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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Webster's dictionary gives three meanings for the word anthropocentrism. Taken together, they lead to a specific mode of religious thought that has affected the course of human history.

1. Considering man to be the central or most significant fact of the universe. 2. Assuming man to be the measure of all things. 3. Interpreting or regarding the world in terms of human values and experiences.

Pantheism, on the other hand, is the belief that one absolute reality exists everywhere and in everything. Indigenous pantheistic religions that view humans as part of a whole, neither more nor less important than the animals and plants existing in the environment, tend to view Earth as a living, breathing entity. In this view, Earth is the very body of the divine, so the sacred becomes feminine, the goddess, from whose womb all life springs.

This view is by no means limited to primitive people. Recently one name for the goddess, Gaia, has been resurrected by science to describe the contemporary unifying principle of the earth itself as a living organism, with all systems of life and energy combining to produce the "balance of nature" as we experience it (see Gaia Principle). The Gaia principle is what some religions have called Mother Earth or the Divine Mother Goddess.

But once humans become the center and culminating fact of creation (anthropocentrism), the psychology of religious thought immediately changes. Rather than becoming a living framework for the very existence of the balance of nature, Earth becomes a smorgasbord of natural resources put here for human consumption and exploitation. Humans then live "on" Earth rather than "in" it.

This view is expressed in the first chapter of the Jewish/Christian Bible:

God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food." (Gen. 1:28, 29)

It is probably not a coincidence that once this view became scriptural dogma, and wherever it was introduced into indigenous cultures, conditions quickly changed. Masculine-dominated religious systems quickly replaced the feminine. Nature became something to subdue "by the sweat of your brow," in the words of Genesis 3. Pantheism, respect for Mother Earth, and worship of the goddess became worship of the God. Humans were now separate from nature, and religions developed hierarchical structures.

An example of these conflicting religious views can be seen in the European invasion of New England beginning in the seventeenth century. Puritan preachers such as Cotton Mather thundered warnings from their Boston pulpits about the "howling wilderness" where "wild creatures" (meaning American Indians, presumably without souls) worshiping the "fiery worm who flies by night" practiced all sorts of "abominations." The wilderness was to be tamed. Wolves, trees, bears, panthers, and Indians were to be removed because they hindered the spread of humans who were put on Earth "to subdue it." It became the "Puritan ethic" to work hard to subdue a wild land for the glory of God. The concept of manifest destiny spread this doctrine from sea to shining sea in less than two centuries.

Deep Ecology environmentalists today place what they consider to be exploitation of natural resources into the realm of religious holy war (see Deep Ecology). They believe that both so-called tree-huggers and oil-drilling companies are products of certain religious ideologies.

English historian and philosopher Arnold Toynbee said it this way:

If I am right in my diagnosis of mankind's present-day distress, the remedy lies in reverting from the world view of monotheism to the world view of pantheism, which is older and was once universal.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the view that man is the center and the highest aim of the universe. Anthropocentrism is one of the most consistent expressions of teleology—that is, the ascription of extranatural goals to the world. In ancient philosophy, anthropocentrism was formulated by the Greek philosopher Socrates; later, representatives of the patristics, scholastics, and certain modern philosophers (for example, the German philosopher C. Wolff) espoused it. Certain elements of anthropocentrism may be seen as the theoretical orientation from which existentialism follows.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.