A survey by Argentina’s leading research and statistics agency, CONICET, shows that of the nine in ten Argentines who do believe, seven are Catholics, one is an evangelical Christian and other is either Jewish, Muslim, “spiritualist” or of some other creed. This is bad news for the Vatican – in 1960 just over 90% of Argentines said they were Catholics, and it’s partly the growth of evangelical churches that has driven that number down to around 75% today.
In the list of preferred deities and semi-deities, Jesus comes out on top (92% say he’s the favourite), followed by the Holy Spirit (85%), with the Virgin Mary (80%) taking bronze.
78% say they believe in angels, and 76% in saints. 64% believe in “energy,” while 39% believe in psychics, spiritual healers and quacks.
Disappointingly, the survey does not mention popular home-grown figures of worship like Gauchito Gil (a kind of real-life cowboy with a mix of saint, Ned Kelly and Robin Hood whose roadside shrines are festooned with red flags) and Difunta Correa (embodiment of assorted female archetypes who died searching for her man, while her baby survived by suckling at her miraculously full breast – she prefers offerings of plastic water bottles).
It has to be said that the survey’s results bear out the old theory that religion is just a crutch. Some 60% said they commune with their deity when they’re suffering or in need, while only 10% turn to god when happy and only 12% in order to ponder the meaning of life.
The prominence of the Catholic Church in Argentine culture is visible everywhere – from the church that overlooks the plaza of every small town to the holy cards flapping away on taxi drivers’ rear-view mirrors to the people who cross themselves every time their bus passes a church. But only 24% of those surveyed (the sample group comprised 2,403 adults) said they attend religious services with any frequency.
Interestingly, the survey found that evangelical Christians are more anti-abortion than Catholics. While 64% of Catholics believe abortion should be allowed under some circumstances, only 48% of born-agains agree. Among evangelicals, 37% think it should be banned in all cases, while only 17% of Catholics take the hard line. In Argentina, abortion is illegal (though easily accessed if you can pay, and quite common) except in cases where a mentally incapacitated woman has been raped. That’s correct – if you’re pregnant as a result of rape, you can only have an abortion if you’re mentally disabled. Otherwise you have to have the baby whether you like it or not.