Sanal Edamaruku faces a Catholic backlash after insisting that the "holy" water dripping from a statue of Christ in Mumbai, India, came from a leaky drain. Edamaruku is the founder and president of Rationalist International, president of the Indian Rationalist Association, and honorary associate of the U.K. Rationalist Association.
What was the so-called miracle you recently investigated in Mumbai?
The priest and the very active Catholic laity organizations associated with the Our Lady of Velankanni Church in Mumbai were promoting the idea that water dripping from the feet of a statue of Jesus was a sign from God. Hundreds of believers flocked to the dripping cross, collecting and consuming "holy" drainage water that they believed would cure all ailments.
What prompted you to intervene?
I was invited to the Delhi studio of TV9, a Mumbai-based national channel, to comment. During the program, I rejected the possibility of a miracle but of course could not give scientific explanations without an investigation. The channel then invited me to come to Mumbai. The church authorities agreed.
What did you find?
I had a close look at a nearby washroom and the connected drainage system that passed underneath the concrete base of the cross. I removed some stones from the drain and found it was blocked. I touched the walls, the base, and the cross and took some photographs for documentation. It was very simple: Water from the washroom, which had been blocked in the clogged drainage system, had been transmitted via capillary action into the adjacent walls and the base of the cross as well as into the wooden cross itself. The water came out through a nail hole and ran down over the statue's feet.
You now face possible arrest. Why?
Leaders of two Catholic laity organizations have launched charges against me under Section 295A of the Indian penal code. This charges a person with "deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments of any class or community.” It is absurd to claim that I did anything of the sort.
What do you fear might happen to you?
If it comes to a trial, I have nothing to fear. I would welcome the opportunity to throw some light on the role that the Catholic Church played and is still playing today here in India. The possibility of arrest is threatening, however.
Do you have any regrets about intervening?
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.
Why do people so readily believe in miracles?
For many, the regressive belief in superstitions and miracles is an escape from the hardships of life. Once trapped into irrationalism, they become more incapable of mastering reality. It is a vicious circle, like an addiction. They become vulnerable to exploitation by astrologers, godmen, dubious pseudo-psychologists, corrupt politicians, and the whole mega-industry of irrationalism.
This article originally appeared in New Scientist.