The Justification of the Revolt of Reason Against Religion as Practiced in the Past

The confusion of the temporal aspects of religion with the eternal aspects has led to serious issues as religion has been used to stifle intellectual pursuits, suppress the expression of beauty and the joy of life, and club people into submission to a narrow set of ideas of a specific creed or sect.  None of these outcomes is a necessary aspect of religious expression, and, if anything, they have set back the cause of religion in modern life by giving justification to the revolt of reason and science against the limitations and missteps of religion in the past.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Churches and creeds have, for example, stood violently in the way of philosophy and science, burned a Giordano Bruno, imprisoned a Galileo, and so generally misconducted themselves in this matter that philosophy and science had in self-defence to turn upon Religion and rend her to pieces in order to get a free field for their legitimate development; and this because men in the passion and darkness of their vital nature had chosen to think that religion was bound up with certain fixed intellectual conceptions about God and the world which could not stand scrutiny, and therefore scrutiny had to be put down by fire and sword; scientific and philosophical truth had to be denied in order that religious error might survive.  We see too that a narrow religious spirit often oppresses and impoverishes the joy and beauty of life, either from an intolerant asceticism or, as the Puritans attempted it, because they could not see that religious austerity is not the whole of religion, though it may be an important side of it, is not the sole ethico-religious approach to God, since love, charity, gentleness, tolerance, kindliness are also and even more divine, and they forgot or never knew that God is love and beauty as well as purity.  In politics religion has often thrown itself on the side of power and resisted the coming of larger political ideals, because it was itself, in the form of a Church, supported by power and because it confused religion with the Church, or because it stood for a false theocracy, forgetting that true theocracy is the kingdom of God in man and not the kingdom of a Pope, a priesthood or a sacerdotal class.  So too it has often supported a rigid and outworn social system, because it thought its own life bound up with social forms with which it happened to have been associated during a long portion of its own history and erroneously concluded that even a necessary change there would be a violation of religion and a danger to its existence.  As if so mighty and inward a power as the religious spirit in man could be destroyed by anything so small as the change of a social form or so outward as a social readjustment!  This error in its many shapes has been the great weakness of religion as practiced in the past and the opportunity and justification for the revolt of the intelligence, t, the aesthetic sense, the social and political idealism, even the ethical spirit of the human being against what should have been its own highest tendency and law.”

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 17, Religion as the Law of Life, pp. 176-177

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