Pseudoscience & Religion

My Name is Swami Baba and I am Not a Fraud

My Name Is Khan

“There is no such thing as a good Muslim or a bad Muslim, and a good Hindu or a bad Hindu; there are only good people and bad people”.

These lines are from the recent super hit Hindi film My Name is Khan starring Shah Rukh Khan, and were spoken by the mother of the lead character to him when he was young. These words have been hailed by moderates among Hindus and Muslims alike.

As a humanist and an atheist, I personally think this is a positive statement, and hopefully it will seep into the popular culture of India enough to unite moderates across the spectrum. After all, only when the moderates unite can the fanatic fringe be restrained.

However, this statement grossly simplifies a multifaceted issue. It is true that people are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, regardless of whether they are of one religion or the other, or of no religion at all. Atheists too can be ‘good’ and ‘bad’, for we are human beings too. In fact, one of the arguments that religious apologists often give is, “Mao and Lenin Were Atheists too, and they killed millions”.

Why then, do atheists criticize religion? Why do we propagate a society based on reason rather than faith? Aren’t there always going to be ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people, regardless of whether there is religion or not?

The System

The foremost reason why religion is detrimental to the society is that it creates a ‘system’ that enables the ‘bad’ amongst us to exploit the people above and beyond anything possible in a society based on freethought. To help you understand what I mean by this, allow me to illustrate how a ‘system’ can alter outcomes drastically, even though the mix of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people remains unchanged.

An Illustration

Take the case of the bureaucracy; specifically that of a department working for a certain ministry in the government. Say 3 out of the 10 people in the department are ‘bad’ (the kind who would use their positions to amass wealth and power, and wouldn’t work if given a choice), and the rest are ‘good’ (fairly efficient people who just want to do their work and get on with life as ethically as possible).

Case 1

The department where they work is such that there is no accountability and no deadlines. There are no rewards for good performance, and there is no punishment for failure. Everyone has a job for life, whether they work or not.

The work output of such a department would be fairly predictable. The 3 of the 10 can hold the ministry to ransom. They may amass wealth, harass the common man/woman, and delay regular work. If files are to pass through each of the 10 people, the 3 can hamper the working of the whole department. Hence most of the people who deal with this department would be harassed, even though 7 are doing their work well.

Case 2

Now imagine instead a department that has a carrot and stick policy in place, with accountability and an enforceable deadline for every task delegated to it. The bosses have the power to fire anyone who doesn’t perform, or is corrupt. The boss is herself monitored for performance. Even though there still are 3 people who are ‘bad’, we can imagine how efficiently such a department would work. Work would be completed faster, there would be negligible corruption, and the morale of the ‘good’ people would probably be higher. The output is drastically different from the previous case even though the composition of workers assumed is the same.

The System, as we see, is the differentiating factor. It can create enabling conditions that can radically change outcomes, ceteris paribus.

Applying this Method of Inquiry to God-men, Yoga ‘Gurus’, and Religion

Let us assume a certain Sri Swami Baba is a yoga, lifestyle and spirituality ‘guru’. For the sake of this essay, let us assume that this God-man is ‘good’ at heart, and only wants to see you happy and wants world peace. He preaches that ‘God’ loves you and he wants you to pray to ‘Him’. He tells you how prayer can be effective, and also about the harmless but effective traditional medicine and yoga techniques that can cure you of certain diseases. Money isn’t his concern, and he pumps a large part of the money donated to him by his bhakts into philanthropic activity. He does not aim to acquire political power either.

Is there any reason why such a person would be detrimental to the society? The answer is a resounding yes.

The problem isn’t Sri Swami Baba himself, but the System that he promotes and legitimizes. Because Baba is a ‘good’ man, and people perceive him to have a ‘positive’ impact on the society, God-men, Yoga Gurus, etc, in general gain legitimacy and are conceived to be good for the society by the people at large. Such gurus are welcomed into the daily lives of the bhakts, monetary donations are made possible and full unflinching trust by the followers is ensured. Blind, unquestioning faith is encouraged, and fiction gets masqueraded as fact. People are made to believe that there are ‘forces out there’ beyond the comprehension of science that for some peculiar reason these God-men understand very well. The society begins to accept that such God-men are a way to attain success and happiness.

Ripe conditions are hence created for anyone to exploit for his or her own benefit. Such trust and faith in spiritual religious gurus can be made full use of by anyone willing to do so. When God-men are caught doing something wrong, people dismiss them as aberrations that deviate from the ‘norm’. But in fact, there is no deviation from any norm; it is built into the system. The ‘bad’ people can exploit such unquestioning trust by the people at large for their own aims (power, money and sex) because the ‘good’ ones, such as our Sri Swami Baba, have legitimized it.

Such exploits would not be possible if the social consciousness of the people encouraged critical thinking and reason. If healthy skepticism was encouraged and no one was trusted blindly unless he or she made sense to the individual, such ‘bad’ people would never be able to make use of the society at large for their nefarious purposes to such an effect. People would then begin to treat individual claims on their own merit, and wouldn’t have to defend something they don’t agree with just because they ascribe to a particular label.

Sathya Sai Baba

Certain ‘gurus’ exploit the common man and the neo-rich alike. In India, followers of such gurus show unflinching support even when a scandal comes to light indicting them of several misdeeds. They are able to get away because of their political connections and by using their wealth, which they are able to amass from their supporters. This has been seen in the case of several God-men, the most famous case being that of Puttaparthy Sai Baba. This is also a consequence of the system that is held together by the ‘good’.

This is not to say, however, that ‘good’ God-men cannot have a positive impact on the society. They most certainly can instigate social change for the positive. There have been instances of God-men working towards causes such as curbing female infanticide. Social change, however, can be lasting only when it is instigated by reason, science, empathy and humanism, and not because of inherent claims made in the name of religion or ‘God’. Promoting more superstition to curb a practice is terrible for the long term, because it only gets rid of one problem, and completely ignores the root cause which is the substance that superstition is made of. However, such short term solutions are essential towards ending much imminent suffering, until the long term solutions such as education and women’s empowerment can begin to take effect.

In a society, beliefs about ‘God’, ‘morals’, etc are organised to form religion. Religion too is a system. The masses are trained to have blind and unquestioning faith in religious leaders. Perversions such as the above hence emerge from the nature of religion itself and not only because ‘bad’ people exist in any population sample. This is true of all religious systems, although some religions, such as Islam, demand more unquestioning faith than others, such as Buddhism. When such blind faith of the populace is secured, it becomes easier to exploit this power for personal benefits or political mileage. If coupled with violent scriptures, it becomes a perfect recipe for war and bloodshed.

Mao and Stalin Were Atheists

Analysed this way, we see why the fact that atheists such as Mao and Stalin were involved in the killings of millions of people does not point to such cases occurring in a purely freethinking society: Mao and Stalin were a part of a system in which they were unquestioned leaders of their ideological parties. The violence resulted from their attempts to secure political hegemony, and not because they disbelieved in the concept of god. This is different from a religious extremist killing in the name of the god and religion.

A freethinking society would reject any ideology where a ‘leader’ asks for blind faith and unquestioning support. The so called ‘New Atheist’ movement is out to promote a society based on pure reason and humanism. It is not a political and economic movement.

Irreligion: from a ‘Luxury’ to a ‘Necessity’

The unfortunate socio-economic, political and geographic realities of our society have led to a world where a vast majority live in heartless conditions. In spite of toiling in order to make ends meet, people have to deal with insecurity, exploitation, family problems and other issues. People hence understandably are quick to turn to religion for succor. The well-off also feel the need of religion to give them the comfort of ‘security’, economic and otherwise. That religion is fed to an individual right from birth and it is difficult to break out of this bubble is a different matter.

Irreligion, and in particular ‘atheism’, requires inquiry into history, science and philosophy, which in turn requires time, capacity to study, and patience. Freethought is hence a ‘luxury’ to most people in India and indeed the world for obvious reasons.

However, we see that religion itself contributes to the misery of the people at large, although the victims themselves do not realise it. Individual factors are blamed, but the structure itself goes unquestioned. This is a vicious cycle where misery is turning people to religion, which is adding to the further misery. Religion hides behind the smokescreen of ‘morals’, ‘values’, ‘peace’, etc, but gives rise to a behemoth due to the nature of its very structure.

It is hence imperative that this structure, or system, is transformed and replaced by one where humanism, and “atheistic spirituality” (for the lack of a better word), become the guiding philosophies in order to lead ethical and fulfilling lives.

About the author

Gautam

17 Comments

  • There is no such thing as a good person or a bad person.
    There are only gray people, with their choice about which shade of gray 🙂
    Power corrupts and having people listen to you un-questioningly is a source of power.
    Yes the problem is more about the type of attitude that is cultivated, even if the initial intentions are bona-fide. If the pied piper can lead the rats out of Hammelin, he can you lead your kids too 🙂
    Howard Zinn once said, as to why do people worry so much about dissent and dis-obedience, and dis-harmony, when the worst things known to humans, slavery, genocide and wars are possible only because of some-one’s unflinching obedience and approval.

    • You are right, there are only shades of gray when it comes to people. But this article oversimplified the issue to analyse the structure of faith. This method is frequently used in economics, and indeed subject to must criticism. But the defense goes that it helps organise thoughts about issues without worrying about the intricacies which would otherwise not affect the general model.

      “Power corrupts and having people listen to you un-questioningly is a source of power.” This statement by you pretty much covers the issue.

      Sid.

  • Being atheist or humanist does not give you licence to appreciate my name is Khan movie dialogues.the very movie and its release and the concomitant controvery etc if understood properly smacks of some muslim arrogance and “meme” of anew kind being developed by shaukh Kahan with money power in Bollywood.

    the very muslim name gives you religious connotation what ever be the contents.Don’t get into paralysis of analysis by taking what is convinient to you.

    I follow Richard Dawkins his interpretation of “meme” now you group should not become a victim of media memes

  • Noble All Here,
    Humblest Greetings.

    To my mind:

    (If healthy skepticism was encouraged and no one was trusted blindly unless he or she made sense to the individual, such ‘bad’ people would never be able to make use of the society at large for their nefarious purposes to such an effect.)

    Healthy is a very complicated word. It requires a standardization through definition.

    (“My Name is Swami Baba and I am Not a Fraud”)

    Although it is a good declaration but still not that clear. A clarification can make the declaration more meaningful.

    Cordially,
    Swamiji

    • Thanks for your comment. I think this title can be altered too as it goes unexplained in the article.

      However, the title is a play on the now famous line in the movie My Name is Khan. The famous line that Shah Rukh Khan says is, “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist”.

  • Wasn’t this Sai baba accused of being a pedophile by many foreign children who were in contact with him, some years back?

    • Noble Shriman Varun Ji,
      Humblest Greetings.

      Ironically why the Atheists/Rationalists of your level becoming so much cruel for this poor sai baba satya narain raju? I hope kind people of your level should provide him sufficient freedom to enjoy his phase of consentuously raping/molesting/enjoying those children who wanted to be with this incarnation of all prophets and all gods and secure their share of bunglows in their share of SWARGAS, Jannats, Paradises as a neibour to their share of god/s.

      I think it is a great cruelty against the Incarnations’ Rights and an International Commission to Protect the Incarnations’/Prophets’ Rights should be established by the UNO to defend their cardinal and basic Rights to enjoy or kill as many people they can for carrying on their Incarnational and Prophetic Responsibilities.

      Kindly excuse me for my flaws in any way.

      Cordially,
      Swamiji

  • Why then, do atheists criticize religion? Why do we propagate a society based on reason rather than faith? Aren’t there always going to be ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people, regardless of whether there is religion or not?

    This first question is answerable by reversing it. The old saying “There is none as rightous as he who cliams rightousness.”
    Give this saying a few moments of thought and in it lays the reasoning of reversing the first question.

    the first case 1. in the real world of out for profit this sort of work force can not exist.
    the second case is more realitic in relationship to profit for gain.
    Religion when researched by it known examples of practice dogma and use was orginally an early form of social law creation.
    That is to mean, a use of a belief concept to comform a sociality along its and its only concpet of social order.
    This is highly evident by its ‘selective” prejudice towards certain lifestlye and life practices.
    Example: the role of women in a sociality, anti homosexaul practices,anti any other form of belief other then its own.,anti educational research that may be in conflict with its and its only concept of social order and or social life beginings., the preaching of a better life in death if one follows its doctrine and dogma only.
    All of which is in direct conflict with the realities of life, nature and the exist of life.
    It is however in direct line with well known human selective intolerences.
    It matter not if a person choose a belief in some possible God like being, a faith or hope of something better.
    This is a normal feeling to hope for a better life, we all at some point in time in our lifes have a hope for a better world or outcome to some event in our lifes.
    Yet the reality is the world is the way it is because human kind as allowed it to be the way it is.
    We have allowed the greedy to destory the enviroment,in the name of a job or money or a better looking home.
    We have allowed the evil of murder and war in the name of patriotism.
    What we have not done is to realized the history of such and that we are all a part of this tiny little planet and we have no other home.
    We all have a very limited time in life and far too many never realize this truth.
    When there is one person in need and none look to help or condemn it as a self make need, then there is no help and when there is one with no help there is many more in need.
    What we do in life is how we life on in death.
    If there be a real religion it will not be an organized use or an organized rule ,it will be a human faith and a human ablity, it will be a faith in that WE CAN and not a faith of “THOU SHALL NOT”
    I am an atheist yet my athesit way follows the path of “WE CAN” and that atheist does not dislike or hate the “believers of a God” it allows them to have their belief in the hope that it may yet become a human reality of its reality .

  • Hey there’s a very famous quote “Never judge a book by it’s cover.” We must understand that our history is very rich with what we can (not must) follow. The reason I quoted that quote is if you go back in to the history then you can find that most of the rishis are scientist who documented all their scientific discoveries in Vedas. The common attire they used to were is now adopted by many of the godmen. Iam not denying that people take advantage by calling themselves as god/godman. But if you go through the scriptures and the documents of our vedas then we can discover that all those scientists have explored nature of all kind. They explore human body, universe, nature, brain, to list few. Vedic science was more advanced in few terms than current science.

    For example:
    Airplane was defined in vedic science long back and infact ‘Shivkar Bapuji Talpade’ tried to build one using vedas in 1895

    Ref : http://scienceinvedas.blogspot.com/2006/11/over-hundred-years-ago_19.html

    Imagine that the rishis knew about telephathy what we call wireless communication today.

    They knew about energies and auras and cosmos which is earning fame in the world.

    According to carl sagas, Indian rishis were able to discover about the relativity of time long back, watch his documentary ‘cosmos.’

    Vedias also goes with Darwin theory (or fact). Just google to know the references.

    My point, please just don’t spread anything which you feel is correct but try to research and explore it first.

    Thanks

  • i fail to find reason behind this post.and why bcoz
    road accidents happen evryday that doesnt mean we ban all the vehicles and start walking ,government officials are corrupt(some %)as claimed by theauthor himself now shd we ban the government and live in a lawless society.any rationalist will say no.
    the answer to avoid road accidents is better traffic regulation and strict measures for offenders not banning vehicles saying some people are misusing it.if a government is corrupt then the answer is not no government but better government with proper rules and regulation to arrest corruption(like lokpal) i believe the author seems to miss the point
    AND ON A BROADER SENSE ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING THAT CAN BE MISUSED WILL BE DONE BY BAD PEOPLE(AS IN AUTHOR’S PERSPECTIVE) THIS CAN BE SEEN EVERYWHERE EVEN THE EXCJI WAS SAYING A CORRUPT PERSON CAN LEAD THE CJI OFFICE THE ONE WHICH HAS TO DEAL WITH IT.I SINCERELY REQUEST THE AUTHOR TO SEE THROUGH THIS .YOU CANNOT SAY DONT GO TO GODMEN BCOZ SOME BAD PERSON WHO IS A FAKE (MIND U FAKE DOESNT MEAN A DIFFERENT KIND.OSHO IS NOT A BABA BY ANY STANDARDS IN INDIA BUT HE IS NOT A FAKE HE IS A ORIGINAL THINKER BUT NOT A BABA BY FAKE I MEAN PEOPLE WHO CLAIM TO BE SOMETHING WHICH THEY DONOT CARE WANT TO BE AND ONLY DO SO TO ATTAIN FAME WEALTH OR WHATSO EVER MAY BE THEMOTIVE BEHIND THEM).PEOPLE ARE GOING AND THEY PROBABLY WILLKEEP GOING UNTIL THE NEXT 200 YRS MINIMUM THIS THE BLATANT TRUTH.BUT WHY? BCOZ THEY OFFER SOMETHING WHICH OUR SOCIETY SEEM TO LACK PEPLE ARE LACKING IN ETHICS MENTAL PEACE AND VARIOUS OTHER HTINGS WHICH THE GODMEN ATLEAST TO WHATEVER THEY CAN DO FILL THE VOID.

    SO INSTED OF SAYING CUT THE HAND OFF BCOZ IT HAS A BRUISE ON IT.START ADDRESSING THE REAL ISSUE “BASIC ETHICS,CORRUPTION OF VALUES.RESPONSIBILITY”. BEFORE BLABBERING ABOUT HOW FAKE A BABA IS OR SOME VAGUE THING PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT THE REAL ISSUE IS NOT ABOUT A PERSON CALLED A BABA BUT ABOUT OUR SOCIETY IN GENERAL.

    • In your anger, you completely failed to see the nuance in the arguments presented in the article:

      This is not to say, however, that ‘good’ God-men cannot have a positive impact on the society. They most certainly can instigate social change for the positive. There have been instances of God-men working towards causes such as curbing female infanticide. Social change, however, can be lasting only when it is instigated by reason, science, empathy and humanism, and not because of inherent claims made in the name of religion or ‘God’.

      Please address the points raised in the article, if you can. Despite complaining about “blabbering”, it seems it is you who are doing that.

  • The one fault that I found in the article :-

    ” Mao and Stalin were a part of a system in which they were unquestioned leaders of their ideological parties. The violence resulted from their attempts to secure political hegemony, and not because they disbelieved in the concept of god. This is different from a religious extremist killing in the name of the god and religion.”

    Religious violence is actually committed for political & social hegemony . The beliefs are only used to give these acts legitimacy against the doers coscience & in the eyes of those who believe.
    No doubt , this remains a sane article (& not just a polemical one) .Cannot understand why atleast moderates dont read such works.

  • The Untouchables (Dalits) of India want economic, social, political, religious and educational equality in Society, not in the eyes of God.”

    (Harbans Lal Badhan)

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