Why Indian rationalists will continue to oppose 'Sai Baba' of Puttaparthi
Yesterday, I was in a discussion where someone repeated the spent old argument that the philanthropic activities of the 'Sai Baba' of Puttaparthi must be reason enough for critics to look the other way when allegations of other crimes by him surface. I gave this person our standard response, reminding him of the greater impact of secular philanthropists such as Warren Buffet or Bill Gates.To this, this person came up with the bizarre response: 'You say the Baba maybe a child molester? How do you know what Bill Gates maybe doing behind closed doors?' I was incensed enough to write the following email, which I will preserve and forward to any such interlocutor. Please feel free to add to the list in this email.

Why Indian rationalists will (and should) continue to oppose 'Sai Baba' of Puttaparthi

1) Taking a view that 'ends justify the means' and therefore some highly visible acts of social service must endow legal immunity is a dangerous idea. Bill Gates' highly publicized charity or even the fact that so many offices and homes find his operating system indispensable, do not immunize his company from litigation against anti-trust violation. Founding a hospital does not make the Indian Penal Code inapplicable to anyone.

2) Also, taking a view that all that matters is 'the greatest good to the greatest number' and that we can ignore harm caused to a negligible minority in the process is equally dangerous if not more. The Father of the Nation, who called off the Non Co-operation Movement recognizing the suffering of 22 policemen in Chauri Chaura would certainly find such arithmetic repugnant. By the same standard arguing that the suffering of any abuse victim may be ignored so long as the perpetrator is otherwise a philanthropist, is unChristian, unIslamic, UnHindu, UGandhian and irreligious from any standpoint and it is shocking that so many supposed pious folks resort to such an argument.

3) Granting 'Sai Baba' of Puttaparthi effective legal immunity and also demanding immunity from criticism and diverting attention with questions like 'How do we know what other celebrities like say, Bill Gates, does behind closed doors', stands in the way of much-needed reform of religious institutions along the lines of what the likes of Veerabhadra Chenamalla Swami suggest (http://mediamirchi.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/3308/). Of course there's no closed circuit cam following Bill Gates all day, but we know that he has less reason to resort to such abuse as it is well known that he is happily married and a happy parent as well. Concerns such as those raised by Veerabhadra Chenamalla Swami will never be discussed in the mainstream as long as a bulk of the population unquestioningly believes 'Oh but after all our Baba is incorruptible though others may have strayed'.

4) Scientists are subjected to the criticism that they do not adequately evaluate the scientific merits and claims of Ayurveda, Jyotisha and other such disciplines. How can scientists as a community be convinced that even attempting a scientific evaluation will have any bearing on public opinion, especially when large chunks of the populace remain so intransigent in considering Puttaparthi's 'Sai Baba's' conjuring tricks to be 'miraculous' even after any number of debunking demonstrations? What amount of scientific evidence and debunking will make misled folks alter their deeply cherished beliefs? Scientists are also criticized that they are wasting their time and others' when they go after rural charlatans. I fail to understand this complaint and also think that is a no-brainer to decide which is more laughable: sacrificing your weekend on an anti-superstition roadshow in a village or taking it on faith that someone lived without food or water for over 60 years!

5) The 'Sai Baba' of Puttaparthi is deservedly a worthy target for rationalist campaigning because of his media footprint and his known backing from constitutional office-bearers in India, which give him a visibility and influence which is dangerous if not under continuous scrutiny and critique. We know that a former President (R Venkataraman) and even the legendary Chief Election Commissioner (T N Seshan) go as far as attesting his miracles and when the cause of pseudoscience seems to have such influential backers, it would be suicidal for any lover of science to simply change the channel and hope that superstition will wane in India.

Arvind, this reads more like an article or a blog post than a discussion topic. Do you think you can develop it for publication on Nirmukta?
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
(21-Oct-2010, 02:23 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: Arvind, this reads more like an article or a blog post than a discussion topic. Do you think you can develop it for publication on Nirmukta?

Sure why not? I'll upload a draft shortly.
He's a cheater, but not god. Only gods are our very own parents.
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