Our lectionary reading stopped at verse 25 of the Creation hymn of Genesis 1 – before it got to the arrival of human beings on this planet!
This more or less enforced a biocentric rather than an anthropocentric reflection on the first Genesis creation story. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines anthropocentrism thus: “humanity as the central fact of the universe.” In the first 25 verses, life in all its dynamic diversity, before humanity, is the focus.
Denis Edwards in Earth Revealing–earth Healing: Ecology and Christian Theology, makes these points:
- Charles Birch (eminent Christian scientist/theologian) posits that a biocentric approach (emphasis on reverence for all life) “leads us to accept human responsibility for the fate of our world” and helps Christian apologists address a historical (and sometimes hysterical) charge of anthropocentrism.
- Even so, “according to a typical allegation, “Christian arrogance toward nature”… is the major source of the contemporary ecological crisis. Even those who acknowledge much greater complexity in Christian tradition generally concede that the most dominant Christian traditions have been anthropocentric, in the strong sense of the term.
- The most strident tradition is characterised as “Man as Despot” (a misreading of Genesis 1:26-28 and 9:2-3) ie humanity’s role is to subdue (rather than manage as steward) the earth (and exploit it)
- Another prominent tradition, “Stewardship and cooperation with Nature”, is based on a reading of Genesis 2:15, The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
- “A third tradition is also sometimes acknowledged. Most famously found in St Francis of Assisi, it maintains that “we are fellow companions of other creatures, all of whom rejoice in the beneficence of God.” It can be supported by reference to Genesis 1 as a whole (read with its original theocentric intent) and several of the psalms, where “all the earth sings a new song.”
- “One of the major theological responses to the ecological crisis, particularly to allegations of Christian culpability, has been to revisit one or more of these traditions. A significant number of theologians are trying to elevate the third tradition, suitably developed, to a more prominent position in Church and society”
My view is that a contemplative approach to the first part of Genesis’ Creation Hymn seems to draw us away from the heady rush to an egocentric perspective that is prone to project too much of our own inbuilt anxiety, hubris and neurosis onto the cosmos and its Creator. To dwell on the “isness” of the universe and its natural elements, absorbing the divine stamp without the interference of the fact of my human-ness is to invite fresh dimensions of awareness.
Of course, one can’t maintain such a stance for long – after all, my humanity is itself a part of the universe. That’s just it! A part of – not a part from…
Our other reading was from John 1:1-14, culminating with the phrase “… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” The Word that was at the beginning and that is sung through the first 25 verses of Genesis.
See, all you who are worried about being absorbed into nothingness through my rambling – it turns out OK in the end!
5 thoughts on “A Biocentric view of the Cosmos”
What you say makes so much sense. I remember, as a fresher at UWA in the 1960s listening to Charles Birch in the Student Christian Movement and thinking how marvellously radical he was!!. I think we have become increasingly arrogant in our attitude to the world and its resources – and yes Francis of Assisi was on the right track – brother and sister with the animals.
Yep – Charles Birch and Teilhard de Chardin were big in my undergrad days. I don’t think I appreciated their perspectives as much then as now (but I flunked physics and chem in high school – daydreamer that I am!)
Two new words for me to contrast, my favourite thing, Wonderingpilgrim! I’m for St Francis: “Brother Sun and Sister Moon” 🙂
Kate – always glad to mine the dictionary for new gems! 🙂