Saints and Sinners

by La Sevillana /
La Sevillana's picture
Sep 03, 2009 / 0 comments

There are two opinions regarding Spaniards and religion. One has it that Spain is a deeply religious, Roman Catholic nation that clings to its

traditions. These observers note the many religious celebrations, such as Semana Santa and El Rocio, which attract enormous crowds. I've seen teenagers wait outside a church during Semana Santa for the Virgin to exit as though U2 were hiding in there somewhere. In every village, the church is the tallest structure, and new parents continue to name their newborns after Biblical characters. VirginEven a good number of the streets are named for saints, virgins and religious martyrs. Not surprisingly, it's tempting to deduct from all this that Spaniards are deeply religious - and they are correct.

Others contend fervently that Spaniards are godless atheists. There was that bus ad campaign that raised quite a stink among religious conservatives almost everywhere: "Probablamente Dios no existe. Deja de preocupate y goza de la vida." [There probably is no god. Stop worrying and enjoy life.] Church attendance is low (compared to that in the U.S.). The Spanish parliament openly flaunts Vatican decrees by continually passing laws based on secular principles rather than religious doctrine, permitting legalized abortion, gay marriage, and

adoption by homosexual couples. Some have therefore concluded that Spaniards have rejected Catholicism and embraced secularism, and are on the high-speed AVE to Hell. And they are correct (well, except for that last bit).


 The average Spaniard's relationship to the Roman Catholic Church is...complicated. This occurs as a direct result of a combination of historical and political processes. The Roman Catholic Church has historically blocked scientific and technological development on the Iberian Peninsula and, as a result, Spain's Industrial Revolution was delayed long after it had already begun elsewhere, the psychological effect of which has been a lasting inferiority complex on a national scale. Then there was the Church's role in the Spanish Civil War - too complicated to address in a blog. Suffice to say that the Church stood shoulder to shoulder with Franco (the dictator), and was complicit in much of what he did. You must forgive the average Spaniard, therefore, if he or she would rather spend Sunday watching the latest Real Madrid

vs. Barca football match than at Sunday service.

Ceiling Catholic Church 


I've puzzled over a way to make this contradiction sane to those unfamiliar with the context in which it occurs. It's similar to the complex way that some Americans feel about their government. There's a

popular motto (on bumper stickers, hats and t-shirts everywhere) that proclaims: "I love my country, but hate my government." It's like that, only the Spanish say: "Un cura ni en pintura," which essentially means: "[I don't want to see] a priest, not even in a painting." But that doesn’t mean they don’t believe in God.


Confessional Understanding the behavior of those from a different culture is always complicated, and perhaps much about the Spanish seems contradictory. This is especially true because the immediate impulse of humans everywhere is to rely on simple characterizations of others that can be applied to entire peoples, such as secular or religious, saints

or sinners. The seemigly contradictory behavior of Spaniards challenges this natural impulse, and forces us to look beyond simplistic stereotypes.