Friday, November 12, 2010

Can you trust Evangelicals more than Catholics?

Can you trust Evangelicals more than Catholics?

As absurd as I'm sure the question would sound even to most Evangelicals in Canada, I've now met a number of Mexicans who seem to think it's true.  While some seem to be Evangelicals giving preference to their own congregation members, there are other cases in which I have good reason to believe that they are either atheist or passively non-religious.

For example, one guy I know who runs a little store beside his house (definitely not Evangelical), explained to me that he felt more reassured leaving his store in the hands of new employee, since she was "Christian" instead of Catholic, as opposed to his previous employees who he says were stealing his money.  (I've also realized that many non-Catholics exclude Catholics from being "Christian" - a point I don't agree with.)  In this particular case, he later suspected that she too was stealing.  Personally, I believe that has more to do with where/how he hired & trained his workers rather than their religion or denomination, but that's a different point.

In another case, a neighbor, who also for various reasons I suspect is not Evangelical, recommended a builder.  The recommendation was based on the fact that he did good quality work, he charged low prices, and because he was Evangelical, again implying we wouldn't have to worry about him stealing things from the house while he was working.  Based solely on the first two points, I took the recommendation, and he worked out really well this is the worker who built the closet I wrote a blog about back in October (click here to read about the closet); he did a great job, and he certainly didn't steal anything, nor did he need supervision to ensure that he didn't steal anything.  In this case, I believe this worker needs to charge more for his time, since, despite his excellent work, he seems to be living in rather impoverished circumstances.

The point isn't how well the idea of trusting Evangelicals over Catholics works - the two cases show that it can work sometimes, and not work at others.  The point is that this idea actually exists in Mexico, and people seem to believe it.  I've given some thought to figure out why people might believe this.  I'm definitely not an expert on religion or prejudice based on religion, and here I hope to give a balanced view on both sides.

First of all, in most parts of the world, there are many more choices within Christianity, but in Mexico, if you belong to a church, you're either Catholic by default ( your parents are Catholic, your entire village/community is Catholic, you were born Catholic, you were baptized as a child, and so you're Catholic), or you're a recent convert to an Evangelical denomination (Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, etc).  I believe the root of this concept about who you can trust lies in this fact, rather than in any distinction of beliefs.

Since just about everyone is Catholic by default, that means petty thieves, irresponsible people, poor money managers and bad employees are, by all likelihood, going to be Catholic, just like priests, business men, house wives and shopkeepers.  Of course, this doesn't mean these people are truly devoted Catholics, or that they attend mass or confession more than once a year.  But if you were to ask their religion, they would probably identify themselves as Catholics.

Evangelicalism, on the the other hand, is relatively new to Mexico.  I don't know how long it's been around; I'm sure that it made it's way across the border much earlier, but by and large, those who are Evangelical in Mexico have made a conscientious choice at some point in their adult life (or teenage life) to convert.  This means that they consider themselves an example of the branch of Christianity they have chosen - a feeling which I guess would compel them to behave in a way to protect the image of that particular branch.

It seems unlikely (in theory) that someone who habitually steals from their employer or client would go to the trouble to convert to another denomination, and continue their habit. By the same token, I suspect some converts change denominations because of their dislike for the misconduct apparently condoned by Catholics, hopefully meaning that they should be less likely to participate in that misconduct.  I've never met an Evangelical who said they left because Catholics were dishonest, but I have met a few who said they couldn't tolerate that Catholics are drunkards.  (Given the Mexican love for tequila and beer, and the "Catholic by default" idea described above, it's hard to argue against this point, even though I don't believe that the Catholic church condones either drunkenness or theft.)  Of course, there are a lot of Evangelicals who have a true and authentic disapproval for dishonesty, and would refrain from it, even if they didn't have their church's image to protect; however, I believe I've met as many Catholics, atheists and others who are likewise authentically opposed to dishonesty, and would refrain from behaving dishonestly.

A few points I've considered about this situation are:

  • As time goes on, and a generation of Evangelicals shows up who were born into these denominations, there will be more people who are "Evangelical by default," and will be no more reliable than those who are "Catholic by default."  I believe the case of Canada or the U.S. demonstrates this; I don't think I know many Canadians (Evangelicals or otherwise) who would truly believe that hiring an Evangelical would be a good safeguard against dishonesty; at least I never would have believed that.
  • The story of my neighbor who hired the Evangelical employee shows that even now people can't fully rely on the idea that people who have chosen their own religion will be more honest, nor that being Evangelical will compel you not to steal.
  • There is a group of Catholics who are often overlooked; Catholics who have decisively chosen to live as Catholics, following the doctrine of that church.  These have to be distinguished from the "Catholics by default" who do not truly live their life following Catholic teaching.  While Evangelicals would certainly disapprove of their religious practices, I don't think anyone could deny that these Catholics are just as likely to want to protect the image of their church, or to have an authentic disapproval for dishonesty, as the dedicated Evangelicals.  I don't think even Mexican Evangelicals would deny this; from my experience most tend to focus on the difference of beliefs rather than difference of action.  Also from my experience, truly dedicated Catholics I've met are at least as morally opposed to dishonest behaviour as dedicated Evangelicals, if not more so.
Perhaps this belief about trusting Evangelicals more than Catholics is less widespread than it seems to me; I certainly hope so, since I believe it's absurd.  I would never base my trust or distrust in a person based on their choice of denomination or even religion.  The idea is similar to that of the parable of the good Samaritan.

I find the Catholic/Evangelical distinction here in Mexico fairly intriguing , and I have a lot more to say about it, but I'll save the rest for other days.

If you're Mexican, do you think this idea exists?
Whether your Mexican, Canadian, American or "other" please share any theories, stories, disagreements or insights; they would be appreciated.


  1. El Ricardo Del BoychukNovember 15, 2010 at 5:05 PM

    I can't say I'd trust an Evangelical over a Roman Catholic or vice versa. I've met stellar examples of each and I've met so real creeps. I guess if you are in an area where one is not the norm the minority group might be a bit more trustworthy but if someone was trying to get me to trust them on the basis of being an Evangelical etc. I'd probably start to wonder.

  2. I'd trust a drunken Evangelical or Catholic over either one sober. As Riemer Faber would say, in vino veritas!

  3. Scott, I like your reasoning! I'm not sure if it would help matters to pull this line out in a debate with someone who complains of the drinking habits of another church, but an interesting thought, but who can argue if you use a Latin phrase - especially when quoted from Dr. Faber?

  4. La honestidad está en cada persona sin importar la religion.

  5. There is so much here to address. You are an excellent anthropologist! This topic could be a whole dissertation in itself. I, like you, find the Catholic/¨non-christian¨ thing absurd. I think the same would apply for protestants. Lutherens are not christians, bapists are not christians. Well then who the heck are the christians. I think atheist and passively non-religious people are far more in number than thought. Most are embarrassed to say they don`t believe something. Do you think the builder rec`d a lower rate due to his Evangelicalism? Really great post and a LOT to think about. You would be a great anthropology prof! I read this three times, so far!
    I agree with Cecymar:
    Cecymar said...

    La honestidad está en cada persona sin importar la religion.