The Birth and Development of the Religion of Humanity

When we observe the natural world around us, we see that birth, growth, decay, and death are all interactive events, with the birth of a new form taking sustenance from the dead forms of the past, while any new shoot has to compete with those forms that are in their full vigor, or those that are in a decaying cycle but still holding the field.  We can extrapolate that a similar process occurs in the course of human development of societal change, evolutionary growth and progress.  We constantly see the forces of the past, even though clearly outdated, holding the field, resisting change and forcing a struggle with much suffering on all sides.  Sri Aurobindo has described this process with respect to the development of the religion of humanity, the underlying basis of a psychological unity for mankind:

“A religion of humanity may be either an intellectual and sentimental idea, a living dogma with intellectual, psychological and practical effects, or else a spiritual aspiration and rule of living, partly the sign, partly the cause of a change of soul in humanity.  The intellectual religion of humanity already to a certain extent exists, partly as a conscious creed in the minds of a few, partly as a potent shadow in consciousness of the race.  It is the shadow of a spirit that is yet unborn, but is preparing for its birth.  This material world of ours, besides its fully embodied things of the present, is peopled by such powerful shadows, ghosts of things dead and the spirit of things yet unborn.  The ghosts of things dead are very troublesome actualities and they now abound, ghosts of dead religions, dead arts, dead moralities, dead political theories, which still claim either to keep their rotting bodies or to animate partly the existing body of things.  Repeating obstinately their sacred formulas of the past, they hypnotise backward-looking minds and daunt even the progressive portion of humanity.  But there are too those unborn spirits which are still unable to take a definite body, but are already mind-born and exist as influences of which the human mind is aware and to which it now responds in a desultory and confused fashion.  The religion of humanity was mind-born in the eighteenth century, the manasa putra (mind-born child, an idea and expression of Indian Puranic cosmology) of the rationalist thinkers who brought it forward as a substitute for the formal spiritualism of ecclesiastical Christianity.  It tried to give itself a body in Positivism, which was an attempt to formulate the dogmas of this religion, but on too heavily and severely rationalistic a basis for acceptance even by an Age of Reason.  Humanitarianism has been its most prominent emotional result.  Philanthropy, social service and other kindred activities have been its outward expression of good works.  Democracy, socialism, pacifism are to a great extent its by-products or at least owe much of their vigour to its inner presence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 34, The Religion of Humanity, pg. 294-295

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