Thursday, November 3, 2011

(Ir) Rational Musings!!!

A few days ago, I watched the documentary, Enemies of Reason, written and presented by Richard Dawkins. Of course I found it very informative, perfectly lucid and intelligent (as Dawkins' writing and talks always are), but found one very witty statement he made in it very interesting, and I posted it as my facebook status update; it read "We constantly create false positives; we touch wood for luck, see faces in toasted cheese, and fortunes in tea leaves. These provide a comforting illusion of meaning. This is the human condition. We desperately want to feel there is an organising force at work in our bewilderingly complex world. And in the irrational mindset, if you believe in the mystical pattern you have imposed on call yourself spiritual!!!" I did get some interesting responses, mostly trivial remarks, but one in particular (from one of my closest mates) that somehow, I felt, echoed the thoughts of most people around us on anything connected even remotely with religion, god, or "spirituality"...thoughts like it is an area of ambiguity that is best left as is because it is (somehow) beyond the realms of rational thinking, and again the allusion to an idea that I have always found quite strange, to the point of being absurd, that rational thinking makes our lives dull and boring and could potentially lead us to anarchy. It evoked am almost immediate response from me. I found our discussion fairly interesting and felt that it deserved a more serious platform than a comments box in Facebook. My friend's comment on Dawkins' quote was, "Think of a world which thought and reacted only logically! As rationals are relative, it could be anarchy. Then, you wouldn't have the cushion to sit on and philosophize. I respect your observations. At the same time I admire all these different schools of thoughts and beliefs, in it's diversity keep our world going, relatively peacefully. I salute the worlds big heart to take in the likes of you and me, along with our views!" And my response, "What you have said, I feel, is fundamentally flawed. To understand that all you need is to take a look at the world we are living in at the moment. I don't see the "relative peace" that you've mentioned. Instead, what I see is what you have mentioned in the beginning, our heading to anarchy. This whole thought of moving to anarchy and a guiding/organising force that pulls us back from that is propagated and instilled in our minds by the religions that we have been brought up in. What we sadly fail to see (or are taught to ignore) is that we live in the 21st century, a time when science has eradicated many diseases, created manned space stations and understood the universe better, and has made such awe-inspiring advancements in almost all fields, so much so that it is on the threshold of creating life in the lab and even conquering death. These stupendous achievements that have made our lives simpler and better have only been achieved through rational thinking (I hope you would not disagree that scientific knowledge is based on evidence and not on superstition). Religion on the other hand pulls us back from reason. And, by the way, if you consider it just a little, you will understand that the very thought that rationalism/reason is against creativity, philosophy, imagination, et al, has been instilled in us by the very religions whose slaves we have been from the time we were born. Religion, to quote Dawkins, "ceaselessly attempts to fill gaps in human understanding with fabricated meaning!" Without doctrines that are glorified as true (without even a shred of evidence) and without using peoples' ignorance and fear to make them believe, religion cannot exist or for that matter survive; in other words, religions across the board thrive only on dogma and superstition. Why do you have to think that what we understand or have understood about the world makes it dull, or that rationality makes you have a dim outlook. No scientist would dare say that. On the contrary, science shows us how wonderful the world is, and it is sheer foolishness to think that irrationality in anyway nurtures the intellect. And again, it would only take a look around us to understand the damage it causes. Think of it, think of one religion that is tolerant or understanding as it claims to be. Guess this quote from Carl Sagan would sum it up; "In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded," "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed"? Instead they say, "No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way!"

Monday, April 25, 2011

India would have been a better place without Sathya Sai Baba

When Sathya Sai Baba died this morning (24 April 2011) at the age of 85 years, he proved once again that miracles and predictions fail. He had predicted at a public gathering at his head quarters in Puttaparthy, in 2000, and repeatedly many times, that he would die at the age of 96 only. And till the last moment, many of his devotees clung to his word and waited for a miracle. May it be an eye opener for the millions of gullible people whom he misguided and deluded.

De mortuis nihil nisi bene, they say, say nothing but good of the dead. But I think Sathya Sai Baba’s case qualifies for an exception. Too great is the damage that he did to India. His devastating influence on reason and scientific temper caused huge setback to the country. At a time, when scientific progress led to great social and economic leaps and scientific awakening started spreading all over India, Sathya Sai Baba launched a “counter revolution” of superstition, supported by irresponsible politicians and other public figures who should have known better. In my judgment, this is his greatest crime. I have succeeded again and again to expose him publicly as a fraud, so did some other rationalists. But due to his political protectors he was never held responsible for his crimes against public reason. Nor was he ever booked for any other crime he was accused of. Numerous cases of alleged sexual abuse and murder are yet to be investigated, not to mention the financial secrets of his empire.

Sathya Sai Baba insisted in all seriousness that he was god, the creator of the universe, and “proved” his divinity with a couple of small “miracles”. As son of a village tantric he was familiar with the hand sleights and tricks of the trade. However, he did not only fascinate poor and uneducated villagers with his fraudulent performances. Over the years, he managed to attract a galaxy of India’s rich and powerful, among them ministers, prime ministers, presidents, chief justices, top industrialists and superstars.

Sathya Sai Baba had a special modus operandi that was the key for his astonishing success and the root of his enormous clout. Many of his high society devotees came to serve their own vested interests. Some came to rub shoulders with the prominent. Many joined the club because it was working as a powerful syndicate spreading its tentacles all over the political system. It was a way to the top jobs and a way to get things done. Others were seeking financial support or wanted to get rid of ill-gotten black money: The empire, it is alleged, was based on money laundering, using foreign devotees and branches. In fact, the huge foreign donations to Sai Baba stood in contrast to the comparatively modest number of active foreign devotees and the sometimes quite weak foreign branches, some of them residing in private homes. That is no great surprise, when one considers that Sai Baba did not speak any other language than Telugu and traveled only once in his whole life abroad – to visit his friend Idi Amin in Uganda.

On his 80th birthday, Sai Baba’s supporters announced that he would turn from a miracle man to a philanthropist. That was, after I had demonstrated his miracles so often in TV shows that many kids in the streets could imitate them. That he since spent a part of the great fortunes, swindled out of the gullible, for social development around his ancestral village, is highlighted now to present him as a saint. But as useful and welcome hospitals, schools and drinking water projects for the poor always may be: this kind of alibi-philanthropy is well known even from mafia-bosses. It cannot be weighed against his crimes and the damage he has done to the Indian society.

In December 2005, I wrote a letter to then President Dr. Abdul Kalam, one of Sai Baba’s ardent supporters, which was never answered. I demanded criminal investigations against Sai Baba. If his social development projects are meant to be indulgence to nullify his crimes, this procedure is unprecedented and unacceptable, I wrote. It is a shame for India that well-founded accusations and numerous reputed witnesses against Sai Baba are ignored without any investigation. Do saffron clothes make an offender untouchable for the law? Do we have to tolerate that political protectionism raises its head so boldly, mocking India's democracy?

Sathya Sai Baba caused great damage to India. His irresponsible political patrons corrupted the political culture of India. Encouraged by the clout of Sathya sai Baba, a new clan of miracle mongers imitated him. India would have been a better place without Sathya Sai Baba.

Sanal Edamaruku
Indian Rationalist Association & Rationalist International

(This or other articles from the Rationalist International Bulletin may be reproduced by journals, blogs or web sites without change or alteration in its content, and with due acknowledgment.)