More Hispanics in U.S. Abandon Religion
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
RICHMOND, Va., Apr. 18, 2007 (www.heraldtribune.com) — On Sunday afternoons, when the local Roman Catholic church holds Mass for Spanish-speaking Catholics, Edgar Chilín is playing soccer in a league with hundreds of Hispanic players.
As a child in Guatemala, Mr. Chilín attended Mass every Sunday. But after immigrating to the United States 25 years ago, he and his family lost the churchgoing habit. “We pray to God when we feel the need to,” he said, “but when we come here to America we don’t feel the need.”
A wave of research shows that increasing percentages of Hispanics are abandoning church, suggesting to researchers that along with assimilation comes a measure of secularization.
Several studies show that Hispanics are just as likely as other Americans to identify themselves as having “no religion,” and to not affiliate with a church. Those who describe themselves as secular are, without question, a small minority among Hispanics — as they are among Americans at large. But, in contrast to many of the non-Hispanic Americans who identify themselves as secular, most of the Hispanics say they were once religious.
The Roman Catholic Church, the religious home for most Hispanics, is experiencing the greatest exodus. While many former Catholics join evangelical or Pentecostal churches, the recent research shows that many of them leave church altogether.
“Migrating to the U.S. means you have the freedom to create your own identity,” said Keo Cavalcanti, a sociologist at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., and a co-author of a recent study that found a trend toward secularization among Hispanics in Richmond. “When people get here they realize that maintaining that pro forma display of religiosity is not essential to doing well.”
A separate study of 4,000 Hispanics to be released this month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center found that 8 percent of them said they had “no religion” — similar to the 11 percent in the general public. Of the Hispanics who claimed no religion, two-thirds said they had once been religious. Thirty-nine percent of the Hispanics who said they had no religion were former Catholics.
Hispanics from Cuba were the most secular national group, at 14 percent, followed by Central Americans at 12 percent, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans at 9 percent, and South Americans at 8 percent, the Pew poll found. Mexicans in this country were the least likely to say they had no religion, at 7 percent.
A larger survey, called the American Religious Identification Survey, a study of 50,000 adults, including 3,000 Hispanics, found that the percentage of Hispanics who identified themselves as having no religion more than doubled from 1990 to 2001, to 13 percent from 6 percent.
This change is happening even though many Hispanics immigrated from countries steeped in religion, where saints’ days and festivals mark the passage of time, and grandmothers round up their progeny each Sunday to go to Mass.