Vaya sin Dios

losing religionLaurie Goodstein had a very interesting feature in Sunday's New York Times on Hispanics abandoning religion in the United States. Goodstein brings life to recent polls and surveys about the trend by speaking with immigrants about why they have ceased worshiping. One Guatemalan immigrant says he stopped feeling the need to pray to God when he came to America. Goodstein says research suggests that secularization is part of assimilation into American society. Studies indicate that Hispanics who identify themselves as having no religion are more likely to have previously been religious than other Americans. It's a great topic to cover in real time since most work done on the issue is performed by historians long after the fact. Every immigrant group's religious life has been affected dramatically upon arrival in the country. Goodstein really brings to light some of the underlying factors:

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."

One thing that struck me about the immigrants' stories was how materialistic they'd become or how business concerns took time formerly given to worship. I've mentioned religion professor Dell deChant before. He's written that commercialism is not a mark of secularism but of a new -- or actually quite old -- religion practiced with fervor throughout the country. In the new religion, worship occurs in malls and other businesses as actors buy and sell goods to take part in the cosmic story of acquisition. Consider this anecdote:

Jesus Cerritos, a 37-year-old construction worker who immigrated from Mexico 18 years ago, said he spent his weekends running errands, going to Wal-Mart and watching television. His children, ages 11 and 9, tell him that church is boring and that they have no desire to go, but Mr. Cerritos has mixed feelings.

"Here, the people get more materialistic," Mr. Cerritos said. "The culture here is really barren. There's no traditions."

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