TBJE 23: Latinx Secularism

Luciano and Juhem kick off Hispanic Heritage Month with a discussion about Latinx secularism. Who are we? How many of us out there? Why don’t hear more about this growing segment of the Latinx population?

Links:

Media Stereotypes and the Invisible Latino “Nones” (Juhem Navarro-Rivera, Free Inquiry)

Reports:

Changing Faiths: Latinos and the Transformation of American Religion (Pew Research Center 2007)

U.S. Latino Religious Identification 1990-2008: Change, Diversity & Transformation (Juhem Navarro-Rivera, Barry A. Kosmin & Ariela Keysar, ISSSC 2010)

How Shifting Religious Identities and Experiences are Influencing Hispanic Approaches to Politics (Robert P. Jones, Daniel Cox & Juhem Navarro-Rivera, PRRI 2013)

The Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos in the United States (Pew Research Center 2014)

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The Benito Juárez Experience 19

In this episode Juhem and Luciano discuss the Democrats’ reboot, also known as “A Better Deal.” They focus on three articles with different takes on the future of the Democratic Party.

Links:

Everything That’s Wrong with the Democratic ‘Reboot’ in One Lousy Op-Ed (Ian Haney López, Moyers & Company)

The Democratic Party Is in Worse Shape Than You Thought (Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times)

Democrats Are Trying to Win the 2018 Midterms in All the Wrong Ways (Steve Phillips, The Nation)

America Has a Long and Storied Socialist Tradition. DSA Is Reviving It (John Nichols, The Nation)

Representation requires more than votes

The Pew Research Center released its now-traditional “Faith on the Hill” study of religion in Congress. Among the not-so surprising findings are that Christians are overrepresented compared to their share of the population. The most underrepresented group, once again: the nones (nonreligious/atheist/agnostic). Emma Green has a piece up at The Atlantic blaming nonreligious Americans for their lack of representation in Congress. In essence, she argues that secular Americans don’t vote in large numbers and for that reason they do not have enough members of Congress representing them. She also makes an argument that the movement is not coherent because many nonreligious people don’t really care about religion enough to organize about the issue.

Both arguments are wrong. Let’s take first the first argument that the nonreligious do not vote enough to get representation. Green shows a chart from PRRI (full disclosure: I was once an employee of PRRI) showing the percentage of people who identify as nonreligious in the general population and the percentage of nonreligious voters in exit polls. The latter number is always much smaller, but that does not mean that we are certain that the secular cohort is less likely to vote. Most general population polls are conducted over the phone (landline and cellphones) and/or (increasingly) online. Exit polls are mostly done face-to-face. Considering how disliked are nonreligious people, particularly atheists, in the United States, it is possible that many secular-minded people are not willing to tell a stranger their real religious beliefs.

Even if it were true that secular Americans are less likely to vote, they are still a significant part of the of the electorate and should have more than 1 openly nonreligious member. But in our political system numbers do not translate to equal representation. After all, women do not account for half of our representatives and people of color do not comprise a third of elected officials. Just because the number of secular Americans has jumped in the last decade, mostly thanks to young people, doesn’t mean that they have a pool of people ready to run for office and win offices that are not very often open for business when we consider the high reelection rates of incumbents.

There are some changes coming that way. In 2016, the Freethought Equality Fund, a secular PAC, endorsed several candidates, many of whom got elected and did not run away from identifying with a secular label or from the support of a secular group. These candidates ran mostly at the state and local levels and represent a growing bench of secular leaders.

On Green’s second point, that is hard to organize a group of people with little in common except for their lack of religion, truth is there is a lot in common. Secular Americans regardless of labels agree on many social and economic issues. As a Puerto Rican, I have experience with imagined identities among groups with a hint of history together. Latinos have become an important force by combining the forces of groups that share some traits, but also have some major differences (I know a bit about this, trust me).

There are important problems of collective action in the secular movement that hinder its ability to become a major political force in the short term. I’ve written about this before. But there are important structural and cultural problems in this country exacerbating the lapses in political organization in the secular movement. Those are to blame for the lack of representation during this decade. We need to work on reversing them in the future.

 

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.

 

Secularism and the Vanishing Latino Republicans

Are Latino Republicans an “endangered species”? That’s the question Prof. Stephen Nuño tries to answer in NBC Latino. Personally, I think that is the case. And obviously, I think growing secularism is a major contributor.

Although Prof. Nuño points out the past admiration of many Latinos for Ronald Reagan and the growing community of Latino small business owners were once a booming Republican constituency. Those factors, coupled with a grwoing anti-Comunist Cuban-American voting contingent (I may add) made the GOP attractive to many Latinos.

[I]t may surprise people to know that the GOP was once a party of promise for aspiring Latino businesspersons, parents who sought choice in education for their children, and Latino churchgoers where Catholicism still has a strong influence on Hispanic culture.

Dr. Stephen Nuño

I may also add that later on the growth of Latino evangelicals who shared the social conservatism (and some even shared the economic conservatism) of white evangelical Protestants made some scholars, like my mentors Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, to hypothesize that the GOP had a Latino future with this growing constituency.

This is no longer the case. Young Latinos, like other young Americans, are abandoning organized religion. Like other secular Americans, secular Latinos are more liberal in their issue preferences than the rest of the population. Thus, as more Latinos become secular, the proportion of Latinos who are liberal also increases.

The percent of Latinos voting for Republican candidates has declined since 2004. In 2012 Latinos registered a record support for Barack Obama’s reelection. Many factors have been cited as a source for this left turn such as the blatant racism of the GOP base on immigration and the GOP’s disdain of the working poor in the aftermath of the Great Recession, constituencies that many Latinos are part of. One that is seldom mentioned is the growing secularism of Latinos, particularly young ones. Increasing secularism adds an additional layer of complexity to Republican outreach efforts for two reasons: policy and outreach.In this post I am addressing the policy differences.

Secularism and the Vanishing Latino RepublicansIn terms of policy, secular Latinos don’t agree with Republicans on issues of social (economic) or cultural (culture war issues) policy. An analysis of the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Survey shows that Latinos are well to the left of Republicans in most issues. Secular Latinos are even farther from Republicans on most issues, too.

Increasing secularism adds an additional layer of complexity to Republican outreach efforts for two reasons: policy and outreach.

In terms of social policy Latinos consider that government aid to the poor  does more good than harm and that environmental regulations are worth their economic cost. This is consistent with the view of nearly two-thirds of Latinos who say they prefer a larger government with fewer services. Secular Latinos are even more liberal on matters of environmental policy and similar to all Latinos regarding aid to the poor. They are slightly less liberal on the size of the government. In all three questions they are well to the left of Republicans.

Latinos are more conservative on cultural issues like same-sex marriage and abortion and religion is probably the culprit. Unsurprisingly, on these two issues is where secular Latinos distinguish themselves from the Latino population in their liberalism. Needless to say, they are well to the left of Republicans.

A party that shows no concern for the poor, the environment, women, or LGBT Americans will have a hard time attracting secular voters. The Latino secularization makes sure that whatever inroads the GOP made with Latinos will become undone with this growing constituency.

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)

 

 

 

Weekly Summary

I started the week commenting on the story of Diego Kal-El Martinez, whose post at Medium narrated his journey away from Catholicism to atheism. On Tuesday I tackled secular politics again by comparing two organizational perspectives: the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association. While the AHA is placing some capital in activities aimed at getting the attention of political elites, the FFRF keeps hoping that the secular messiah will show up and finally represent the interests of secular voters.

For Feature Friday, I linked to Justin Scott’s interview in The Humanist Hour. The Staturday number of the week was the percentage of nones who voted for Barack Obama in 2012. Finally, I quote and link to a post by Latino Decisions’s David Damore explaining why Donald Trump did not win the Latino vote in the Nevada caucuses.

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.

Feature Friday: The Secular Latino Alliance

The internet has allowed people to create their own communities and the secular boom is probably related to people being able to find that they are not alone in their doubts about religious authorities, the existence of god, or their disdain for dogma. Latinos are not an exception to this and the internet has allowed us to find each other in different parts of the country and the world.

This is the case of the Secular Latino Alliance started by Sal Villareal. It is a website and Facebook group that allows Latinos who have left religion (or were never religious) to find each other, share experiences, and realize we are not alone.

If you know any atheist or otherwise nonreligious Latinos, or if you are one and you’re looking for a friendly place to chat exchange ideas, head over there.

Edit: Here’s a video of the group’s founders/admins in Aron Ra’s show the Ra-Men.

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