The Great Weakness of Religion as Historically Practiced

While we recognise the essential nature of the religious impulse in man to focus attention on the Eternal and align the human aspiration with its evolutionary potential, we may at the same time recognise that the bitter struggle that arose with the advent of what has been called ‘the Age of Reason’, to throw off the restraints and shackles of religion, as practiced historically, was caused by the confusion of what is Eternal with what is temporal and transitory in religion.  This confusion came about by the identification of religion with specific practices, belief-systems and church establishments, rather than with the core impulse that seeks what is beyond the limits of our worldly lives.

Sri Aurobindo comments in The Human Cycle:  “We must observe the root of this evil, which is not in true religion itself, but in its infrarational parts, not in spiritual faith and aspiration, but in our ignorant human confusion of religion with a particular creed, sect, cult, religious society or church….”

“The whole foot of the historic insufficiency of religion as a guide and control of human society lies there.  Churches and creeds have, for example, stood violently int he 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.   … As if so might 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, 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 Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Three, The Present Evolutionary Crisis, pp. 22-24

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