Sanal Edamaruku — a.k.a. “the Indian James Randi” — has debunked a lot of sacred cows in his life. Last year, after explaining how a statue of Christ could be dripping water seemingly on its own, he was charged with “hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community.” The “crime” could have resulted in a prison sentence of up to three years in addition to a fine, so Edamaruku fled from his home before he could be punished (or physically attacked).

For the past year, Edamaruku has been in Finland. And recently, from his base in Helsinki, he announced the launch of an international journal (published quarterly) aptly called Rationalist:

The idea behind Rationalist magazine is to create an open forum of intellectual honesty beyond different names that individual groups use for the broad movement — Rationalism, Freethought, Secularism, Humanism, Skepticism, Atheism, Scientific Temper and many others. These names are dear to us based on our history, tradition or culture, and our focus of activities. Rationalist magazine wishes to explore our common objectives and common lines. World-class articles, well known columnists, [in-depth] studies, reports from around the world, announcements and reports of conferences and activities of all major organizations.

It’s a print publication, with an online version going out to paid subscribers. The first issue goes to press on January 5.

If you’d like to subscribe, you can do so here!

Sanal Edamaruku is the Indian skeptic who found himself at the center of a firestorm last year after he was called in to explain how a statue of Jesus was “miraculously” dripping water. After debunking the “miracle” claim, he was charged with blasphemy and faced jailtime.

Over the summer, he spoke about his experiences at The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, and video of his talk has now been released:

Edamaruku is one of the true heroes in the skeptic movement. If any part of his talk stood out to you, please leave the timestamp and summary in the comments!

I humbly present to you the first in our series of interviews from The Amazing Meeting 2013.

I had the opportunity to sit down with the remarkable Sanal Edamaruku. It became less of an interview and more of me just letting him tell his story (trust me, it was better that way). If you haven’t heard of Sanal, he is the president of both Rationalist International and Indian Rationalist Association and spent years traveling around India busting so-called miracles.

Last year, when he was called in to explain a statue of Jesus that was “miraculously” dripping water, his entire life changed. You can read about it if you click on those links, but I recommend listening to him tell his story instead.

And if you’re wondering why I look like I’m crying in the above picture, it’s because I was. Partly because I’m a massive cry baby, and mostly because it was one of the most remarkable stories I’ve ever heard. (Sanal, if you’re reading this, I am so sorry I cried in front of you. It was extremely embarrassing.)

Anyway, take 12 minutes out of your day and listen to what Sanal had to say. You’ll be glad you did!

[Hemant’s note: The last couple of minutes of this video, especially, just take your breath away. The courage this man has is just incredible.]

Just a quick update with some better news about Sanal Edamaruku, the Indian skeptic who faces jail time for exposing a “miracle.”

Sanal Edamaruku (via New Humanist)

After being repeatedly asked to turn himself in to the nearest police station, Sanal has decided to whisk himself off to Finland and he is currently staying in Helsinki while he appeals the decision not to grant him “anticipatory bail” (which would keep him in jail until his trial). This means the threat of arrest and imprisonment has gone for now. Sanal has made he it clear that is he more than happy to be arrested and have his day in court because it allows him to put various Catholic leaders on the witness stand under oath. Who wouldn’t want that?

Prior to moving to Finland, his lawyers had been receiving daily phone calls from the police asking him to turn himself in, forcing him to go into hiding in India. While he is coordinating his defense from abroad, his lawyers have filed three cases. One is an appeal against the decision not to award anticipatory bail, the second is to have the case thrown out, and a third is a request to the Indian Supreme Court to remove article 295(a) from the Constitution on the grounds of it being against free speech.

In the meantime Sanal is away from his family, but hopefully not for much longer as a decision on the anticipatory bail appeal is expected this week — at which point he can return home to be arrested, safe in the knowledge he will not face jail time before any potential trial.

The petition has been signed by a little under 6,000 people so please read the petition here and sign it if you haven’t already.

Haven’t we been here before? Time and again, in fact?

A bizarrely uncritical news article in the Chicago Tribune relays that an icon in a Greek Orthodox church in Homer Glen, 20 miles southwest of the Windy City, is believed to have been “weeping” or “sweating” oil since last summer.


And so,

Thousands across the Chicago area are flocking to a southwest suburban parish to see what they believe to be a… miracle.

Since July, tiny droplets of fragrant oil have trickled down an icon of St. John the Baptist in front of the altar. … Parishioners believe the oil has healing properties and that its origins are a blessing from God. …

The oil, which parishioners believe to be myrrh, exudes from the icon’s halo, wings, hands and beard.

The last time a U.S. religious institution had a painting that reportedly wept myrrh, founder Samuel A. Greene Jr ended up confessing that the whole thing was a scam. (Then he killed himself amid allegations that he had been sexually abusing boys for three decades.)

But in the case of the church in Homer Glen, let’s not rain on the parishioners’ parade just yet. After all, the mysterious oil droplets are curing the flock of everything from the common cold to cancerous tumors.

Explains the Tribune,

Collected every week by a reservoir of cotton at the base of the icon, [parish priest Sotirios] Dimitriou regularly extracts the oil into a pitcher, then saturates cotton balls, which he seals in plastic bags for parishioners to take home and share with their loved ones. So far, he has handed out more than 5,000 samples.

Dimitriou believes that just being around the oil, and touching it as he dips the cotton balls into the liquid, has cleared up his once-debilitating nerve condition. Another beneficiary credits the substance with helping him recuperate quickly after a hip replacement. A third believer says that the sweaty icon’s emissions somehow unclogged a nearly-blocked artery; a fourth claims, implausibly, that the oil made a cancer growth disappear.

The church, delighted with the extra traffic and donations, is doing nothing to get to the bottom of the so-called mystery. It’s the Lord at work, and that’s that.

The only outsider (I use the word loosely) quoted in the Tribune piece is James Skedros, dean of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass.

There is no formal process in the Orthodox church of authenticating such incidents as miracles, he said, but they are believed to hold significance. … Orthodox Christians believe that matter can be a conveyor of sanctity.

The Trib reporter, in her one attempt at basic skepticism, then asks him, “Could the phenomenon be attributed to a reaction to the church’s environment?” And whaddayaknow:

Of course, Skedros said. But why go there? What bishop wants to question the congregation, discredit a priest or doubt God?

He might as well have added, “And why walk away from perfectly good money?”

Consider the example of a Catholic church in Thornton, California. In 1981, a ceramic statue of the virgin Mary in the Mater Ecclesiae Mission Church began to weep and, according to some, to move as well.

Soon the church had to be kept open seven days a week to accommodate the hordes of pilgrims who flocked to the site. According to one magazine article, “money poured in, enabling the parish to buy a new roof, air conditioning, and such frills as a wrought-iron fence to protect the statue.”

At last, after hundreds if not thousands of believers had been so fleeced, the Stockton diocese decided to conduct what looks to be a honest (if unacceptably belated) investigation. The commission charged with assessing the evidence concluded that “human agency was responsible for the statue seeming to come to life.” That’s a nice way of saying that someone in the church practiced outright and prolonged deceit. No word on whether any of the church-scam victims got their money back. The story is recounted in Joe Nickell‘s Looking for a Miracle: Weeping Icons, Relics, Stigmata, Visions & Healing Cures.

Is it possible that Chicagoland’s Father Dimitriou, or another person in the church, is tempted by the lure of more worshipers and a pile of extra cash? To remove such suspicions, the parish would do well to allow — better yet, to request — an independent investigation.


P.S.: A quick Google search turns up thousands of accounts of “weeping” or “sweating” religious artifacts (for a primer, start here and continue here and here). The field is rife with hoaxers, and fertile ground for tireless debunkers like the wonderful Sanal Edamaruku. I’d love to see someone much like him — say, a sleuth from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry — spend some quality time with the miracle icon in Homer Glen. It’s very likely we’ll hear that the “weeping” phenomenon is caused by condensation, or capillary action, or some other well-understood, non-supernatural process.

P.P.S.: The house of worship in question is called the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church. It sure does the first word in its name proud.

(Image via vesilvio /

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