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The Varsavsky Foundation
Avenida Bruselas 7, Planta 3
28100 Alcobendas
Madrid, Spain

The political blog of a social entrepreneur

What Happens When a Country Gives Up Religion: as Spain Shows, Nothing Much

During Franco´s dictatorship Spain was a very Catholic country. After 3 decades of democracy, Spain is not really a Catholic country anymore. First, loss of religion became apparent with the legalization of divorce and contraceptives and the promotion of sex ed, followed by the decriminalization of abortion, the acceptance of drug possession for personal consumption (drug users are not criminals in Spain, but treated instead as medical patients) and a general acceptance of premarital sex. Also gambling in public places became commonplace, prostitution was legalized and regulated, and recently gay marriage became legal. So other than euthanasia, I can´t think of anything that the Church used to opposed that is not legal now in Spain.

In the 60s over 70% of the Spaniards said that religion played an important role in their lives. Presently it is around 20%, mostly old people. Religion in Spain is mostly becoming tradition. People marry in churches because they are beautiful and full of history, not because they go to church every Sunday. Interestingly, they still teach religion in most schools, but to most it is as if they were teaching Spanish history of a country that used to be religious and it is not anymore.

By now the only cultural group in Spain where people are mostly religious are Muslim immigrants, whose religious views on society are surprisingly similar to those of the Franco era when nudity, for example, was frowned upon. Nudity now makes part of the daily press in Spain, where nudist beaches and regular beaches are mostly mixed, and most people care very little about it.

But not only is Spain liberal in all the matters previously opposed by the Catholic Church. Spain is also liberal in other ways. For example, in Spain the use of P2P programs to download music for personal consumption is not a punishable offense. In Spain people openly use Limewire, eMule, Bittorrent without fear of being prosecuted. The record and movie companies can´t successfully prosecute people who download music for personal use and music and movie downloading is immensely popular. The only illegal activity in this area, and reasonably so, is people who download music, print CDs and sell them but few do so.

If anything, Spain proves that societies do not fall apart when they give up religion and almost everything that was illegal becomes legal. The story of Spain is not unique. Italy, another country where religion used to play a very important role in society, has also transformed most of its churches in tourist attractions. I guess –to the disappointment of people who equate religion with morality– the story of Spain and Italy also prove that people do not need religion to behave ethically, as Spain and Italy have many less policemen and people in jail per inhabitant than the United States, which happens to be the last mostly religious wealthy country on earth.

Posted on October 29, 2006