Skip to content

10

One does not have to defend the absurd in order to respect a person. Objecting to the absurdity of declaring Mother Teresa a saint does not mean disrespect for her work.

Today, Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint. This naturally resulted in a flood of praise and criticism on social media. Contrary to the respectful tweet from the Prime Minister on the occasion, his supporters were NOT happy. They were critics of this step. In their eyes, she is fraudulent, and worst of all, she engaged in conversions (the prime majority fundamentalist objection to religious minority figures in India).

Those who admired Saint Teresa (must get used to not calling her Mother Teresa now) had their own reasons to cheer the long awaited development. In their eyes, her service to the poor and ill made her deserving of respect. Incidentally, this is something nurses in hospitals do routinely and get far less money for it than Mother Teresa got in donations for her cause. Nor do the see the service as a part of promoting their cause. Which does not negate the fact that she did serve like countless other organizations and people dedicated to service. Baba Amte, for example.

I don't have a problem with religious conversions. In fact, I have often said in the past that the poor must be allowed to change religion as often as they wish and religious organizations wanting to increase numbers for their religion should be encouraged to pay them to convert and/or stay in the religion. This beats a lot of hatred and violence in the name of religion and would probably do something constructive for a change.

While there are disturbing questions about Mother Teresa's ethics raised separately by several people, I think no one is perfect and if she had rendered significant service to mankind, it stands independent of criticism in other areas. Today is not necessarily a day for deliberate drawing out of every flaw, real or perceived that she had. In my view, regardless of the questions raised about her, her influence and role model for people was almost entirely one of service - which is not a bad thing.

My problem is with "Saint" and "miracles" that are required to declare a saint. The two "miracles" that proved her a saint were serious medical conditions that got "miraculously" cured by praying to her. To become a saint, the miracles have to be "scientifically inexplicable". However let us not underestimate the refusal of a mind to understand explanations, which are inconvenient to what is desired. These "miracles" have been robustly contested by rationalists and doctors. I will not get into them here, because this article is not about the miracles either - even if inexplicable healings happened.

Hospitals, the world over are replete with stories of "miraculous recoveries" that doctors have no explanations for beyond having tried their best, and yet no one has bothered to declare them places of supernatural occurrence. Sachin Kalbag, the editor of Mid-Day The Hindu, recently had a close brush with death and "miraculously" survived. His post delves beautifully into his contemplations on divine intervention as several unlikely coincidences happened that improved his chances of survival.

If a person who prayed to Mother Teresa made a miraculous recovery and a hundred who prayed to her did not, why is only one of them proof of a miracle? This was a woman routinely surrounded by the sick and dying, for whom she offered care (including medical) for decades and yet such a motivated effort found two miracles. After she died. What about the many who died? Are they proof of her NOT being inclined to save people more than inclined? Could it be that miracles started happening once her influence was gone from the world? What if someone had a freak road accident and died after meeting her? Would she be declared a malicious entity?

Selective vision is a wonderful, perception affirming thing. We see what we are looking for. You see cures in a hospital, miracles in a place of worship Even if 2000 people made unexpected recoveries in a hospital while only 2 did in the saint's worship.

 

India is a country prone to belief in the supernatural. Partly because of a rich mythology, but largely because belief is the only thing a lot of people can afford when faced with very expensive needs, wants and problems. And yet, praying to Mother Teresa is NOT an appropriate course of action if you are diagnosed with a tumor or brain abscesses.

"Saint Teresa" is not about ill people finding care in her organization, or poor and ill people finding free treatment in her memory, it is about ill people being saved by praying to her. This is my problem.

For anyone living in India, miraculous cures are nothing new. Loads of Hindi films have them, usually when the villain is wiping the floor with the hero and just before the climax. Every family has a deity or three (or a more modern guru or mata they find) to pray to when things go wrong. From Baba Ramdev curing homosexuality to homeopathy curing cancer. From quacks taking people off necessary drugs because they "conflict" with their treatment to "faith healing" events in various churches. "Miracle cures" are a staple in India. There is nothing new about them. Why two miracles make a saint should be a question that even the most gullible believer in miracle cures must ask.

Does the canonization of Mother Teresa to Saint Teresa over two piddly miracles mean that the church admits that the countless faith healing events churning out "miracle cures" every week are bogus? I do hope so. It is overdue.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I had felt compelled to meet Narendra Dabholkar once, after knowing his views for years. I liked what he was doing. What he said. I agreed with his views about the dangers of superstition. We had a long talk, and he suggested that I become a member of their organization. I was ambiguous. I had a baby who was quite young. I had things I was doing. Not really time enough to get into stuff like that you know, I, who was writing an average of three posts a week on this blog (but not about rationalism), told the chap who quit his medical practice for such "stuff" because he had the foresight to see how the erosion of reason ruined us as a whole. I myself had a live and let live approach, even though I understood what he did, to debunk superstition and spread awareness of rationalism was necessary work. I participated in religious ceremonies though I thought they were bullshit and ineffective for whatever claimed purpose they were being conducted. I listened to people talk about various miracle workers while making no effort to encourage them to think things through.

"What is the harm?" I thought. People believed whatever would bring them solace. I remained in touch with ANS (Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti) articles and news though I didn't interact with them much. I liked what they had to say, but I wasn't "active" about my rationalism. Then, one day, I was numb. Reading news of Dabholkar being shot dead. Reading countless people on social media share his work, his views. I was one of them. I remembered his patient, extremely reasonable manner of explaining things. He was dead. What a waste. There are very grudging token attempts to nail his murderers. No real will behind them. Who would offend bastions of BELIEF? What was "justice" anyway? How could punishing a person or five compensate for the loss to people at large?

"There is real harm." It was an expensive lesson. The silence of those who didn't bother to work for necessary change, who didn't want the inconvenience of offending people is what made sitting ducks of those who were doing good work. Pick off the voices, and silence dissent.

Belief in superstition is not just about faith, it is about controlling the gullible and it has a dark underbelly. The pretty side is where countless people find hope, as they look at a few well publicized miracles and play an emotional lottery hoping for a similar result, taking it as "luck" when the expected result doesn't happen. The dark side is what happens to those who say "The Emperor has no clothes". And Narendra Dabholkar is hardly the only one to face the ire of religious fanatics for trying to bring a voice of sanity.

Before someone says that it is the Hindu fanatics who killed Dabholkar, let me remind you of Sanal Edamaruku, an Indian rationalist who had to flee the country for the crime of debunking a "miracle". 

This isn't  matter of being polite and not insulting someone who did "good work", it is a matter of actively speaking up against wholesale encouragement to believe in the irrational, to stand up and be among the number of people who have a problem with the promotion of such beliefs, before the few who do it remain the standing ducks to be picked off one by one, like Dabholkar was, Pansare was, and open threats could be issued.... while the rest pretend to believe in rational thought but choose polite evasions and be "goody goody" rather than look bad disagreeing about "respect" of a "good person".

You may afford to think that oh, you like Mother Teresa, therefore you will not look too closely at why she is being called a saint. Today is your day off for skeptical enquiry because it is a special absurd occasion. After all, in this world of selfish people, is it not a miracle someone wants to help people at all? You may afford to encourage a view that helping those in need is something only a saint is capable of (and thus exempt yourselves from having to do anything). You may say, oh it is a pity that people who question superstition get murdered and I promise to be extra skeptical tomorrow. I was like that. I learned my lesson with Dabholkar's murder. It is one I won't forget in a hurry.

Respecting selfless service ought to be good enough for you to not be required to defend the absurd either.

Update: A lot of people have commented on Twitter that the miracles were a formality and the recognition is for her work. Personally, I think the recognition is more about the church having people of worship native to India, so that more people are interested. It is a huge market, you know? But all that apart, there was nothing wrong with respecting Mother Teresa, or declaring her a Saint without the miracles too. Contrary to the belief of the few "rationalists" clinging desperately to this belief of the miracles being a formality, you have the usually sane Outlook Magazine reporting on how the devout still feel her presence, etc. Let us not even pretend that the "devout" don't pray to saints to solve problems. Not even you are that gullible.

It is no secret that Indian laws on Free Speech are not exactly geared for creative freedom. Where "offensive" can legally be prosecuted, not much remains to be said. This is hardly a secret and it is impossible that anyone in the business of creating content for the masses - whether publishing or video can be unaware of it given the regular outrages it throws up.

When All India Bakchod produced its event as a "roast" - a format of insult based humor - it is impossible that none of the wise people on the team or those helping them produce it thought that there would be angry people. Them going ahead and producing it did indeed seem like pushing the envelope, as they claimed it to be.

In the process, name and fame and money (for charity) came their way. Many of those who saw the roast were vaguely revolted by the idea of crudery for the sake of crudery - including humor that bordered on insults of identities - for color of skin, sexual orientation or whatever. There still was a willingness to accept it all for the simple reason that the show did one thing. It blew open the question of what is allowed speech.

Support mobilized from everywhere. People spoke up in solidarity and support. Many people published videos using profanity as solidarity.

Predictably there was outrage. You cannot produce content with explicit phallic profanity and pretty much only that without angering those who would like to pretend that pre-teen kids playing cricket don't yell "teri maa ka ******" on streets (true story, right under my window). This was predictable and happened as predicted.

It appears everyone except All India Bakchod anticipated this for some reason. As the outrage came in with police complaints filed and intimidation from fringe political outfits, they suddenly lost their hard on, so to say. They took down their video (not before it got millions of hits), wrote a half assed statement about how them being okay with facing consequences but not others, etc. and have been busy apologizing ever since, it seems.

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena said that they wouldn't allow any films featuring the participants of the roast to be released unless Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh apologized. They not just apologized, they took down their video. From there on it seems to be an orgy of apologies. Ranveer Singh apologizes to ex-girlfriend, someone apologized to gays - not sure who. AIB issued yet another apology specifically to Christians and god knows who else.

The one apology they have not made is to those who stood by them and are now looking like fools for believing in their right to create content that pushed envelopes. In the face of illegal intimidation, FIRs and the standard issue outrage were entities like the Film Writers Association of India and Amul, which immortalized their show with an Amul cartoon in solidarity.

Amul butter cartoon supporting AIB
Amul butter cartoon supporting AIB

There are people who have gone out of their normal use of language to produce content with profanity in support of All India Bakchod. In solidarity.

Instead of the rattling of a bad status quo on free speech, what All India Bakchod did was to endorse it with high profile apologies. Over and over.

Instead of reaching out to the wider community endorsing their right to speech and willing to challenge laws if need be, by their side, they abdicated their own speech and screwed the fight for Freedom of Expression in India by bowing down to the dysfunctional status quo.

Many have said that All India Bakchod cannot be blamed for what our intolerance forced them to do. Well, I do blame them. The intolerance is not a new thing or something they were not aware of while creating a full fledged profanity and abuse filled show. What did they expect when they created it? Sardar shabashi dega?

That just because they created profanity, people would be all applause? No one is that stupid. They created something illegal as a hit and run name and fame (and fund raising) measure is the only conclusion that I can draw from this.

Do they care that in the process they harm a rights movement that has far more serious stakes than their whim to be juvenile? They apologized to the Christians who have magnanimously accepted it. In the meanwhile, Sanal Edamaruku continues to live outside India, hounded by FIRs for exposing a "miracle" that turned out to be embarrassing for the church.

It is the same anger I felt during the Tarun Tejpal case and the same anger I felt when the BJP suddenly woke up to free speech when their own supporters got accounts blocked. It is those with abundant voice using entire rights movements at convenience without regard for the potential setback to the rights of those who face far more danger than they do. It is us elites who know the arguments and jargon of the "right side" of debates and can use it to claim our rights with great ease and scant regard for the backlash on the credibility of the cause itself that we are exploiting and far more vulnerable people counting on overcoming resistance to their rights for their very safety.

There are battered women walking into police stations being turned away without FIRs, but we make a spectacle of how women can completely demolish a man without filing an FIR and the media will cheer. There are people whose writing gets taken down, who are forced to flee the place they live in, but we can whimsically use black profile pictures over temporarily blocked social media accounts and go back to filing FIRs to silence those we don't like. There are people forced to flee the country for making the church angry, but we will go out of our way to make them angry and resolve it easily with an "oops. sorry". Who cares what this trivialization does to the family of the raped girl whose father carried her for hours only to be refused an FIR or the Perumal Murugans or the Sanal Edamarukus?

This is the worst exploitation of profound struggles for human rights in my eyes.

It isn't about blaming or not blaming AIB. It is about horrendous precedent set through completely thoughtless "pushing the envelope" - what they did was illegal and guaranteed to create outrage all through. Yet their resolve crumbled so thoroughly on facing threat that they did not even attempt to rally the overwhelming support offered to them to make their "rebellion" a success. Those supporting them to push Freedom of Speech further ended up with a sterling example of how to resolve outrage slapped into their faces. Apologize, over and over. Grovel. Go into hiding. That is how you can resolve outrage when someone doesn't like what you said.

And no, All India Bakchod hasn't apologized to us for deliberately raising and then sabotaging the question of Free Speech. The free speech they were flashing around as they raised funds on their event and youtube. All of us who spoke up for it because we know how important it is for blocks to be prevented - many of whom didn't even like the crudery. All of us who stood up for them.

I would say fuck you All India Bakchod, except there appears to be a queue to do exactly that.

6

Precognition has always fascinated man. That power of knowing what will happen and harnessing it to live with the insight of hindsight. From reading tea leaves to fingerprints and stars to numbers, mankind has pretty much stretched the limit of wishful thinking. Countless attempts to provide proofs that such knowledge exists range from seeing prophesies in texts to peudo scientific claptrap.

India has perfected this into an art form with an abundance of babas and fakirs and what nots with their own "brand" that followers claim to be the true one. There isn't the least attempt to apply any critical thinking, and attempts to ask too many questions can lead to anger. It is almost like people want that reassurance, even suspecting it is meaningless, because it brings comfort. The only good thing about it is that it is probably a better choice than drinking away troubles and about as useful.

We have elected ministers gracing the walls of various Ashrams and this can mean anything from looking away as lands get encroached and party trick miracles to adamant refusals to believe rape victims of exploiting gurus. Other ministers have been known to promote bogus objects that are little better than gift items for far more money by promising great health, wealth and etc.

The Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti, an anti-superstition organization has time and again challenged these bogus practices by bringing in the spirit of critical inquiry (and downright criticism) and has led to embarrassment for the astrologers when bright futures were predicted on the horoscope of a child dead within hours of birth. Other challenges include predicting poll results (which could possibly be done with available political insight as well?), asking for astrologers to participate in double blind studies on the effectiveness of astrology or plain old making a point with kundali (horoscope) burning events. It wasn't funny when Dabholkar got killed though.

And that is the crux of the issue. Most of the religious cults and business babas are big money, thug power and with tremendous political backing (useful for votes). While the common man is scandalized by irreverence, the scams couldn't last without organized brainwashing and sometimes pretty severe retaliations as Sanal Edamaruku discovered when he found the church hounding him after he exposed that the "miraculous water" seeping trough the feet of an idol of Jesus was actually drainage water being pulled by capillary action (in other words, normal seepage, except that here was an idol involved).

There are many cults determined to counter any rationalist movements that threaten their control over the masses through gibberish. Hindu Janjagruti Samiti is another example of such an organization. Their website is a revelation in invented hate propaganda, and a campaign to fight the anti-superstition bill.

And it is high time people asked for their brains back.

You mean planets floating around in the sky decide my life, and I'm the idiot working hard to make it how I want? Try again. Harder.

Don't tell me about the moon influencing tides being an example. The moon may influence tides all it wants, but my plumbing isn't affected by it. I have yet to have a day for stronger water flow on the full moon and regardless of what's happening inside anyone else's heads, believe me, I don't have blood and brains sloshing around inside waiting to lean toward the side of my head where the moon is. Everything is packed and in position like it should be, thank you very much.

astrological mosaic from Israel
Astrology is a group of systems, traditions, and beliefs in which knowledge of the relative positions of celestial bodies and related details is held to be useful in understanding, interpreting, and organizing information about personality, human affairs, and other terrestrial matters.

I see all this belief and wonder how education is limited to books, and not applied to anything it has not been recommended for.

Let's do a quick exercise. Remember your life. Great. Did you remember EVERYTHING? Obviously not. You remembered stuff that stuck in your memory. What happened to the rest? What about that lunch you had exactly 10 years ago? What was the menu? Chances are, you will not remember. Astrological miracles are like that, as are personality profiles and other forecasts. Most of them are vague enough to fit in with most people, who in glorious self-centered bliss imagine that they are the only ones who fit the bill so perfectly. Obviously, the words are designed to feel good. Therefore, Mr. Astrologer is credible. Huh?

And what of those silly goof ups he foretold, or read in your behaviour? Well.... you don't really find them remarkable do you? So like that lunch 10 years ago, they're gone.... somewhere in the bottomless storehouse of the brain, not to be reclaimed in all likelihood. So now what? Perfectly credible Mr. Astrologer has a very high rate of accuracy to boot.

The final selling point is of course in his unshakable belief in your value as a person. The qualities you see in yourself being reflected in his words...... Do you honestly have ANY clue on how many people think of themselves as analytical, thoughtful, reclusive, expressive, mysterious, capable of making friends with anyone, etc? Even if loner and magnetic were used in the same list of description, chances are every human on earth has experienced both moods and remembers experiencing them when reminded by those words. Voila! The description fits like a glove.

Spare me!

Forecasts are an even enlightening experience. An all-in-one chance to flatter, guide and secure unending belief. "Today is an excellent time to throw a party if you're inclined" variety. Heh. Really? If I am inclined, I will throw the party and enjoy myself and credit goes to astrologer for predicting that I will enjoy myself if I throw a party? Success is yours providing you persevere and remain wary of careless mistakes. How can one be wary of careless mistakes? You will save money if you can avoid those impulsive purchases. No! What a miracle!

Failed prediction? Something must have gone wrong! Well.....obviously, no? Apparently not. The mistake is in some elaborate calamity or unnoticed danger in the stars - not something as mundane as a chappie taking a risk that didn't work out.

I have yet to find a prediction that has a clearly defined circumstance of failure and still comes true (except for my very famous political predictions, but they are based on analysis of news, not stars).

For those who wish to convert me, indulge me. Find me an astrologer who will make 10 predictions with very clear definitions of success, and let's explore how many actually come true. I'm not interested in the 10 outstanding successes of a 20 year career. Show me the results of 10 consecutive predictions and then we'll talk.

3

On 11th of April, charges under Section 295 A, Indian Penal Code, have been filed against Sanal Edamaruku in at least three Mumbai police stations: in Juhu, in MIDC and in Andheri. He has not got any papers that he can file a reply to, but an inspector keeps calling him and asking him to come and be arrested (yeah, right).

To those who don't know what I'm talking about Sanal exposed "miracle" water dripping from a Christ statue in Irla to be drain water being drawn by capillary action. Solid science. Unfortunately, Gods and logic don't mix, as Sanal is finding out the hard way. The Church threatened to tangle him in court cases on National TV [yeah, read that post, it is entertaining] and horrifyingly, have proceeded to do exactly that. Read more about this nonsense here.

In other words, a blasphemy law is going to be used to harass the debunking of a falsely claimed miracle. Our court system being what it is, it is also a weapon of attack. When you file multiple cases in Mumbai on someone staying in Delhi, the next few years of his life are fucked in travel and expenses - regardless of what the court finally decides. Which is something the corrupt know well, and it is an established way of silencing people.

What is happening here is no protection of a God from blasphemy, but a deliberate targeting of a person for exposing fraud. The priests were so brazen as to threaten him on air and then proceed to do exactly that. Make no mistake, there is a profit in miracles. Firstly, there is the immediate profit from increased worshippers and thus donations. Then, there is the long term elevation of the church in terms of reputation. There is also the need for miracles for manufacturing saints. All in all, miracles are a precious commodity to a church, and Sanal broke the jackpot. And then of course, there is the ego. Humility is to preach, arrogance and injustice to practice. Normal religious leader thinking.

If it truly had anything at all to do with worship or loving or respecting God, I imagine the priests wouldn't want the idol sucking drain water or the followers collecting and drinking it or sprinkling it in their homes. In theory, they would be glad that such a blasphemy was prevented from going further through the actions of Sanal.

Now let us get this straight. The church has an official process for recognizing miracles, which also includes challenging them, as far as I know. So what Sanal did, doesn't even break any church norm as such. On the contrary, the Church has a formal process for recognizing miracles, which doesn't particularly seem to have been followed. Or perhaps they are recognized post facto, once all the water is gone and no tests can be possible [or allowed]. Not brushed up on the church stuff for a while.

Also notice how the TV channel didn't get cases filed against it. It was the channel who got Sanal there to debunk the miracle, no? But then, a corporation would probably suck a church dry and earn TRPs while doing it.

In any case, what is happening with Sanal is wrong. Chances are very high that the court will eventually yawn and ask everyone to go home. Not much hope that they would fine a place of worship for being stupid, because that is fairly normal. Worst case scenario, the court will stick to our National stupidity campaign and let even this bizarrely ridiculous charge result in him being punished for 3 years or so.

The point is that the best case scenario is already a punishment. A misuse of the legal system to attack someone, in fact. And there is no way for Sanal to stop this.

However, I think we should give a shot at pressuring the church to get off his back. Questioning the church, bad publicity, educated, progressive Christians influencing their churches to openly refuse to back this bizarre campaign, people going and praying a special Sanal prayer [below], sending postcards with the prayer on it to the Church, whatever works. We shouldn't drop this catch, because there are plenty of crazies in our country, and we need cons like fake miracles exposed if we are ever to exist superstitions.

Here is the prayer I suggest. Feel free to improvise:

Dear Lord, grant me  the desire to seek knowledge and the courage to be honest. In particular, let me understand capillary action in detail so that I may never let your statue soak in drain water. Amen.

Sanal Edamaruku, president of IRA Was invited to examine a certain crucifix in Irla (Vile Parle - West) by TV-9. The reason was Jesus was dripping water from its feet. Ever ready to believe the paranormal, worshipers had started flocking to collect that "Holy" water and the usual three ring circus ensued, I believe, with priests promoting the miracle with photos of the miracle, etc.

Sanal, as the president of IRA has a formiddable reputation for debunking such superstitious beliefs (duh, rationalist). So in inviting him, there is a certain understanding that the natural reason for the occurrence will be found out. That happened.

Here is a video of the investigation from TV-9

The water was found to be drawn from a nearby drainage through capillary action. He explained the process and later participated in a television debate with five church officials. Here's the debate:

So, to make a long story short, the church authorities tried to bully him into apologizing, then they threatened him with a court case for blasphemy. Right there in front of *cough* God and everyone. They threatened to file lots of court cases against him. And they did.

Post this, things are more unclear. Sanal hasn't been arrested yet. There are cases filed against him in several police stations, any of whom could take initiative in arresting him. Considering the orthodox and generally blind faith friendly mob mentality of our country, no one knows how quickly this will end or how far it will go. Hie safety from extra-curricular extra-devout Christians is also unknown. But so far, he is free.

There is a defense fund set up for him, and if you appreciate his de-stupidification efforts for the country, and you would like to contribute, it is a very good time to do it, since considerable time and money being spent to the point of paralysis is why so many cases get filed against a person. Unless someone in the religious thugs comes to their senses, they are almost certain to be trying to make his life miserable.

That said, I want to point out a few things and raise a few questions:

  1. If the Church authorities did not want their precious miracle debunked, why not stop him from investigating? If they were on the side of honesty, why print and promote a miracle that wasn't?
  2. What kind of trouble TV-9 are facing or supporting him through? Considering that they did this together? Or is this to be the typical drive by needling of religion, leaving their guests to suffer the harassment of criminal leaders? Note: He was demanded an apology for doing nothing more than finding the cause of the drip. And threatened with cases when he refused to apologize. On TV.
  3. What action has been taken by the police against the Church for both the threats as well as the fraud?
  4. From having a fairly strong resistance to superstition in the Maharashtra region, how have we reached this point that a person can be publicly threatened and bullied for debunking superstition? What is this intellectual cost we as a people have paid?
  5. Will the people who visited the church to witness this fraudulent miracle file complaints against say.... Section 415 of the IPC - which deals with cheating or misrepresentation?
  6. Will people who drank the "Holy" water be entitled to compensation and reimbursement of any health consequences?

It is common in India for the one with the capacity to bully be immune from harm. In every aspect of life. Will we allow this rubbish to continue?

I suggest staying tuned to this space and supporting in any initiatives that may further be needed if the Church continues with their harassment.