The Idea and Spirit of the Intellectual Religion of Humanity

If a new vision and spirit is to bring about the psychological unity of humanity, and identify this as the “religion of humanity”, it will be useful to understand the principles, motives and tenets of such a religion of humanity and how this step differs from, even exceeds, the basis of the current life of the world.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “The fundamental idea is that mankind is the godhead to be worshipped and served by man and that the respect, the service, the progress of the human being and human life are the chief duty and the chief aim of the human spirit.  No other idol, neither the nation, the State, the family nor anything else ought to take its place; they are only worthy of respect so far as they are images of the human spirit and enshrine its presence and aid its self-manifestation.  But where the cult of these idols seeks to usurp the place of the spirit and makes demands inconsistent with its service, they should be put aside.  No injunctions of old creeds, religious, political, social or cultural, are valid when they go against its claims.”

“War, capital punishment, the taking of human life, cruelty of all kinds whether committed by the individual, the State or society, not only physical cruelty, but moral cruelty, the degradation of any human being or any class of human beings under whatever specious plea or in whatever interest, the oppression and exploitation of man by man, of class by class, of nation by nation and all those habits of life and institutions of society of a similar kind which religion and ethics formerly tolerated or even favoured in practice, whatever they might do in their ideal rule or creed, are crimes against the religion of humanity, abominable to the ethical mind, forbidden by its primary tenets, to be fought against always, in no degree to be tolerated.  Man must be sacred to man regardless of all distinctions of race, creed, colour, nationality, status, political or social advancement.  The body of man is to be respected, made immune from violence and outrage, fortified by science against disease and preventable death.  The life of man is to be held sacred, preserved, strengthened, ennobled, uplifted.  The heart of man is to be held sacred also, given scope, protected from violation, from suppression, from mechanisation, freed from belittling influences.  The mind of man is to be released from all bonds, allowed freedom and range and opportunity, given all its means of self-training and self-development and organised in the play of its powers for the service of humanity.  And all this too is not to be held as an abstract or pious sentiment, but given full and practical recognition in the persons of men and nations and mankind.  This, speaking largely, is the idea and spirit of the intellectual religion of humanity.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 34, The Religion of Humanity, pg. 295-296

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The Birth and Development of the Religion of Humanity

When we observe the natural world around us, we see that birth, growth, decay, and death are all interactive events, with the birth of a new form taking sustenance from the dead forms of the past, while any new shoot has to compete with those forms that are in their full vigor, or those that are in a decaying cycle but still holding the field.  We can extrapolate that a similar process occurs in the course of human development of societal change, evolutionary growth and progress.  We constantly see the forces of the past, even though clearly outdated, holding the field, resisting change and forcing a struggle with much suffering on all sides.  Sri Aurobindo has described this process with respect to the development of the religion of humanity, the underlying basis of a psychological unity for mankind:

“A religion of humanity may be either an intellectual and sentimental idea, a living dogma with intellectual, psychological and practical effects, or else a spiritual aspiration and rule of living, partly the sign, partly the cause of a change of soul in humanity.  The intellectual religion of humanity already to a certain extent exists, partly as a conscious creed in the minds of a few, partly as a potent shadow in consciousness of the race.  It is the shadow of a spirit that is yet unborn, but is preparing for its birth.  This material world of ours, besides its fully embodied things of the present, is peopled by such powerful shadows, ghosts of things dead and the spirit of things yet unborn.  The ghosts of things dead are very troublesome actualities and they now abound, ghosts of dead religions, dead arts, dead moralities, dead political theories, which still claim either to keep their rotting bodies or to animate partly the existing body of things.  Repeating obstinately their sacred formulas of the past, they hypnotise backward-looking minds and daunt even the progressive portion of humanity.  But there are too those unborn spirits which are still unable to take a definite body, but are already mind-born and exist as influences of which the human mind is aware and to which it now responds in a desultory and confused fashion.  The religion of humanity was mind-born in the eighteenth century, the manasa putra (mind-born child, an idea and expression of Indian Puranic cosmology) of the rationalist thinkers who brought it forward as a substitute for the formal spiritualism of ecclesiastical Christianity.  It tried to give itself a body in Positivism, which was an attempt to formulate the dogmas of this religion, but on too heavily and severely rationalistic a basis for acceptance even by an Age of Reason.  Humanitarianism has been its most prominent emotional result.  Philanthropy, social service and other kindred activities have been its outward expression of good works.  Democracy, socialism, pacifism are to a great extent its by-products or at least owe much of their vigour to its inner presence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 34, The Religion of Humanity, pg. 294-295

Necessary Factors for the Development of Psychological Unity in a World-State

Human beings live primarily in their ego-consciousness, and center their thoughts and feelings around what they desire for their own satisfaction.  Through the course of human development, however, we have successively widened our sense of belonging so that it can encompass, not just the individual, but the family, the community, the state, and eventually the nation, as well as the religion or the culture to the extent these have developed a form and substance of their own in the world.   There is an existing psychological unity that binds individuals to these successive aggregates, with the current largest formation being the nation.   Looking toward an eventual oneness of mankind in a world-state or world union of some form, the development of a psychological unity which transcends national feeling, must develop.  Sri Aurobindo defines the necessary factors to create this psychological unity within mankind:

“There would be needed, to make the change persist, a religion of humanity or an equivalent sentiment much more powerful, explicit, self-conscious, universal in its appeal than the nationalist’s religion of country; the clear recognition by man in all his thought and life of a single soul in humanity of which each man and each people is an incarnation and soul-form; an ascension of man beyond the principle of ego which lives by separativeness, — and yet there must be no destruction of individuality, for without that man would stagnate; a principle and arrangement of the common life which would give free play to individual variation, interchange in diversity and the need of adventure and conquest by which the soul of man lives and grows great, and sufficient means of expressing all the resultant complex life and growth in a flexible and progressive form of human society.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 33, Internationalism and Human Unity, pg. 293

Advantages and Disadvantages of the World-State for the Development of Psychological Unity

The review of the development of a psychological unity for the nation provides insight into the issues to be faced when the nation is superseded in favor of a world-state.  There are clear advantages that will arise from the formation of a world-state, not the least of which are peace, as well as the more efficient use of resources and addressing the issues of climate change and pollution on a global scale.  At the same time, there are risks, or disadvantages which may disturb the process and work against the formation of the psychological unity required for both stability and duration.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The World-State will give its inhabitants the great advantages of peace, economic well-being, general security, combination for intellectual, cultural, social activity and progress.”

“Peace and security we all desire at present, because we have them not in sufficiency; but we must remember that man has also within him the need of combat, adventure, struggle, almost requires these for his growth and healthy living; that instinct would be largely suppressed by a universal peace and a flat security and it might rise up successfully against suppression.  Economic well-being by itself cannot permanently satisfy and the price paid for it might be so heavy as to diminish its appeal and value.  The human instinct for liberty, individual and national, might well be a constant menace to the World-State, unless it so skilfully arranged its system as to give them sufficient free play.  A common intellectual and cultural activity and progress may do much, but need not by themselves be sufficient to bring into being the fully powerful psychological factor that would be required.  And the collective ego created would have to rely on the instinct of unity alone; for it would be in conflict with the separative instinct which gives the national ego half its vitality.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 33, Internationalism and Human Unity, pp. 292-293

The Nation-State as an Example of Creating Psychological Unity in a Societal Aggregate and Persistence Over Time

Societal aggregates require psychological unity both to develop cohesiveness and to persist through time.  This factor provides the body with the ability to strive and survive as a viable unit.  As we look to the development of a world-union, it may be useful to understand the largest, currently most successful form, the nation, as a basis for evaluating those factors that aid in creating psychological unity and the methods needed to avoid dissolution over time.

Sri Aurobindo explores these issues:  “The formal unification of mankind would come in upon us in the shape of a system which would be born, grow, come to its culmination.  But every system by the very nature of things tends after its culmination to decay and die.  To prevent the organism from decaying and dying there must be such a psychological reality within as will persist and survive all changes of its body.  Nations have that in a sort of collective national ego which persists through all vital changes.  But this ego is not by any means self-existent and immortal; it supports itself on certain things with which it is identified.  First, there is the geographical body, the country; secondly, the common interests of all who inhabit the same country, defence, economic well-being and progress, political liberty, etc.; thirdly, a common name, sentiment, culture.”

At the level of the nation, of course, there is the differentiation between nation and nation, the sense of being separate and different, and the interchange that must needs occur between these separate entities.  Such a differentiation would not be there for a unified mankind, so the psychological unity must be able to survive without this factor shaping and maintaining the frame of the separate societal form and life.

“Nor are all these altogether sufficient; there is a deeper factor.  There must be a sort of religion of country, a constant even if not always explicit recognition not only of the sacredness of the physical mother, the land, but also, in however obscure a way, of the nation as a collective soul which it is the first duty and need of every man to keep alive, to defend from suppression or mortal attaint or, if suppressed, then to watch, wait and struggle for its release and rehabilitation, if sicklied over with the touch of any fatal spiritual ailment, then to labour always to heal and revivify and save alive.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 33, Internationalism and Human Unity, pp. 291-292

Issues Arising out of the Need to Create Psychological Unity in a World-Union

In any attempt to create a larger aggregate of humanity, the core issue eventually is whether and in what manner the physical and vital unification that has been achieved can develop a psychological unity that can provide strength and duration to the union.  This is somewhat simpler when there is a tight geographical contiguity, combined with vital self-interest, and a similarity of culture and language which provides a natural ease of relationship between the peoples involved.  It becomes somewhat more difficult when different cultures, languages and peoples are to be combined, as was the case with the Roman Empire.  That empire eventually could not sustain itself under pressures internal and external, due to the lack of this cohesive strength provided by a solid and secure  psychological unity.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “For a mere formal, mechanical, administrative, political and economic union does not necessarily create a psychological unity.  None of the great empires have yet succeeded in doing that, and even in the Roman where some sense of unity did come into being, it was nothing very close and living; it could not withstand all shocks from within and without, it could not prevent what was much more dangerous, the peril of decay and devitalisation which the diminution of the natural elements of free variation and helpful struggle brought with it.”

Even the advantage of a world-union of having no external enemies can become a serious weakness if it brings about either an internal stagnation or power struggles within.  “It might indeed for a long time foster an internal intellectual and political activity and social progress which would keep it living; but this principle of progress would not be always secure against a natural tendency to exhaustion and stagnation which every diminution of variety and even the very satisfaction of social and economic well-being might well hasten.  Disruption of unity would then be necessary to restore humanity to life.”

“Only the growth of some very powerful psychological factor will make unity necessary to him, whatever other changes and manipulations might be desirable to satisfy his other needs and instincts.”

We can see some possible seeds of a future psychological unity.  Putting aside the idea that humanity will face an external threat from other beings or worlds, there remain the very serious global issues that will require cooperation to find positive resolution on behalf of all humanity.  We also find that the intervening periods of disturbance, which bring with them mass migrations also tend to blur the racial and cultural lines between countries.  The ability to travel the globe, visit other peoples, interact through the internet and become familiar with people through mass media also has a potentially positive effect over time of bringing about a deeper understanding and sense of oneness of humanity.  At the same time, certain broad lines of development, such as the advent of multi-national corporations and the development of many common and familiar elements of culture world-wide, will tend to reduce the “foreign-ness” that has tended in the past to breed suspicion, fear and separation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 33, Internationalism and Human Unity, pp. 290-291

The Internationalist Ideal as a Driving Force for Unification of Humanity

The idea of the unification of humanity is not strictly limited to the physical and vital attempts at conquest, control and amalgamation; rather, there is still the power of the internationalist ideal, in and of itself, taking hold of individuals who dedicate their efforts to the attempt to bring it about.  Early in the process, this ideal aligned itself with the socialist ideal which was making headway across Europe, but the World Wars and the subsequent resurgence of the nationalist sentiment seemed to block that path of development.  More recently, however, with the formation, after the Second World War of the United Nations, various institutions have developed to try to bring some kind of international order and process as envisioned by Sri Aurobindo:

“…there was at one time a possibility which seemed to be very suddenly and rapidly growing into something more, the emergence of a powerful party in all the advanced countries of the world pledged to internationalism, conscious of its necessity as a first condition for their other aims and more and more determined to give it precedence and to unite internationally to bring it about.”

“A World-State or else a close confederation of democratic peoples might be created with a common governing body for the decision of principles and for all generally important affairs or at least for all properly international affairs and problems; a common law of the nations might grow up and international courts to administer it and some kind of system of international police control to maintain and enforce it.  In this way, by the general victory of an idea, Socialist or other, seeking to organise humanity according to its own model or by any other yet unforeseen way, a sufficient formal unity might come into existence.”

The United Nations is not the only institution set up to try to bridge the needs of an international decision process and action capability.  There is the World Health Organisation, the World Bank, the World Court, and the various issue-oriented summits, such as the climate summits, that have begun to build at least a skeleton framework for international cooperation, however rudimentary and imperfect they may be at this point.  These are signs that the idea is beginning to make its way into the mind of humanity and impact the way we look at solving what are clearly global issues.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 33, Internationalism and Human Unity, pp. 289-290