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 Shrinking Secular Gender Gap

Among the many findings of the latest PRRI report on religion in America, my favorite is the growing number of women with no religious affiliation. In their new report, PRRI reports that 45 percent of women are nones. This is up 4 percentage points from what the Pew Religious Landscape Survey found a decade ago. An increase of 4 percentage points may not sound like much. But if we look at it in terms of real population numbers the impact of this increase becomes apparent.

The nones growing faster than the general population.

Between 2007 and 2016 the adult population in the USA went from 227.2 million to 249.5 million, a 10 percent overall growth in a little less than a decade. However, the secular population increased from 16 percent of the adult population (or roughly 36.4 million people) to 24 percent (or 59.9 million). In other words, the nones increased by 64 percent (basically, 6.5 times faster than the adult population).

More than half of “new nones” are women.

There is still a gender imbalance in the none population, but in the last decade women left religion at similar rates. In 2007 14.9 million women identified as nones (41 percent of all nones). If we extrapolate the PRRI numbers, a total of nearly 27 million women have now no religious affiliation. That indicates a growth of 81 percent in the number of women with no religious affiliation. The 12.1 million women who have joined the ranks of the nones represent 51 percent of the 23.5 million new nones in the last decade.

Making the world safer for secular women

The Pew and PRRI data don’t have much to say about why people, and especially women, are leaving religion. But those of us who have done so and who know many people who have abandoned the religion they were raised in and became atheists, agnostics and other types of nones have an idea of what’s going on. In a world where women are a major part of the labor force, where there’s a political party dedicated full-time to send women back to the home…and that said party is controlled by the most reactionary religious elements of the country, it should not be surprising that women have decided that religion isn’t for them. That doesn’t mean that secularism is more welcoming. Despite of their love for pointing out religious misogyny, many so-called atheist and secular leaders are very good at dissing the views of secular women. The data may show that religion is losing its grip on many in the United States, but unless we have institutions that are truly inclusive, organized secularism will continue to be a boys club.

Sources:

Adult population

2016 nones gender ratios

2007 nones gender ratios

Note: edited to fix typo “adulation” meant “adult population” (thanks autocorrect)

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.

Who Thinks Atheists are Immoral?

Other atheists. That's according to a new study co-authored by psychologist Will Gervais. Says Gervais:

I suspect that this stems from the prevalence of deeply entrenched pro-religious norms. Even in places that are currently quite overtly secular, people still seem to intuitively hold on to the believe that religion is a moral safeguard.

-Will Gervais, PhD

The scope of the study was international and according to the write up in The Guardian "Only in Finland and New Zealand … did the experiment not yield conclusive evidence of anti-atheist prejudice…"

From an American perspective this finding doesn't surprise me. I've met plenty of atheists who sort of believe that most religious leaders are closet atheists conning people out of their money. That kind of thinking reached fever pitch this year when Michael Shermer gloated about [white] evangelicals getting duped by immoral atheist Trump (I write why I think he's wrong here).

Some other circumstantial evidence comes from PRRI's 2013 American Values Survey. They found that the nones reported a score of 77 (out of 100) in a cold-warm scale. But that number dropped to 71 for atheists. Sample size limitations don't allow for an analysis of Atheists' responses.

Read the full Gervais et al. study at Nature Human Behavior.

Homophobia and the Secular Boom

Phil Zuckerman discusses a new study of college freshmen and their views on same-sex relationships as an explanation for their increasing secularism.

Simply put: Younger Americans are the least homophobic generation in our nation’s history, with a clear majority of millennials being accepting and affirming of homosexuality. And what do they see? That most major religions condemn homosexuality as sinful and wrong. Given this situation, these anti-gay and anti-lesbian religions are losing members in record numbers. Younger Americans are simply walking away from beliefs and institutions that they see as intolerant, unloving, and immoral.

There's some truth to this. In 2014, PRRI released "A Shifting Landscape: A Decade of Change in American Attitudes about Same-Sex Marriage and LGBT Issues" and the poll found that…

Among Americans who left their childhood religion and are now religiously unaffiliated, about one-quarter say negative teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people was a somewhat important (14%) or very important (10%) factor in their decision to disaffiliate. More than 7-in-10 Americans who have disaffiliated from their childhood religion report that was not too important (17%) or not at all important as a factor (54%).

However, I think that religion-based homophobia is just a gateway to secularism. It is the way in which many young people start questioning the tenets of their religion when they encounter LGBTQ individuals and realize they are (GASP!) human. From there, I think there's a snowballing process of questioning other teachings and, ultimately, abandoning identification. This is why membership among liberal religious groups is not blossoming despite increasing acceptance of homosexuality. Young people realize that they don't need religion, no matter how hip and abstract you want to make it.

American Exceptionalism in Climate Change Opinion

This week in The Benito Juárez Experience we digest the news from earlier this month about the United States withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreements. Luciano does an excellent job explaining the importance and the limitations of the Paris agreements. I pitch in with some comments about the complexity of American public opinion regarding climate change.

I draw from two main data sources: the Religion, Values, and Climate Change Survey published by Public Religion Research Institute and the American Academy of Religion on November 2014 (I worked on the design and analysis of this poll back when I was at PRRI); and the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Survey from the Spring 2015. The PRRI poll says a lot about what Americans think about climate change while the Pew poll puts some of those opinions in a global context.

The PRRI survey developed three categories of attitudes about climate change: believers (who think it is happening), sympathizes (who agree it is a thing but not very concerned), and skeptics (who doubt CC is an actual thing). Luckily, the largest group is the “believers.” Unfortunately, less than half the USA population fits in this category.

We know that most Americans do not fully believe climate change is an actual event worth acting upon. But it gets worse. Even those who are classified as “believers” are not particularly concerned. This second chart, from the same poll, shows that when asked about their level of concern, less than half of believers say they are very concerned. Only 3-in-10 Americans are very concerned about climate change. Among “sympathizers” just 4-in-10 have some level of concern (a combination of “very” and “somewhat” concerned).

The reason for why even those Americans who think that climate chants an issue are not very concerned about the issue is due to a very weird strand of “American Exceptionalism.” In this case, most Americans think that climate change is a problem that the rest of the world has to deal with because it is not an American problem. The figure below shows how this plays out.

A majority of Americans think that “people in poorer developng countries” will be impacted “a great deal” by climate change. Only one-third of Americans think that climate change will climate change will impact people in the USA a great deal. It is a very selfish and foolish position. On one level, it is quite arrogant to believe that your country will be spared of the effects of something that will affect the whole damn planet. On another level it is also very foolish…in what ways is our country insulated from something that’s going on globally? 

The Pew poll provides some context of how out of line Americans’ opinions are compared to the rest of the planet. As Luciano points out in the podcast, the USA is one of the largest polluters in the planet. So, we bear a lot of the responsibility for this problem. And that’s what the rest of the planet thinks. A majority of people in the rest of the world think that rich countries should bear more of the cost of addressing the climate change crisis compared to developing countries. Only in the USA more people say that developing countries should bear more of the cost. This suggests that Americans are just afraid that they’ll have to give up their gas guzzlers and all-night Christmas lights.


The USA is also a bit of an outlier in how imminent the harm caused by climate change will start affecting people. Only the Middle East (an oil-producing region, I may add) is less likely to say the danger is “now” than “in the next few years”. Moreover the USA and the Middle East also have the largest proportions of denialism since just about 7-in-10 gave an answer that indicate they think climate change is a threat.

I hope this post puts some of my comments in a better context. These charts and the reports they come from (as well as other public opinion data) also stress the need for more action, including political organization around this issue. While the Peoples’ Climate March was a great idea, these opinion patterns precede the Trump presidency. And I fear they will get worse.

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.

 

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)