Column: We, the Other 0.2%

Disponible en castellano

The 2020 Population and Housing Census of Mexico shows a decrease in the dominant Catholic religion and a glimpse of the religious diversity in the country.

The census is conducted every 10 years by the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics (INEGI: Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática). The 2020 census was done from March 2 to 27, 2020 – during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic – and the results were released on January 25. The 2020 census shows there are 126 million inhabitants of Mexico.

The questionnaire included a question about religion: “What is the religion of (name of the person)?” The results show that although Catholicism still dominates the religious landscape of the country, with 77.7% of the population, it has decreased by five percentage points during the last decade.

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral in 2003, with Day of the Dead decorations in front [Tjeerd Wiersma, Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0]

Catholicism has long been the dominant religion in Latin America and Mexico. From the establishment of the Viceroyalty of New Spain in the 16th century until 1860, the Catholic religion was the only one allowed in Mexican territory. With the 19th-century Reform Laws, Mexico was established as a secular state, separating church and state and proclaiming the freedom of religion. It took half a century, from 1950 to 2000, for the Catholic percentage to go from 98% to 88%. Today, with 77.7%, it still has the second-largest population of Catholics of any country in the world.

In second place, Protestant and Evangelical Christians represent 11.2% of the population. The number increased 3.7%, from 7.5% in 2010; in 1970, it was only 2%. Protestants and Evangelicals are followed by the 8.1% who declared themselves as “without religion,” then by the 2.5% who said they were believers but without religious affiliation, and, finally, by the 0.2% who declared themselves as part of “other religions.”

Religious experts in Mexico have criticized the methods of INEGI, as they see it as Catholic-centric, designed to interview Catholics and not to reflect religious alternatives. According to INEGI’s 2020 census results, the 0.2% of “other religions” include Judaism, Islam, ethnic roots, afro roots, Spiritualism, and other religions.When it comes to the “other religions” results, the details are very limited. The results show 33,372 responders with religions based on ethnic roots, 36,764 of Spiritualism, 40,799 based on religions rooted in the African disapora, and 70,376 of “other religions.” I was not able to find more detail on what these “other religions” numbers entail.

According to INEGI’s Clasificación de religiones 2010 (2010 Classification of religions), “other religions” also include Eastern origins, like Buddhism or Hinduism; New Age; Esoteric schools, like Theosophy or Wicca; and other new religious movements, like Scientology.

I think it would be safe to say, based on these numbers, that I’m part of this 0.2%. Even when these numbers from the census may not reflect the complete and diverse view of religious and spiritual practices of all, when comparing the 0.2% to the almost 90% of Catholics and Protestant/evangelical Christians, the difference is abysmal.

Facade of the Mercado de Sonora in Mexico City [AlejandroLinaresGarcia, Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0]

This is a difference that I feel often. I feel it when I’m not sure if should leave my Witchcraft books in the open when someone visits, not out of shame but because I’m not always in the mood for curious questions or awkward looks. I feel it when a white American Christian preacher disturbs and insults worship at a Santa Muerte shrine in my city. I feel it when my president cites the Bible in his morning conferences or when his government printed outdated copies of a moral primer that was written by a Catholic. As members of a minority religions, we share having to face many challenges like these; some even have to face worse scenarios, such as my friend Mina, who in 2014 was sued for the custody of her kids and the judge asked her to deny she was a Witch or to prove that she was one.

The National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Consejo Nacional para Prevenir La Discriminación, CONAPRED) considers people who practice non-Catholic religions or who do not practice any religion as groups in a situation of discrimination, noting that they face exclusion in different areas.

Unfortunately, at the same time that we share challenges, as Pagans we also have to face our fragmented and oftentimes problematic internal communities. Not being an organized religion, not having a central authority, and having a wide diversity of practices and views, frequently results in disagreements, prejudices, or even in what seems like a rivalry.

May we not forget that even when we do not always agree or get along, we share more than what we think. That together we can be stronger, even with non-Pagan groups. I have heard Wiccans, for example, referring to Afro-Mexican groups, as another example, in derogatory ways. I feel that we sometimes forget to not throw the same bias that we are tired of receiving ourselves.

As a Wiccan, Witch, Heathen, or Pagan, we may not have the same beliefs and may not share practices with other groups, or with Afro-Mexican or Indigenous groups. But we do share challenges, living our day-to-day lives among the Catholic and Christian majorities. We face prejudice, rejection, judgment, or human rights violations, among many obstacles. May we not forget the 0.2% ourselves.

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