The Universe In Us

The readings presented this week highlight the dichotomy between human beings’ perceived and self proclaimed place in the world and the true interconnectedness between humans and nature. In Lynn White’s The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, White puts forth the idea that Christianity has fundamentally altered culture to see man as the master of nature. White even goes as far to say “Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen” (White 1205). Since modern society has its roots in Christianity, it has taken on a human centered viewpoint where mankind is not only separate from the natural world, but its master. This idea of looking at the root cause of why humanity treats nature the way it does, is helpful to determine what can be done to change moving forward. It becomes clear, as pointed out by White, that humanity and culture must shift perspective. Saint Francis of Assisi, a Pope in the 13th century held a belief that humanity was not intended to partake in the “unbridled exploitation of nature” (Francis 67). By adopting the view held by Francis of Assisi that we, as humans, are not separate from our environment, but a part of it, we can begin to take ownership of the impact we have around us. I found the hymn of Saint Francis of Assisi referencing parts of nature as being humanity’s brothers and sisters to be a powerful demonstration of this idea; that damaging the environment around us would be equivalent to hurting and stealing from our family. While I agree that Christianity and Western society’s deep roots to it are connected to the problem at hand, I personally believe that a part of the problem is human nature. Christianity spread so widely and was able to have the impact it did because the ideology of humans being chosen by a higher power and the world being made for us is universally comforting. I do not want to disregard how our impact on the environment is, at its core, driven by human, or rather animal, instinct. However, taking this idea and shifting it to encompass a more interconnectedness with nature gives a powerful message. One of Francis’s quotes from Laudato si’ reminded me of an interview with Niel DeGrasse Tyson due to the shockingly similar ideas. Francis says in Laudato si’ that “we do not only exist by God’s mighty power; we also live with him and beside him. This is why we adore him” (Francis 72). Similarly, in response to the question “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the universe”, Tyson respond, in part, by saying “we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important that both of those facts is that the universe is in us” (“How Neil…” 2:14). 

I took this single exposure image of the Milky Way just north of Teton National Park. Looking up at the stars always makes me understand my place in the universe in a more visceral way, and I thought this photo captured that well.

Sources

“How Neil DeGrasse Tyson Would Save The World | 10 Questions | TIME.” YouTube, Time Magazine, 27 June 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiOwqDmacJo. Accessed 28 Sept. 2021.

Lynn White, Jr., “The Ecologic Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” Science 155:3767 (10 March 1967), 1203-1207.

Pope Francis,**Laudato Si

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