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Do the Changing Religious Habits of Hispanics Forbode a Cultural Crisis?

LatinaLista — A recent article in the New York Times titled For Some Hispanics, Coming to America Also Means Abandoning Religion sparked a lot of interest.

In the days after the article was published, newspapers across the country syndicated it and it was the 5th most e-mailed story from the Times’ web site.

Mexican church service

But what does it mean?

It used to be if someone was Latina/o, it went without saying they were Catholic as well. Nowadays, it’s not a given anymore.

In fact, though the NY Times dwelled on how Hispanics are quitting religion, the article admits that it’s still a very small group who actually don’t participate.

The bigger story for the Latino community, who is still seen as one homogenous group, is that “almost one quarter of all Latinos in the United States are Protestants.”

Of the 41.3 million Latinos in the United States 2004, about 23 percent (9.5 million) identify themselves as Protestants or other Christians (including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons). Moreover, 37 percent (14.2 million) of all Latino Protestants and Catholics say they have been born again or are evangelical, according to statistics compiled in the volume, Latino Religions and Civic Activism in the United States (2005, Oxford University Press).

To put these numbers in national perspective, there are more Latino Protestants in the United States than American Jews, Muslims, Episcopalians or Presbyterians, said Gastón Espinosa, assistant professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College and a co-editor of Latino Religions and Civic Activism in the United States.

It just stands to reason that as the Latino community matures, some will discard traditional reverance for organized religion, a.k.a, Catholicism.

It doesn’t take coming to the United States to trigger this kind of revolt. We see it already happening in Mexico and other South American countries where gay marriages and abortion rights are challenging the Catholic Church’s long-standing influence.

What is disturbing about the trend among Latinos not going to Church is that church, in addition to being made to feel it was one’s duty to attend every Sunday, hung-over or not, it was an extension of family.

Relatives, comadres, friends and neighbors could always be counted on being seen at Church. In many ways, it was a second family.

Which leads to the question: If some Latinos are foregoing those Sunday interactions and relationships, how does this reflect on the overall “traditional” Latino view of family?

If what some say is true that:Part of the reason why the Hispanic heritage continues to be strengthened and maintained is the result of a strong sense of family, culture, religion and most of all because of the Latino identification with their heritage, then by not having a strong sense of religion, which has always been part of the culture, how likely is the assumption that the traditional strength of family is slowly dissolving among Latinos?

That would be a bigger story and serve as a crisis for a culture that built its foundation on the strength of family.

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