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Survey: U.S. Latinos are ditching Catholicism and becoming "Nones"
49% of U.S. Latinos under 30 have no religious affiliation at all
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The percentage of Hispanic/Latino Americans with no religious affiliation is now at a record 30%, more than doubling what the number was in 2010, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. While Catholicism is still the most popular religion among Hispanic Americans, the numbers have dropped from 67% in 2010 to 43% today.
The numbers suggest that the Hispanic Americans leaving Catholicism are not just switching over to other denominations of Christianity but leaving organized religion altogether. That discrepancy becomes obvious when you compare their current religion to their childhood religion:
Catholics are struggling to keep U.S. Latinos in the fold as they join the ranks of the unaffiliated. The rest of the numbers offset each other and are effectively irrelevant.
Dr. Juhem Navarro-Rivera, who writes at Secular Politics, told me he believes a lot of the Catholic drain is a self-inflicted wound:
Young Latinxs are also the generation raised after the Church scandals that came to light at the beginning of this century. To what extent those raised as "nones" are children of Catholics who decided not to raise them in the religion is unknown, but it is probably not a trivial number.
As you might expect, the biggest growth of Hispanic “Nones” comes from the younger generations. Nearly half (49%) of Latinos ages 18-29 are religiously unaffiliated compared to only 20% of those 50 or older.
This news shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. The real question is what’s driving these changes. Beyond just cultural shifts that affect Americans more broadly, I would argue that politics and the dominant religious groups defending those politics have done plenty to push Latinos away from faith.
In recent years, white evangelicals have allied themselves with a Republican Party led by a demagogue who called some Mexican immigrants “rapists,” posted a picture of himself eating a taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo, and insisting that a Mexican judge wouldn’t treat him fairly. Donald Trump and his right-wing Christian allies went all in on trying to build a border wall while downplaying his other racist remarks.
While Republicans gained shares of the Latino vote in the last presidential election, they also had nowhere to go but up. The surge may also be localized, benefitting Republicans in Florida far more than in other states. More importantly, even if younger Latino voters aren’t identifying as Democrats, they’re definitely voting for them. They seem to understand that the GOP isn’t working in their best interests, and the Christians (white evangelicals specifically) who support the GOP don’t give a damn about their community either.
Navarro-Rivera said Democrats could make the most of this situation by delivering on “social justice, the environment, and economic opportunity.” Then he added, only somewhat sarcastically, “These are the Democrats, so they'll probably squander the chance.“
There’s another angle here worth exploring, too. In many ways, religion is ingrained in Hispanic culture, which makes it that much harder for people to walk away from God. Leaving religion can often mean turning your back on your community. And yet these numbers show that non-religiosity is still on the rise. Has the culture become more accepting of atheism, or has giving up the culture become an acceptable tradeoff given the harm of organized religion? I’m not sure what the answer is but I’d be very curious to hear theories.
Also interesting? A smaller fraction of Hispanic Americans now say they were raised in Catholic homes. Only 51% of Latinos under 29 were raised Catholic compared to 80% of those over 65. As multi-faith and non-Catholic homes become increasingly normal in that community, it stands to reason that traditional and cultural Catholicism will fade away even more.
In general, the U.S. Latino experience when it comes to religion parallels what we’ve seen all over the country. Faith is less of a unifying force these days, and young people are leading the charge away from organized religion. That hurts the largest religious institutions and (if we’re lucky) it’ll hurt any political party that uses religious beliefs as a framework for legislation. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure the trends keep moving in the right direction.
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