The General Attitude of the Intellectual Reason Towards Religion

The intellectual reason has had something of a condescending attitude towards religion, looking on it as a mass of superstitions not grounded in verifiable facts, or springing out of the ancient ignorance about the way the world works, through attribution of a divine agency or spiritual action in the workings of the material world.   At certain times, science and religion have been at odds with one another because science held that religion was illogical and religion held that science was misguided and heretical.  When religion held sway, such as during the Dark Ages of Europe, and the Holy Inquisition, scientific inquiry was frowned upon, even banned, or treated as cause for torture, excommunication or death.  At times when reason took the lead, religion began to take a back seat and a secular viewpoint gained ascendancy.  There were those who even disposed of religion by simply terming it “the opium of the masses” with the implication that it was simply a way to intoxicate and sedate the vast number of people who needed to be ruled by those who had the intellectual vigour and force to manage societal issues.

Sri Aurobindo comments:  “The unaided intellectual reason faced with the phenomena of the religious life is naturally apt to adopt one of two attitudes, both of them shallow in the extreme, hastily presumptuous and erroneous.  Either it views the whole thing as a mass of superstition, a mystical nonsense, a farrago of ignorant barbaric survivals, — that was the extreme spirit of the rationalist now happily, though not dead, yet much weakened and almost moribund, — or it patronizes religion, tries to explain its origins, to get rid of it by the process of explaining it away; or it labours gently or forcefully to reject or correct its superstitions, crudities, absurdities, to purify it into an abstract nothingness or persuade it to purify itself in the light of the reasoning intelligence; or it allows it a role, leaves it perhaps for the edification of the ignorant, admits its value as a moralising influence or its utility to the State for keeping the lower classes in order, even perhaps tries to invent that strange chimera, a rational religion.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 13,  Reason and Religion, pp. 129-130