- Primitive Revolution: Restorationist Religion and the Idea of the Mexican Revolution, 1940–1968
Revolutions invariably awaken the human itch for utopia, a fact true for religion as well as politics. As Jason Dormady documents in this new study of the Mexico boom years, the overthrow of the Porfiriato inspired dreams of religious restoration: that is, a return to a primitive Christianity that St. Paul might have recognized. The Mexico of presidents like Manuel Ávila Camacho (to say nothing of wheeler-dealer Miguel Alemán) might seem like an odd place to be looking for 60 A.D., and yet precisely this vision led to at least three dynamic movements that experimented with creating faith-based communities uncontaminated by the fallen world around them. In all cases, the fallen world proved harder to escape than the restorationists had hoped.
Dormady follows three dramatic examples: the evangelical Luz del Mundo (LDM), a Mormon splinter organization, and the more familiar Sinarquistas, whose strain of right-wing Catholicism has often been labeled a Mexican form of franquista fascism. Despite theological differences, certain similarities do emerge. All three came into being amid the chaos and conflict of the revolutionary years. All prospered under charismatic leaders who, while not particularly lettered, wrote prolifically. All three chose to isolate themselves in communities of the faithful, and all three experienced the inevitable routinization that led them to make huge concessions to the realities of modern Mexico. Ironies abound throughout these tales, and Dormady has a strong eye for crosscurrents and contradictions. Luz del Mundo and the Mormon splinter organization shared far less of the revolutionary party’s vision than did the Sinarquistas but, in an effort to defend themselves against a hostile Catholic majority, they formed alliances with the PRI and its predecessors. Whatever the theological differences, presidents and governors alike have found them a useful voting bloc and hence tend to be generous with their favors. The Sinarquistas, to the contrary, made the revolutionary state their enemy in both rhetoric and deed, but actually shared quite a bit with radical secular leaders like Francisco Múgica and Lázaro Cárdenas. Common touch points included nationalism, the glorification of rural life, and a penchant for projects calculated to boost efficiency and productivity.
Of the three organizing stories presented here, the LDM and the Sinarquistas come off as the most interesting, in part because their movements were the best developed and their leaders the most compelling. It will startle the unsuspecting reader to learn that as of 2005, LDM, founded by the eternally questing Eusebio (Aarón) Joaquín González and still led by his son Samuel, is the second-largest denomination in Mexico, with some 3.5 million members. Unlike Mormonism or any of the dozens of other evangelical movements circulating in the country today, this one is entirely homegrown. Readers may well know something of the Sinarquistas’ foredoomed plan of founding utopian colonies in the wastes of Baja California, but in Primitive Revolution [End Page 133] Dormady sheds new light on the career of their firebrand leader Salvador Abascal. So profound was this man’s pro-Hispanic chauvinism that he refused to follow Ávila Camacho down the road to a World War II alliance with the United States, alienating himself from the Mexico City-based Sinarquista leadership. The story of Mexico’s Mormon-convert-turned-leader Margarito Bautista Valencia lacks equal punch, perhaps because Bautista failed to deliver the numbers of the other two groups, but nevertheless has its moments. It is amazing to read of how a peasant from Atlautla in the state of Mexico came to write a book of nearly 600 pages on the history and future of the Americas. When the Mormon Church disowned this highly fanciful work, the stiff-necked Bautista set out to create his own polygamous paradise, Nueva Jerusalén, near his hometown. However, history refused to repeat itself, and internal acrimony over wives and power kept Nueva Jerusalén...