I saw a Jesus fish decal on the bumper of a car this morning. It caught my eye because that was the second Jesus fish I have seen in five years of living here.
In the US, these decals are ubiquitous. They’re found in rear windows and on back bumpers of cars all over, along with bumper stickers proclaiming Christian religious statements. It’s not uncommon to see religious billboards on roads and highways. Many Americans feel the need to advertise their religiosity. Meanwhile, at the government level, Article VI of the US Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Yet a couple of intelligent debaters could spend hours on the question of which candidate is less likely to be elected President: a Muslim, or an atheist.
In Portugal, you can’t walk 500 meters without falling over a church. Their bells ring out the hours every day, and the masses every weekend. The calendar is packed full of saints’ holidays, which are observed nationwide, and the main south entrance to Lisboa features a huge statue of Jesus. Religion is impossible to avoid in Portuguese daily life.
But nobody ever puts a Jesus fish on their car. There are no religious bumper stickers or billboards. The Portuguese do not advertise their personal beliefs because they don’t think it’s anyone else’s business. And religion makes no appearance in public office — there are no prayers opening legislative sessions, as there are in the US. Candidates for high office do not proclaim their religious observance, and speeches aren’t ended with “God bless Portugal.”
It’s such an interesting dichotomy. In the US, a supposedly secular nation, religion is very public. And in Portugal, perceived as a Catholic nation, religion is very private.