I've realized certain things about faith and religion and myself over the years. And about my husband and the same issues. I seem to have a faith gene or seed or something, and my husband doesn't, unless a scientific approach can be considered religious. I've stamped my foot at his cool demeaner as he pronounces something superstitious. He's not into scientism like Richard Dawkins: he's truly rational, truly looking for material evidence, truly willing to change his mind if he finds reason to.
I on the other hand have this sense of something beyond my ability to perceive it (them?). So he will label something a superstition and I will say it's not superstition. For instance, he will say that people crossing themselves as the pass a church or a tiny capilla is superstition. I'll say, not exactly, I don't think. I think its respect, maybe habit, too, but not truly superstition.
We both agree that often religion, or at least religious organizations, can serve a lot of purposes besides being centers of any kind faith, although they can enfold the faithful, too. In the US right now, nuns, many of whom I know are truly faithful, are under attack by the Roman Catholic bishops, some of whose faith I would doubt. I wouldn't doubt their sense of entitlement to power.
All this is to say that the Catholic Church and Catholicism are like any human constructs: the are broad umbrellas even if only a few people are under those umbrellas, as in the case of one Catholic household, or if there are multitudes as in the case of the whole Church. A panopoly of belief and non belief exists within the institution. Faith itself doesn't need a church I don't think. And there can be faith that there is true evil as well as good, and that there are forces of indifference, unconcerned with the consequences of that the may wreak.
With this in mind, I have, as I've said before, found myself intrigued by religion, and especially Catholicism, in its many manifestations here in Mexico. And of course you must remember that I write as an outsider.
My husband commented on my post about Catholicism in Mexico that he didn't really think, for instance, that Semana Santa was about going shopping or going to the beach for everyone, or even most people. I do have to say that I agree with him. It is that for a lot of people who are urban, educated, and rich. And some of them may combine shopping with religious observances. The beach is also a mid-Semana Santa treat for those of considerably more faith.
I am going to break things down a bit in looking at Mexican Catholicism. Otherwise I'd drown. I thought I'd start with what some USAers might assume is typical of Mexican Catholicism: that found in Guanajuato where the Pope made his state visit a month or so ago, the state which claims a population that is 95% Catholic, the highest rate in the country.
My husband and I visited the city of Guanajuato about ten years ago to take a two week intensive Spanish course: hardly time enough to know it more than superficially, but enough to find it quite delightful. It's a very pretty small city, busy, filled with people, and things to see from silver mines to a mummy museum and (to my husband's delight) a mathematics center, from beautiful churches to colorful winding streets folded into the steep hills.
We stayed with a family just outside the center in a house probably built in the 1960s or so. They were used to having foreign students as long-term guests and were cordial and at ease with us and so made us comfortable with them. They also had an enormous cross with a crucified and really bloody Jesus hanging over their bed which made a somewhat chilling impression on me. But religion didn't come up as a topic of discussion that I recall. They talked about the high cost of electricity, of taxes, of their grown children and ours. We watched some television together, including The Learning Channel in Spanish.
After our classes which were held in classes in rooms built one on top of each other leaning against an old wall and building, Jim and I walked all over and we took a fair number of pictures, none of which we can find at this point. We can't even remember if we used a digital camera or our old SLRs.
All of this is to tell you that I am going to talk about Catholicism in Guanajuato by way of Carlos Fuentes's book, Las Buenas Consciencias, or The Good Conscience as it is usuall titled in the English translation. After failing to find our pictures or pictures of Guanajuato at the beginning of the 20th century in any organized place on Google, I decided to just post some photos from the web to give you an idea of what it looks like, at least today. The some of the real places mentioned in Las Buenas Consciencias still exist.
Much of the book takes place in the house of Jaime Caballos, the protaganist, and his father, aunt and uncle. The house is fictional, but it sits on a street across a small plaza in front of the Church of San Roque, a real church, which is the family's parish.
Below is a map of what is now downtown Guanajuato. You can get a slightly larger version by clicking on the map. You'll also get tools for decorating the map.
At the center left you see a reddish dot identified as Iglesia San Roque. In front is the little plaza. One imagines that Jaime and his family lived perhaps on Calle San Roque or one of the other streets that is directly across from the church. The Universiy is in the upper center part of the map, the Teatro Juarez which is across from a beautiful park is slightly to the right, and slightly towards the bottom. Pictures of these places are below. The aquaduct is not on the map and it isn't mentioned in the book as I recall, but we did see it and were impressed. If I remember it was further from downtown than the house we stayed in. I just liked the photo.
The church of San Roque
Plaza in front of San Roque with and without a fiesta.
Calle San Roque. Jaime's family was bourgeois and prosperous. Perhaps they lived in a house like that at the right.
Another view of Calle San Roque from the top
Guanajuato at night
The University of Guanajuato
Teatro Juarez which sits across from a lovely park.
Las Buenas Conciencias is set in this lovely place. But it is not a lovely novel, although it is an excellent and complicated one.