Limitations in the Implementation of the Idea of a Religion of Humanity

The question which Sri Aurobindo next takes up is whether and to what extent an intellectual and emotional idea, such as the religion of humanity, can so radically change human life as to bring about its actual realisation, rather than simply modifying the surface of life, while leaving the depths unchanged.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The weakness of the intellectual idea, even when it supports itself by an appeal to the sentiments and emotions, is that it does not get at the centre of man’s being.  The intellect and the feelings are only instruments of the being and they may be the instruments of either its lower and external form or of the inner and higher man, servants of the ego or channels of the soul.  The aim of the religion of humanity was formulated in the eighteenth century by a sort of primal intuition; that aim was and it is still to re-create human society in the image of three kindred ideas, liberty, equality and fraternity.  None of these has really been won in spite of all the progress that has been achieved.  The liberty that has been so loudly proclaimed as an essential of modern progress is an outward, mechanical and unreal liberty.  The equality that has been so much sought after and battled for is equally an outward and mechanical and will turn out to be an unreal equality.  Fraternity is not even claimed to be a practicable principle of the ordering of life and what is put forward as its substitute is the outward and mechanical principle of equal association or at the best a comradeship of labour.  This is because the idea of humanity has been obliged in an intellectual age to mask its true character of a religion and a thing of the soul and the spirit and to appeal to the vital and physical mind of man rather than his inner being.  It has limited his effort to the attempt to revolutionise political and social institutions and to bring about such a modification of the ideas and sentiments of the common mind of mankind as would make these institutions practicable; it has worked at the machinery of human life and on the outer mind much more than upon the soul of the race.  It has laboured to establish a political, social and legal liberty, equality and mutual help in an equal association.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 34, The Religion of Humanity, pg. 298-299