Like a lot of Latinas, I grew up in a modestly traditional and religious home. My dad’s side of the family were Catholics and my mom’s side of the family, were converted-protestants. My siblings and I were raised non-denominational Christians but I always fought with the idea of having to accept what others were saying I should believe. It took me years to finally have the courage to leave the Christian church and choose my own spiritual path, a trend that’s happening with a lot of millennial Latinos living in the states today.
According to Pew Research, the U.S. public in general is becoming less religious but this is especially the case for young adults. New research has found that millennials (young adults born between 1981 and 1996) are less likely to associate themselves with organized religion. They are more “detached” from institutions including traditional religion, than previous generations and apparently the trend holds true amongst young Latinos as well.
In fact, 28% of millennial Latinos claim to not associate themselves with a particular religion but don’t necessarily identify as atheist or agnostic. What’s interesting though, is that 47% still claim to pray at least daily, proving that they do still consider themselves spiritual.
I started embarking on my own spiritual journey when I started college. I was 18 years old and taking philosophy, psychology, theology, history, and Black and Latino studies courses that made me start to question my faith. I never questioned God or the existence of God. In fact, I still believe in God today and consider myself a very spiritual individual.
But a lot of the passages in the Bible along with some of the things I was hearing in church, conflicted with my own personal convictions, morals, and politics. This was especially the case when it came to women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights.
It took me a couple of years (out of fear of my parents cutting me off), but sometime in my early 20s I finally coughed the courage to walk away from the Christian church and redefine my spirituality. I was honest with my family about my doubts and my conflicts – though it took years for them to finally accept it – and I found less conventional ways to connect with my spiritual side.
There was a freedom in not having to live my life based on religious guidelines that I never 100 percent believed. There was a freedom in being able to connect with God one-on-one and on my own terms.
“Religion relies on the consensus of a tribe; it is a group experience primarily designed to gather people together for protection. It requires a common practice,” says award-winning author of Lori: The Disintegration of My Ordinary Reality, Lori Morrison. “Spirituality is an individual experience that has the potential for having a more profound connection to the divine. When there is a filter, there is less sense of connection. The filter weakens the desire to be protected in a group.”
One of the things about the Christian and Catholic faith that was always hard for me to stomach, was the idea that there was only one right religion, one way to God, and one way to heaven. I found it upsetting, unfair, and illogical. Part of my spiritual philosophy today is that there isn’t one way. There are multiple spiritual practices to choose from – you can even develop your own. It’s really about what works for you as an individual. As long as it’s not harming anyone else, no one has the right to tell you otherwise.
I have nothing against the Christian and Catholic faiths. In fact, a part of me will never walk away from them completely. They have set the foundation for where I am spiritually today. I also think it’s what makes a lot of my family members better people because it works for them. The same way I truly believe that following my own spiritual path has made me a kinder, more compassionate, less judgmental, and more accepting human being. The lack of limitations in my spiritual walk gives me the freedom to just be me and accept others as they are.
“Catholicism has limitations from traditions that do not stand the test of time. With a global economy, increased immigration and the melding of culture, we are now exposed to alternative ideas that address the questions of our existence yet are presented in a less restrictive way and with less ceremony,” says Morrison. “There is a more available marketplace of ideas to choose from. The concept of choice is very important in all aspects of our lives as we have access to everything at the click of a mouse and religion is no exception. In most Latin families, there were no other religious choices available and no choice but Catholicism.”
According to Pew Research, a large majority of millennial Latinos who have become religiously unaffiliated claim to have left their childhood religion before the age of 24. The Catholic church apparently has a lot to do with it.
A lot of young Latinos are finding that the ways of the Catholic church conflicts with their lifestyles and their politics. Many of us are a lot more involved in our current politics than generations before. We care about women’s rights, we’re pro-choice, and we support LGBTQ rights – values that conflict with the traditional church’s teachings. We’re also living in a time where self-care and self-love has become huge among young adults, particularly women who have become intolerant of beliefs that rely heavily on fear, guilt or shaming.
“Organized religion’s foundation relies on fear and people have grown weary walking a balance beam between heaven and hell,” says Morrison. “Most who question the church don’t want to live by a set of rules that do not reflect the reality of the world they are living in. “
Instead we’re embracing practices that have helped us heal, love and embrace ourselves more – imperfections included. As well, as love and embrace others regardless of their backgrounds or lifestyles.
For some Latinas, that means seeking less colonizing spiritual beliefs. There has even been a revival of young Latina feminists who are reclaiming the spiritual practices of their African and Indigenous ancestors. These women have chosen to associate themselves with spiritual beliefs such as brujería or Santería, that were once considered “evil” or even “demonic.”
“Many Latinos who are expanding their view of the world are sensing for the first time what it is like to be a minority and less understood by the majority who are of European and indigenous descent,” says Morrison. “This has created a revival of empathy for the traditions of the indigenous people as they relate to their historical struggles with being required to change their beliefs and culture because of religious dogma. Everything old is new again as the hidden is now in view.”
When it comes to spirituality, one of the things I believe is key is having a sense of humanity. Whatever faith you choose is your choice only. But regardless of your religion or spiritual practice, we as humans need to practice more tolerance, acceptance, and love and kindness towards other human beings, even if they look, act, or live differently from ourselves. The world can definitely use a little more of that.