-At the Desert Retreat House-
In my reading yesterday I was particularly struck by a comment Daniel Maquire made in his new book, Christianity without God:
Human hubris could not swallow Copernicus' dismissal of our centrality.
I rarely use the word "hubris," and so I decided to look it up in a dictionary to get a better idea of what it means: "pomposity, arrogance, self-importance." Yes, indeed the response to Copernicus is a perfect example of "hubris" and it serves as an icon of our human tendency of thinking too highly of ourselves.
Nicolaus Copernicus, the 16th century Polish mathematician, had the audacity to challenge the well- established belief that earth was the center of the universe around which all other planets revolved. His stunning revelation that the sun was at the center of it all got him into a heap of trouble with the culture of his day, especially that of the established church. A few years later Galileo would follow in his footsteps also reaping the wrath of the establishment - how dare he challenge the central place that God himself has afforded to human beings?
As I have thought about it, I think this tendency to "hubris" is something inherent in the human condition. While people today understand that the earth is one of many planets, most people still fool themselves into thinking that somehow we human beings are the center of it all - we are the peak and pinnacle of nature's genius.
The scientists of our own day have observed that there is not just one galaxy but rather there are many galaxies. In fact there are an infinite number of infinite galaxies that we cannot possibly comprehend or observe. Planet earth is but a speck of dust in the larger scale of things, and yet we still go on thinking that everything is focused on us and on our superior human intelligence. Somehow we human beings continue to still believe that we are at the center of the universe.
In our human hubris, we are still unable to swallow the dismissal of our centrality.
As I think about it, hubris is manifested in almost every aspect of our humanity. Many Americans believe this country is "exceptional," the central focus, more important than all other nations. And regardless of one's social circle, people tend to see their own personal circle as being "at the center." of it all.
Many individual people live everyday "narcissistic" lives thinking that they are the center of the universe - that everyone else revolves around them helping them to meet their own personal needs and goals.
We have even created "God" in our own image and fashioned "God" out of our hubris. We have designed and defined a "God" who recognizes our centrality - a "God" who pays special attention to us human beings, watches over our every move, controls the events of this tiny speck of dust called planet earth, and even takes the time to develop a special plan for the personal lives of each and every one of us.
Hubris - pomposity, arrogance, self-importance.
One thing I have learned from living in a desert is how basically unimportant any individual one of us actually is. I recall what the famed British adventurer, T.E. Lawrence once said after he had spent a night in the naked desert under the stars of the brilliant cosmos:
We were stained by dew and shamed into pettiness
by the innumerable silence of stars.
The desert has a way of showing human beings that we are anything but the center of the universe. The desert is so vast in so many ways that I never feel like I'm the one in control. The night skies are so mysteriously brilliant that I always feel like this planet is just a speck of dust in the larger scale of things and I myself am even less than that. The desert has a way of laughing at our human hubris and shaming us all into pettiness.
But interestingly enough, in the taming of my hubris, when the pomposity, arrogance and self- importance of my ego are put in check, I only then come to experience a Great Mystery, that "I" belong to it all, "I" am part of it all - the many in the ONE and the ONE in the many.
Immersed in the mystery all I can possibly say is: Holy, Holy, Holy!