The Catholic church has been having a rough time of it lately. What with the pedophile priest scandals around the world and the increasing number of Catholics leaving the faith in the U.S. and Europe. Now they have more bad news coming out of Brazil which was once considered a bulwark of Catholic faith:
At the start of the last decade, millions of Brazilian Catholics joined flashy Pentecostal congregations expanding in the world’s biggest Catholic country. Now, Brazil’s Getulio Vargas Foundation finds, the country’s Catholics are still leaving the church and at a higher rate than ever, but many younger parishioners, like Maragato, are simply becoming nonreligious.
Experts say this new twist poses a more potent threat to Catholic leaders than earlier losses. Now, the church isn’t just competing against the Pentecostals, but courting people who have decided organized religion has no part in their lives.
“It’s the most important phenomenon in this study, the abandonment of religion and the Catholics,” said Fernando Altemeyer, a theologian at the Catholic University of Sao Paulo. “A considerable part of the Brazilian youth today are agnostic.”
Such news does warm my old atheist heart. I can think of no Christian denomination — with the possible exception of the Westboro Baptists — more deserving of having its membership numbers collapse than the Catholics.
The number of people under the age of 20 in Brazil who say they follow no religion is growing three times more quickly than those 50 and older, with 9 percent of young Brazilians saying they belong to no religion, according to the study. That mirrors a similar trend in the number of people leaving the Catholic Church.
This seems to be a growing trend everywhere. More and more of the younger generations are becoming non-religious. Some of them are seeking out their own personal version of spirituality, but more and more are becoming atheist and agnostic and it’s got the Catholics running scared. Just 30 years ago the Catholic church was embraced by 90% of Brazilians, today that number is down to 67.4%. Still a majority, but probably not for much longer the way things are going.
So what’s the primary cause of this decline? The study’s authors think it’s the improving quality of life in Brazil:
“As the economy has improved, people have more access to cinema, theater, to just take a trip,” said Silvia Fernandes, a sociologist at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro who focuses on those who switch religions. “So we’re seeing that people no longer need to go to church for social reasons if they have these other options.”
Altemeyer said the ability of the previously impoverished to acquire goods like TVs and computers means even more distraction.
“The improvement of people’s life conditions is adding to this phenomenon of secularization and the rejection of religious institutions,” Altemeyer said.
Having access to computers and the Internet is probably a big part of it. When you’ve got instant access to the knowledge of the world you don’t have to rely so much on church leaders to tell you about reality. Plus you can find out about all the other people who manage to live good lives without relying on belief in a higher power to do so. Plus it doesn’t help when you cling to dogma that is detrimental to people’s quality of life:
Experts say the changes have accelerated as many women turn away from the Vatican’s prohibitive views on contraception and abortion, which remains illegal in nearly all cases in Brazil.
“The Catholic Church is literally losing its future, and the loss of women and young people is the most important driver of the fall,” Neri said.
The situation is so bad for the church in Brazil that the Vatican has announced their next World Youth Day will be held in Rio de Janeiro in hopes of slowing or reversing the trend of young people leaving the church. They’re already doing everything they can think of to stop the losses, but so far it’s not having much impact.
With any luck this trend will continue around the world and it won’t be too long before the Catholic church fades into irrelevancy. Now, if we can just get the same trend going with Evangelicals.