This morning, I fell victim to San Juan Day. San Juan Day is the one day a year that the locals of San Juan City, Manila take to the streets and douse each other with water, in supposed commemoration of St. John the Baptist, the man said to have baptized Jesus Christ. What sounds like a day of lighthearted merrymaking, however, is always morphed into the locals’ excuse to prank on unsuspecting folks on their way to their jobs or schools. Dousing other celebrants is one thing, but going up to someone who is very obviously not participating in the festivities and is minding their own business is another thing entirely. Worse, the water usually comes from questionable sources. I wouldn’t touch that stuff, much less bathe in it.
On my way out of our apartment building, one of the security personnel actually warned me not to walk out on the streets. I was idiotic enough to assure him that I was going to be fine, as I was just going to grab a cab by the next building. I should have taken heed, though, more so when I noticed how my neighbors were just standing by the lobby entrance, looking out with utter wariness into the street, like children warned of kidnapping strangers and speeding ten-wheelers.
But no, I remained an idiot, and stepped out onto the asphalt. That’s when a bunch of street urchins wielding grotty buckets of water spotted me and headed in my direction. I could already sense the mix of horror and schadenfreude pulsing from the souls in the lobby. So, I ran. And the kids gave chase. I had managed to get to the lobby entrance, but not before some of the water splashed across my back. That’s when I screeched out one crisp WHAT THE FUCK amidst everyone, and it was all I could do not to head over to those kids and whack them with my umbrella.
But that didn’t compare with what happened to the next guy. He had also just come out of a nearby building, wielding a backpack and sporting earphones. He seemed absolutely oblivious to what was going on, and walked calmly in the middle of the street. This time, a horde of grown men with buckets eyed the poor guy, and they headed up to him and threw the water at him from a mere foot away. Earphones Dude was drenched. And he looked to be in utter shock, because he just froze there, his face blank for a few seconds. Then, he made as if to punch one of the Bucket Men, but missed, and one of them countered with their own jab, hitting Earphones Dude square on the chin. Earphones Dude looked like he was going to blow, and I couldn’t blame him. It was a Monday morning, he was minding his own business, and here comes a group of men who threw buckets of water at him, drenching his clothes, his backpack, his electronics, and punches him in the face. That is fucked up.
And the worst part? Sensing that Earphones Dude was about to blow his top, the Bucket Men crowded around him, putting heavy hands on his shoulders, and kept saying, “Fiesta, fiesta,” and “Holiday, holiday,” trying to slap on a bit of context at the last minute. As if that would somehow justify their shitty treatment of this person. As if Earphones Dude, upon hearing their rationale, would calm down and laugh it off.
“Oh it’s a fiesta! In honor of someone I may not necessarily have any respect for whatsoever! Of course! Carry on! Go on, drench me with another bucketful; my earphones haven’t completely conked out in the name of your demi-god just yet!”
And even if Earphones Dude actually were a practicing Catholic, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’d be okay with having his morning all but ruined. (Aside: It would be interesting if an actual Catholic nun were walking down the street at that time. Would they have doused her, too? I mean, if there’s anyone who fully believes in the potency of commemorating St. John the Baptist, wouldn’t it be her? Coincidentally, are all the people wielding buckets bona fide, practicing Catholics?)
And herein lies the biggest problem about religion: It gives you license, or at the very least gives a powerful illusion that you have license, to be a supreme asshole. It can be used to justify your getting to the office soaked in canal water. It can also be used to justify flying planes into buildings teeming with innocent people. The same reasons people give for annoying but tolerable inconveniences can be the same reasons people give for genocide and war.
If only getting soaked at inopportune times were the sole downside to religion. But it’s not. It gets much, much worse than that.
I don’t know how Earphones Dude’s ordeal panned out, but I’d hazard a guess that he just threw his hands up and walked away, leaving the other men to continue with their one-sided water war, far too exasperated to deal with a bunch of dicks playing the faith card. And while I’d fully understand why he’d do so, I think it’s high time we took a more active approach, such as being firm and unwavering in our insistence that one religion should not be favored over any other, and not turning a blind eye to those of a particular religion when they decide to be inconsiderate, self-righteous, and outright horrific people.
Image from fineartamerica.com.