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    Imagining Cuba’s future
    Aug 01, 2014 by Philip Jenkins

    Cuba is nothing like as central to U.S. policy as it once was, but that
    may change when the current regime either implodes or accelerates its
    tentative steps toward liberalization.

    At present, Cuba survives only on massive hand­outs from Venezuela,
    which could be curtailed over­night. If and when Cuba leaves its bubble,
    it will undergo a rapid social and political transformation. What
    intrigues me is the question of how the nation’s religious landscape
    will change and how much we can learn about that from the experience of
    comparable societies.

    When Fidel Castro began his rule, he declared Cuba an atheist state.
    Religious persecution has been commonplace ever since, though never as
    bloodthirsty as in, say, North Korea, and the degree of official
    intolerance has fluctuated over time. Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998
    significantly improved official relations with the Roman Catholic Church.

    Unregistered groups, however, continue to suffer. The best statistics we
    have—and estimates vary widely—suggest that half of Cubans identify as
    Catholic, 40 percent are nonreligious or unaffiliated, and non-Catholic
    Christians make up 7 percent. Complicating the statistics is the issue
    of dual affiliation: at least 17 percent adhere to Afro-Cuban religions,
    chiefly Santería.

    Just how matters would change in a postcommunist age depends largely on
    how the new era comes about. Will the change involve violence? Should we
    expect a massive return of exiles?

    At the least, liberalization is likely to involve breakneck economic
    development, the end of foreign embargoes, and the collapse of rigid
    government controls and rationing. The immediate consequences would no
    doubt be a huge influx of foreign investment, an epochal building boom,
    and increased urbanization.

    Cuba in five or ten years could pass through processes of development
    and globalization that elsewhere in Latin America have taken half a
    century. The winners and losers in this revolution would provide,
    potentially, the membership of revived churches.

    Catholicism still retains a cultural hegemony. Traditional practices and
    pilgrimages—above all devotion to Cuba’s special version of the Blessed
    Virgin, the Virgin of La Cari­dad del Cobre—have never lost popularity.
    But if cultural Catholicism still flourishes, that does not mean the
    church will continue to attract worshipers. Attendance at mass and
    religious vocations have fallen dramatically across Latin America, and
    the Cuban church would have to struggle to avoid a similar fate.

    By far the greatest mystery in Cuba’s future concerns the evangélicos,
    the Protestant and Pentecostal churches that have been so dazzlingly
    successful in such countries as Brazil, Chile, and Guatemala. By all
    rights, Cuba should join this list, for it possesses the conditions
    often cited to explain Pentecostal growth. Pentecostal congregations
    flourish during times of rapid social change and economic turmoil, and
    they appeal especially to excluded ethnic groups. At least half of
    Cubans claim African ancestry. And recent experience in China shows how
    attractive the Christian faith can be following the sudden evaporation
    of communist ideology.

    Churches could play a vital role if working-class people suddenly found
    themselves cut off from a rationed economy and thrust into the rigors of
    a market system. Through social outreach programs, Cuban evangélico
    churches could well win support by supplying economic aid. Such efforts
    would likely be supported by well-funded foreign groups, chiefly from
    the United States, but also from Brazilian and other Latin American

    Cuban evangélico churches have grown powerfully in recent years, and
    some, like the Apostolic Movement, have experienced harassment from the
    government. It is likely that these groups would flourish in a free
    Cuba. In religious terms, then, the best analogy for a future Cuba would
    be what’s happened in Brazil, where Protestant churches are thriving.

    But perhaps a better model for projecting the future of Cuba is to be
    found outside Latin America in a postcommunist society like the former
    East Germany. Secularization advanced to such a degree there that
    religious faith could not be reconstructed, and it still shows no signs
    of returning. It is possible that future Cuban churches would never be
    able to win back the loyalty of that sizable minority of people who
    presently affirm no religion. Also pointing to a secular future is
    Cuba’s extremely low fertility rate, a figure that often correlates to
    the decline of institutional religion.

    The question, then, for anyone trying to project Cuba’s religious
    future, is whether to look to Pentecostals or secularists, to Brazil or

    Source: Imagining Cuba’s future | The Christian Century –

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