For the best part of two months I've been honing my project management and PA skills organising for founder of Rationalist International, and all-round skeptical-hero, Sanal Edamaruku to come to Norway to give a series of lectures.
The series of events are sponsored by Skepsis
, Norway's national skeptical organisation and the umbrella organisation for the local Skeptics in the Pub groups. With some hard work and help from lots of keen skeptics, the Human-Etisk Forbund , and the Ingen å blir lurt ('Nobody likes to be fooled') campaign, I'm very pleased to say that we've organised a jam-packed series of events from the 9th to the 15th of March.
Sanal has been championing rationalism for many years, but is best known for his miraculous survival of an assassination attempt live on TV by a tantric guru using dark magic, and his ongoing fight with religious authorities in India who have accused him of blasphemy for explaining away the miracle of a weeping Jesus statue as nothing more than faulty plumbing
Holy men in India - flying fakirs to starving saints (Oslo)
Extra-ordinary powers and capacities are attributed to Indian holy men and gurus since long time. Stories of fakirs who fly over carpet, or survive decades without food are common. Popular religious myths tell about attaining powers by long and hard meditation techniques. Some popular myths tell about mixing of magical herbs and secret holy words to get supra-human powers.
Having this popular myths in the mindset of people, charlatans use pranks and tricks to win the faith of the gullible. Some pretend to be protector of the faithful, while some others sell the "power" for a price. The gurus easily become very rich and politically powerful. Some acquire huge personal wealth by invoking mythological images. In some cases, when psychopaths are presented as incarnation of god, thousands follow them. They loot money from the naive believers and from governments.
The victims of gurus, holy men and charlatans live in fear, permanently exploited.
Monday 11th of March
Myths and tricks of Indian holy men
It is widely believed that the gurus and holy men have special powers. Legend goes that these magical powers are attained through meditation, chanting mantras (magical words) or they get it by divine blessing. If the guru has paranormal powers, he / she could bless people, win large following, get money from the faithful and win political clout.
Some of them produce vibhoot (holy ash to smear on forehead) by a quick movement of hand, or materialize objects like rings or golden chains from thin air. Some gurus gaze into objects and burn them with mental power, or bend objects or stop watches. Some claim to read the minds of people. Some of them show how they could stiffen an enemy's body like a wood log. Some multiply money in front of you! Some gurus boast that they can kill people with mantra (magical words) and tantra (magical rituals).
Sanal Edamaruku, in his public education programs during the last thirty five years, explained many magical feats of the gurus. He replicates many of them to prove that even non-believers could do them, and no magical power is required for that. He has trained hundreds of volunteers in India, who continues the pioneering work that he initiated.
Sanal Edamaruku will explain the myths and tricks of holy men and will show some of them live!
Wednesday 13th of March
Organised miracle mongering and urban legends that shook India
On 24 September 1995, Ganesh (elephant faced Indian god) statues all over India started drinking milk. Milk offered by devotees to the statue in spoon disappeared when it touched the mouth of the statue. This happened simultaneously in thousands of places. Sanal Edamaruku and his rationalist colleagues studied and explained this mass miracle in the evening TV program and stopped it spreading. How did it happen that all Ganesh statues became so thirsty in one day across India?
In May 2001, a strange monkey-man terrorized India's capital Delhi and several satellite cities. Hundreds of people saw the monkey-man. Several people were hospitalized attacked by it. Five people died in stampede while trying to escape from chasing monkey-man. Three thousand police men were deployed to capture the creature. They roamed a patrolled several nights. The monkey-man remained a mystery. What was the monkey-man? How did it disappear at last?In 2006, sea water turned sweet at Mahim in Mumbai. It was called a miracle of Allah as it was near a mosque. Thousands of people drank the water and collected it in bottles for future use. Ailments were cured by this sweet water. How did it happen?
In Uttar Pradesh state in India, in 2002, a special creature attacked hundreds of people and left burn marks on them. Crowds became panic and rioted. Six people were killed in police firing. Many people who were attacked by Munochwa (or face scratcher) were hospitalized. What was Muhnochwa?Sanal Edamaruku explains how he countered mass miracles and urban legends in India.
Thursday 14th of March
Will Indian Rationalism counter a new wave of religiosity in India?
India is presented by many as a country of spirituality and religions. Many religions originated in India - Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikh religion were all born in India. Though the majority Indians are born in Hindu families, it a has a large Muslim population, larger than the entire population of neighboring Pakistan. As a secular democracy respecting pluralism, there is full religious freedom in India.
Ninety seven per cent of Indian population believe in some kind of god or gods. More than thirty per cent believe in magical powers and the influence of mantra (magical words) and tantra (magical ritual). More than 50 % believe in astrology. Majority marriages are fixed as per astrologers' advice. engulfs India now. A section of politicians publicly demand for a Hindu state. Upsurge of belief is seen in the sprouting of several new temples, mosques and churches.
The new television revolution brought astrologers and holy men in the centre-stage of day today life. Caste organisations emerged as election vote-banks. Even secular leaders think of using religion for political expediency. Holy men like Satya Saibaba could get public support of presidents, prime ministers and chief justices of Supreme court.
Thousands of people are killed every year in caste riots or religious conflicts. Intolerance grows fast.
Is India hopeless country? Will hings ever change in India? Will Indian Rationalism counter the new wave of religiosity in India?
Sanal speaks about the action plan for Indian Rationalists to bring tolerance and reason in India.
The plan is to record each of the talks to upload for those that can't make to the events in person to enjoy later.