According to a new report by the Pew Research Center, 18% of Hispanics are unaffiliated with any religion (including 3% who are atheist or agnostic) — and 24% of Hispanic adults are former Catholics:
Hispanics leaving Catholicism have tended to move in two directions. Some have become born-again or evangelical Protestants, a group that exhibits very high levels of religious commitment. On average, Hispanic evangelicals — many of whom also identify as either Pentecostal or charismatic Protestants — not only report higher rates of church attendance than Hispanic Catholics but also tend to be more engaged in other religious activities, including Scripture reading, Bible study groups and sharing their faith.
At the same time, other Hispanics have become religiously unaffiliated — that is, they describe themselves as having no particular religion or say they are atheist or agnostic. This group exhibits much lower levels of religious observance and involvement than Hispanic Catholics. In this respect, unaffiliated Hispanics roughly resemble the religiously unaffiliated segment of the general public.
You can really see that demographic shift in the chart below, with the Unaffiliated group posting the largest growth, especially among Hispanics 18-29 years old:
It’s worth noting that another study done last year by the Public Religion Research Institute found that only 12% of Hispanic adults were unaffiliated, compared to the 18% here. Either way, the trends show that those percentages are only going up.
What about Catholic Hispanics? Ironically, despite the percentage drop in Catholic Hispanics, the number of them has actually increased due to their growing population. But that percentage drop is still encouraging and it may be helpful to look at why they’re leaving their faith:
Among ex-Catholics, most told Pew they either “drifted away” (55 percent) or they just stopped believing in the teachings of their childhood faith (52 percent). “There’s rarely, if ever, a single reason,” [senior researcher Cary] Funk said.
The question atheists should be asking ourselves is whether we’re doing enough to reach out to those newly-unaffiliated Hispanics out there. Are we giving them a reason not to go back to church? Are we speaking to them in their primary language? Are we creating communities that are inclusive and welcoming? If not, it’s possible many of these religion-shifters could go back in the opposite direction.