Aug 25, 2022 - World

Latino atheists, non-religious grow

Illustration of a woman holding up her hand to a beam of light shining down next to her
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The percentage of Latinos in the United States and Latin America who say they have no religious affiliation has been steadily rising despite how ingrained religion is in Hispanic culture.

State of play: The percentage of Hispanics in the U.S. who identify as atheists or agnostics grew in the past 12 years, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

The big picture: The number of Americans who believe in God has dropped to the lowest level in nearly eight decades of surveys. Religious "nones" are the fastest growing segment in the Americas, even surpassing evangelicals, Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan chairman in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, told Axios.

  • "Nones" are people who consider themselves atheist or agnostic, who don't practice any particular religion, or who practice New Age faiths not linked to organized religion.

By the numbers: According to an analysis of U.S. Census records by Trinity College, only 6.4% of Latinos identified with no religion in 1990. That jumped to 12.4% in 2008.

In Latin America, the percentage of non-affiliated people quadrupled to 16% from 1996 to 2020, according to Latinobarómetro, the premier regional annual survey.

  • The survey found that 40% of people in Uruguay are "nones," while another 10% are agnostic or atheist.

Yes, but: Leaving religion can be difficult for Latinos, since it is so ingrained in the culture, and many families educate children in Christian doctrines early, Luciano Joshua Gonzalez-Vega, a columnist for a secular website, tells Axios.

  • "I found comfort in religion. So, for me, the process of leaving religion was an especially difficult one," says Gonzalez-Vega, who "came out" as a non-believer at age 18.
  • Many Latinos feel that being open about their lack of religion would come with "social consequences that they didn't think were worth it," including alienation from family and holiday gatherings, Gonzalez-Vega says.
  • "It is really difficult to divorce any form of Latinx culture from Christianity," they said.

What they're saying: "The religious right has given a bad name to religion, and that explains a lot of the growth of secularism in the United States," Juhem Navarro-Rivera, political director and managing partner of Socioanalítica Research, told Axios.

  • Navarro-Rivera said conservative religious sects attacking same-sex marriage or opposing abortion are turning off younger generations.
  • The growth of non-religious affiliation is robust among young Latinos who are more comfortable shedding religious obligations than previous generations, said Navarro-Rivera, who is a non-believer.

Between the lines: Groups like the American Humanist Association and Secular Coalition for America are working to include more Latino voices to make Hispanics feel comfortable engaging, said Anthony Cruz Pantojas, an SCA board member.

  • The American Humanist Association, for example, launched a "1 in 5 campaign" aimed at helping Latinos feel safe in coming out as not believing in God.
  • "I think it will take a little bit more time for us to fill in those spaces," Cruz Pantojas said.

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