When water started trickling down a statue of Jesus Christ at a Catholic church in Mumbai earlier this year, locals were quick to declare a miracle. Some began collecting the ‘holy water’ and began to promote it as a site of pilgrimage. This was perfect! They had their very own little ‘Mecca’ – it would be a tidy little money earner and future wealth and fame were guaranteed from pilgrims visiting ‘the miracle’ from afar…
When the ‘miracle’ was announced, Sanal Edamaruku (a journalist) traveled to Mumbai and decided to spoil the whole party!
He began sniffing around the site of the statue, and discovered that the dripping water was not miraculous in origin. Rather the water was due to a clogged drainage pipe behind the wall where the statue stood. So it was not so much holy water as holy plumbing! It looked like water was seeping into the statue from the drain by capillary action. The statue was made of a porous material, and like kitchen towel paper, it just absorbed the water.
But instead of people saying thanks, his revelation provoked death threats from religious zealots and ultimately charges of blasphemy under the Indian penal code in the Mumbai high court. Thus he was accused of blasphemy, charged with offences that carry a three-year prison sentence and eventually, after receiving death threats, had to seek exile in Finland.
His exposure of the weeping statue was also a contribution to public health in Mumbai as some believers were drinking the water hoping it could cure ailments. But they were drinking sewage water. It posed a health risk to people who were fooled into believing it was a miracle.
But did the authorities acknowledge this? Oh no. He had caused ‘offence’ and that trumped even the health benefits of his discovery.
He has spurned an offer from a senior Indian Catholic bishop to apologise for the exposure of the ‘miracle’. The Catholic archbishop of Bombay, Oswald, Cardinal Gracias, has said that if he apologizes for the ‘offence’ he has caused he will see to it that the charges are dropped.
Wtf?! – Surely if he apologises, he will only be doing it to save his neck, not because he sincerely believes he has done something wrong.
Blasphemy laws are very strange because they can be both very silly and also very sinister. They are very silly because you are talking about crying statues and moving statues or Virgin Mary’s appearing in tree stumps in Co Limerick. But on the other hand these type of laws are used in Islamic countries to jail people or sentence them to death. Or in Sanal’s case facing a jail sentence for his work exposing bogus miracles.
So how many Saints of the Catholic church – who were granted sainthood on account of their healing powers and miracles and cures, owe their sainthood to such accidents and so called miracles? Probably the majority. In those days of the past the veracity of reports of miracles and cures were not tested. It was left to the church authorities to prove them otherwise. But it serves the interests of the Catholic church (or any organised religion for that matter) to have its flock stupefied on stories of so-called miracles. Everyone needs a hero. Hero’s also bring in extra money.
A faith or creed that relies on tales of the supernatural and spectacular to convince its followers of its truths, must be built on very shaky foundations indeed. And this obsession with miracles, for me, is the most revealing trait of all religions. It tells me, that for the believers, it isn’t enough to just be told the truth from a book. They want something tangible. Something they can see with their own eyes.
The foundations are wobbling. Only recently the English church voted against women being admitted as Bishops – which if you think about it; in this day and age of feminism, equal rights, the minimum wage and social care, is a truly staggering indictment. The English church just shot itself in the head. Those spires and steeples belong in another age. That doesn’t mean we should knock them down. We should keep them preserved as a reminder of how far we have come since the dark ages. But there are plenty of dark places yet left in the world, where superstition and imbecilic beliefs, still reign supreme.
The Zeitgeist must, and will, move forwards.
All hail the Zeitgeist!