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 March of the Nones Continue

PRRI released yesterday a new ginormous poll of religious identification in the United States. At 101,000-ish cases the largest this century and its scope is so large that it is really unprecedented. Of course, I am interested in what it says about the religious nones. And I may say, many things are good news.

Take, for example, this pretty line chart tracing the growth of the nones back 40 years. Up to the 1990s, roughly 1-in-10 Americans were non religious. Then, by the 2000s the population started growing and was famously captured and highlighted by the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey nearly a decade ago. Back then people considered that 15 percent of Americans being non religious was a pretty big deal. In the crazy days following the release of the 2008 ARIS those of us in that team did a lot of media. My friend Ryan Cragun did an interview (I can’t recall where) predicting that the nones soon will be 25 percent of the country. I thought that was optimistic, time has proved me wrong.

Today, about one-quarter of Americans are religious nones. What does that mean for the country and its future? I don’t really know, but I will explore several questions regarding the growth of the nones in the next few posts using the PRRI report. I will explore the demographics of the nones, the politics of the nones, and likely engage with some of the pieces that have been, are being, and will be written about this report.

Trump Returns Evangelicals the Favor

Over the weekend Donald Trump addressed the graduating class at Liberty University, the fundamentalist college founded by the late Jerry Falwell and now led by his son Jerry Jr. It was Trump’s first commencement speech and the venue indicated that he was there to pay a favor. White evangelical Protestants supported Trump like the had not supported other GOP candidates in recorded history. His speech should concerns all of us who cares about the secular state and maintaining the growth that the secular population has enjoyed in the last decade.

David Niose and Rob Boston, two of the best and most experienced voices on issues of church-state separation have very gloomy reactions to the speech. While there’s some overlap in their assessments, they highlight some separate issues.

Niose highlights the transactional nature of the Religious Right and how Trump, an expert in trasactional relationships, brags about the “deal.”

In speaking to his Christian audience, Trump was brazen in his you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours rhetoric, reminding evangelicals that their policy goals are his. “I am so proud as your president to have helped you along over the past short period of time,” he said, referring to last week’s controversial executive order instructing the IRS to do everything possible to allow churches and religious groups to participate in politics. Turning to his host Jerry Falwell, Jr. (son of the college’s founder), he bragged, “I said I was going to do it, and Jerry, I did it. And a lot of people are very happy with what’s taken place. . . We did some very important signings.”

Of course, here Trump refers to his infamous executive order on religious freedom. As Mark Silk notes, the EO really amounts to not a lot in practice. This doesn’t mean that we should take our guard down. The Religious Right has the Johnson Amendment on the cutting board and Republicans hold power in all three branches of the federal government.

The Benito Juarez Experience discusses the Johnson Amendment (Part 1; Part 2)

 

 

Boston focused his concerns on Trump’s view of the role of God in America, and in American history.

“America has always been the land of dreams because America is a nation of true believers,” Trump declared. “When the pilgrims landed at Plymouth they prayed. When the founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, they invoked our creator four times, because in America we don’t worship government, we worship God. That is why our elected officials put their hands on the Bible and say, ‘So help me God,’ as they take the oath of office. It is why our currency proudly declares, ‘In God we trust,’ and it’s why we proudly proclaim that we are one nation under God every time we say the Pledge of Allegiance. The story of America is the story of an adventure that began with deep faith, big dreams and humble beginnings.”

He’s right to be concerned. With the Religious Right-led GOP in power many issues of church-state separation are already coming up and will continue to come up. It is possible that we will get into a social and political environment where people on the fence, such as many nones, will stop identifying as such and return to their old religious labels. This could happen because people may fear the social, economic, and political consequences of not identifying as or been seen as religious.

We are in for a wild ride in the 3 3/4 years we have left in this mess. Trump may not be an evangelical, but he knows they got him elected. More important, they know it.

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.

 

Secular Americans: 25 Years of Growth

This year is the 25th anniversary of the 1990 National Survey of Religious Identification. With a sample of over 100,000 interviews, it is the largest study of religious affiliation in the United States. Back then only 8 percent of Americans identified as “nones” or non-religious. Yet, when the successors of the NSRI, especially the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, found that 1-in-6 Americans (15 percent) were non-religious, the press started noticing.

Today, the Pew Research Center and Public Religion Research Institute find that nearly one-quarter of the population is secular. The infographic below shows how this growth has happened percentage-wise and in terms of real population numbers.

25 Years of American Secularism (1)

Puerto Rican Secularism: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

After digging the data from Pew for my previous post on atheism and non-religion in Puerto Rico, I decided to dig a bit deeper. I found more interesting pieces of information about the state of secularism in Puerto Rico. By secularism I mean not just the religious identification of people, but also their attitudes about religion and politics, as well as morality and public policy. The information can be divided in 3 types: good, bad, and ugly.

The Good

A majority of Puerto Ricans think the government should stay out of religion and that religious leaders should stay away from politics. Nearly 6-in-10 (58 percent) think that “religion should be kept separate from government policies.” Of course, this is something that elected officials have not been very good at, with the main example being the issue of susbtance abuse treatment I alluded to in my previous post.
rel_govt

Another hopeful sign is that a majority think that “religious leaders should not have an influence in politics.” This means that most people probably don’t like the many religious ceremonies often endorse or attended by elected officials.

In an unrelated note, though important for education policy. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Puerto Ricans believe humans and other animals have evolved over time. This is encouraging, given the prevalence of religious schools, especially those run by Pentecostal ministries.

The Bad

Those are the good news, now the bad. In terms of views on social policy, even if most Puerto Ricans are religion/government separationists, their views on morality are very conservative. Take the example of same-sex marriage. While it is now legal, thanks to the Supreme Court recent decision, at the time of polling last year only one-third (33 percent) favored allowing people of the same sex to marry legally.

ssm_rel

The patterns of support among religious groups are predictable. Similar to what scholars find among religious groups in the United States, as this post by Public Religion Research Institute shows, Puerto Rican Protestants are the least supportive. Only 1-in-5 (20 percent) Protestants favor same-sex marriage. The percentage of Catholics in favor of same-sex marriage is nearly twice that of Protestants (39 percent) but still low. Even the religious nones in Puerto Rico are not fully in favor of same-sex marriage. Just under half (49 percent) of Puerto Rican nones favor same-sex marriage, a percentage much lower than the more than three-quarters of nones favoring same-sex marriage in the United States.

The Ugly

Support for same-sex marriage is low and so are the views on the morality of same-sex relationships. More than 6-in-10 (62 percent) say that same-sex relationships are immoral. Still opposition to same-sex marriage not as high as opposition to abortion. About three-quarters (77 percent) of Puerto Ricans consider abortion should be illegal and that abortion is immoral (74 percent).

Puerto Rican secularism needs to evolve. There are some positive signs regarding attitudes toward religion and government. However, religious belief is likely behind attitudes on social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. Fortunately, religion is not a large factor affecting belief in evolution. Another silver lining on social attitudes is that the vast majority do not think contraception use is immoral. The nones should take the positive signs and use them to change Puerto Rican politics and society harnessing those positive attitudes on religion/government separation.

Tropical & Godless: American Atheists in San Juan

American Atheists is having a regional meeting in Puerto Rico this weekend. When we think of Puerto Rico and religion, there’s an assumption that all of the people in the island are Catholic. For example, in the 2008 exit polling of the Democratic Party Presidential Primaries the media companies in charge of the Exit Poll Pool decided to leave religion out of the Puerto Rico questionnaire. This issue was addressed by my former colleague Mark Silk who promoted a comment I had made in a previous post on that primary. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of research polling on religion in Puerto Rico. Luckily, the Pew Research Center included Puerto Rico in their large study of religion in Latin America last year.

According to the Pew poll, 8 percent of Puerto Ricans are what they call “religiously unaffiliated.” They’re basically people with no religious identification. The majority of Puerto Ricans still call themselves Catholic, but a large segment of the population, one-third (33 percent) to be precise, are Protestant.

What about atheists? The topline results of the poll (page 33 here) show that only 1 percent of Puerto Ricans identify as atheist. We must remember, though, that religious identification and religious belief are two different things. It may well be the case that some people in Puerto Rico do not believe in a god, but do not identify their religion as “atheist.” I know, because I am one of those persons who refuses to identify atheism with religion.

Fortunately, Chapter 3 of the report includes a discussion on religious beliefs. It does not seem to be the case that there are more nonbelievers than self-professed atheists. Ninety-nine percent of Puerto Ricans claim to believe in God. This makes the 1 percent figure of self-identified atheists and non-believers consistent with one another.

PR_rel2015But we must not despair. Eight percent of the adult population are religious nones. Although 91 percent of them claim to believe in God, we need to understand these numbers in their context. Many of these nones may be going through a process of rethinking their beliefs. Only 3 percent of Puerto Ricans claimed that they grew up with no religious affiliation and that number has nearly tripled.

PR_nones2015The Nones in Puerto Rico are mostly former Catholics and Protestants. The growth of the Nones in Puerto Rico is not just the case of non-practicing (or nominal) Catholics just admitting they don’t really have any attachment to the old religion and that’s encouraging news. Nearly 30 percent of Nones are former Protestnts, so even people from the group that has the highest rates of church-going and belief are leaving.

Considering how pervasive religion is in Puerto Rico, this is a big deal. This is a place where substance abuse treatment is openly religious, and addiction is classified as a “spiritual ailment.” This is a place where education, little by little, has become privatized and taken over by “nonprofit” ministries. A place where the police organize traffic stops to preach. I did not identify as an atheist until I moved to New England after graduating from college. I identified myself a “deist,” a believer in a higher power. The very secular culture of New England made it safe for me to be openly atheist. I did not feel that comfortable being an atheist in Puerto Rico.

Maybe the high visibility of the convention, combined with the introduction of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and groups like Humanistas Seculares de Puerto Rico and Ateistas de Puerto Rico openly challenging the privilege religious organizations have in everyday government functions will change the dynamics. And the future seems bright. The Pew poll also shows that the nones in Puerto Rico are, on average, 7 years younger than Protestants and 10 years younger than Catholics. I wish I had institutions I could rely on two decades ago. Hopefully the new generations of non-religious Puerto Ricans will experience the freedom I couldn’t feel. 

Featured image: Humanistas Seculares de Puerto Rico