The Issue of the Admixture of Vital Instincts and Desires in the Religious Impulse and the Potential Role of Reason to Correct the Defects That Arise

When religion combines with the movements of the vital nature, it oftentimes can create horrific or, at least, very low vital forms of the religious impulse.  History has shown us the dangers of this with the examples of human sacrifice, stoning, holy inquisitions including torture and enforcement of controls under pain of excommunication, torture or death to adhere to established ways and rituals.   There is also the possibility of an admixture between religious impulses and the desires for power, wealth and sex.  There is thus a debate about whether there is a legitimate role for human reason to intervene in the religious expressions that are based on the lower nature rather than adhering to the highest spiritual aspirations.

The danger here is several-fold.  First, the reason cannot understand the religious impulse and thus, its intervention may do more harm than good in the long run, even if it is brought in to correct obvious weaknesses, limitations or abuses.  Second, the reason has a propensity to come under the sway of the vital nature and its desires, so its attempt to intervene may wind up providing new energy and power of effectuation to this vital admixture of religion and desire.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…as there is the suprarational life in which religious aspiration finds entirely what it seeks, so too there is also the infrarational life of the instincts, impulses, sensations, crude emotions, vital activities from which all human aspiration takes its beginning.  These too feel the touch of the religious sense in man, share its needs and experience, desire its satisfactions.  Religion includes this satisfaction also in its scope, and in what is usually called religion it seems even to be the greater part, sometimes to an external view almost the whole; for the supreme purity of spiritual experience does not appear or is glimpsed only through this mixed and turbid current.  Much impurity, ignorance, superstition, many doubtful elements must form as the result of this contact and union of our highest tendencies with our lower ignorant nature.  Here it would seem that reason has its legitimate part; here surely it can intervene to enlighten, purify, rationalise the play of the instincts and impulses.  It would seem that a religious reformation, a movement to substitute a ‘pure’ and rational religion for one that is largely infrarational and impure, would be a distinct advance in the religious development of humanity.  To a certain extent this may be, but, owing to the peculiar nature of the religious being, its entire urge towards the suprarational, not without serious qualifications, nor can the rational mind do anything here that is of a high positive value.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 13,  Reason and Religion, pp. 133-134