Image by Lexinatrix via FlickrTaking a recent trip to a planetarium reminded me of the powerful image of the great shift in our understanding of the planets and their orbits, a great shift known as the Copernican Revolution (named after a Polish priest) which removed the earth from the center of the orbiting planets and instead put the sun in the center. The philosopher Kant famously used the analogy with the Copernican Revolution to describe the effect that he wished to have with his own philosophical system. The notion of a "Copernican Revolution" is a fertile metaphor.
Although it may seem trite (who cares?), Christians can see a theological analogy: conversion is a sort of Copernican Revolution in which the self is replaced by the Son (trite pun intended). But we can approach the analogy in a more gradual way by simply asking the question that all who try to live the examined life recommended by the great philosophers should ask: what or who is at the center of my life?
Many choose the ego. Thus, the human panorama abounds with selfishness, narcissism, and exploitation. Some--maybe many more--choose to put others at the center. At first blush, putting "others" at the center sounds vaguely noble or Christian. Yet, if we look more closely, is putting "others" at the center really so good?
Is it good when individuals put some political leader or religious leader at the center of their lives in the sense of a submissive personality cult? The Nazi, Communist, and Islamist tragedies tell us otherwise, as does the more circumscribed tragedy, familiar at least to some Catholics, involving the Legionaries of Christ. More mundane and anonymous subjugations that we see in our offices, schools, and parishes also tell us otherwise.
Is it really good when an individual seeks to always please others? I have seen how such excessive "placebo" tendencies are often the product of profound emotional disorder that can easily lead to irreparably degrading and devastating consequences. As a result, I propose that, at the center, we should put neither the ego nor others. What or whom should we then put in the center?
Most who are philosophically minded would be able to agree that the truth or wisdom should be at the center and that such truth and wisdom should then dictate how we relate to the ego and to others, thereby introducing an intelligible order into our lives that replaces living in ad hoc anarchy.
You know the Christian proposal: put at the center of your orbit the One who claimed to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If you do not like that proposal, find me a better candidate. I am waiting.