Guatemala is a seriously religious country, way more so than I initially realized. It’s been over 5 months since I’ve attended church, which I believe to be a pretty unique situation in the Peace Corps. I think that most volunteers get asked, insinuated, pressured or simply bored into attending a church service, but I happen to have missed getting a direct invitation since first arriving in-country (when my first host family brought me to the Evangelical church two nights in a row.) Those times, I was just being culturally tolerant.
I wouldn’t say that I’m a religious person; I would say that I’m a more spiritual person, which sounds totally stupid. Basically, I don’t see myself going to church except in an abstract way, kind of like I’ve decided that I sort of enjoy bible stories in Spanish because it’s novel getting proselytized in a different language. I like good people and I like the good things they do. I understand why people say that God is love.
Why I’m writing about religion is that it pervades almost every part of society here. God, His Divine Will and His Guidance run most Guatemalan lives, which you notice in conversation (“if God allows me to live that long!”)or people simply giving eachother advice: (“Will I be safe on the bus to Guatemala City?” “Just … pray to God.”) It’s also not unusual to hear sermons blaring overloudspeakers throughout the streets of town for a couple hours a couple nights a week.
Today I went to a ribbon cutting for a new school in one of our aldeas (villages) – every single individual addressing the crowd, from the naturalized American philanthropist of Guatemalan origin to the mayor, from the head schoolteacher to the community group president – every single last person made it painfully clear how responsible God was for this new school. Everyone, including the crowd, seemed to believe so fervently in their religionthat I felt like I wasn’t witnessing a collection of individual believers but an entire community expressing its collective vision of reality, where acceptance of the status quo was simply a given. It made me wonder about life in a religious state,and what Afghanistan or Indonesia might be like.
Obviously I’m coming from a church-state separation perspective, so watching public officials exalt God makes me flinch a little bit. At the same time, organized religion is growing on me here – in a country with as much social, historical and physical turmoil as Guatemala, you can understand why people would identify with the Catholic preacher I heard riding the bus yesterday, who declared that one encounters wisdom the minute he or she admits that they know very little, the minute they admit they are not in control.
There are so many social problems here, so many physical threats and so much uncertainty that I can see why it’selevating to acknowledge that you’re a merely a pawn. That way you don’t go crazy – the status quo is beyond your comprehension.
What I found funny was today, while a second evangelical preacher thundered at the community on the radiance of god and his boundless compassion, I realized that I might as well BE in church….it didn’t matter that I was at a “public” event; everything seems to intimate God here in Guatemala.
Here’s some people collecting maize in the fields