About Secret History

Commentary on Latin America.
Mostly about Mexico - but not always.
Designed to encourage readers to learn about
the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people
spread across two continents
- but not always.
You can always count on a little snark.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Blancarte: Catholicism on the Dust Heap of History

Famed analyst of religion in Mexico, Roberto Blancarte, has declared that Catholicism is destined for abandonment in Mexico ("el catolicismo esta destinado a ser abandonado"). His pessimism comes from the latest numbers from INEGI that shows the number of Catholics in Mexico dropping after yet another census, now claiming about 84% of the population - a drop of roughly 4 to 5% in the last decade. Says Blancarte, "as long as the church continues with its boring liturgy, as long as its representatives fail to respond to the needs of the people and maintain their criticism of contraceptives or the condom, or as long as sex education is bad, the people are going to grow farther and farther away." (mientras la Iglesia continúe con sus liturgias aburridas, mientras sus representantes no respondan a las necesidades de la gente, y mantengan sus críticas hacia el uso de anticonceptivos o del condón, o que la educación sexual es mala, la gente se va a alejar más y más).

I respectfully disagree with two aspects of his analysis. First, he claims that the Catholic church needs liberating influences to retain the flock... but where are Catholics going? The three largest non-Catholic groups in Mexico are the Luz del Mundo, the Jehova's Witnesses, and the Latter-day Saints (Mormons): all three of which are far more conservative than Catholicism (and, frankly, their services aren't exactly rock concerts of entertainment is a factor). They are also religions that maintain a fair amount of rigid and predictable ceremony in their worship. I would suggest that the madre iglesia is losing members that find the social doctrine of Catholicism too liberal - let alone the few remnants of liberation theology still bouncing around out there. In terms of sex, however, he may be spot on regarding contraception and new concepts of marital conjugal relations as beneficial instead of cause for shame.

Second, I think his failure to mention the politics and scandals of the Catholic church is an important oversight. If people feel their contributions will be misused or their sense of sexual identity assaulted, they will vote with their feet. As Max Weber points out, patriarchy is only functional when the patriarch wields power from a position of higher moral ground... as soon as that erodes the followers either do away with the patriarch or they go find a new one.

I would also point out that research from Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, Guatemala, and Haiti has all shown that while you can see mass conversion, retention of that conversion is only around 40%. Most of the rest will drift back to Catholicism. However, one thing I liked about Blancarte's analysis is that it does rightly show that 5% of Mexicans profess no religion - but that does not necessarily mean atheism. As the Catholics have feared for years, many leave the church, try out another religion (or several), and eventually drift out of organized religion completely.

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