Chapter 5: The Purpose Of Life In The Natural World
This chapter treats the purpose for human life in relation to the natural world. The religions give a two-fold teaching, for the human being is both a part of nature and yet qualitatively distinct as the highest and central entity in nature. One the one hand, since every creature has its value and purpose in the cosmos, scriptures teach an ethic of reverence for all life and stewardship of the environment. On the other hand, the scriptures teach, in various ways, that the human being is the crown of creation. The human is the microcosm of the cosmos, encompassing all things. He or she is uniquely in God's image and able to realize divinity. Hence humans are given the commission to take dominion over the things of creation. But this right of dominion should not be misunderstood as sanctioning domination, but rather in the sense of contributing to and enhancing the harmony and beauty of the natural world. When human beings are firmly at one with Absolute Reality, they emit a luster and a spiritual fragrance that perfects their environment.
We begin with a collection of teachings on the value of every creature, on the sanctity of the natural world, and on the earth as the great source of life. The second section brings together passages on the ethic of reverence for life and stewardship for the environment. The third section contains passages which describe the human being as the microcosm, encompassing in his or her being the totality of the earth and its creatures. In the fourth section are texts commissioning humans to take dominion over the earth and to rule the earth as God's 'vicegerent.' This right to rule is founded upon the unique position and qualification of human beings as manifestations of Ultimate Reality, endowed with divine creativity. In the fifth section are teachings on the lordship of human beings extending over the spiritual realms as well. The final group of passages describes the highest union of nature's inherent beauty and power with human creativity and love, when the creation is sanctified by idal humanity and will 'obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.'
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