Saint or Sinner? Mexico Debates A Cult’s Status (NPR – All Things Considered, 2009)

Santa Muerte Devotional ImageAn episode from NPR’s All Things Considered dedicated to Santa Muerte demonstrates a trend in reportage that has had an unfortunate effect on understanding the complexity of these faith traditions. Within three short paragraphs we already descend into a  narrative laden with adjectives like dangerous, dark, shacklike (an authorial invention to describe just how shack like the building is,) and menacing. An opportunity for deeper understanding is lost in extreme descriptors reflecting the reporter’s personal unease rather than an accurate reflection of the tradition itself:

“On a dangerous curve in the highway just outside the Mexican border city of Reynosa, two shrines stand behind a battered guardrail.

One is an airy, glass structure holding a statue of the Virgin Mary. Fresh flowers have been laid at her feet.

The other is a dark, shacklike building filled with skeletal figurines of the folk saint known as Santa Muerte — the Saint of Death. Inside the shrine, a life-size skeleton clutching a scythe leans menacingly forward from a black altar. At its feet candles flicker amid offerings of whiskey, cigarettes and candy bars.

Along the border the Mexican army has been bulldozing altars to Santa Muerte, saying the sect caters to narcotics traffickers.”

To descend farther into the reporter’s personal misgivings you can listen to the episode of All Things Considered by clicking here. Also note,  for all the negative narration, someone at NPR included a picture of Santa Muerte framed with Christian symbols. What was lost in the words is discovered in an image.

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