In a church of their own, Latino atheists fear no God. But Mom? That's another matter

Brittny Mejia, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

Rios, a Navy veteran, grew up Catholic but walked away from religion when she was in her 30s because "it just didn't make any sense to me." But the 43-year-old said she missed one important function that church provided, "the community aspect of it."

She started Fresno Latino Atheists after hearing about secular Latino meetups across the country. Six people came to her first gathering. The group now boasts hundreds of members online. After Rios moved to the San Gabriel Valley, she held her first meetup there in June 2018.

Her parents were supportive, she said, although at times her mother -- who grew up in Mexico -- still references the Bible when speaking to her daughter. Although Maria Elena Avila's "natural being tells me to believe," she respects her daughter's nonbelief.

"This is a free country, and you can become whatever you want to become," she said. "My purpose as a mother was to raise my kids being good citizens, and I think I did."

But other family members dismiss Rios' beliefs -- or lack thereof -- altogether.

"Ay mija," her aunt tells her, "you were baptized Catholic, so you're always going to be Catholic."


In the U.S., a decreasing number of adults identify as Catholic, while the number of people who answer the religion question with the word "none" has steadily grown.

The religiously unaffiliated share of the population, which consists of people who identify as atheist, agnostic or "nothing in particular," went up from 17% in 2009 to 26% in 2018-19, according to Pew Research Center. Those numbers have grown across multiple demographic groups.

Around the country, Latinos have banded together in Facebook groups and Reddit threads to share their secret -- or not-so-secret -- lack of faith.

One Reddit user said he became disillusioned with religion around the time he went through confirmation in high school. His mother, who he described as "still very Catholic," attends Mass every Sunday and prays before bed and at every meal. His father has always seemed "to just kind of tolerate it."


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