ANTHROPOCENTRICITY VERSUS THEOCENTRICITY, OR MAN VERSUS G-D, HAS BEEN AN ONGOING DEBATE THROUGHOUT PHILOSOPHICAL HISTORY. IN THIS ARTICLE, IN THE FORM OF A LETTER TO READERS, THE AUTHOR TACKLES THE QUESTION AND EXPLAINS THE RIGHTEOUS JUDAIC VIEW THROUGH THE EXAMPLE OF SUKKOT.
By Rabbi Ariel Yeshurun
Before I begin, allow me to share with you the meaning of the philosophical definitions of Anthropocentricity versus Theocentricity, or Man versus G-d.
Anthropocentricity is the regarding of humans as the central element and purpose of the universe and the interpretation of reality exclusively in terms of human values and experience.
Theocentricity, on the other hand, is the regarding of G-d as the center of all truth and purpose in the universe and all of reality, both physical and spiritual, as evolving around and described through the prism of that centrality.
So which is it? Are the world and man the basic and most fundamental facts, which our attempts to understand and explain inevitably lead us to derive our concept of G-d? In other words are the world and man the purpose, and by crystallizing our understanding of that purpose we are in effect reverse-engineering and working our way back towards the understanding of G-d. Put slightly differently, if the creation of the world and of man, the ultimate purpose, the obvious consequence is that creation itself becomes most closely and intimately associated with the nature of G-d, and being that man is the most profound of His creations, it stands to follow that understanding man, who is the center and core nucleus of that purpose, will allow us to achieve an understanding of G-d.
G-d, according to the anthropocentric view, is the reason and cause for the existence of the world and of man, and the world and man the means through which to behold and comprehend His essence.
This approach defines G-d through thinking of Him in terms of human experience and values. It borrows ideas and attributes from the vernacular. It uses colloquial language and common parlance and it expresses the Divine, albeit symbolically, by corporeal analog, somatic idiom and mortal metaphor.
Or perhaps the understanding of G-d is in no way conditioned on His being the creator of the world and of man. The concept of G-d is the concept of transcendence itself. The focus is on G-d independent of the world and of man. The aim is at G-d, not at the world whose G-d He is. G-d is not the undetermined variable in an equation called the “universe” that we are trying to figure out. G-d’s quintessence and fundamental quality will not be achieved by understanding, simplifying and demystifying the secrets of the world and of man. The theocentric view rejects, renounces, abrogates and abandons any and every human conceptualization in relation to G-d. It simply states that G-d is G-d and that He is to be worshiped. Knowledge of this G-d is not derived through our understanding of the world and of man. Knowledge of this G-d on the theoretical level comes from the effort of man to try to the best of his ability to intellectualize the idea of transcendence and on the practical level by the worship and obedience of G-d’s commandments whether they are equivalent to the morality of man or not.
This perspective, which is perhaps the Maimonidean approach and can be primarily gleaned from the works of Maimonides in his “Guide for the Perplexed,” brings us to a phenomenal realization that the Torah and its commandments, which we believe to be the only apparatus through which we achieve objective and purpose, are not means in the process of the perfection of man by guiding him to the summit of higher moral ground for his sake, but rather means in the process of understanding the essence of G-d by way of helping man achieve character refinement and emotional intelligence which provide for better judgment, tranquility of mind, reduced prejudice and an overall moral disciplinary. This process of sensitization in turn gives man the ability and opportunity to ponder and probe the essence of His creator in a controlled environment conducive to such a demanding pursuit; an environment with optimal emotional and intellectual conditions free from bias and self-centered agenda, a place where he can broaden his horizons, learn the value of wisdom and humility and ultimately develop critical thinking and emotional and intellectual honesty, all crucial tools in the analysis of the subtle and abstract, the sublime and extraordinary.
This latter approach is one of the many profound lessons of Sukkot.
Sukkot highlights the frailty of man and the vulnerability of his existence. The Torah tells man to leave the comfort and security of his home and dwell instead in a weak and exposed structure. G-d is the essence of the world, not man. It is the Sukkah that best represents this idea of the world and man being transient, temporary, brief and ephemeral. The only thing that really matters, the only things the really lasts, the only thing of true permanence, consistency, durability and continuity is G-d, and it is to the understanding of Him that man should invest all of his efforts and G-d given talent not in his castles of sand which would eventually wash away by the waves of time, fall into disrepair and disappear into the abyss of history without leaving behind even a trace of their once glorious existence.