RATIONALIST INTERNATIONAL

Bulletin # 176 (28 June 2008)

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IN THIS ISSUE

Albert Einstein: The idea of God is a “product of human weakness”, the bible “pretty childish”

Albert Einstein's letter to Eric Gutkind (Jauary 1954)
Albert Einstein's letter to Eric Gutkind (Jauary 1954)

A recently unearthed letter written by Albert Einstein in January 1954, one year before his death, is yet another strong link in the chain of proves that Einstein was not the religious believer supernaturalists claimed him to be. The handwritten letter, addressed to the philosopher Eric Gutkind, describes the idea of God as “product of human weakness” and the bible as “pretty childish” and may finally put an end to all attempts to colour the illustrious thinker as a defender of religious faith.

The extraordinary piece was auctioned by Bloomsbury in London this month. The winning bid of 404,000 dollar – 25 times the pre-sale estimate – came from an unidentified overseas collector with “a passion for theoretical physics and all that that entails”. Really sad for Richard Dawkins, who was among the loosing bidders and would have been a deserving owner of the document.

Richard Dawkins Albert Einstein
Richard Dawkins Albert Einstein

Prof. Dawkins, famous British biologist and Honorary Associate of Rationalist International, has been the strongest voice clarifying Einstein’s position on religion. In his book The God Delusion, he explains that Einstein, who called himself “a deeply religious nonbeliever” and would occasionally invoke God, was referring to something entirely different from what is commonly meant with these terms. “Einstein’s religion” clearly excluded any idea of the supernatural, but was on the contrary an expression of pantheistic reverence.

“Pantheists don’t believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or the lawfulness that governs its working. Deists differ from theists in that the deist God does not answer prayers, is not interested in sins or confessions, does not read our thoughts and does not intervene with capricious miracles. Deists differ from pantheists in that their deist God is some kind of cosmic intelligence, rather than the pantheist’s metaphoric or poetic synonym for the law of the universe. Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered down theism.

“There is every reason to think that famous Einsteinisms like`God is subtile but he is not malicious’ or `He does not play dice’ or `Did have God a choice in creating this Universe?’ are pantheistic, not deistic, and certainly not theistic. …. Einstein was using `God” in a purely metaphorical, poetic sense. So is Stephen Hawking, and so are most of those physicists who occasionally slip into the language of religious metapher.”

Dawkins quotes Einstein himself writing about his religion: “to sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious.”

“In this sense”, Dawkins adds, “I am too religious, with the reservation that `cannot grasp’ does not have to mean `forever ungraspable’. But I prefer not to call myself religious because it is misleading. It is destructively misleading because, for the vast majority of people, `religion’ implies `supernaturt’. Carl Sagan put it well: `… if by `God’ one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying … it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity’.”

(All quotations from: Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Great Britain, 2006)

India: Stop "yoga evangelist" Swami Ramdev

Sanal Edamaruku Swami Ramdev
Sanal Edamaruku Swami Ramdev

Swami Ramdev expects a revenue of 40 million dollar this year. Selling India’s ancient, pre-scientific notion of health care and cure – repackaged as his very special brand – is good business. Thanks to his all-out marketing, Pranayama (ancient exercise in breath control) and ayurveda are big hits with the ever-growing and prospering Indian middle class. His daily early morning show has allegedly 20 million viewers. His 500 hospitals in the country are said to register 30,000 patients per day. His new headquarters in the “holy city” of Haridwar may soon be world’s largest center for yoga and ayurveda.

Swami Ramdev’s breathing routine as such may be as harmless as useless. But it comes with the stunning claim to cure all kinds of illnesses including cancer and HIV/Aids. His brand of yoga, so runs his pseudo medical argument, increases the CD4 count – the number of cells attacking the HIV virus. Such baseless and irresponsible claims, luring a vast number of patients in need of medical treatment into a false sense of security, turn Swami Ramdev’s yoga ministry a disastrous venture.

“Swami Ramdev is a dangerous man”, said Sanal Edamaruku in a press statement. ’It is high time that the authorities put a stop to his activities. Claiming such absurdities is against the law. The magical remedies act of 1954 was brought in to stop people such as Baba Ramdev from promoting dangerous ideas about curing cancer and the like. But the political class is running scared of him and of the backlash that his legal prosecution might unleash."

Quoting Sanal Edamaruku, the following article appeared in The Guardian.

TV swami offers a cure for all ills

Yoga evangelist has millions in his thrall,
but critics claim devotees are being duped

Randeep Ramesh
The Guardian, Saturday June 14 2008

At 5am beneath the Shivalik hills in northern India, Swami Ramdev sits cross-legged swaddled in saffron robes commanding the rapt attention of 500 devotees of his brand of yoga. The crowd is made up mostly of middle-class Indians, many suffering from chronic conditions for which traditional medicine has little to offer but comfort.

Each "patient" has paid 7,000 to 40,000 rupees (£90 to £500) to be among the first to spend a week at the swami's newest venture: a village of 300 bungalows offering spiritual retreat in the shadow of eucalyptus trees. Swami Ramdev's pitch is that pranayama, the ancient Indian art of breath control, can cure a bewildering array of diseases. "Asthma, arthritis, sickle-cell anaemia, kidney problems, thyroid disease, hepatitis, slipped discs and it will unblock any fallopian tubes," he tells his audience in the yoga village, who line up to have their blood tested and receive herbal remedies.

Although India has a long tradition of mystical gurus, Swami Ramdev represents a new phenomenon: the television yoga evangelist. Almost all his congregation have been drawn through his shows on India's Aastha channel. Every morning, the swami appears on television chanting prayers and explaining that ailments, physical and mental, can be treated by what looks like little more than sharp intakes of air and painful-looking body contortions. More than 20 million tune in each day in India alone. The television guru, who is also known as Baba Ramdev, is also available across the world - including Britain. He has just finished teaching on a yoga cruise from India to China, which even after attracting corporate sponsorship still charged disciples £1,000 a ticket. Last year he appeared in Westminster to give British politicians a chance to sample his yogic wisdom.

Ludy Mantri, a housewife from Mauritius, has paid 40,000 rupees and travelled 4,000 miles to see "her swami" in the Haridwar yoga village in the hope he can help her find a cure for diabetes.

"I have been on medicines every day for the last 12 years. The chanting of Om has an amazing effect and the words of Ramdev energise one through the day."

Born into a farming family in north India he retains a common touch, making rustic jokes in chaste Hindi. The guru combines this with a gentle manner and a knack for public relations. The swami sells himself as a one-person health service. He says he only charges the wealthy and that the poor get his medicines for free. He has 500 hospitals in India serving more than 30,000 a day.

It is no surprise that many sections of the Indian elite - including judges, ministers and Bollywood stars - have visited his camps. Such is his popularity that the Indian army incorporated Ramdev's techniques claiming it made for a "deadlier fighting force".

Ramdev often speaks less of spiritualism and more of the need to develop his country through yoga, portraying himself as an Indian nationalist. He attacks multinational companies for seeking to drain India of profits. He calls Coke and Pepsi good only for "toilet cleaning".

In a country where renunciation is seen as almost a divine virtue, Ramdev announces that he has long ago given up sex - because "it is not love". The adoration he inspires was seen in 2006 when Indian communists accused the guru of using human bones and animal parts in ayurvedic drugs produced by his pharmacy. His followers rioted and attacked the party headquarters. The Communist party backed down when it saw where public sympathy lay.In an interview with the Guardian, Ramdev said that the problem with communists was that they did not have "faith in spirituality and are philosophically against religion. My cures are clean but the communists have an agenda."

There is little controversy about his basic assertions. He says that following his yoga teachings for 30 minutes a day, along with a vegetarian diet of raw or lightly boiled food and no alcohol or tobacco, clears clogged arteries, reduces blood sugar and lowers blood pressure.

But the swami defended his more extravagant claims that yoga could cure terminal illnesses such as cancer. He also said he had evidence that breathing exercises could help Aids patients recover by enabling a rise in the number of cells that the HIV virus destroys.

Ramdev has an explanation for his success with cancer - that yoga oxygenates the blood which kills the tumour. "Yoga is self-healing and self-realisation. I have many cases of cancer which I can provide where patients have recovered. We have cured blood, throat, ovarian, uterine and throat cancers with yoga."

In the case of HIV, he says scientists "have not understood [it] properly". He says that "through yoga and lifestyle changes people increase their CD4 count [the cells the HIV virus attacks]. The truth seen for the first time does appear like a miracle."

Such claims have angered many doctors. Mohammed Abbas, The president of the Indian Medical Association, said that although yoga is "good exercise, it cannot be used to make ridiculous claims about curing HIV or cancer. This is false hope for ill people."

The swami says patients are tested and improvements measured by "independent" doctors. Asked whether he has run any tests to analyse treatment, he offers a ook of testimonies from disciples convinced they have been cured of cancer, cirrhosis and kidney failure.

Some have called for the swami to be prosecuted for "peddling quackery of the highest order".

"Claiming such absurdities is against the law," said Sanal Edamaruku of the Indian Rationalist Association. "The magical remedies act of 1954 was brought in to stop people such as Baba Ramdev from promoting dangerous ideas about curing cancer and the like.

"The political class is running scared of this man and the backlash that such a prosecution might unleash."

Tanzania: Albinos are hunted and mutilated to trade their “magical” organs

17 year old Vumilia Makoye was having dinner with her family, when two men with long knives forced their entry into the house, overpowering her mother Jeme, who tried to stop them. Then everything happened very fast. Jeme and the rest of the family watched helplessly, how the intruders grabbed Vumila, sawed off her legs above the knee and vanished with them. The legless girl, lying in a pool of blood, died soon.

Vumila was an albino. Albinism is an inherited hypopigmentary disorder, characterized by lack of the pigment melanin in eyes, skin and hair. As a result, the eyes are red and the skin is pinkish white and extremely sensitive to sun. In Africa, only one out of 3000 newborn is an albino. They suffer a lot of medical problems, and most of them die of skin cancer before reaching the age of 30.

It is a common belief in sub-Saharan Africa that albinos carry magical powers. They are shunned and socially stigmatized. But recently in Tanzania, superstition has taken a horrible turn. Witch doctors started claiming that magical potions, using skin, hair, bones, genitals, tongues or limbs of albinos as ingredients, bring wealth to their customers. Since then, albinos are hunted. According to official reports, 19 albino people, including children, have bee killed and mutilated for trade of body parts. Other sources speak of more than fifty victims. Police officials believe that the albino killings have been inspired by Nigerian movies about witchcraft.

The authorities are developing lists of albinos and try to protect them systematically by watching their houses and escorting albino children to school. President Jakaya Kikwete ordered a crack down on witch doctors and organ traders. In an effort to eliminate discrimination, he recently appointed the first albino member of parliament.

The superstition does not stop at the borders. In Kenya, an albino woman was found in late May with her eyes, tongue and breasts torn out. Albino skin is reportedly sold in Congo, too.


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