When Mr. Ebert Met A Martyr

On May 30, 2012, Mr. Roger Ebert posted a review of the movie "For Greater Glory," a post that is less a review of the movie and more a view into Mr. Ebert's own prejudices.  In the review, Mr. Ebert confesses knowing nothing about the Cristeros War fought in Mexico from 1926 to 1929.  Asking a "close Mexican-American friend, well-informed in Mexican history," but who was totally ignorant of the Cristeros War, was the extent of Mr. Ebert's background research.  Perhaps, Mr. Ebert could not find his Wikipedia bookmark.  Mr. Ebert's ignorance of the history of the Cristeros War, the history of the Catholic Church in Mexico and of Catholicism and his prejudice against the Catholic Church makes an intelligent review of the movie impossible, yet he soldiered on.

Mr. Ebert begins his review of the movie by misrepresenting the history he doesn't know in the very first sentence.  The Cristeros War was not a war that "Mexico fought over the freedom of Catholics to worship."  As written, this sentence makes it appear as though a belligerent from outside of the country was somehow preventing Catholics in Mexico from worshiping and the Mexican government waged war against this aggressor.  The Cristeros was a civil war between Mexican citizens who were Catholic and the Mexican government, which was oppressing its own people by denying them their right to religious freedom.  The Mexican government, therefore, was the unjust aggressor and the usurper of the freedoms of its own people and this understanding is a key one to have to understand the rest of the movie or to write a cogent review of the movie.

Having established his ignorance of the Cristeros War and his laziness, Mr. Ebert moves on to demonstrate his prejudice against the Catholic Church in the second sentence of his review.  According to Mr. Ebert, who knows nothing of the civil war depicted in this movie, the Mexican Constitution of 1917, "stripped great power from the church, along with half of its enormous land holdings."  If Mr. Ebert knows nothing about the Cristeros War, how does he know that the Church even had "great power" and "enormous land holdings"?  He doesn't.  The way he has written these first two sentences could lead a reader to believe that the movie was about the "good" Mexican government protecting itself from the "evil" Catholic Church.  It wasn't.  How could a man who reviews movies for a living not pick up that this was a civil war and communicate that fact clearly to the readers of his review?  His laziness prevails.  In the first two sentences of a very short review, Mr. Ebert reveals to his readers that he is a lazy, ignorant, well-paid bigot, a reality that sort of makes the rest of his review useless.

"For Greater Glory" is about the persecution of Mexican Catholics in Mexico by the Mexican government in the middle and late 1920's.  Of course, it's going to have "pro-Catholic tunnel vision," Mr. Ebert.  The Catholics were the ones being hanged on telegraph poles between cities.  How did you miss that?  The "12-year-old boy" (Really?  You couldn't write down his name?) didn't have a choice in dying for his faith.  The representatives of the federal government, including the boy's own godfather, demanded that he give up his Catholic faith, something no government should ever demand of it's citizens.  He refused, as was his right, and they tortured and killed him.  Where in this, Mr. Ebert, did the boy have a choice?  Why do you question the boy or the makers of the film, when, clearly, the representatives of the Mexican government and the constitution that allowed such atrocities were in the wrong?  How is the cinematic depiction of the "12-year-old boy" being tortured and killed for his faith materially different from similar depictions of the lynchings of African-Americans or the slaughter of Native American villages?  Why do you consider African-Americans and Native Americans killed for the color of their skin as heroic and those who bring these atrocities to our attention as progressive and even necessary to this nation's conversation about racism, yet you are so squeamish about the depiction of this boy's martyrdom?  By the way, Mr. Ebert, his name was José Sánchez del Rio and he was 15, when he was martyred.

Mr. Ebert, as the movie and the histories on which the movie is based state, the Mexican government was single-mindedly persecuting the Catholic Church.  The Mexican government was not persecuting Methodists, Baptists, Mormons, Evangelical Presbyterians or any other religious denomination or philosophy, so why would the movie depict the persecution of adherents of other denominations and faiths, when they weren't being persecuted at the time?  As for your petty and immature attack in the last sentence of your review, again, the Catholic Church and the Catholic peasants were fighting for the religious liberty of all Mexicans.  As you yourself noted, they hired an atheist to lead their army.  It wasn't their fault that the Mexican government chose to persecute them, but the same Catholics would have been fighting for religious liberty if those of any other religious persuasion had been persecuted.  What seems to be lacking here is your ability to do any meaningful background research and to keep a rein on your strident anti-Catholic views.  If you notice, dear sir, the Church's fight against the HHS mandate today in this country is precisely a fight for the religious liberty of all people of faith and of no faith at all.  Before preaching to a straw man about respect for religion, why don't you demonstrate some respect for the Catholic Church and its members?

While the movie is to some extent about the Christeros War in Mexico from 1926 to 1929, the war is presented more as the soil within which General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde's conversion occurs watered by his relationship with and the martyrdom of Jose Sanchez del Rio.  While the witness of Gorostieta's own wife's faith partially influenced him to accept the Cristeros' offer to lead their army, it was watching Jose's simple devotion to Christ that Gorostieta found compelling.  Gorostieta's discovery that Jose was willing to undergo such horrendous tortures and death rather than deny and lose his relationship with Christ pushed the man out of his doubts and into the arms of his Saviour.  This simple, powerful story is an excellent example of honest and effective evangelization.  Those who are in a relationship with Christ, through their relationships with others, lead them into their own relationships with Christ.

Because of all that is going on in this country now with the assault on religious liberty by this administration, it is impossible to view this movie and not ponder what tack our resistance should take, if the Supreme Court does not strike down Obamacare.  It's one thing to fight a hot war, when the height of technology is the machine gun and the biplane.  It's another, when the government has drones that can destroy a small city without warning.  It may be that we live like the Church did behind the Iron Curtain in the last century and we either learn the importance of our faith or we finally abandon it altogether.


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