A Pew Research Center poll carried out in November 2014 has shown that out of the total 390 million people on the continent, the number of atheists in Latin America is currently at an all-time 60 million high.
What’s more? This number seems to be increasing by the year.
This is evident in the fact that even as 92% of Latin Americans identified as Catholic back in 1970, the number had grossly fallen over the years to just about 69% in present day, the poll uncovered.
What could be the cause of the fall in the number of a hitherto “very Catholic” Christian population, with the subsequent rise in the number of atheists, even in a region that produces the current Pope? Perhaps a look at the current trends in the Latin American Continent will help shed light on the spate of atheism, and why it seems to be gaining traction in the region.
Though this didn’t use to be the case in the not-so-distant past, in these times, atheists, free-thinkers, agnostics, as well as self-acclaimed “secular” individuals and groups are joining their voices together in the clamor for the establishment of “more secular structures” in their Latin American countries.
From Mexico to Argentina, it is the same story of these groups of non-believers calling and fighting for their rights to be respected where separation of church and state isn’t a legal concept. With Fernando Esteban Lozada, an Argentine engineer who doubles as the spokesman for the International Association of Free Thought, calling for “respect for diversity,” he took legal action against the Jesuit-run El Salvador University, or USAL, in Buenos Aires, for discrimination “based on religion.”
In the case which was eventually won by the very vibrant activist who has hosted four annual national atheism congresses in his home country, he was suing against USAL’s charter calls for a “struggle against atheism.” The charter was drafted back in 1974 by Pope Francis, who was the country’s chief Jesuit, known as Jorge Bergoglio at the time.
In Chile, the story takes even more interesting dimension, as activists are fighting against the government for maintaining and sponsoring a long-standing discriminatory tradition in the educational system, where prospective students in Public Catholic schools are required to present their certificate of baptism, together with the marriage certificate of their parents, before they are granted admission.
The atheists and agnostics are piqued that these institutions are public ones which continue to enjoy national funding and subsidies, they are opposed to citizens holding a divergent religious orientation.
This has prompted the Chile Atheist Society (CAS) to publish its list of “truly secular” schools for the spring term, for atheist students that will be seeking admission in March.
The “discriminatory educational system” is something which Michelle Bachelet, the Chilean President, and her socialist government are expected to reform.
Also of great concern to the growing number of atheists in Latin American countries like Chile and Peru that had separated church and state decades ago, is the fact that rituals of religious connotations are still being carried out at national events.
These festivals, much to the chagrin of the atheists, are mostly presided over by the Archbishops of Lima and Santiago, and attended by state dignitaries, even as many government buildings are still decorated for Christmas.
Crunching Some Numbers…
Of the total 60 million Latin Americans, Uruguay tops the rank as the most “secular country,” with over 37% of the non-believers coming from the region. Second on the list is the Dominican Republic with 18%. The rest are 16% in Chile, and 11% in Argentina.
While many factors have contributed to the plummeting number of Christians in the continent, chief of all reasons seems to be fear, and the rising spate of corruption and “Church Scandals,” which is making people switch denominations, or ditch their faith altogether.
A Gallup poll has shown that while about 5% of Saudi Arabians could privately declare as being atheist or agnostic, they could not say so in public for fear of the outcome of being labeled a “terrorist.”
On the global scale, religion appears to be taking a nose-dive, even as a mathematical “forecast” developed by Northwestern University scientists in 2011 tells us that non-religious entities are presently the fastest-growing minority round the globe.
The current world population of atheists and non-believers is quoted as 1.1 billion, which is about 16% of the world population, as we are being told by adherents.com, a website which gathers statistics on world religion. Christians are said to be 2.1 billion in number, while Muslims 1.5 billion.
While many Catholics are hoping that Latin America’s Pope Francis’ enormous popularity could help ease the rising number of atheists in the region, is his good image alone enough to cause a reversal of the currently bullish trend, or are we going to see the numbers continue sky-rocketing to a point where Christians will be the minority in the region?