Wreathed In A Fog Of Smugness

Arch atheist PZ Myers condescends to the religious rituals he witnesses while making a pilgrimage to the Lady of Guadalupe, "the sacred Catholic heart of Mexico":

We left the subway station to join a trudging, milling mob on a hike to the basilica, which wended its way through a narrow tunnel lined with ramshackle booths where people tried to sell us all kinds of iconographic kitsch. That, I expected.

The surprise came when a horde dressed as Aztecs, half-naked with giant elaborate feathered headdresses, painted or wearing fierce masks of skulls or leopards, came charging through, forcing everyone to move off to the side to allow them to pass. They were chanting and pounding drums and waving censers about, so the whole group was wreathed in a fog of incense. [...]

The syncretism is fascinating, and so far Mexico has been a delight, rich in character and history, and I've got to come back and spend more time here.But that religion is so fluid and flexible and complex doesn't make it right, and the obsessive, fanatical weirdness of this unique version of Catholicism is the product of its unfamiliarity; if you step back and look at it with eyes unfilmed by tradition, every religious ceremony looks this bizarre, and every religion thrives on hope built on despair… and some try to maximize the suffering to reinforce devotion. At least the modern Aztecs draw the line before raising obsidian knives and chopping out hearts nowadays; they seemed to be having more fun than the bloody kneed Catholics.

"Bizarre", "weird": the adjectives reflect Myers's projection, not the "fluid and flexible and complex" phenomena he also sees in front of him. You could, of course, inquire further into the resilient, mysterious and clearly powerful rituals he is witnessing. But that would require his admission that there is much human conduct here he doesn't understand - instead of the assertion that it is religion and that he therefore knows all he needs to know about it.