‘Christ the King’ not ‘Religious Liberty’ the Cristero Cause

Christopher Check has an enthusiastic review of “For Greater Glory” on the Crisis Magazine site. He has one major criticism of the film: its anachronistic talk of religious freedom. I think the lesson that Mr. Check offers here as an historical corrective is one that we should apply to present circumstances. We should be fighting for Christ the King, rather than the religiously neutral concept of freedom. Where His cause triumphs, true freedom can be found.

The film somewhat overplays this religious-freedom angle.  Gorostieta’s wife, ably played by Eva Longoria, asks how he can fight for a cause in which he does not believe.  He replies that he believes in religious freedom.  Later he delivers to his troops the same kind of anachronistic speeches that mar Mel Gibson epics.  “Freedom is our lives!” he declares, and at one point he proclaims that the Cristeros will not stop fighting until they have a democratically elected government.  Well, the fact is that democracy was doubtless part of the problem in early twentieth-century Mexico.  Indeed, as Rubén Blades, in one of the film’s stronger performances as Plutarco Calles, points out in a fictionalized meeting between the general and the president, the people of Mexico did vote him into office.

The religious freedom theme has served the marketers of the picture well given the growing number of Catholics reacting to the Obama Administration’s mandate that Catholic institutions offer contraceptive coverage for their employees.  The difficulty with making too much of religious freedom when telling the story of La Cristiada—as the Cristero War came to be called—is that the Cristeros in the field, surely to the man, were not fighting for religious freedom.  They were fighting for the political and social kingship of Jesus Christ.

Religious freedom can be a good, but it is not an absolute good, and the “absolute freedom” that Garcia defends as General Gorostieta (and in media interviews as well) is problematic outside the context of Christianity.

It was the Catholic Faith, the Seven Sacraments, the Mass, Christ the King, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, for which the Cristeros took up arms.  Their battle cry was “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” or “Long live Christ the King,” not “Religious Freedom for all!”  The martyrs in the Circus of Nero did not die for religious freedom, and neither did the Cristeros.