Never mind, I’m not converting to Catholicism

winkle, kateI don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I don’t stay out late. More than once in my life people have noticed my rather ascetic life and asked (or told) me: “You’re Catholic, right?”

No, I am not Catholic. I choose to be boring according to today’s standards. My definition of “fun” whilst traveling abroad is visiting art museums and touring cathedrals, not partying like a rock star. Besides, Catholicism is not synonymous with “dreary fun-hater.”

Many of my friends and family wondered if I’d convert to Catholicism after four months in Spain. After all, Spain is a Catholic country, they said.

That’s not exactly true. Spain certainly was a Catholic country until 37 years ago. From 1936 to 1975, Francisco Franco’s dictatorial regime mandated the morals of the country, emphasizing military involvement, family and faith.

Effectively, everyone was Catholic because they had no choice otherwise.

Historically, too, Spain has a strong Catholic tradition.

The Reyes Católicos, “Catholic Monarchs” Ferdinand and Isabella, besides funding Christopher Columbus’ voyage to America, were also responsible for the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain and the Spanish Inquisition.

Unsurprisingly, Catholicism has rather a bad reputation because of its past abuses of power, as can anything marked by error. Despite this history, 73.1 percent of Spaniards identify as Catholic, according to a 2013 survey by the Centro de Investigaciones Sogiológicas. However, 58.5 percent of those who identify as religious stated they almost never go to church compared to 13.4 percent who said they attend almost every Sunday.

My host mother is part of the even smaller 2.2 percent that attends church multiple times a week. My first day in Spain we discussed religion and she informed me that although she was raised Catholic she now attends an Evangelical Baptist church.

The disparity between those who identify as Catholic and those who actively practice Catholicism can be attributed partially to a reaction that persists today against the Franco dictatorship, which created an altogether more liberal and laid-back society.

Nowadays, Catholicism in Spain seems more cultural and less life-changingly spiritual (although spirituality does exist). There is still a huge emphasis on tradition. Semana Santa, Holy Week, is especially culturally rich, and draws many tourists to well-known regions of Spain. Sevilla’s processionals of large statues depicting scenes from the Bible this year are as likely to draw crowds of sincere worshipers as camera-clicking culture seekers.

The great thing about modern Spain, and about life, is a person doesn’t have to be Catholic to be a believer. One can be, one has that choice to belong to a Catholic Church, but a person has the same right to attend a Protestant-branch church where the worship-leading guitarist looks a bit like a Beatle. Equally, people have the right to not attend church, or to not believe anything.

That is the crux of modern society: choice — and accepting that not everyone makes the same choices.

 Kate Winkle is a senior Journalism and Technical Communications major. Her columns appear every other Friday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.