Secularism gaining new visibility in Argentina

Despite an early presence of secularist movements in Argentina in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, little was heard about them subsequently. But a reemergence of these movements over the past 10 years is drawing new attention to secularist activism, according to Hugo H. Rabbia (Catholic University of Cordoba and National University of Cordoba) in a paper presented at the International Society for the Sociology of Religion conference in Barcelona, which RW attended. The new visibility of secularism started with national congresses on atheism in 2008 and 2010, along with several acts of collective apostasy undertaken in 2009 as part of a campaign named “No en mi nombre” (“Not in my name”). Both secularist advocates and other people without an institutional religious identification (indifferent, unaffiliated, or spiritual seekers), who together make up around 11 percent of the population, tend to share a sense of otherness and a critical attitude toward Catholicism. For the past several years, there have been demands for complete church-state separation in Argentina, supported by a coalition formed specifically for a secular state (Coalición Argentina por un Estado Laico) as well as by various pro-choice and sexual diversity groups.

The public debates in Argentina in 2018 over the legalization of abortion, strongly opposed by the leaders of the Catholic Church, opened new opportunities for the expression of secularist demands. There were many discussions in the media about the place of the Catholic Church in the country. A new wave of collective declarations of apostasy from the Catholic Church took place after the Senate rejected the abortion bill, which also gave a new impetus to demands for church-state separation. (The Catholic Church itself has agreed that subsidies it receives from the state should gradually diminish.) Atheist activists insist there is no need to be an atheist to apostatize, encouraging people who disagree with the Catholic Church to do it in order to express their views. While Catholicism remains the dominant religion in Argentina (about 75 percent of people identify as Catholics), “dogmatic Catholics” only make up a tiny percentage of self-identified Catholics, and many of them have actually been disagreeing for a long time with official church teachings. A number of self-identified Catholics actually hold views very similar to secularists, according to Rabbia.