What is the religious situation in Spain and what are the tasks for the new evangelization?

Spain is moving towards an increasingly secularized environment and an increasingly polarized religious situation, with decreasing religious practice. The author reviews these trends and proposes some challenges for the coming decades.

Luis Herrera-March 22, 2021-Reading time: 6 minutes
religious situation in spain

Photo credit: Danil Sorokin / Unsplash

The Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas conducts monthly surveys, which it calls "barometers". They include two questions related to religion: How do you define yourself in religious matters: practicing Catholic, non-practicing Catholic, believer of another religion, agnostic, indifferent or non-believer, or atheist? And only to those who define themselves in religious matters as Catholics or believers of another religion: How often do you attend Mass or other religious services, not counting occasions related to social ceremonies, e.g. weddings, communions or funerals?           

The religious situation in Spain

Comparing the answers to these questions over the last few years, the following trends can be observed:

That the number of Spaniards who consider themselves non-religious (atheists, agnostics or indifferent) is increasing.

On the other hand, practicing Catholics are increasing slightly. They cease to draw a u-shaped line (with peaks in childhood and old age, and a long valley between the two stages of life), and begin to form a flat line across the entire age range, which tends to rise slowly but evenly. This same trend is reflected in another recent survey of the Pew Reseach Center50% of those who consider religion important have reinforced it during the pandemic: this is equivalent to 16% of Spaniards. 

Finally, the number of non-practicing Catholics is decreasing.


If current statistical trends continue, in Spain (and in Europe in general) we are moving towards a polarization in religious matters. In 2050 it is possible that around 75% of Spaniards will be non-religious and 25% will be practicing. Obviously there are factors that can alter these projections, such as immigration: it is enough to think that in this 21st century it is estimated that Africa will grow from 800 to 4,000 million inhabitants, while Europe will remain at around 600 million and Spain will reduce its population by almost half. The importance of religiosity on the African continent is well known, although its resistance to the consumerist individualism exported by the West remains to be proven.

The dictatorship of relativism

            This situation of a practicing minority has very positive aspects for Christianity, because never has the Church been so independent of secular power, nor the faith of believers so grounded in reason and mystical experience.

            But if we ask ourselves what the relationship between this majority culture without God and the Christian minority will be like, the outlook is not so positive.

The Church with its teachings is scandalously countercultural.

            Relativism is a negationist of metaphysics. "Good" means "useful," without further ethical considerations. This denial of moral principles is obviously tempting. Moreover, it is done in the name of science and tolerance. Relativism is so imposing that it has been called a "dictatorship". Just think of the social engineering carried out by the LGTBI collective, which permeates laws, educational programs, the media, the entertainment industry... and even commercial contracts. 

            The Church with its teachings is scandalously countercultural. It is accused of being intolerant and obscurantist. It is politically correct to revel in its inconsistencies and to silence its virtues. There is a growing harassment of its freedom of expression, its consideration of public interest, its participation in social life, or the exercise of the right to conscientious objection by Catholics. 

            A "martyrial" future is emerging for the Church. Even if in the 21st century it adopts new procedures, martyrdom has accompanied the Church since its very origin, Jesus of Nazareth. It is a means of purification and of witnessing to the faith: when words have lost their capacity to convince, what remains is coherence and happiness. It is probable that the Christian community will shrink even more than the surveys currently announce, but that the witness of this small group will bring a new Christian springtime. As Tertullian wrote as early as 197: The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians.

The autophagy of relativism

            But relativism is not only intolerant, it is also self-destructive. The relativist subject is an expert in health, technology, sexuality, nutrition, fashion, decoration, travel, hotels, cars and sports. But he ignores the deep sense of reality, the moral dimension of existence, and strong personal relationships. In other words, a "homo consumens", a hedonist.

            The news reports every day give an account of serious social dysfunctions caused by this culture: the failure of marriage and the falling birth rate, domestic violence, school failure, individualistic indifference, corruption, injustice, mass migration, neurosis, suicide... Relativism generates problems that it is incapable of solving, because it does not recognize their moral roots, and limits itself to applying symptomatic treatments. 

            The democratic system itself is in crisis. These days we are witnessing debates on the limits of freedom of expression, of subjective desire in the assignment of gender, of surrogate motherhood, of street protests, of national self-determination, of the intervention of the executive power in the judiciary... At the root of these political tensions is a materialist anthropology. Democracy then becomes a system of expansion of individual subjective rights. An unlimited and unsustainable narcissistic individualism.

Small open groups 

            In the face of this totalitarian and self-destructive drift of postmodernity, various "options" are proposed to Christians. One, called "Benedictine", advocates a new beginning from small groups of believers (from a parish to a literary club), which will expand to form a new Christian culture, as cells form a tissue. Another, which has been called "Gregorian", is in favor of Christians forming creative minorities that participate in public forums of philosophical and political discussion, in order to contribute the light of faith. Another, which has been called "Escriva", advocates the presence of Christians, in a personal capacity, in the structures of society, in order to revitalize them with the Christian spirit. 

            Surely these and other possible options are complementary. What does not fit is that the Church become a neat structure separate from the people or a group of self-selectors looking at themselves.(Pope Francis). On the contrary, Christian minorities must be open to all people and to the whole of society. The "non-practicing Christians" are also "faithful". And the "non-religious" have their dramas, reasons and virtues. There is much to learn and much to try to help in every person.

            In short, we must move from a Church of maintenance, limited to administering a hypocaloric spiritual diet every Sunday, to a Church of discipleship, where we become aware that "Christian" is synonymous with "disciple" and "apostle", with all that this implies in terms of intellectual formation and spiritual experience. The Canadian James Mallon, in a book titled A divine renewalexplains how he has carried out this transformation in his parishes.

Agenda 2050

            In conclusion, I would like to point out three tasks for the Church at the present time. A kind of "Agenda 2050" for the new evangelization promoted by recent Popes. 

A new social contract

            The liberal democratic system is in crisis, because it has evolved into a technocracy at the service of the indefinite extension of individual subjective rights. An intolerant and unsustainable narcissism. 

            It is necessary to restore a political system that guarantees the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers; respect for minorities and not only the rule of the majority; and freedom of conscience.

Christians have a transcendent foundation and their own virtues of great social relevance, regardless of whether or not they have faith.

            We need a "social contract" based on the dignity of the person and the moral values derived from human nature. A "culture of encounter", along the lines proposed by Pope Francis in chapter 6 of the Encyclical Fratelli tutti.

            Instead of being suspicious of the world government to which we are surely heading, we must strive - to the best of our ability - to ensure that it conforms to these democratic rules.

            Christians have a transcendent foundation and their own virtues of great social relevance, regardless of whether or not they possess the faith. For this reason, Benedict XVI proposed to the agnostics of our time to think about the public sphere as if God existed.

Contribution to the common good

            It is foreseeable that, as the demolition of Christianity is consummated, a religiosity of society, a secular humanism based on technology, experimental rationality and nature, will become generalized. 

Christians must bear the burden of proof that there is something grander, deeper and more beautiful than secular humanism.

            Catholics must participate with other citizens in the search for the common good. Our proposals in matters such as health, family, education, economy, freedom, information or environment will often be alternatives, but they must be based on the argumentative rationality recognized in the public forum. We must contribute to form the axiological coefficients of the democratic process only with the force of truth itself. 

            Christians must bear the burden of proof that there is something grander, deeper and more beautiful than secular humanism.

Mystical spirituality

            Covid will pass. The emblematic diseases of our time are neuronal: crippled by burnoutSecularism does violence to the person. That is why the West is entering a "post-secular" era. The 50% of those who declare themselves non-religious nevertheless consider themselves spiritual. Today there is a proliferation of a certain non-institutional spirituality, which includes meditation exercises, neo-philosophical readings that teach us to enjoy the small things, relaxing music, contact with nature, and even the Camino de Santiago. 

Today there is a proliferation of a certain non-institutional spirituality, which includes meditation exercises, neo-philosophical readings that teach us to enjoy the small things, relaxing music and contact with nature.

            We Christians practice and offer a particular spirituality: a personal relationship with Christ. A dialogue of liberties, which infinitely surpasses any solipsism, and opens exclusive horizons to the deepest desires of the human heart: a healthy and lasting love, answers to the questions about the meaning of life, the transcendent foundation of the feast... Friendship with Christ grants a happiness that is pain and contrariness proof. Christian doctrine and conduct are its consequences. As André Malraux prophesied, "the 21st century will be spiritual, or it will not be".

The authorLuis Herrera

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