Religion in today’s world has taken on a number of tasks, and diverse meanings for people, which confuses the primary and essential role of religion in human development. Religion today has become first and foremost an enormous business model, a massing of human energy for doing battle, and a soporific for those who are oppressed and disenfranchised. The poet-philosopher Novalis, in 1798, stated: “Their so-called religion works simply as an opiate—stimulating; numbing; quelling pain by means of weakness.” Such sentiments were repeated many times in the years following this statement. In the modern world, organised religion has seen something of a decline as the weaknesses of the formalized structures and dogmas became evident to more people.
There is however an important role and function that religion has historically played, and which remains the core rationale for religion as a developmental aid for humanity. Religion in its essence is the search for meaning. Why do we exist? How do we exist? Is there a purpose or significance to life? Is there some greater being, a Creator, who has brought the universe into manifestation and who imparts focus and meaning to our own existence and actions?
In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo observes: “He must know also the hidden Power or Powers that control the world: if there is a Cosmic Self or Spirit or a Creator, he must be able to enter into relation with It or Him and be able to remain in whatever contact or communion is possible, get into some kind of tune with the master Beings of the universe or with the universal Being and its universal will or a supreme Being and His supreme will, follow the law It gives him and the assigned or revealed aim of his life and conduct, raise himself towards the highest height that It demands of him in his life now or in his existence hereafter; if there is no such universal or supreme Spirit or Being, he must know what there is and how to lift himself to it out of his present imperfection and impotence.”
“This approach is the aim of religion: its purpose is to link the human with the Divine and in so doing sublimate the thought and life and flesh so that they may admit the rule of the soul and spirit.”