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Religious Quiz

Jul
7
2006

Time for another quiz.
Which country is more religious?
A: A country where most of the population shares the same religion, where public money supports that religion, and where one of the central founding stories is about the “taking back” of the country by people of that religion from “occupiers” of another religion.
B: A country whose top leaders regularly invoke God, where God is mentioned on its money and its pledge, and God is brought into public gatherings including Congressional meetings and high school graduations.
Hard to say?
Some Americans might look at the idea of the separation of church and state, which in the U.S. gets lots of attention as a concept and less actual support, and consider themselves a very secular society. Over on this side of the Atlantic, Europeans look at the U.S. and see the very common allusion to God in public spheres – as likely in a speech from Bill Clinton as from George Bush – the widespread churchgoing, and – most relevantly – the influence of religion on public policy, in areas like abortion, contraception issues and stem-cell research, and consider the U.S. thoroughly religious.
Not that it’s a competition, but it’s interesting to look at the current role of religion in Spain, a country many Americans would assume is very “religious,” because almost 80 percent of its population is Roman Catholic. It gets more complicated, of course. Because almost half of Catholics never attend mass. And young people are much more likely to consider religion irrelevant; according to one recent survey of Spaniards ages 15-24, only 10 percent consider themselves practicing Catholics.
And then Spain, with its centuries of Catholicism, is one of only three European countries to have legalized gay marriage. The Socialist government has also passed laws making divorce easier to obtain and supporting stem-cell research. (And yes, the first gay divorce just made the news.) The Socialists turned back a plan from the previous conservative Popular Party government to make religion classes mandatory in public schools. And the Vatican has been continually appalled.
Pope Benedict XVI is visiting Valencia this weekend to attend a gathering of Catholic families. It’s the setting for him to do some tough talking (in a country once strongly pro-Vatican under dictator Francisco Franco) about supporting the traditional family and about following other Vatican policy. Public rhetoric might be toned down somewhat with the city still raw after Monday’s subway accident, but meetings are scheduled with the prime minister and other leaders.
Spain’s Catholic roots are deep and many people are still traditionally faithful. Yellow and white banners welcoming the Pope are common. (And with traffic such a mess you have lots of time to contemplate them.) But you can also see the “I’m not waiting for you” banners from people protesting the public funds spent on the visit.
The Socialists say they’re bringing policy in line with what most Spaniards want. And religion isn’t intruding. If you quizzed me, that seems like the proper definition of a secular government.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 4:29 AM | Permalink

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