A theological reflection on the anniversary of the Mexican Conquest, lessons we have learned

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Theological and neural behavioral reflection on the 504th year after the conquest of Mexico. Despite the teachings of the Hebrew prophets, Islam , and Jesus Christ that all men are part of a universal brotherhood we continue to fail.

This week marks 504 years since the Spanish conquest of Mexico. The story of Mexico like many countries has been affected by conflicts of culture. Although ultimately it resulted in a new culture, the path to that new creation was imperfect and bloody. However, the influence of Christianity significantly moderated the amount of genocide compared to other regions of the world. The consequences of the first meeting between Hernando Cortes, Spanish Conquistador, and Moctezuma, Aztec King, on a wooden bridge leading to the city Tenochtitlan in 1519 were world changing.

Many of the world’s problems today result significantly from how we see our selves versus others. If we see ourselves as superior to others as individuals or cultures this poisons the interaction between cultures. Thus human history is replete with discrimination, deprivation, enslavement, war, and even genocide against humans we do not see as being our peers. This tribal instinct foments mistrust and prejudice almost every where in the world.

As a neuroscientist and physician studying the brain I understand that human evolution of speech and social interaction aims to create secure interdependent relationships with others to improve our survival chances. In fact for several years I have been involved in studying and teaching business students and professionals on how to create business and professional communication skills to this purpose. We teach students to actively seek positive interaction of benefit to the parties involved by clear, concise, and honest communication which also emphasizes active listening and feedback responses.

As someone who has studied theology and religion I understand that we as Saint Paul, the Apostle, put it have two natures. A beastly nature where violence is our security and a spiritual nature where we can seek peace and unity by following Jesus Christ. This is why so much of Scripture and Gospel discusses relationships.

Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas I lived this conflict of human nature. As you might expect there was tension between the Mexican-American community whose presence there went back many generations and the newer population of Americans of other European ancestry. But there was also tension between Norteños, Mexican citizens who lived in Northern Mexico, and Tejanos, Mexican-Americans from Texas. In fact the two different groups have a saying in Spanish

Yo no soy de aquí, yo soy de allá.

Which literally means I am not from here I am from there which can have many different connotations.

In their first “colonies” in the Caribbean islands the Spanish enslaved the native people which resulted in essentially their extinction. However, the Roman Catholic Church held significant authority by royal decree towards Mexico’s natives. The Roman Catholic authorities claimed to incorporate the concept stated in Galations 3:28, that is, to bring Mexican natives the teachings of Jesus Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Their goal was to convert the whole population to Christianity and encouraged widespread intermarriage between Spanish and native populations. Recent studies in Mexico show that more then 56% have genetic coding consistent with native ancestry. About 21% identify themselves as having an indigenous identity.

Of course the intent of the Spanish Empire was to build strength and wealth to achieve security. In a sense they were covering their bases and honestly it was not all altruistic in intent. The Church having imperfect humans at its helm was often flawed in its methods. I will not go into discussion of exploitation of a native population because it is history and cannot be changed. As a descendent of that history I am like many Hispanics placed in a position similar to having to pick between my mother and father. Rather then pick one I just accept that is where I came from.

Mexicans and to some extent Mexican-Americans today are familiar with the concept the mixing of native and European blood and culture creating a new ethnic group. Some use the term Hispanic, others Latino or Latinx. Some just like to be called American if they are in the United States. This concept of a new race which was united, raza unida, was useful politically to convince the population to unite against French invaders and later against Criollo (those of pure European ancestry) authoritarian regimes. Later that same concept was reborn by activists in the United States seeking to protect Hispanic civil rights.

Brotherly love alas is not perfect yet in this world. The ongoing conflict in Ethiopia and Tigray is another example of this disorder we have against our true intended nature reflected in Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and the Holy Qu’ran all of which preach this concept of universal brotherhood. Even today we see a terrible war in Israel and the Middle East. I pray we eventually learn as individuals and a society to truly follow our beliefs. To see others as fellow precious creations from God. That we should always seek to live together in mutual benefit and harmony. Amen.

Professor Tony Magana https://myfindinggrace.com

Dr. Tony Magana is Professor Emeritus in Neurosurgery who spent many years doing international teaching and research including 10 years in Ethiopia. Over the past 15 years he concomitantly intensified his Christian faith through study and worship through the Episcopal Church. He grew up in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Attended Texas A&M University, Harvard Medical School, and trained at the University of Miami. Additionally he took the University of South Education for Ministry as well as attending the Southeast Florida Episcopal Diocesan School for Christian Studies.
Professor Tony Magana, a seasoned neurosurgeon, has not only dedicated his life to medical practice but also embarked on a profound spiritual journey. Over the past 15 years, he has deepened his Christian faith through study and worship within the Episcopal Church. His experiences span international teaching, research, and a decade of service in Ethiopia
Dr. Tony Magana’s writings blend faith, compassion, and wisdom, inviting readers to explore the intersection of spirituality and the human experience. His journey serves as an inspiration for those seeking deeper connections with faith and humanity.

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