There is an interesting piece of conversation between the Archbishop and La Trémouille in Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan. It goes like this:
LA TRÉMOUILLE: Well, come! What is a miracle?
THE ARCHBISHOP: A miracle, my friend, is an event which creates faith. That is the purpose and nature of miracles. They may seem very wonderful to the people who witness them, and very simple to those who perform them. That does not matter: if they confirm or create faith they are true miracles.
LA TRÉMOUILLE: Even when they are frauds, do you mean?
THE ARCHBISHOP: Frauds deceive. An event which creates faith does not deceive: therefore it is not a fraud, but a miracle.
I was reminded of this tête-à-tête recently when the conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim in a rape case brought two States of Northern India to a grinding halt.
The question everyone was asking was: How can a man accused of rape have so many followers?
In fact, if you ask any sane man on the street, Ram Rahim’s antics are more than enough to make people laugh, rather than turn them into followers. Yet, the fact is that he was able to convince more than 1, 50,000 followers to leave the safety of their homes and converge at Panchkula. Eventually, 31 of these followers ended up dead.
The simplest and the most convenient answer to the question posed above is that people are foolish and don’t know what is good for them, right?
But, I have to disagree.
I feel that the answer lies in G. B. Shaw’s words quoted at the beginning of this post. Every man or woman is going about the business of living his or her life, and accepting the highs and the lows as an integral part of it. But, what happens when a problem surfaces that seems too difficult to manage, and seems to threaten the delicate fabric of life?
If you are an average human being, you look outside for answers. It is not a wise move, but sometimes it is the only move.
Before I continue, let me quote an example from personal experience.
I have a relative who, unfortunately, is not very well off financially. A few years ago, her husband died and one of her son began to suffer from a mental disorder which rendered him incapable of doing anything productive. The mother went from post to pillar, but to no avail. Eventually, someone told her about a spiritual camp being organized by Asaram (another Indian religious leader who is in jail facing sexual assault charges) near her place of residence. Out of desperation, and not knowing anything better, she did as she was told.
Lo and behold! The son began to show improvement.
Naturally, she then went to Asaram’s main ashram, and today the son has become normal enough to carry out routine day to day activities. Now, he even lends his mother a helping hand. The mother knows that Asaram is in jail, but she firmly believes in his power as a saint. To her, he is God sent.
I – for all my contrary beliefs – do not have the courage to contradict her. Whether it was a coincidence or a miracle, the mother whose son has now been cured has absolute faith in Asaram’s powers.
A miracle, as the Archbishop says, is an event that creates faith. And once that faith is created there is no going back. It is difficult, if not impossible, to convince anyone that the basis of their faith could be a lie.
Just as a diamond is used to cut diamonds, it is only a miracle that can destroy the false faith built on the pillars of a perceived miracle. In this case, the miracle is not hard to find. If you can deal with a misguided follower with love and empathy and understand the basis of his or her belief, you might find an answer to why people fall prey to false God-men.