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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

Atheists: Do You Apologize For The Religious?

Last Wednesday, I peeled myself off the beach in Playa Del Carmen to trudge to the corner store for some cold beers and a couple of Fantas for the kids. On the way back, as I crossed La Quinta (the main tourist strip in Playa), a Catholic procession made it’s way down the road. I stopped and waited, the scent of incense swirling around in the soupy air, and short Mexican women in white dresses and neon embroidery carried idols of saints next to robed altar boys and priests and trumpets and drums. It was beautiful. The ribbons twisting and falling from massive crosses being carried high above the crowd, flowers dripping off of everything, everyone smiling and happy.

An old friend, who I hadn’t seen since moving away from Mexico and who I was with that day, leaned in and asked, “Isn’t it beautiful?” then explained, “It’s for the Virgin del Carmen. They thank her for bringing them fish”.

Catholic parade in Playa Del Carmen

Altar boys over-robed in stifling heat

We made our way back to the beach after snapping a couple of photos, plopped down in the sand and relaxed.

“BANG!” a gunshot rang out. My friend, who is from inner city Philadelphia, immediately got down to the ground. When we realized it was just the same parade making it’s way to boats, we laughed at her reaction. “You can’t take the Philly outta the girl!” She joked.

I watched these Mexicans, led by an American priest, carry the idols of the saints onto a dozen balloon-adorned boats. The gunshots continued and little bursts of black smoked appeared as if from nowhere in the sky.

I caught myself thinking once again, “This is beautiful.” I stopped. I thought about that. Is this beautiful? Is it really?

Let’s take stock for a moment, shall we?

Prior to Columbus hitting the shores of the gorgeous state of Quintana Roo in 1502, the state was populated mostly by Mayans. They had their own set of religious beliefs, some of which included bloody sacrifice and ritual torture. Then, when Columbus decided to come along, he redefined sacrifice and torture for the Mayans. They were slaughtered over hundreds of years. They were taken as children and forced into Catholicism. They were abused, orphaned, and their sacrificial ceremonies tossed out the door. Their temples turned to ruins, their languages became obsolete. They were forced, at the end of a gun, to abandon everything they knew and not look back.

And here I am, watching a parade celebrating a religion that was violently and murderously forced on these people, and I think it’s beautiful? What’s wrong with me?

Even if Catholicism wasn’t brutally force fed to the local inhabitants of the Mayan Riviera, the organization itself today is an abhorrent one. It is deserving of exactly zero respect. The organization is centered around the ritual sexual abuse of children. Yes, of course, it happens elsewhere in life, but the Catholic church knowingly and willingly allows it. The vast numbers of relocated offending priests prove that the church administration, all the way up, approves of the abuse. As Ernie Chambers once said,

Ernie Chambers on the Mafia

Set ’em straight, Ernie.

and it’s true. There are other places, groups and organizations within which these horrific acts occur, but the difference between all of those other organizations and the Catholic church, is that they deal with it. They get rid of the offenders and report them to authorities. They don’t provide escape and safe-haven for child rapists. If you are a Catholic, there is no way around it: you support the repeated torture and abuse of children. That is your religion. And it’s absolutely foul. Your money, your tithes, your donations, go to men who knowingly relocate sexual abusers of children. Your money. It is on you.

The virgin del Carmen

The Virgin del Carmen

So, some people say, “it’s beautiful” or “they’re thanking the Saint for bringing them fish” or “what’s the harm in religion when believers find solace and comfort in what they believe?”. To these things, I say to go ask a Mayan, or any North American native who is working hard to save his culture from total extinction. I say, go ask a child who’s been raped by a man who now works a couple of cities over, likely raping other children. Ask them what’s wrong with just believing. Ask them what’s wrong with a prideful Catholic who does nothing to change the abhorrent nature of their church.

There on that beach I rescinded my earlier thought that the whole procession was beautiful. It was deplorable. The celebration of organized child rape right before my eyes. The sickening juxtaposition of the descendents of people who were violently forced to accept Catholicism at gunpoint, celebrating it.

Sometimes I have to catch myself apologizing for religious people, because they do a great job of putting on a show. They are wonderful at bringing life and colour and culture to the rich, touristy, mall along the beach when the next neighbourhood over is so poverty stricken. The women look brilliant in their brightly embroidered dresses until they’re taken back from them to be stored in a church basement and they change back into their stained, torn and ill-fitting clothing they found in a dumpster. The food adorning the idols of saints will be tossed into the sea with joy by starving hands. The smiles will fade, the music will quieten and they will all, with the exception of the white American priest, go back to their cement block homes with tarps for roofs in the dirty, dilapidated Colosio.

Sometimes, this grand show fools me for a moment… but I always catch myself and come back to reality.

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