Magazine article The Christian Century

A Secular Latin America?

Magazine article The Christian Century

A Secular Latin America?

Article excerpt

In recent months, observers have remarked on the growing number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation (the "nones"), whose numbers are highest among the young. We can argue about just what these numbers mean, but possibly they do mark the beginning of a secularizing trend, a drift toward European conditions. Surprisingly perhaps, given our customary assumptions about Latin America, conditions in several Latin American nations mirror those in the U.S. Increasingly these countries are developing a European coloring.

Several factors shape a country's religious outlook, and prosperity and the welfare net certainly play a role. A country's fertility rate also tells us a lot about attitudes toward religion. When a country develops economically, women are needed to enter the workforce rather than remain in the home. Meanwhile, shifting religious values place less pressure on women to have large families. In turn, smaller families mean diminished links with religious structures--fewer children go through religious education or first communion classes. And couples who have decided to limit families tend to run up against church policies on issues of contraception and abortion. When sexuality is separated from conception and child-rearing, people are more open to nontraditional family structures, including gay unions. Whatever the causes, the European experience indicates that countries where the fertility rate falls well below replacement (2.1 children per woman) might be facing rapid secularization.

With that figure in mind, let's look at the countries of Latin America, and especially the most economically developed ones. A few decades ago, all had classic Third World population profiles and very large families. In the 1960s, for instance, Brazil's fertility rate hovered around 6 children per woman, alarming those who warned of a global population explosion. By 2012, though, Brazil's figure was 1.82, far below replacement level. Chile and Uruguay both record similar rates of 1.87. Argentina is still above replacement, but the rate is falling fast. That's a social revolution in progress--as well as a gender revolution.

In religious terms, these countries present a complex picture, with strong evidence of a continuing passion for religion. Brazil is home to some spectacularly successful Pentecostal megachurches, which Catholic clergy seek to imitate in order to hold on to believers. New evangelical churches are also booming in the other Latin nations, to the point that Protestants claim to be living through a new Reformation.

At the same time, though, signs of secularization appear that would have been unthinkable not long ago. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.