March 02, 2018
Religion, gender, and politics are difficult topics to talk about in Costa Rica. Kattia Castro Flores knows it very well, but she is not afraid of it. This mother, theologist, and feminist (although it sounds contradictory) has been studying for years the relationship of these three items, and how they affect people.
Luckily, Kattia always shares with ICADS students her point of view of these complicated situation, so we decided to share it with our readers as well.
Since 1492, the year when Europeans first arrived to America, religion and politics have been particularly mixed. By using religious arguments saying they would “spread God’s message into the New World and save new souls for Jesus”, conquerors expanded their territories, stole natural sources, and killed thousands of natives. In other words, they used religion, particularly Catholicism, to do politics.
Costa Rica never pulled them apart. In 1821, the country established its first constitution which is called “Pacto de Concordia”. Its second chapter states that Catholicism is the one and only religion in the country. However, political and economic junctures made the constitution change several years later, as the result of the arrival of Jewish and German investments. The new text allowed them to practice their religion, as long as they didn’t spread it among Costa Ricans.
It was impossible. Population found out there wasn’t an “absolute truth” regarding religion and a variety of beliefs and practices appeared. As a result, a group of citizens who didn’t feel identified with Christian values demanded laws completely apart from those principles.
This has been one of the biggest issues among Costa Rican society. On one hand, we have those who want laws based on Christian principles. On the other hand, we have citizens who want religion and legislation completely apart. This second group includes people who support sexual education in schools, egalitarian marriage, women’s right to choose over their bodies, among others.
This moral based on religion annoys the progressives. They say Costa Ricans have double standards because no one truly lives Christian values completely. Instead, those values are used to judge others, and restrict their rights, especially women’s and LGBTI community’s ones.
For instance, last December hundreds of Costa Ricans protested against sexual education for adolescents as part of their school courses. They protested against abortion and for the defense of the “traditional family” understood as a mother, a father, and children. However, the clearest example happened on Sunday, February 4th, when Fabricio Alvarado, one of the most conservatives’ candidates, got 24.7% of the votes. Even he didn’t win and the country has to go to a second election, he did get the highest percentage of votes, and his political party (which is called Restauración Nacional) got 14 of the 57 Congress seats.
According to Kattia, all facts mentioned before stand a very shady outlook for those who want a more inclusive and open-minded society. It is clear that the scene wouldn’t be so complicated if politics and religion were in completely different spheres. Sadly, it is far from changing, but Kattia is not hopeless. Citizens like her believe in the importance of this separation and will continue looking for it.
Included in our course material this semester at ICADS is a video exploring the economic challenges and pressures COVID-19 has imposed on many people in Costa Rica.
Katherine Peters is an intercultural educator, Spanish professor, and former Assistant Director of ICADS in Costa Rica. Check out and follow her new blog "New Backwater" and her reflections on her time in Costa Rica.
Even during COVID-19, here at ICADS we are still seeking to explore important social justice issues. This week, watch Javier's webinar about Costa Rican and Nicaraguan relations during the pandemic.