wikipedia entry (it’s much more complete than the English article, unfortunately).

The full text of my research paper with sources: Los Fieles: Faith, Anxiety, and Prejudice in the Press during Mexico’s “Religious Crisis,” February-July 1926

Another previous post — Mexico’s Holy War: Faith, Prejudice, and the Press in 1926

This is David Uribe Velasco, a native of Buenavista de Cuellar, a small town in southern Mexico.

A month ago marked the 85rd anniversary of his death, and next month, it will have been 12 years since his elevation to sainthood by Pope John Paul II.  On April 12, 1927, Father Velasco—a Catholic priest—after putting his affairs in order (he repaid the 50 pesos owed to a fellow cleric; he bequeathed his typewriter and vestments to a friend)—and after blessing his captors in the sign of cross and the name of the Virgin of Guadalupe, he was taken outside, forced to his knees by Federal soldiers, and shot in the back of the head.

In May 2000, he was canonized as San David, a martyr, and one of 250,000 Mexicans killed in the conflict known today as la Cristiada, or the Mexican Cristero War—a rebellion unique in modern history as a popular uprising that took the international community completely by surprise.

Lasting from summer 1926 to spring 1929, the Cristero rebellion represented a popular reaction to the contemporary Mexican administration’s increasing restrictions on religious speech and practice in the country—a country with a Catholic population upwards of 90%.

The very name of the war bears witness to the deep-set piety of the rebel soldiers, christened Cristeros by opponents ridiculing their battle cry:  “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” or “Long Live Christ the King!”

However, in the months leading up to the initial outbreak of violence the depth of Catholic devotional sentiment in the Mexican population was completely underestimated by the American press, which saw the seething controversy to the south as a strictly institutional conflict—not the rebellion of individual cristeros, but a “Church War.”

The flashpoint for mobilization was July 31, 1926—when the Catholic Episcopal hierarchy of Mexico ordered, as protest against clerical persecution, the indefinite suspension of worship services throughout the country—and the federal government obliged by attempting to take possession of church buildings.

Lay Catholics resisted.

Crowds of hundreds, most of them women, spontaneously mobilized to defend the churches—even as police brigades brought fire hoses and mounted federal soldiers to disperse the congregations.  One Mexico City newspaper summed the day up in a single headline—“Los Fieles [the faithful] Will Not Abandon Their Churches.”

Even so, the fight was initially expected to be a rout.

For perspective—At the time, the Mexican government under President Plutarco Elías Calles had a federal army of nearly 80,000 professional soldiers.  The rebel movement, on the other hand, was unorganized until 1927—and comprised mostly untrained, and practically unarmed, rural Catholic peasants of the Bajío region, Central and Southern Mexico, which remains even today the bastion of Catholic conservatism in the country.  To the contrary—by the end of the war the Cristeros numbered 50,000.  And an auxiliary brigade of  women, engaged in smuggling weapons and provisions into combat zones for the soldiers, totaled 25,000.

Popular sentiment was enraged—and the uprising reflected the crystallization and shattering of widespread anxiety that had been growing throughout 1926.

A memoirist from San Julián, a small town in Jalisco, one of the centers of the rebellion, recalled the pervading climate of fear and apprehension that entered her community with the New Year:

“The enemies of the Holy Church began to spread their poison everywhere… black stormclouds began to rise in the blue sky—Everyone was afraid.”

But this anxiety of the faithful was ignored.  Commentators abroad, particularly in the United States, viewed and reported the conflict through the lens of domestic problems and paradigms: an ideological clash of Church and State.

On one side, the child of the 1910 Mexican Revolution: he Liberal, secular administration of President Calles—determined to suppress religious speech, end religious education, restrict the influence and very number of Catholic clerics in Mexico, and nationalize Church property—in the name of secularization.

On the other the child of the Spanish Conquest: the centuries-old Mexican Catholic Episcopacy under Archbishop José Mora y del Río, equally determined to preserve the Church’s economic privileges and institutional autonomy.

Church and State—no third party in existence.  But this was the perspective of an American press embroiled in its own ideological collision:

Just the year before, the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” over evolution in the education system had made headlines in the United States as a war of secularism or fundamentalism, science or faith, progress or regression, educated urbanites versus rural ignorance.  These were the antitheses occupying American minds in 1926—and reporter H.L. Mencken summed up the public attitude in two words: the rural-based, deeply religious segment of the American population comprised: “yokels and morons.”

This domestic situation provided American commentators with a template for the dissatisfied Mexican laity: rural, ignorant, superstitious, racially inferior—and thus incapable of exercising any significant political influence.

Essentially, the United States media projected its own anxieties onto Mexico, and ignored those of the Mexican Catholic.

One incident in particular encapsulates the American perspective:

When Mora y del Rio and the Episcopacy announced that worship would be suspended at the end of July, the Mexican faithful flocked in thousands to churches to receive what many believed might be the final sacraments of their lives.  The Archbishop himself was said to have baptized, confirmed, and married over 3,000 individuals in one day alone.

But while the Mexican press reported apocalyptic panic—in San Julián, the faithful prayed in the streets for God’s pity and mercy—TIME magazine treated the incident as entertainment:

“… barefoot, blanketed Indian runners; toothless Mexican gaffers, perhaps pagans all their lives, hobbled in frenzied haste to receive a precious sprinkling of holy water… in this baptismal race.”

Said correspondent was also thoughtful enough to add a footnote explaining to his readers that the people of Mexico were only nominally Catholic, their religion really a pantheon of primitive deities smeared with a veneer of saints and idols.

Even New York City’s premier Catholic periodical, the Commonweal, espoused strikingly similar racial and religious bigotry:

“the plain truth about Mexico… is that a native Indian population is not the same thing as a Caucasian civilization fostered by centuries of Christian discipline.”

The national academic journal Current History exhibited a comparable bias in its July 1926 issue—intended to be a symposium on opinion about the religious situation in Mexico.

The contributing parties—supporters the Mexican Government, American Catholics, and American Protestants (although, notably no representative of Mexican Catholicism went to print)—all, essentially, agreed on one central issue: the degeneracy of the masses in Mexico.  The only question that remained was which institution—Church or State—was responsible for developing a program for the “uplift” of the Indian and Indo-Latino population:

“Physical welfare is a fact; spiritual consolations are the resources of a theory.”

—a comment that typifies the 1920s, and even modern, elitist ‘progressive’ trivialization of Mexican Catholic piety.

The Mexican press, on the other hand, did not see the growing religious crisis as an issue of progress; rather, it was about freedom of conscience.  This is probably my favorite quote to come from a reel of microfilm.  From the Mexico City paper Excélsior:

“We imitate the United States in its defects, in its sports, in its diversions, in its food, in its clothing, in its affectionate ‘spooning’… but in its indisputable virtues, we don’t care much to imitate them.”

Still, the American press remained convinced that religion was not a primary driving force in human behavior—first came social and economic factors.  And thus, the religious crisis in Mexico could not be any sort of popular war, let alone a “holy war,” but rather had to represent a power struggle between institutions.  Thus when the Mexican Episcopacy called for an indefinite suspension of religious services beginning July 31st—a virtual interdict—American papers such as the Catholic Commonweal assumed the inert, helpless Mexican laity would bear their cross and pray.

But popular anxiety had been steadily growing since Mexico rang in the New Year 1926 and the faithful of San Julián saw “dark clouds” on the horizon.  As early as February, a columnist for the Mexico City paper El Universal predicted what the American press could not imagine: violence.

In an article titled “Spiritual peace is indispensable,” a columnist warned against the Calles administration attacking the “essence of the religion”—the sacraments.

Current History writers, such as the Methodist bishop James Cannon, undervalued this deeply-rooted devotion.  According to Cannon, Catholic ritual was superstitious ceremony alone—and only served to retard social and economic progress for the Mexican peasant:

“The mass in the morning, the rosary in the evening, confession, communion, extreme unction, the benediction of the grace within a Church cemetery, and responsories for the departed, kept the people well under the control of the church even after they were dead…”

But that is a viewpoint unique to the primarily Protestant United States.

Protestantism, unlike its Catholic rival, developed from a theology of faith and scripture alone.  The Catholic Church, contrarily, held tradition on par with these as a source of religious authority: the sacraments were thus not empty ritual to believers, but a conduit of God’s grace and the path to salvation—the essence of religion El Universal mentioned.

And when this was targeted on July 31, 1926—churches seized, worship suspended, and sacraments ended throughout the country—all the assurances of the American press that there would be no reaction meant nothing to the Mexican Catholics who felt their very identity at risk.  From El Universal, six months before the July 31st uprising:

“The truth is that the people never commit suicide.  They might change, transform, and even disappear; but they never change their essential nature—an integral part of native religion.  It is the Mexican people, instinctively, who understand the danger.  For them it is a question of to be or not to be… and it costs everything to want to be!”

Until an accord was reached in June of 1929 between the Mexican Episcopacy and the Calles administration, it did cost everything for faithful Mexican Catholics like Father Velasco.

And in the end, the Mexico City paper was right—the Mexican people knew early on what the international community, blinded by racial prejudice and a disastrous underestimation of the depth of religious devotion in Mexico, never saw coming: the tragedy and the violence of la Cristiada.

* * *

Tudor Thriller “Bring Up the Bodies” Captivates, Again

12 May

I’m far from the only person giving Hilary Mantel a glowing review for Bring Up the Bodies, the second installment in her saga of Thomas Cromwell, the man behind Henry VIII and his ill-starred wives.  The critical acclaim, international readership, and heaps of awards for Wolf Hall, published in 2009, may have surprised everyone (Mantel included), but there’s been nothing but hype for book number two.

We’ve heard the story a thousand times and, it would seem, in every possible iteration: histories and historical fiction, romance novels and bodice-ripping tv shows like The Tudors.  It isn’t as if the story’s going to change.  History has spoken.  The tale is a tragedy.  And so whatever book you read or film you see, Henry VIII is always going to divorce Katherine of Aragon, and Anne Boleyn will always find her head severed from her pretty little neck.

All of which makes Mantel’s trilogy-in-progress even more astonishing.  By showing us the mind of Thomas Cromwell–the man who usually features as the villain, if he features at all–in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Mantel somehow makes the story new.

I reviewed Wolf Hall for the University of Alabama campus newspaper earlier this year–after reading it for the nth time since I first downloaded the historical novel onto my Kindle in 2009.  By that point I was getting very, very excited for the release of book number two.

Well, 3 years of waiting and I read Bring Up the Bodies in under 3 days.  I couldn’t help it!  As much as you want to savor every word of Thomas Cromwell’s sometimes-cryptic thoughts and Hilary Mantel’s always- and remarkably beautiful prose, Bring Up the Bodies is even more of a political thriller than Wolf Hall.

The pace ramps us as Henry VIII grows increasingly unhappy with the marriage for which he turned Europe upside down, as Queen Anne grows ever more imperious without getting any more pregnant, and as our do-everything Cromwell works to undo the royal marriage–whatever the cost.  (I think the title gives us a pretty good idea of the lengths to which Henry’s chief minister is forced to go.)

Of course, as we begin to see in this second book, being “the unknowable, the inconsolable, the probably indefeasible Master Cromwell” takes a toll.  By the time of Anne Boleyn’s execution in 1536, Cromwell had been at the king’s right hand for about a decade–and we, the readers, can see the changes the years have worked in him.  He’s a far cry from the young lawyer of the first book, joking with Cardinal Wolsey at his apogee and doting on his young daughters (all of these people dead by the end of Wolf Hall).  Mantel continues to give us a sympathetic protagonist, but as Cromwell tells himself, a lesson he’s learned in the past 10 years:

“You must thrive in spite of yourself; and so that you may do it, God takes out your heart of flesh, and gives you a heart of stone.”

This is a harder, colder, more confident Cromwell than in Wolf Hall.  Even if he is still plain Master Cromwell (no lordship yet), he definitely has the authority to carry out his plans and the king’s orders (because he is nothing if not loyal to the capricious Henry).  But at the same time, the ground is shifting.

Enemies are rallying.  As Cromwell gains more power, and more money, and more prestige, he (and we) can feel the baleful glares of the old nobility burning holes into his back.  This is a book about beheadings, don’t forget, and there are plenty of instances of foreshadowing–if you happen to know the end of Cromwell’s story.

Knowing how close we’re getting to that inevitable bloody finale makes Bring Up the Bodies a gloomier  book for me to read than Wolf Hall, but no less engrossing.  My heart was pounding by the end, but, I think understandably, it was my neck that I was clutching.

* * *

Now Reading: The Quest for Nobility

16 Oct

High-tech feudal societies aren’t uncommon in science fiction (I’m thinking Dune, and that bizarre tv show Kings from a few years back–what was with that, anyway?).  Debra L. Martin and David W. Small take up the setting with The Quest for Nobility (March 2010), which follows royal twins Darius and Dyla Telkur of Otharia–proper aristocratic SF names, in any case–fleeing from a kingdom coup on their home planet to benighted Earth.  From Amazon:

The idyllic life of royal teenagers, Darius and Dyla Telkur, from the planet Otharia takes a horrifying turn when their parents are murdered. With their cousin appointed as Regent until Darius comes of age, it doesn’t take the twins long to figure out that he’s bent on stealing their throne one way or another. To escape their cousin’s wrath and a false murder charge, they flee to the only safe place they know where no one will find them – the forbidden and quarantined planet Earth.

Safe on Earth for the moment, the only way for them to return home is to find an ancient 10K traveling crystal left behind by their Otharian ancestors who visited Earth 1500 years ago. Enlisting the help of a London university archeologist, they begin their search for the crystal from clues buried deep within the Arthurian lore of Merlin and Lady of the Lake.

What they find instead is evidence of a secret trade pact between Otharia and Earth that was established centuries ago. Before Darius and Dyla can understand what it means, they’re in jeopardy again; this time pursued by those on Earth who want the secret to remain hidden. Who is behind the trade pact and what is being traded are the questions the twins need to figure out while trying to stay one step ahead of the Earth assassins.

I can only speak for myself, but any kids smart enough to team up with a University social sciences professor have my vote… if they were living in a democracy, at least.  Trade conspiracies and ancient mythology are smart plot choices as well as alien feudalism, and I’m anticipating good news for Darius, Dyla, and their readers in the next review.

Ayn Rand wrote science fiction? (book review: Anthem)

3 Jul

Ayn Rand’s name was everywhere a couple months ago, when Tea Partiers started brandishing “Who is John Galt?” signs to protest increasing government intervention in the economy.  It’s a reference to her magnum opus, Atlas Shugged, the 1,200 page economic epic of railroads, utopia, and a collapsing welfare state.  Add some of the passionate sex scenes Rand’s (in)famous for (see: The Fountainhead), and you’ve got a bestseller.

Interestingly, in the midst of our own economic downward spiral and government bailout fad, 2009 was Atlas Shrugged’s best year in sales—ever—which is pretty impressive considering it was published in 1957.  Right now, it’s #1 in Literature/Classics on Amazon.  Or in other words, Dagny Taggart just pwned Elizabeth Bennet.

But a decade before Atlas Shrugged hit the shelves, Ayn Rand wasn’t writing charged political thrillers or 60-page radio speeches.  She was writing science fiction.

De-individuation is the most horrible future novelists and television producers have given us.  We recognize that.  We hate Big Brother and we hate the Borg.  We want them destroyed!  Nobody, after all, likes a Hive Mind.

Anthem (1946) tackles this dystopian nightmare in an elegant 75 pages, three years before Orwell and decades before Star Trek.

Equality 7-2521 is a man struggling against a completely collectivized society—to the point that the word “I” has disappeared completely from the vocabulary (which makes the first-person narrative… plural, and unique).  Anthem is the story of the discovery of his individuality—and an anthem (see what I did there?) to the value and power of the human mind, human creativity, and, well, the human.

It’s classic Ayn Rand philosophy in a short, highly readable format that’ll stick with you.  For Ayn Rand newbies, it’s a great introduction to her ideas (take it from last year’s Ayn Rand Institute intern).  For veteran readers of her more famous fiction and nonfiction, Anthem shows a different, more innovative side to her writing that might be refreshing after spending a month or two (or three… four…) on Atlas Shrugged.

Verdict? A one-afternoon read, and well worth the time.  Makes me wonder what the genre would be like if she had kept writing science fiction… somewhere in the multiverse, Ayn Rand’s having drinks with Isaac Asimov.  I’m sure of it.

Anthem can be downloaded wirelessly and completely free at Amazon.

Mexico’s Holy War: Faith, Prejudice, and the Press in 1926

17 May

This is David Uribe Velasco, a native of Buenavista de Cuellar, a small town in southern Mexico.

A month ago marked the 83rd anniversary of his death, and next month, it will have been a decade since his elevation to sainthood by Pope John Paul II, because on April 12, 1927, Father Velasco—a Catholic priest—after putting his affairs in order (he repaid the 50 pesos owed to a fellow cleric; he bequeathed his typewriter and vestments to a friend)—and after blessing his captors in the sign of cross and the name of the Virgin of Guadalupe, he was taken outside, forced to his knees by Federal soldiers, and shot in the back of the head.

In May 2000, he was canonized as San David, a martyr, and one of 250,000 Mexicans killed in the conflict known today as la Cristiada, or the Mexican Cristero War—a rebellion unique in modern history as a popular uprising that took the international community completely by surprise.

Lasting from summer 1926 to spring 1929, the Cristero rebellion represented a popular reaction to the contemporary Mexican administration’s increasing restrictions on religious speech and practice in the country—a country with a Catholic population upwards of 90%.

The very name of the war bears witness to the deep-set piety of the rebel soldiers, christened Cristeros by opponents ridiculing their battle cry:  “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” or “Long Live Christ the King!”

However, in the months leading up to the initial outbreak of violence the depth of Catholic devotional sentiment in the Mexican population was completely underestimated by the American press, which saw the seething controversy to the south as a strictly institutional conflict—not the rebellion of individual cristeros, but a “Church War.”

The flashpoint for mobilization was July 31, 1926—when the Catholic Episcopal hierarchy of Mexico ordered, as protest against clerical persecution, the indefinite suspension of worship services throughout the country—and the federal government obliged by attempting to take possession of church buildings.

Lay Catholics resisted.

Crowds of hundreds, most of them women, spontaneously mobilized to defend the churches—even as police brigades brought fire hoses and mounted federal soldiers to disperse the congregations.  One Mexico City newspaper summed the day up in a single headline—“Los Fieles [the faithful] Will Not Abandon Their Churches.”

“Devout Mexican Catholics worshipping without their priests.” New York Literary Digest, August 1926

Even so, the fight was initially expected to be a rout.

For perspective—At the time, the Mexican government under President Plutarco Elías Calles had a federal army of nearly 80,000 professional soldiers.  The rebel movement, on the other hand, was unorganized until 1927—and comprised mostly untrained, and practically unarmed, rural Catholic peasants of the Bajío region, Central and Southern Mexico, which remains even today the bastion of Catholic conservatism in the country.  To the contrary—by the end of the war the Cristeros numbered 50,000.  And an auxiliary brigade of  women, engaged in smuggling weapons and provisions into combat zones for the soldiers, totaled 25,000.

Popular sentiment was enraged—and the uprising reflected the crystallization and shattering of widespread anxiety that had been growing throughout 1926.

A memoirist from San Julián, a small town in Jalisco, one of the centers of the rebellion, recalled the pervading climate of fear and apprehension that entered her community with the New Year:

“The enemies of the Holy Church began to spread their poison everywhere… black stormclouds began to rise in the blue sky—Everyone was afraid.”

But this anxiety of the faithful was ignored.  Commentators abroad, particularly in the United States, viewed and reported the conflict through the lens of domestic problems and paradigms: an ideological clash of Church and State.

“It is a struggle of darkness against light. So President Calles describes the Catholic Church’s resistance to his decrees.” New York Literary Digest, August 1926

On one side, the child of the 1910 Mexican Revolution: he Liberal, secular administration of President Calles—determined to suppress religious speech, end religious education, restrict the influence and very number of Catholic clerics in Mexico, and nationalize Church property—in the name of secularization.

On the other the child of the Spanish Conquest: the centuries-old Mexican Catholic Episcopacy under Archbishop José Mora y del Río, equally determined to preserve the Church’s economic privileges and institutional autonomy.

“The issue is in God’s hands, Says José Mora y del Río, Archbishop of Mexico, leader in the Catholic resistance to the Calles decrees.” New York Literary Digest, August 1926

Church and State—no third party in existence.  But this was the perspective of an American press embroiled in its own ideological collision:

Just the year before, the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” over evolution in the education system had made headlines in the United States as a war of secularism or fundamentalism, science or faith, progress or regression, educated urbanites versus rural ignorance.  These were the antitheses occupying American minds in 1926—and reporter H.L. Mencken summed up the public attitude in two words: the rural-based, deeply religious segment of the American population comprised: “yokels and morons.”

This domestic situation provided American commentators with a template for the dissatisfied Mexican laity: rural, ignorant, superstitious, racially inferior—and thus incapable of exercising any significant political influence.

Essentially, the United States media projected its own anxieties onto Mexico, and ignored those of the Mexican Catholic.

One incident in particular encapsulates the American perspective:

When Mora y del Rio and the Episcopacy announced that worship would be suspended at the end of July, the Mexican faithful flocked in thousands to churches to receive what many believed might be the final sacraments of their lives.  The Archbishop himself was said to have baptized, confirmed, and married over 3,000 individuals in one day alone.

“Part of the throng that crowded into the Mexico City cathedral just days before the Government took it over.” New York Literary Digest, August 1926

But while the Mexican press reported apocalyptic panic—in San Julián, the faithful prayed in the streets for God’s pity and mercy—TIME magazine treated the incident as entertainment:

“… barefoot, blanketed Indian runners; toothless Mexican gaffers, perhaps pagans all their lives, hobbled in frenzied haste to receive a precious sprinkling of holy water… in this baptismal race.”

Said correspondent was also thoughtful enough to add a footnote explaining to his readers that the people of Mexico were only nominally Catholic, their religion really a pantheon of primitive deities smeared with a veneer of saints and idols.

Even New York City’s premier Catholic periodical, the Commonweal, espoused strikingly similar racial and religious bigotry:

“the plain truth about Mexico… is that a native Indian population is not the same thing as a Caucasian civilization fostered by centuries of Christian discipline.”

The national academic journal Current History exhibited a comparable bias in its July 1926 issue—intended to be a symposium on opinion about the religious situation in Mexico.

The contributing parties—supporters the Mexican Government, American Catholics, and American Protestants (although, notably no representative of Mexican Catholicism went to print)—all, essentially, agreed on one central issue: the degeneracy of the masses in Mexico.  The only question that remained was which institution—Church or State—was responsible for developing a program for the “uplift” of the Indian and Indo-Latino population:

“Physical welfare is a fact; spiritual consolations are the resources of a theory.”

—a comment that typifies the 1920s, and even modern, elitist ‘progressive’ trivialization of Mexican Catholic piety.

The Mexican press, on the other hand, did not see the growing religious crisis as an issue of progress; rather, it was about freedom of conscience.  This is probably my favorite quote to come from a reel of microfilm.  From the Mexico City paper Excélsior:

“We imitate the United States in its defects, in its sports, in its diversions, in its food, in its clothing, in its affectionate ‘spooning’… but in its indisputable virtues, we don’t care much to imitate them.”

Still, the American press remained convinced that religion was not a primary driving force in human behavior—first came social and economic factors.  And thus, the religious crisis in Mexico could not be any sort of popular war, let alone a “holy war,” but rather had to represent a power struggle between institutions.  Thus when the Mexican Episcopacy called for an indefinite suspension of religious services beginning July 31st—a virtual interdict—American papers such as the Catholic Commonweal assumed the inert, helpless Mexican laity would bear their cross and pray.

But popular anxiety had been steadily growing since Mexico rang in the New Year 1926 and the faithful of San Julián saw “dark clouds” on the horizon.  As early as February, a columnist for the Mexico City paper El Universal predicted what the American press could not imagine: violence.

In an article titled “Spiritual peace is indispensable,” a columnist warned against the Calles administration attacking the “essence of the religion”—the sacraments.

Current History writers, such as the Methodist bishop James Cannon, undervalued this deeply-rooted devotion.  According to Cannon, Catholic ritual was superstitious ceremony alone—and only served to retard social and economic progress for the Mexican peasant:

“The mass in the morning, the rosary in the evening, confession, communion, extreme unction, the benediction of the grace within a Church cemetery, and responsories for the departed, kept the people well under the control of the church even after they were dead…”

But that is a viewpoint unique to the primarily Protestant United States.

Protestantism, unlike its Catholic rival, developed from a theology of faith and scripture alone.  The Catholic Church, contrarily, held tradition on par with these as a source of religious authority: the sacraments were thus not empty ritual to believers, but a conduit of God’s grace and the path to salvation—the essence of religion El Universal mentioned.

And when this was targeted on July 31, 1926—churches seized, worship suspended, and sacraments ended throughout the country—all the assurances of the American press that there would be no reaction meant nothing to the Mexican Catholics who felt their very identity at risk.  From El Universal, six months before the July 31st uprising:

“The truth is that the people never commit suicide.  They might change, transform, and even disappear; but they never change their essential nature—an integral part of native religion.  It is the Mexican people, instinctively, who understand the danger.  For them it is a question of to be or not to be… and it costs everything to want to be!”

Until an accord was reached in June of 1929 between the Mexican Episcopacy and the Calles administration, it did cost everything for faithful Mexican Catholics like Father Velasco.

And in the end, the Mexico City paper was right—the Mexican people knew early on what the international community, blinded by racial prejudice and a disastrous underestimation of the depth of religious devotion in Mexico, never saw coming: the tragedy and the violence of la Cristiada.

This very condensed version of a research paper on the Cristero rebellion was given as an oral presentation at the University’s Third Annual Undergraduate Research Competition in April 2010; it won first place in the social sciences division.  My sources can be found in the bibliography of the original paper.

Popish Protestants in Tudor England

10 May

Even before the king’s “Great Matter” took center stage, Henry VII had a number of extramarital affairs, with both Catherine and the court looking the other way.  In the case of Anne Boleyn, however, Henry did not simply desire a new mistress: to make the succession secure he needed a son, which meant a young queen strong enough to bear children.  To achieve this goal, Henry needed a divorce, irrespective of his lust or Anne’s royal aspirations.

So though in his heart a true son of the Church, King Henry VIII’s personal attachment to Catholicism could not override his political motives: to support Protestant reform efforts in a pragmatic attempt preserve the stability of the realm after his death with a male heir.

Ironically, however, this very attempt to secure a legitimate male successor through a nominal change in theology opened the door to true radicals whose espousal of Protestant doctrine would reflect not just political expediency, but social reform that would serve to destabilize the social order Henry VIII valued.

But contradictions in scripture provided support for both Henry and Catherine—while a passage in Deuteronomy promoted the practice of levirate marriage, a man taking his brother’s widow as his own wife, two passages in Leviticus denounced it.  Most compelling to Henry, Leviticus 20:21 stated that if a man marries his brother’s widow, “he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness” and, as a result, “they shall be childless.”

Because of these contradictions, a special papal dispensation had been required for Henry and Catherine to marry in the first place, as she had been the wife of Henry’s late older brother Arthur.

This very dispensation demonstrates the Vatican’s willingness to consider dynastic and political necessities in its interpretation of scripture, and so Henry’s desire for an annulment would not have been unreasonable—if he had not based his argument in the idea that the Pope had not had the right to issue the dispensation to begin with.

The king’s insistence on this argument Henry’s rejection of the concept dual loyalty to both a temporal power (the king) and a spiritual power (the Pope)—a break reflected in the Act in Restraint of Appeals and the Act of Supremacy in 1533 and 1534

Building on the precedent of the 14th century Statutes of Praemunire, which addressed the issue of “numerous persons being taken out of the kingdom to response in cases of which the cognizance pertains to the court of our lord the king,” the Act in Restraint of Appeals established the king of England as the highest justice to which an Englishman (or woman, like Queen Catherine) could appeal.  Henry was accorded by “Almighty God with plenary, whole and entire power, preeminence, authority, prerogative and jurisdiction.”

The subsequent Act of Supremacy institutionalized what the Act in Restraint of Appeals had made true in practice: that “the King’s Majesty… is the supreme head of the Church of England.”

Yet even after this radical break from Rome, however, Henry VIII still saw himself as a devoted Catholic, the “defensor fidei” his renunciation of Martin Luther’s ideas had made him.  Henry demonstrated near-orthodoxy in most areas of religious doctrine, simply replacing the Pope with himself.

His adherence to Catholic doctrine is reflected in the 1539 Act Abolishing Diversity in Opinions, also known as the “Six Articles.” While Protestants rejected all but two sacraments (communion and baptism), this document upeld all seven, along with transubstantiation, communion under both species for priests and not laypeople, the doctrine of purgatory, and the vows of chastity made by monks or nuns—even after the dissolution of their monasteries.

The document, in fact, parallels his defense of the sacraments in response to Luther’s Babylonian Captivity of the Church—Henry’s “Assertion of the 7 Sacraments” was the treatise that earned him the title “Defender of the Faith.”

Though a seeming contradiction, both Henry’s rejection of the Pope and support of otherwise “popish” practices ramify from his central motivation: to preserve the stability of the realm by upholding the “Great Chain of Being,” best maintained by the rigid hierarchical structure and doctrine of the Catholic Church.

When the young Edward VI succeeded his father, however, his Council of Regents found that Protestant doctrine carried with it inherently destabilizing ideas.  The king could not simply be substituted for the Pope, because Protestants did not see the clergy as possessing special access to either truth or the path to salvation.

Catholic priests were the sole interpreters of a Latin Bible, but (like the Lollards before them) Protestants supported vernacular Bibles and preached a “priesthood of believers.

Catholics believed that one received God’s grace necessary to salvation through the sacraments, but Protestants rejected all but two sacraments and preached that one was saved through faith alone, or solefideanism, for which sacraments were not necessary.

Depicting this shift visually, the elevated altar of the priest is replaced with a simple table in the illustration of John Foxe’s book of Protestant martyrs, Acts and Monuments: the altar is labeled “The Common Table.”

These doctrinal positions undermined the authority of the religious hierarchy by emphasizing the essential spiritual equality of all believers, and were used as partial justification for Kett’s Rebellion in 1549.

Henry VIII’s disastrous economic policies of debasement of the currency and reckless spending on unsuccessful wars continued into Edward VI’s minority reign, leading to a century of high inflation and skyrocketing prices.  The 16th century, the Tudor century, marked a time of rapidly deteriorating living conditions—what a common laborer could get for his salary during this time dropped to pre-plague levels.

(The Black Plague took a tragic toll on human life in Europe, but for the survivors—life was good.  A radically reduced labor force meant that peasants could demand higher wages, lower rents—with landowners having no other choice but to cave.  Essentially, the Plague, not any royal fiat, killed serfdom.  By Henry’s time, however, these benefits had mostly eroded.)

These economic troubles led to social unrest in the mid 1500s and catalyzed Kett’s Rebellion, but were justified by an egalitarian Protestant doctrine similar to the rhetoric of John Ball, whose demagoguery used Lollard ideas of equality to preach “killing the great lords of the realm, then slaying the lawyers, justices and jurors,” and so on.

Edward VI’s deep Protestant piety had been shaped by the Regency council that educated him, and so when faced with this rebellion, Lord Protector Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, was a true radical who not only repealed Henry’s anti-Protestant legislation but went so far as to sympathize with the social application of Protestant religious doctrine.

Though he ultimately lost power for hesitating to suppress the uprising, Somerset illustrates how Henry VIII’s political pragmatism inadvertently undermined his own personal social conservatism.

Los Fieles: Faith, Anxiety, and Prejudice in the Press during Mexico’s Cristero Rebellion

8 May

While doing preliminary research on the general topic of the Mexican Cristero War, skimming Jean Meyers’s The Cristero Rebellion, I found this observation: “There remained one unknown factor of which nobody spoke, and which nobody appeared to remember, which everybody underestimated at least—the attitude of the Christian people.  In the course of the summer of 1926 it was the people who, little by little, came to the forefront of events, while behind the scenes the government and the bishops continued their negotiations” (47).

With this in mind, I analyze dpublic discourse surrounding the conflict between Church and State in Mexico during the summer of 1926 (prelude to the Cristero War).  My goal was to examine how popular anxiety crystallized into spontaneous, bottom-up mobilization at the time of, in particular, the Mexican Episcopacy’s closure and the federal government’s takeover of churches on the traumatic “nightmare of 31 July”—the significance being to gain a better understanding of the attitude and agency of the Christian/Catholic laypeople in what was seen in early 1926 as a primarily institutional conflict.

-

I took an undergraduate research seminar on Modern Latin American History.  The final product: a paper on the 1926-1929 Cristero Rebellion in Mexico.  I’ve included the paper as a PDF file here, since it’s length and abundance of footnotes makes a series of blog posts prohibitive.

The finished paper can be found at the link below, or at the Research paper (see links bar above the Scattering header)

And– this is original primary source research, and my beloved child, so please do be careful with citations:

Los Fieles: Faith, Anxiety, and Prejudice in the Press During Mexico’s “Religious Crisis,” February-July 1926

PDF document

Primary Sources:

Mexico City newspapers El Universal and El Excélsior; Guadalajara newspaper El Informador; New York Commonweal and Literary Digest; academic journalCurrent History.  In most cases, February, July, and August 1926 issues were used.

Marital Alliances in Indian History, Part 2 of 2

1 Apr

While king, Chandra Gupta II used marriage as a tool to expand his territory and consolidate control over an increasingly far-flung empire.  Marrying his daughter Prabhavati to King Rudrasena II of the Vakataka, “Chandra Gupta II extended the influence of his empire south of the Vindhyas” (Wolpert 91), expanding his political influence deep into the Deccan Plateau of the Indian subcontinent.

Additionally, Chandra Gupta II’s own marriage to Kuvera, queen of the Nagas, allows him to look eastward and further reinforce his territory through another marital alliance.  But though this strategy of consolidation and expansion through marriage evidences a shrewd and highly tactical mind, Chandra Gupta II’s political gains yet overlay a deeper spiritual foundation: under his reign, both Brahmanism and Buddhism flourished.

The consolidation of power that this Classical ruler’s marital alliances allowed brought peace and such abundance of wealth “that hospitals were provided free of charge, to which the poor of all countries, the destitute, crippled, and diseased may repair,” even as the social order was maintained by “untouchables hovering beyond the pale of Hindu society, carrying gongs to warn passing upper-class people of their polluting presence” (Wolpert 91).

Of course, the peace and affluence of the Gupta state, as described in accounts of Chandra Gupta II’s time, could not have been possible without first unifying North India—a task begun by Chandra Gupta II’s grandfather, Chandra Gupta I, who used similar tactics of marriage to integrate his conquests.

Securing as a bride the daughter of the king of the ancient Lichavi clan, Chandra Gupta not only legitimated his rule by associating his new state with a primordial, time-tested power, but also locked “his grip on the river Ganga… that vital Gangetic artery, which carried the major flow of North Indian commerce” (Wolpert 89).  With one wedding, Chandra Gupta managed to expand his territory and secure a source of wealth that his grandson would later use to fulfill the dharma and obligations of a ruler to his people.

This pattern extends even further back in Indian history—to the first imperial unification under the Mauryan Empire, from 326 to 184 BCE.

Chandragupta Maurya and his successors, rulers of the kingdom of Magadha, which had “emerged as first among many competing kingdoms and confederacies of the Gangetic plain” (Wolpert 55), succeeded in unifying North India shortly after Alexander the Great’s 326 BCE incursion into India.

In a treaty with “Seleucus Nikator, Alexander’s Greek heir to western Asia,” Chandragupta: fixed the western border at the Hindu Kush mountains, secured the withdrawal of Greek forces with an offering of five hundred war elephants, and exchanged ambassadors with the Greeks (Wolpert 59).

Most interesting, however, is the treaty’s mysterious “marriage clause,” which may reference a daughter of Seleucus Nikator coming to the Mauryan court as a bride for Chandragupta—if true, such an arrangement would date marriage politics in international relations back to the very earliest emergence of a unified Indian state.

Dharma as a political concept, as well, can be tracked back at least this far—Chandragupta’s grandson Ashoka is immortalized in stone, his extant rock edicts exemplifying the use moral advice as a form of state propaganda.  One “key admonition… is Dharma, that unique word which means religion, law, duty, and responsibility” (Wolpert 66), a term used most often of all others in the rock edicts of Ashoka.

The entrenchment of dharma as a focus of Indian marriage patterns can be seen in its applicability even to non-Indians, and in the marital “alliances” of non-elites.

While the political marriages of royalty and nobility often had far-reaching geopolitical consequences, even common people planned their daughters’ marriages with careful consideration of personal politics and economics.

Abraham bin Yiju, a 12th-century merchant in the Indian spice trade, provides a classic case study: a Tunisian Jew, bin Yiju engaged in commerce from India’s southwestern port of Mangalore, a “heterogeneous community of Arabs, Gujaratis, Tamils, Jews, and others” (Gordon 77).

While calculated marriages among traders such as bin Yiju might not have built an empire, they did help to strengthen and extend business and commercial networks in this world in which “trade and family were closely related” (Gordon 86).  For this reason, the successful merchant bin Yiju is highly selective in accepting or rejecting marriage proposals for his only daughter—ultimately, a match with his nephew by an elder brother proves a practical choice, allowing the father to “keep Abraham bin Yiju’s wealth in the family, provide for the impoverished relatives, and place the daughter in the community” (Gordon 94) of Tunisian Jews so important for trade contacts.

And yet, despite the care he takes when it comes to the marriage of his daughter, Abraham bin Yiju’s own choice of a wife dramatically upsets the social order of the Mangalore community he has joined.

Buying, freeing, and marrying a slave would be bad enough—but bin Yiju’s bride Ashu is a Nair, who, “along with Brahmins, were generally the elite of Malabar” (Gordon 91).

A warrior class, the Nairs paralleled the traditional kshatriya role, occasionally serving as wife-givers to the Brahman class.  Because of her high status, “if [Ashu] formed a liaison with… men outside her lineage, or a man of lower caste, the family was deeply shamed” (Gordon 91)—the result being Ashu sold into slavery, from which bin Yiju, fortunately, rescued her.

Even the Jewish Abraham, however, a non-Hindu and non-Indian, cannot escape the consequences of the age-old taboo against hypogamy: “his partners disapproved, and signaled… that such a wife would never be welcome in Aden or Cairo” (Gordon 90), the larger centers of the spice trade.

This example of bin Yiju only serves to reinforce others throughout Indian history and literature—Chandragupta Maurya and his later namesakes, Ashoka, Kalidassa and Shrudaka—all of whom acted out their commercial, political, and personal motives in a theater shaped by Vedic law.

The injunctions, regulations, duties and obligations of dharma, “the foundation of the universe,” thus also formed the foundation of Indian political history, and in particular the structure and consequences of marital alliances from the time of the earliest Indian unification to the Classical Age and beyond.

The result?

A society in which smoothly-running social order was enforced by deeply-entrenched ideology, singular in its ability to cut across both ethnic and class lines.

This is an excerpt from a paper written for an Asian Civ course at the University of Alabama.  Please remember that all plagiarists go to hell, and in Alabama, they get stoned.

Works Cited:

de Bary, Theodore. Sources of Indian Tradition. Introduction to Oriental Civilizations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958.

Gordon, Stewart. When Asia Was The World. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Da Capo Press, 2008.

Kalidassa, Translations of Shakuntala, and Other Works. Arthur W. Ryder. New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1914.

Shrudaka, The Little Clay Cart. Harvard Oriental Series. Volume Nine, Arthur W. Ryder. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University, 1905.

Wolpert, Stanley. A New History of India. 8th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Marital Alliances in Indian History, Part 1 of 2

1 Apr

Marriage as a tool of statecraft represents one of the oldest means of legitimating rule or conquest—in myth or history.

In the Sanskrit epic of the Mahabharata, “whose core probably reflects Indian life at about 1000 B.C.” (Wolpert 37), for example, marriage surfaces as a metaphor for the Aryan penetration of the Gangetic plain in the first millennium BCE: the great tale begins with the story of King Santanu and his abiding love for the personified river, the goddess Ganga.

The other major epic of ancient India, the Ramayana, similarly reflects the maneuvering and stratagems of Aryan marital alliances, with the king’s politicking three wives each plotting for the accession of her own son to the throne.

But most significantly, the Ramayana hints at the ever-present religious climate within which these machinations take place: “we see how powerful a force religious law, or dharma, has become in dictating ‘proper’ behavior, even for a monarch” (Wolpert 40).  This enduring concept of social or religious duty throws a singular cast over Indian marriage arrangements—even a match made with the most realpolitik of considerations in mind necessarily occurs against this backdrop of dharma, the “all-comprehensive” (de Bary 218) and universal law.

As dharma’s macrocosmic scope encompasses and forms “the foundation of the universe” (de Bary 220); on the microcosmic level, marriage and the ashrama or life stage of the Householder is the foundation of society, the family, and when used for political purposes, the state.

In this worldview, the codification of marriage practices, rules, duties, and obligations in Sacred Law—smriti, human tradition—ensures the smooth functioning of society.  Central to this is the strictly-regulated caste system: proper behavior of the four primary varnas—the Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra—frames the “essence of all dharma… for the sake of solidarity and progress of society as a whole” (de Bary 224).

Because of the centrality of the householder’s role, with this “second stage of life often characterized as the basis and support of the other three” (de Bary 230), smriti laboriously categorizes marriages within and among the Indian castes.

Taking into consideration the children of mixed marriages, their offspring, and so on, the superficially simple structure of four classes breaks down into “more than three-thousand real castes, subcastes, mixed castes, and exterior (untouchable) castes” (de Bary 226), a veritable labyrinth of genealogy which is, nevertheless, systematized in Sacred Law.

Classifications pivot on the concept of hypergamy, in which the husband belongs to a higher class than the wife, and the taboo against hypogamy, in which a wife’s status ranks higher.

While man and wife from within a single caste join in a so-called “unblemished marriage” (de Bary 227), and most hypergamous unions prove acceptable, children resulting from hypogamous marriages occupy the very lowest positions in society—the Candala, offspring of a Brahman woman and Shudra man, for example, are so despised as to be “excluded from all considerations of dharma” (de Bary 227).

A clear breach of proper social order, Candala and other low castes—such as the Parasava children of a Brahman man and Shudra woman—represent an analogous rift in the religious order as well, and so are divorced entirely from both spheres.

“Since the Aryans brought with their Caucasian genes a new language, Sanskrit, and a new pantheon of gods, as well as the patriarchal, patrilineal family and three-class structure of priests, warriors, and commoners” (Wolpert 26), institutions of social cohesion that facilitated political and cultural dominance began enter India before 1000 BCE, but endure and continue to exercise cultural influence well into the Classical Age, ca. 320 to 700 CE.

Mrichakatika, or “Little Clay Cart,” a play written by King Shudraka—contemporary of Kalidassa, known as the “Shakespeare of India” for his secular literature—relates the story of an hypogamous union between Carudatta, an impoverished Brahman man, and Vasantasena, the courtesan with whom he falls incurably in love.

Strangled for her violation of the social order, Vasantasena’s body is found by another mournful courtier who had admired her as well, and laments that her social status could not have matched her high moral distinction:

When thou, sweet maid, art born again,

be not a courtesan reborn,

but in a house which sinless men,

and virtuous, and good, adorn (Shrudaka 128)

The social significance of even supposedly private and personal feelings is further highlighted in “Little Clay Cart,” as the play is “the only Sanskrit drama to include a legal trial scene” (Wolpert 92).

But smriti pertains to the form of marriage as well as the agents within it—eight distinct types of marital arrangements are described in the Asvalayana Grhya Sutra, along with the corresponding social and religious value applicable to each.

The Brahma form of marriage, for instance, consists of a father giving away his daughter “after decking her with ornaments and having first offered a libation of water”; after consummation, “a son born to her after such a marriage purifies twelve descendants and twelve ancestors on both her husband’s and her own sides” (de Bary 231).

Ritual offerings and requirements lessen down the line of marriage categories, as does the commensurate spiritual merit.

A Prajapatya marriage, for example, purifies only eight descendents and ancestors, and requires just the injunction to the bride and groom to “Practice dharma together” (de Bary 231)—indicating that though the ceremony is simpler and the participants perhaps of lower status, the union still falls within the bounds of the universal social order.

Again, Classical literature illustrates the dangers of a “love-match,” a coupling outside of the traditional forms and structure.  Kalidassa’s Shakuntala follows the story of the titular forest nymph and the king who falls in love with her—performing the simple Gandharva rite, or “love-match” (de Bary 231) agreement between man and woman, the mis-matched lovers wed.

When the nymph’s “‘bewitching youth’ so enthralls the king that he forgets his wife and courtly responsibilities entirely” (Wolpert 91), Kalidassa depicts the tragic consequences of abandoning duty and dharma: heartbroken when the king ultimately returns to his monarchical obligations and promptly forgets her, Shakuntala:

tossed her arms, bemoaned her plight,

accused her crushing fate

Before our eyes a heavenly light

in woman’s form, but shining bright,

seized her and vanished straight” (Kalidassa 61)

But duties to provide for and protect wives also accompany the obligation of a woman not to transgress social boundaries—“the highest dharma of all four classes,” the Manu Smrti asserts, is that “husbands, though weak, must strive to protect their wives” (de Bary 233).

A man who neglects this duty could prove as contemptible—and meet as unfortunate a fate—as the brazen Vasantasena or Shakuntala, even at the highest levels of society.

The historical drama Devicandragupta, or “The Queen and Chandra Gupta,” describes just such an incident in the court of Chandra Gupta II, who ruled from CE 375 to 415.

Inheriting the throne as the eldest son, Chandra Gupta’s brother Rama subsequently “proves himself weak and treacherous by promising to surrender his wife to a barbaric Shaka ruler who had defeated him in battle” (Wolpert 90), a breach of the dharma which required he protect and care for his wife.

Recognizing this transgression and the unworthiness of his brother, Chandra Gupta supposedly dresses as a woman, takes the queen’s place, and murders the Shaka king in his harem—returning to court to kill Rama as well, and marry the widow he saved.  Though the popular tale may be apocryphal, it reveals the value Chandra Gupta attached to dharma at his court, particularly in marital alliances, of which he arranged many during his reign.

This is an excerpt from a paper written for an Asian Civ course at the University of Alabama.  Please remember that all plagiarists go to hell, and in Alabama, they get stoned.

Works Cited:

de Bary, Theodore. Sources of Indian Tradition. Introduction to Oriental Civilizations.

New York: Columbia University Press, 1958.

Gordon, Stewart. When Asia Was The World. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Da Capo Press, 2008.

Kalidassa, Translations of Shakuntala, and Other Works. Arthur W. Ryder. New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1914.

Shrudaka, The Little Clay Cart. Harvard Oriental Series. Volume Nine, Arthur W. Ryder. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University, 1905.

Wolpert, Stanley. A New History of India. 8th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.


Boredom makes you live longer: Dunbar, Catch-22

17 Mar

(Foil of Yossarian’s and somehow endearing, for saying barely a sentence per fifty pages)

I’ve realized in the last few months that I have the uncanny ability to spot the supporting characters in a novel for whom that grim reaper called an author always manages to get right when I think the coast is clear.  I’m like a divining rod for fictional death.  (Lone exception: Percy Weasley)

I haven’t finished Catch-22 yet, but with this macabre talent in mind I’m beginning to get worried for Dunbar, the laconic officer who doesn’t appear often but has managed to win enough of my affection to merit a response paper for a U of A satire seminar, which I’ve included for the sake of anyone who wants to read about a foil of Yossarian’s in the first half of the book:

When the reader meets Yossarian, he’s befuddling doctors with a medical condition that both is and is not jaundice—and the absurdity only grows from there.  In line with the nature of the title military regulation, almost every event and conversation Yossarian and company (squadron, actually) have in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 abounds in contradiction and tautology.  At one point or another, after all, nearly every character accuses someone else of being crazy.

Second only to Yossarian in alleged insanity—in the opinion of Clevinger, at least, supposed voice of reason—is Dunbar, who also happens to be second only to Yossarian as a character introduced in the novel.  His companion from the hospital and the only man the bombardier doesn’t include among “the people Yossarian wanted to machine-gun” (18) in the officers’ club, Dunbar and Yossarian share a crucial trait: they don’t want to die.

Finishing each others’ sentences in the hospital, playing off of each other while tormenting the irritating Texan, the two officers’ characters appear as close as their infirmary beds.  “Outside the hospital there was nothing funny going on,” Heller notes; “The only thing going on was a war, and no one seemed to notice but Yossarian and Dunbar” (16). Among brothers-in-arms like Clevinger, Haverly, and McWatt—“the craziest combat man of them all probably, because he was perfectly sane and still did not mind the war” (60)—their desperate love for life seems, ironically, unrequited by most.

But while similar in this respect, Dunbar also serves as a foil for Yossarian in the first half of the novel: his fatalism and passivity highlighting more vividly the proudly-proclaimed coward—“‘I’m not ashamed, Yossarian said. ‘I’m just afraid.’” (102)—in his anger, desperation, and active attempts to outwit, outplay, and outlast all his fellows as a survivor in war.

Dunbar, unlike Yossarian, accepts the fact that death comes for everyone, and has committed himself to a somewhat unorthodox theory and practice of life extension: the cultivation of boredom.  The men Yossarian despises and heaps imaginary violence upon, such as Clevinger with his accusations of “antisocial aggressions” (19), are welcomed by his laconic friend.  “Dunbar loved shooting skeet because he hated every minute of it” (38), Heller explains, and “Dunbar liked Clevinger because Clevinger annoyed him and made the time go slow” (19)—activities that he insist literally count eleven-times-seventeen years to the hour.

Though a different tactic than Yossarian’s flying tackle employed on Major Major (Major Major) for the sake of information on how to get grounded, Dunbar’s ideas are, like Yossarian’s, less absurd than they seem at first read.  When Dunbar defends himself to Clevinger with the observation that “You’re inches away from death every time on a mission.  How much older can you be at your age?” (39), it may be the sanest sentence in the book so far.

An atheist, Dunbar’s simple, matter-of-fact assertions that “There is no God” (126) may be less colorful than Yossarian’s comparison of the Supreme Being as an incompetent bungler with a “warped, evil, scatological mind” partial to tooth decay (179)—nevertheless, disbelief in an afterlife makes survival, for the sake of whatever life, paramount:

“Be furious you’re going to die” (179), Yossarian says—”What else is there?” his friend asks.

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