Monday, February 07, 2011

What is the religious climate in your country?

What is the religious climate in your country?... Jennifer asks over at Conversion Diary

When I told American Catholics about the religious climate here in Portugal last summer (at the National Theology of the Body Congress), they were shocked. "But our lady of Fatima promised to protect Portugal!" they said. Well, I'm not sure what our lady of Fatima thinks of Portugal's religious climate, but I'm sure she's not too happy. Maybe it's her protection that is keeping Portugal hanging by a thread in terms of christianity, but it's hard to think how it could be worse! In a word: indifference. New movements are slowly springing up, and the climate is becoming more hostile toward christians... forcing people to take a stand... which brings some hope I think.

1. Where do you live? (Or, if you’re not currently living there, what part of the world is it that you’re familiar with?)

In PORTUGAL, Europe's most western country. Specifically Lisbon. I moved here seven years ago to study theology.

2. What is church attendance like in your area? Are there many churches? Do they seem to have active memberships?

Church attendance is still mainly Catholic and is becoming less and less. The average age of attendees is very old. There are some families with kids, but usually it is because people still enroll their kids in CCD even though they aren't believing or practicing Catholics, so sometimes people go to church because of their kids.

3. At a typical social event, how appropriate would it be if a person were to explicitly acknowledge in casual conversation that he or she is a believing Christian? For example, if someone at a party made a passing comment like, “We’ve been praying about that” or “I was reading the Bible the other day, and…”, would that seem normal or odd?

It would definitely seem odd. There are typical opinions that are socially acceptable but those are not some of them. Some socially acceptable opinions would be:
  • "you can be spiritual without going to church"
  • "I don't agree/don't go to church but I think christian values are important, especially for kids"
  • "I grew up in a catholic school and think it helped me have good values. I'm a good person. "
  • "all religions are the same"
  • "I like catholic values but I'm into buddhism right now"
  • "I think we should all just respect each other and our views"
  • "the church has always been against knowledge" (I heard this statement, word for word, at a birthday party last week)
  • "the church has killed scientists, led theinquisition, crusades, etc."
  • "a little religion is good in moderation, I sometimes go to mass on Sunday"
  • "I believe in science" (therefore, I don't have faith)
  • "I'm probably more christian than people that go to church" (meaning: I'm a good person, people that go to church sometimes aren't)
  • "I don't agree with the church but I want my kids to be baptized, I got married through the church, etc."
4. What belief system do the politicians in your area claim to practice? For example,  here in Texas almost all politicians at least claim to have some kind of belief in God, regardless of what they may think in private — to openly admit to being an atheist would be political suicide in most parts of the state. Is this the case in your area?

Being a "close-minded" strong believer would almost be political suicide in Portugal... maybe in Europe in general. Politicians don't have to talk about their religious beliefs. Our prime minister is openly gay and that is absolutely not a problem for anyone, even practicing Catholics.

5. How many families do you know who have more than two children? If a family with four children moved to your area, would their family size seem unusual? What about a family with six children?

I know very few families with more than two! Portugal is the country in Europe with the second lowest birth rate (only Germany has fewer babies). Marriage is generally viewed as a limit on freedom, people get married very late (around the age of 30), careers are a priority and the job situations is difficult so it is hard for people to get a steady income.

In general people have two, one or no kids so families with more than four are very unusual. The only people that have more kids are usually in very radical church movements and it is hard to find large families that are joyful. Most people that go to Catholic mass don't know or care that the Church is against contraception and most priests will tell you to go ahead and have premarital sex or use contraception as long as you're "in love".

6. What seems to be the dominant belief system of the people in your area?
  • people that are good at science are smarter (there is even a class system in high schools: the best students study science and the weaker ones study arts or economics)
  • science and faith/the Bible are opposites
  • you shouldn't have to suffer in life
  • God can't exist because of the suffering in the world
  • happiness = physical pleasure, good food, partying, traveling, having nice things and a good career
  • Christianity is a moral code to be a better person and help your neighbor
  • I'm already a good person
  • God may or may not exist, and it doesn't impact my life in any way
  • (for most practicing Catholics:) God exists, but that fact doesn't change lives and can't solve my problems
  • I think for myself and am really progressive and open-minded
7. Do you notice any trends? Do people seem to be becoming more or less religious?

Statistics show that 97% of Portuguese people are Catholic. Anyone that lives here knows that isn't true. Although most people will nominally call themselves Catholic and get married through the Church, a very reduced percentage will go to Catholic mass every Sunday. Of those that go to Catholic mass every Sunday, a very low percentage will have a basic understanding of the Bible or even believe in Jesus and the Church's mission in carrying on his work.

Catholic movements and groups (like Opus Dei, the Neocatechumenal Way, Teams of Our Lady, etc.) are where you will find people that try to understand what they are doing and try to live their faith in their everyday lives. Some of these movements are doing great work and bearing fruit, even though it is slow and small.

Most people still put their kids in Catholic schools even though they don't believe in the basic tenets of Christianity, because it is "good quality education". Most teachers will work at these schools, some even say they are Catholic, but not go to church or even believe in God.

I think indifference is slowly fading, as people are taking stands on both sides. Non-christians are becoming more hostile toward christian views, crucifixes are being taken off public walls, people are not marrying through the Church as much. Christians are forced to understand what they believe if they want to believe it, seeing as they have to defend it more. I think this is good!

New movements are springing up. Christians are slowly uniting. Portuguese youth flock in herds to a monastery in France called Taize (whether that has any real impact on their faith is another story...).  

"Conard says there is more openness to the Gospel in Portugal than anyone has seen in decades. Like much of the world, this country has seen a progressive economic decline, yet a spiritual awakening is beginning to dawn.... 'Two things have to happen for My Hope to be successful in any country,” he explained. “First, the Christians must feel a passion for the Lord. Second, there must be a spiritual awakening. Both of those are happening on the Iberian Peninsula of Portugal.'” from here