Science and Religion in New Mexico Part 6 – New Mexico Statehood

Science and Religion in New Mexico Part 6 – New Mexico Statehood

Stephen FribergReligion and science are the two wings upon which man’s intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone![


1024px-Flag_of_New_MexicoJuly 13, 2015

We’ve been looking at the history of New Mexico in light of Baha’i ideas about social and economic development and about science and religion.

In 1912, New Mexico became the 47th state of the union. Only 330,000 people lived in the state, mainly in rural areas. The boom years of the 1880’s were long past and agriculture (ranching, hay production, pinto beans, corn, pecan, grapes, and cotton) was the biggest economic contributor. Railroading and mining, though, continued to be important.

Over the next 30 years, New Mexico experienced population growth, the establishment of world-renowned art colonies, increased tourism, the emergence of a health care industry, oil and natural gas discoveries, and the building of a modern highway system. The Navajo nation, located in both New Mexico and Arizona, continued its movement towards becoming the largest indigenous people in the United States.

During World War II and the years afterwards, New Mexico become the center of atomic bomb development, the test ground for American missile and major high-tech weapon systems industrie, established an advanced educational system, and created a thriving California-style desert metropolis in Albuquerque, Belen, and its suburbs.  It also maintained and grew the cultural strength of its indigenous peoples and slowly came to terms with its old and unique Hispanic culture. Now, there 2 million people living in the state.

After Statehood: 1912 to 2014

 New Mexico, after achieving statehood, grew steadily, but not substantially, until World War II.

An early development was that of tourism, especially in the scenic and culturally rich northern parts of the state. It became a major factor in the state]s growth. Taos and Santa Fe became one of the most important art colonies in the United States. Tourism, associated with the same lure of the indigenous cultures and unique landscapes that brought the artists and cultural Bohemians, was encouraged by the Santa Fe Railroad and bus tour operators to great effect:

Georgia Okeefe
An iconic New Mexican canvas by Georgia O’Keeffe

The tourist industry actually had its roots in such institutions as the Taos Art Colony [founded] in the late nineteenth century in northern New Mexico and … helped advertise the culture of New Mexico by exhibiting art works throughout the United States. Writers such as Mabel Dodge Luhan and D. H. Lawrence helped attract other writers and artists to the state.

As art colonies developed in Taos and Santa Fe, interest in Native American culture increased. The number of museums began to grow, and there was a revival of interest in Indian pottery making, rug weaving, and jewelry making. The tourist industry also benefitted from New Mexico’s unique blend of cultures and a campaign aimed at attracting those interested in learning about its art, architecture, and Native American population. (DeMark, Essays in Twentieth-Century New Mexico History)

Desert coal plant in northwestern New Mexico

A new and sustained mining boom set in. In the southeastern part of the state, and then later in the northwestern part of the state, oil and natural gas was discovered and exploited. Currently, New Mexico is the third largest producer of oil and natural gas in the United States. Large coal and uranium deposits have been discovered, and a number of other minerals are mined, and the states modern mechanized mining industry dwarfs that of  the territorial days.

But the great depression of the 1930s hit New Mexico hard, with the New Mexico farmland value becoming “the lowest of any farmland in the United States, and ranchers faced drought, dust storms, and falling market prices. Many farmers and ranchers lost their land when they could not pay taxes.”  Accordingly, President Roosevelt’s New Deal was extraordinarily popular. At the beginning of World War II, New Mexico’s economy was starting to recover. Again, DeMark in Essays in Twentieth-Century New Mexico History.:

On the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, several factors set the stage for New Mexico to play a larger role in the U.S. economy. The population of the state had grown to 531,818, an increase of 270 percent from 1900. The urban population had grown to about one-third of the total state population, and city boosters were trying to attract businesses toNew Mexico. The cost of living was lower than the national average, and taxes were relatively low. Moreover, New Mexico lay in the Sunbelt, which received a major population influx in the three decades after World War II. The military was especially attracted to New Mexico for many reasons. For example, the sunny climate meant that the air force had more flying days.

Sandia-National-Labs-1945-600 750
Sandia Labs before the growth of Albuquerque

It was World War II and the establishment of major military facilities, including Los Alamos National Laboratories, Sandia Labs, various military bases, and the huge White Sand Missile Range that established modern New Mexico.  Albuquerque became a California-style desert metropolis nourished by atomics weapons development and production at Sandia Labs. Las Cruces and Alamogordo in southern New Mexico grew and prospered as bedroom communities for White Sands missile ranges.

And education boomed. The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and New Mexico State University in Las Cruces boomed and grew. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro where I grew up changed from a sleepy mining college to a leader in petroleum exploration technology, explosives research, geology, geophysics and thunderstorm research and other areas of research with its staff of PhDs – my childhood neighbors – collaborating together on fascinating adventures of exploration, many of which I joined.

375px-Socorro_aerialAnd towns like Socorro integrated its young people into an appreciation of other cultures – Hispanic, farming and ranching – that left an indelible imprint on a substantial percentage of us.  We have visions of spiritual search, purpose, meaning, science in the mesas, and technology in the desert.

My Baha’i Social and Economic Development Analysis

What is my social and economic development analysis?  As before, I’m trying to look at New Mexico from the standpoint of Baha’i principles of social unity, unification of science and religion, education, governance, and the presence of a spiritual component of society.

New Mexico started in 1912 as disunified.  Its native American and Hispanic populations were sidelined and ignored. 100 years later, that has changed.  And it has change to the extent that critics damn people for thinking the state to tri-cultural, not multi-cultural New Mexico, uniquely in the United States and probably even the Americas, is home of three indigenous peoples who have maintained their own cultures and it a Hispanic culture that maintains its own vibrancy and uniqueness..

Of course, little of that hard-won tri-culturalism is reflected in employment trends or income levels – there still are big discrepancies between the poor Hispanics in, say, Espanola, and the rich educated non-Hispanic and non-indigenous ricos in nearby Santa Fe and Los Alamos. And drugs are still epidemic, meaning that the cultural divide that I grew up in has worsened, despite the enthusiasm for all thing tri-cultural. So, for progress made on the cultural front, I give New Mexico high marks. On the income and social equality front, low marks.

Ready for Testing in Socorro

Science – including the agricultural sciences, mining and geological sciences, energy sciences, and a wide variety of leading high-tech sciences supported and nourished at Los Alamos and Sandia Labs – are strong and well supported. This is totally different than was the case 100 years ago. Yet, it is the fruit of the militarization of the United States in World War II and continued militarization thereafter – so its benefits are not for New Mexico or its residents despite the money it brings in. An those monies, as important as they are, mainly for the salaries of outsiders, not for those culturally New Mexican. So, again, mixed marks: high marks for education and high tech, low marks for sharing or addressing fundamental inequalities in New Mexican society.  The money mainly goes – California style – to outsiders.

Government is in local hands and increasingly shared among local communities, including Hispanic and long established Anglo-American families, many of whom strongly identify with New Mexico. High marks for this.

Religion is strong, it seems to me. Indigenous and Hispanic traditions are increasingly respected and honored as an integral part of New Mexican society, and important and promising development.  But, there is little cross-fertilization of the type that can provide a model for society elsewhere. It is still Los Alamos high on the hill versus Pueblos in the valley, and the two rarely talk to each other despite the urgings of an occasional visionary. Medium marks – indigenous religions arerespected and valued and occasionally given their due, but Anglo-American materialism still holds sway.

DSC03980Mining is strong and still too invasive. As elsewhere, coal, nuclear, and other energy extraction is polluting. Effectively, it is subsidized by health problems and environmental damage that are the legacy of exploitative capitalism and colonialism.

What is extraordinary about New Mexico, to my eyes, is its intense beauty, its extraordinary landscape made sacred by countless people over many millennia, including recent immigrants like my parents. Also extraordinary is its unique cultural heritage – especially the tri-cultural Hispanic, indigenous, and Anglo parts of it. That mix of peoples – one that is closely similar to the population mix throughout North and South Americas, offers, if people could recognize it, an outstanding laboratory for social development for the future of the New World.  But, it would require a mindset moved away from the legacies of 19th century materialism, militarization, and high-tech science for the few. And, of course, the true reality of the future New World is multicultural, not just tricultural.

330px-Spanish_Empire-AmericasCould New Mexico become such a leader for the future?  The people, the cultural strengths, the traditions, are there!!

Next Blog

The next blog will switch topics – we will address Jerry A. Coyne’s 2015 Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. Is this a book that overcomes the failures of Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and others in their impassioned and unreasoned forays against religion?  Does Coyne avoid a superficial celebration of rationality and logic in the name of a science that substitutes its 19th century scientistic religious speculation beliefs for what should be divine guidance?  Does the man think?  Or is he just another media-savvy fundamentalist just selling us his version of old-fashioned, good-time materialism?


The author, Stephen Friberg, is a Bahá’í living in Mountain View, California. A research physicist by training, he wrote Religion and Evolution Reconciled: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on Evolution with Courosh Mehanian. He worked in Japan for 10 years before joining the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley.

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