Sometimes it’s difficult to explain the Spanish religious climate to American Christians. In Spain, nearly 78% of people claim to be Christian. [It’s interesting that a few years ago that number was 90%]
Of that 78% of Christian people, 94.5% are Catholic. This leave the remaining 5.5% to be divided by Protestant, Independent, Anglican, Orthodox, and Other.
I have many American Catholic people in my life whom I love and respect. I believe they have a vibrant personal relationship with God the Father through his Son Jesus Christ. I believe we’ll live and worship together in the new earth one day. Additionally, some of my favorite Christian authors are Catholic; many of the Church fathers who inspire me were Catholic. As I talk to people about the spiritual darkness and lack of Christianity in Spain, I’m not casting doubt on the faith of my believing Catholic friends. I’m casting doubt on the empty, cultural Catholicism prevalent in Spain and other places in Europe (Italy, for example).
I was reading this morning about people groups in Spain and came across the Basques (0.5% evangelical). These people have a rich cultural history and an absolutely fascinating language- a language with one of the most amazing histories on earth. As I read about the Basques, I found this explanation of Spanish Catholicism and I want to share it here:
What is difficult for many American Catholics to understand is that the Catholic Church around the world has a mission strategy of syncretism. They accept the “traditional beliefs” of the new people, and then try to re-create those in a Catholic form. Catholics would say that they are successful in that. Others might tend to disagree.
Another aspect of Catholicism in Spain is that it is very much a cultural Catholicism for the overwhelming majority of people. To be Catholic means to participate in the big events of the Catholic Church (infant baptism, first communion, confirmation, marriage in the Catholic Church, burial in the Catholic cemetery, and then the Mass for the dead on the anniversaries of their passing.
Finally, down through the centuries the Catholic church has played a prominent role in the governing of Spain since 350 A.D. right up through the 1970s. They have insisted that to be Spanish is necessarily to be Catholic, and since the decline of the Roman Empire, they have lobbied subsequent national leadership to embrace the Catholic faith as their own and as a force for unity with Spain. Even General Franco used the imposition of Catholicism to “unite” all of the Spanish nation under his leadership. As a result, When Franco died in 1975, many Spaniards rejected the Catholic Church as well as Franco’s failed agenda. The Basque Country went from the “most Catholic” to the “least Catholic” of all the autonomous regions of Spain in a 20-30 year period following Franco´s death.
Most Catholics still claim Catholicism if they claim any religious affiliation at all, but it is, for the most part, a cultural Catholicism only, and even in that limited sense, any real allegiance to the church has been greatly weakened.