Latinos, the Nones, and the Decline of American Catholicism

Last week PRRI released a new survey providing an in-depth look at the nones. The nones are now America’s largest “religious” cohort, surpassing Catholics. This is no coincidence. Former Catholics (or people raised as Catholic like yours truly) have been boosting the numbers of the nones for years. The stability of Catholic religious identification in the United States was a mirage. The growth of the Latino population in the 1990s and 2000s, back then overwhelmingly Catholic greatly contributed to the overall numbers and give the impression that Catholic identification was very stable in the face of overall declining religiosity in the country.

Back when I was at the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC) and we released the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey we noted that anomaly. On page 15 of the 2008 ARIS Summary Report Barry Kosmin & Ariela Keysar noted that “…Catholicism lost ground within every ethnic group between 1990 and 2008. If the Hispanic population, which is the most Catholic, had not expanded then the Catholic population share nationally would have significantly eroded.” This observation was based on an analysis of a subsample of nones that received additional questions on ethnic heritage. We found a substantial number of former Catholics of Irish descent among the nones that was further explored in ISSSC’s report “American Nones.”

Even as Latinos seemed to give Catholicism a boost, under the surface there were problems. The third ARIS report, published in 2010, was on Latino religious change. In that report we noted that Catholic identification among Latinos had declined from to-thirds of all Latinos in 1990 to 6-in-10 by 2008 while the share of nones had doubled. The decline in Catholicism among Latinos led us to conclude that “…while Latinos helped to mitigate some of the losses in Catholic identification in the U.S., the Catholic identification is much lower than it could have been.”

By 2013 I had joined PRRI and our Hispanic Values Survey found that the growth of Latino nones was fueled by an exodus of Latino Catholics. The next year, 2014 the Pew Research Center found that 20 percent of Latinos were nones.

In sum, though the growth of the nones seems to be a mostly white, male phenomenon because the most prominent secular faces are white dudes, people of color especially Latinos have helped the group become the largest “religious” cohort in the country. So, secular America, in the name of all former Latino Catholics I say, you’re welcome.

 

3 Reasons a Majority of Latinos Support Reproductive Rights

A new survey finds, once again, that a majority of Latinos favor abortion rights for women. Unfortunately, the images the media have on Latinos mostly fall into two camps. There are those who think we are all Catholic and who pray for the intercession of the Virgin of Guadalupe in an hourly basis. Or, thinking that the fastest-growing religion among Latinos is Pentecostalism. Most people are wrong on both assumptions and it matters when it comes to understanding Latinos and abortion rights. A majority of Latinos are in favor of legalized abortion, access to healthcare for women, and other reproductive rights for three reasons: partisanship, religious practice, and growing secularism.

Legal access to abortion is a mainstream position in the Democratic Party and a majority of Latinos identity as Democrats. While there may be pockets of socially conservative Latinos who identify as Democrats, most Latinos agree with their co-partisans as I pointed out a few years ago. Thus, it should be not surprising that a group in which a majority identify with a party where most members approve of legal access to abortion are in favor of a woman’s right to choose.

Of course, abortion and contraception are still banned by the Catholic Church. But PRRI’s Hispanic Values Survey found that Latino Catholics are split on the matter of abortion. It is fair to assume that a majority of Latino Catholics who identify as Democrats are in favor of legal abortion. The same survey find that many Catholics disagree with the Church’s teachings on many issues. This makes sense because, as I pointed out in my interview in The Ra-Men Podcast earlier this week, there are variations of belief and practice among Latinos, especially Catholics. Many Latinos are Catholic due to tradition or cultural inertia and do not think much of it. They may celebrate Catholic holidays and practice sacraments once in a while, particularly those that are part of life-cycle events such as baptisms and marriages, but not think about the religion and its rules as a matter of everyday decision making. In other words, many Catholic Latinos live very secular lives.

Although Pentecostalism among Latinos makes headlines, the truth is that the fastest-growing “religious” group among Latinos is the nones. Most of the nones are former Catholics who are admitting what has been obvious for a long time. Many Catholics are so by tradition and now feel free to admit what they have felt for a long time. The Latino nones are more liberal on social issues, as nones in general tend to be in American politics. This is confirmed by many polls, including the PRRI and Pew polls linked here.

We try to rationalize why Latinos’ historically conservative attitudes on social issues keep shifting to the left as if the population is predominantly Christian. It is still is, but not to the extent it was a generation ago. The growth of Latino secularism has implications for American politics as candidates and strategists, and the community’s leaders attempt to understand how to harness the power of Latinos’ numbers. As progressives we need to realize that a secular left is slowly forming, that it has the potential of being a multi-racial and multicultural coalition. Most importantly, progressives need to stop pandering with token religious language to a constituency that with each passing day becomes more secular. It is shortsighted, shows a disregard for facts and trends in favor of stereotypes, and it is insulting to those that are a key player in the future of the movement.

Photo Credit: USC University Church Sign by Jason Eppink (Flickr)

 

 

 

A Latino Deconversion Story

Diego Kal-El Martinez at Medium writes the story of leaving Catholicism and becoming an atheist. My favorite quote may be this one, that encapsulates what I think is a very common experience of people who were raised religious and are now nones.

The thing about my story though is I don’t think I can pinpoint an exact moment I became an Atheist. It was all just one long progression from Catholic to Atheist. Sure I can say that now with great conviction but there was never that, “Ah-Ha” moment when I said to myself, “I am an Atheist”. Oh and that missing piece in my life, well I never found it.

I loved how he phrased that progression from religious to none. Moreover, I think it is a very common experience, especially among Latinos. Most people probably start doubting a tenet of the religion, a teaching, or just the authority of the religious leaders. Which is why I think a focus on science education as the sole route to atheism is misguided because it scares people into thinking that a particular knowledge set is a litmus test to become an atheist. Go and read the whole thing.

Twenty Percent (or 7.5 Million!)

Today is December 12, the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico. Which is a good day to remind people how Latinos’ religious composition has changed in recent years, and how large the secular cohort has become. We are now 20 percent of the Latino adult population, or 7.5 million. So, my secular Latino friends, look at this quick infographic and remember: you’re not alone.

La Guadalupana