During Franco´s dictatorship Spain was a very Catholic country. After more than 3 decades of democracy, Spain is not a Catholic country anymore. First, loss of religion became apparent with the legalization of divorce and contraceptives and the promotion of sex ed. This was 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. Later, gambling in public places became commonplace, prostitution was legalized and regulated, and gay marriage became legal as well. So other than euthanasia, I can´t think of anything that the Church used to opposed that is not legal now in Spain. While 95% of the Spanish youth declared in the 60s that religion played some role in their life, now only a third do.
Religion in Spain is mostly becoming tradition. People marry in churches because they are beautiful and full of history, not because they actually practice. They still teach religion in most schools, but to most it is as if they were teaching Spanish history, the history of a country that used to be religious but is not anymore. Now the only religious group in Spain are Muslim immigrants, whose views on society are surprisingly similar to those of the Franco. Nudity, for example, was a big “no no” at that time and it continues to be so for Spanish Muslims. For others, nudity makes part of the daily press in Spain. Nudist beaches and regular beaches are mostly mixed, and most people don´t mind.
But not only is Spain liberal in most matters previously opposed by the Catholic Church. Spain is also tolerant in other unexpected 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 Ares, Vuze, eMule for legal and what in other countries is illegal content without fear of being prosecuted. The only truly illegal activity is people who download music/movies, print CDs or DVDs and sell them. And this is but one example of a legislative system that, when faced with choices that involve tolerance vs restriction, it generally opts for tolerance, to the point that Spain has become one of the most tolerant countries in the world. As a result, Spain has become an incredibly popular immigration destination. Indeed I am one of them, I moved to Spain from NYC in 1995.
If anything, Spain proves that societies do not fall apart when they give up religion and almost everything that was illegal for religious reasons, becomes legal. Moreover, I believe that if Spain had not given up its repressive form of religious expression, it would not have been the success that it is now. For those, mostly in America, who believe that religion somehow makes countries more ethical, Spain proves the opposite. With a good secular and free Kindergarden to University education system Spain has less violent crime, less people in jail and certainly less policemen per inhabitant than mostly religious USA. The key distinction between USA and Spain, or Europe in general, is that while most people in Europe dislike the same activities that people in America dislike, the trend over here is not to make these activities a crime but to find more tolerant and reasonable ways to deal with them. In this way, Spain can focus its police resources to deal with serious crimes such as terrorism.
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