“The poorest man in a religious community is not necessarily the one who has the fewest objects assigned to him for his use.  Poverty is not merely a matter of not having ‘things.’  It is an attitude which leads us to renounce some of the advantages which come from the use of things. A man can possess nothing, but attach great importance to the personal satisfaction and enjoyment he wants to get out of things which are
common to all–the chant in choir, the sermons in chapter, the reading in the refectory–free time, other people’s time . . .”

–Thomas Merton

“But do we really want to sway that ‘God creates the universe in order to create the human being?’ In our tradition, the debate between advocates of the theocentric and the anthropocentric universe has existed for a long time. Maimonides, in view of the evidence of science and philosophy in his time, rejected the anthropocentric worldview of the early rabbis…..The kabbalists created an image of the universe in which God is incomplete without human action, in which the role of humans in the process of cosmic restoration, or the establishment of divine sovereignty, is a crucial one.

Recent discussions on this subject, largely in the environmentalist community, have tried to speak for a biocentric, rather than either a theocentric or an anthropocentric, worldview. Both of these views, it is claimed, for different reasons, have led to human neglect of responsible action with regard to protecting and preserving life as a whole. The anthropocentric view has tended toward human arrogance, a view that only human life and human creations are worthy of serious attention, whereas the theocentric view is antiworldly altogether, not seeing in material existence a fit object for true or urgent concern. Both of these critiques are somewhat simplistic, using as ‘straw men’ highly reductionist versions of these religious outlooks. The fact is that theocentrism, at least as represented in Judaism, has also led to a strong sense of religious obligation to act, a heteronomous ethic in which we are commanded by the One ‘above’ to behave in a responsible manner. It is the anthropocentric view, seeing humans as the ‘crown’ of Creation, that gives birth to the notion of stewardship and guardianship over the divine creation. Both of these views are potentially valuable allies in the fashioning of a more responsible human viewpoint. Rather than fight or denounce these parts of our human legacy, our job is to see that they are used in ways that increase, rather than diminish, our sense of collective responsibility.

In a nondualistic worldview, the sharp edges are taken off this debate. If the One is the center of the cosmos, that hardly means that the human or the natural is at the periphery of significance. Still, we must somehow take our place in this ancient conversation. The question is given new focus in our time because the magnitude of the universe has made us so much smaller. We speak of a world that is not six thousand years old, as our ancestors thought, but whose age reaches into billions of years. We speak of a universe not as a planet with a raki’a—firmament—above it, and God sitting on a throne just beyond it, but as one with infinite numbers of stars in infinite numbers of galaxies, set in a space so it can hardly be measure or imagined. How hard, indeed impossible, it is to say, in such a world, that the purpose of it all was this speck of earth and this brief moment of transitory human life!…..

[T]he human world is but an infinitesmal part of the universe, one far too vast and too magnificent to be embraced by the mind of mortals. It is in seeing these, and realizing both his own smallness and his own place within a vast and glorious cosmos, that God’s challenger finds his consolation.”

– Arthur Green (Seek My Face)

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