Latinos Are Losing Their Religion

Back in April, the Pew Hispanic Center released the results (PDF) of a nationwide poll showing that non-religious Latinos were growing faster than we might have imagined:

As you can see from those images, 14% of U.S. Hispanics are religiously unaffiliated and more “Americanized” Hispanics are less religious than their foreign-born counterparts.

NBCLatino reports on the findings:

Timothy Matovina, a leading expert on Catholicism, says Latinos’ attitudes toward religion mirror the rest of the population, since the 19 percent say they are unaffiliated. “We need to see the state of Latino religious affiliation as in flux, just like everyone else in the USA. So if Catholics are losing percentage and Protestants are leveling out, what is growing?

Juhem Navarro-Rivera, a research associate at the Public Religion Research Institute, says his data shows 18 percent of young Latinos claim to have no religious affiliation, and he thinks that number will grow. “This has accelerated since 2008. The difference was not so large,” says Navarro-Rivera.

What does this mean for atheists? Well, if the number of Hispanic non-theists is growing, we need to find out what their biggest concerns are and address them directly, making our spaces more welcoming.

My hunch is that, for many young Hispanics, their own journey out of faith probably mirrors that of African-Americans. That is: religion is so tied into their culture that it can’t be easy to just walk away from faith simply because they don’t believe in God anymore. We have to provide ways for them to stay connected to their communities so that they (and their families) know that you identify as both Hispanic and atheist, neither one compromising the other.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Greg

    I hesitate to comment, not being Latino myself, but I do live in highly Latino neighborhood in a Minneapolis suburb and have long noticed that very few of my Latino neighbors seem to go to church on Sunday mornings (whereas many of my African national–Liberian and Nigerian–neighbors DO go to church).  I had been laboring under what appears to be a mistaken impression, that many or most Latinos are religious.  And actually, the decorations on their vehicles still give this strong impression.  But what they really like to do is gather in families on Saturday night, cook out, play great music, play with their kids and talk and laugh until very late.  Maybe with many of their social and affiliative needs met in this more joyous way, the desire to attend Mass or another brand of service is comparitively dim?  I would value some actual enlightenment in this area.  I enjoy my neigbors a great deal–I feel fortunate indeed to live in such a diverse place having grown up in pure white hegemony–but it is difficult to get beyond small talk to things like religion or politics.

    • Alex

      Greg you are correct.  I’d compare Latino customs to those of Jewish customs, where it may very well be that most Latinos are secular, but retain a culture that is heavily influenced by religion.  I don’t know why I didn’t phrase it this way before I rambled on in my previous post.

    • Santiago

       I don’t know about the Latinos in your neighborhood but if they are Catholic they may be able to attend an anticipated service on Saturday and skip  Mass on Sunday. That is what my family often did when I was growing up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001351447253 Amanda Hernandez

    I’m Hispanic, and my parents (both Hispanic) are Agnostic. I don’t believe we’re a rare breed. I know plenty of non-Theist Hispanics, although none of us seem to be connected to the culture.

  • Alex

    Hello, this is the first time I am commenting on your site, but I am a frequent reader.  I am an Atheist and a 2nd Generation Latino, born and raised along the Texas / Mexican border.  I thought I’d share with you a little about my experience “coming out” as an atheist.  While the common preconception about Latino culture is that it is usually heavily influenced by religion (which, to a degree, it is), I would argue that it is not necessarily the same as what I see it being for most, say, Evangelical Christians.  The degree of religiosity in Latino culture has boundaries that I don’t see in most Christians, or from what I’ve heard or read from most former Christians.  For example, I think Latino culture is heavily religious in the sense that the language and rhetoric used by your average Latino is heavily religious, despite how religious or non-religious that person may be.  “Gracias a Dios” (Thank God), “Si Dios lo permite” (If God Permits), are common phrases that Latinos use on a day to day basis, it is part of the language that is taught from generation to generation.  It is true that this type of rhetoric is present in our day to day language because of how heavily influenced our culture is by religion, but it is not necessarily a good indicator to determine exactly just how religious a person is (in my opinion).

    On the contrary, I’ve noticed that your typical “American” (of Caucasian/Anglo descent) will tend to use language more appropriate with their religious leanings.  Most people who are more religious, tend to use overtly religious language, while less religious folks will have a secular or neutral vocabulary.
    I would say that the same is true for religious imagery in Latino culture versus White American culture, where for Latinos it is not uncommon to find images or little figures of Saints and the Virgin Mary, or a portrait of the last supper hanging over most Latino dining rooms, despite how scarcely they may actually practice their religion.The reason I point this out is because I’ve read it too often on different atheist blogs about how the atheist community can accommodate or appeal more to Latinos.  I would argue that there is little to be done in this respect.  Most Latinos are pretty secular, from my experience, and despite the heavy religious undertones that you might hear from or see in Latino culture.  As an atheist, still living among a Latino majority population, I’ve had little, if almost no trouble carrying myself out as a person of non-faith.  On the contrary, I also lived for some time up near the bible belt, as well as in the Northeastern and Northwestern parts of the US, where I experienced more intolerance and prejudice from non-Latinos for being an atheist.  In this respect, the atheist community is already very accommodating.  I wouldn’t expect to be treated any different because of my ethnicity by either the atheist community or my own Latino community back home.Please excuse the parts where I talk about “American ethnicity”, as I mentioned I was born and raised in a predominantly Latino city, and political correctness is not 2nd nature to me.

  • Deanna

    On the lecture/convention circuit for atheist events and conventions, who is hispanic?  None come to mind.  

    • jcm

      All I can think of is Hector Avalos. A religious studies professor at Iowa State University.

  • Chicana

    I’m from San Antonio, Texas and I am Mexican-American.  I’ve been hanging around the atheist blogosphere for about five years.  I can honestly say that I’ve never had a problem until recently.  I am becoming increasingly involved in my own community and have started to realize that Latinos are being overlooked by, well, everyone.  I come from a very religious area and see so many missed opportunities.   I don’t think anyone is addressing the issues that plague us and I feel alone despite being involved in a few meetup groups.   This doesn’t seem like a problem that’s specific to the Freethought community, it just seems universal. 

    Also, this will be the seventh comment on this post.  I guess it’s not just my imagination.

  • Jose

    Well let’s add another Latino atheist to the comments section. I am a Mexican-American living in Austin, TX. This would be the first time I’ve felt compelled to post a comment even though I’ve been reading several of the atheist/skeptical blogs for several years now. It is encouraging to see these numbers, I’ve often wondered what the numbers look like for Latinos. Perhaps soon we can see more Latino atheists contributing to many of these great blogs. It would be great for those Latinos that are on the fence or have questions to see how they are not alone. Our culture is closely tied to religion, as several have noted here, and I think it would help to have others that have grown up similarly talk about these topics.


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