The Basis and Criteria for an Individualistic Judgment of Truth Versus the Traditional Conventions

When an individual begins to question the established authority, whether religious, political, sociological or economic, and seeks for a new foundation upon which to base his life and actions, he is confronted with the question of how to determine the validity of whatever new approach he may take.  The conventional, after all, has survived the test of time and has the support of large numbers of people, making the individual choice one that bears substantial risk, both intellectually and, in a society that does not welcome challenges to the established order, his freedom and well-being.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “At first it was in religion a personal illumination supported in the West by a theological, in the East by a philosophical reasoning.  In society and politics it started with a crude primitive perception of natural right and justice which took its origin from the exasperation of suffering or from an awakened sense of general oppression, wrong, injustice and the indefensibility of the existing order when brought to any other test than that of privilege and established convention.”

“The movement of religious freedom in Europe took its stand first on a limited, then on an absolute right of the individual experience and illumined reason to determine the true sense of inspired Scripture and the true Christian ritual and order of the Church.  The vehemence of its claim was measured by the vehemence of its revolt from the usurpations, pretensions and brutalities of the ecclesiastical power which claimed to withhold the Scripture from general knowledge and impose by moral authority and physical violence its own arbitrary interpretation of Sacred Writ, if not indeed another and substituted doctrine, on the recalcitrant individual conscience.”

“In the East such a movement divorced from all political or any strongly iconoclastic social significance would have produced simply a series of religious reformers, illumined sages, new bodies of belief with their appropriate cultural and social practice; in the West atheism and secularism were its inevitable and predestined goal.  At first questioning the conventional forms of religion, the mediation of the priesthood between God and the soul and the substitution of Papal authority for the authority of the Scripture, it could not fail to go forward and question the Scripture itself and then all supernaturalism, religious belief or suprarational truth no less than outward creed and institute.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 2, the Age of Individualism and Reason, pp. 18-19