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Belief in Tantric power is common in India. Common to Hinduism and Buddhism, Tantra is an ancient, esoteric Indian spiritual practice. It is believed that it can cause nefarious acts and could be described as “black magic.”

Belief in the power of Tantra is powerful enough that in 2008, a local politician named Uma Bharati claimed her political opponents were trying to use it to harm her. After this accusation, a major TV network had the discussion, “Tantric Power Versus Science.” Widely known Tantric Pandit Surinder Sharma and the president of Rationalist International, Sanal Edamaruku, were invited.

At one point during the program, the Tantric claimed he could use his power to kill people in fewer than 3 minutes, to which Sanal replied in the most sublime way, “Prove it. Kill me right here and now.”

The Tantric took up the challenge and took to chanting, attempting to kill this skeptic on live television. Over the course of the rest of the program, the Tantric continued his chanting, seeming to have no effect on the confidently smiling skeptic.

The program should have ended there, but it overran as “breaking news,” and the great Tantra challenge preempted all program schedules. After two hours of this ceremony involving chanting, sprinkling water, pressing on Edamaruku’s temples and the waving of a knife, he concluded that Edamaruku must be under the protection of a very strong god, to which Edamaruku replied, “No, I am an atheist.”

With hundreds of millions of Indians glued to their televisions, this lone skeptic stood stalwart against this charlatan who had everything to lose by failing. That night, one of the most widespread superstitions in India suffered a major blow.

This was when I first became aware of Sanal. I saw the courage it must have taken to back a fraud into a corner and invite him to end your life. All Edamaruku had to gain was to decrease the credulity of his countrymen and women by a small measure, and I admired his drive to promote skepticism.

Edamaruku again made international headlines in March 2012 when he was asked to investigate a crucifix statue at Our Lady of Velankanni church in Mumbai that was dripping water “miraculously” from the feet. This statue was visited by more than a thousand people daily, and many were offered this water by the church, which the people drank, hoping for some kind of divine healing.

Upon a brief investigation, Edamaruku noticed a wall behind this statue was wet. When he investigated the source of the water, he found there was a toilet that was leaking, and the drainage system ran beneath the stone base of the statue. The toilet water from this clogged drain was drawn up by capillary action into the wooden cross, and dripped down the nail through the feet of statue, where it met clergy all too willing to dispense to the masses.

Contaminated water is nothing unique to this statue. A 2013 study found fecal bacteria in a majority of church fonts tested. This should give believers pause as they dip into this church-supplied microbe soup.

Needless to say, the local Catholic bishop was not happy with Sanal exposing this “miracle,” as attendance to the church promptly plummeted. They used a part of the Indian penal code which prohibits “deliberately hurting religious feelings,” and sought to have him arrested. Because of these threats, Sanal has been forced to leave his country. He has since moved to Finland to avoid arrest.

In 2013, Sanal’s fellow skeptical campaigner, Narendra Dabholkar, was assassinated, and Edamarukunow fears that returning to India could put his life in danger.

When asked whether he regretted his decision to intervene in this case, Edamaruku replied, “Why would one not intervene when somebody gives gullible people sewage to drink? But my reason is broader. The promotion of superstition and belief in paranormal phenomena dulls people’s minds and establishes dangerous misconceptions about reality in our society. Such efforts have to be countered.”

Edamaruku has my respect as an individual who has the courage to stamp out credulity and charlatanism wherever it exists. Whether it is the Hindu astrologers or “Godmen” of India, or the local Catholic priest and archbishop, Edamaruku has helped many to pierce the veil of superstition and to wrest power from the unscrupulous. For this he deserves the respect of not just those in the skeptical community, but truly all people who value truth and honest inquiry.

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Jeremy Fejfar is a member of the La Crosse Area Freethought Society

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(10) comments

ryeguy

PT. Barnum, I think, said something like "Nobody ever lost a dollar underestimating the intelligence of the American people." One third of Americans believe that we have been visited by intelligent aliens from other planets. One third believe the biblical creation stories as scientific fact. One third believe the earth is 6000 years old and that we walked amidst dinosaurs. 37% of American adults can't locate the USA on a world map. And more than one out of four think the moon landings were faked. Are these all the same people or should we conclude that our nation is rife with mindlessness, superstition, and ignorance?

Given the literacy rates in reading, math, and science (about 40% of US adults surveyed in 2003 were functionally illiterate in all three areas tested (reading, doing simple arithmetic, and writing prose) it might be reasonable to conclude that most adults live lives based on superstition, covering up ignorance, and believing simplistic slogans.

saltydogscientist

good comment!

Uncle Roman

I can't believe they print and people actually read drivel from this 3rd world Fejfar troll.

Monteee

I can't believe that you have the brain power necessary to operate a computer and post your ignorant drivel on these blogs.

Jeremy's article is brilliant.

Bill O'Rights

Uncle Roman--Interesting. Why do I assume you believe stuff such as: the Earth is 6000 years old, was covered in water 3500 years ago when the only non-aquatics alive were on a home made boat?

Bill O'Rights

Uncle Roman--How do you know it is "drivel" if you didn't actually read it yourself?

Jobaba

Nice editorial. However it should be pointed out that neither example proves anything.

This is the way of belief. Anyone's God may or may not do things for any reasons under the sun.

neandros

"The promotion of superstition and belief in paranormal phenomena dulls people’s minds and establishes dangerous misconceptions about reality in our society. Such efforts have to be countered.”

This is a powerful message which applies not just to voodoo-like curse throwers, but to all religious belief as well. Of course, you can lead the sheep to skepticism but you can't make them think. Fortunately, you can still reach many. Like Edamaruku, we need to stand firm and question all forms of superstition, Islam and Christianity included.

Wentz

I have no doubt that if the radically religious had it within their power that they would run this nation with a perverted religious iron fist that would a fundamentalist Taliban or Al-Qeda leader smile. Any nonbeliever would fear for their life or freedom to admit they were not a true believer.

Unfortunately, as religious belief in the U.S. declines and more that are religious declare themselves to be unaffiliated with any group, the paranoia of the radically religious increases as they are convinced they are being persecuted. This then causes them to try and impose their religious beliefs upon others in any way possible under the guise of religious freedom.

Yet our U.S. Constitution nowhere mentions this nation being Christian, never mentions Christianity, nor any god, nor Jesus. Did our Founding Fathers simply forget to do this when they could have so simply addressed the issue, or was the omission deliberate and reasoned? It was and is and hopefully will remain so.

Monteee

There is always the danger of Religious tyrants gaining power, and we should always stand ready to oppose and defeat them, but at this time, the danger is relatively small.

The loony and corrupt "Constitution Party" (formerly the "U.S. Taxpayers' Party") gets a paltry 0.1% of the vote every election.

As you said, religious belief is in decline. Zealots may scream and yell and make all the noise they want, but their superstitious lunacy is slowly but surely coming to an end. Ultimately, they will go the way of the dodo......

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