Western and Eastern Culture: An Essential Comparison
The Christian religion taught that man is made from the image of God; that is, man shares in the God’s sovereignty over the physical world. Aquinas said, “As long as the foundations of the earth exist, man would continue to share in the heavenly blessing of authority” (Aquinas, 240). God gave man authority to rule over the “fish of the waters, the animals of the earth, and the birds of the sky” (Genesis). Because man “resembles” God, he shares in his authority. Consequently, man becomes the sole proprietor of earth’s resources. Man becomes the “owner” not the steward of God’s creation.
Indeed, this idea of man’s supremacy over nature had become the governing of Western culture for almost 2 thousand years. The assimilation of this idea to the primordial form of Western culture (Greek and Latin) strengthened the belief that man, being the highest form of animal, has the right to govern those which do not possess rational mind. Note that early Western culture already placed man above other creatures. Aristotle said, “A man who lives outside the polis is an animal; a being with no rationality” (Curtis, 377). The same can be said of Plato. Plato argued that man is the only animal capable of governing other animals. According to him, because of man’s ability to interpret the world of ideas, he is able to distinguish reality from fraud. Man earns the right to derive any good which comes out of creation, although in moderation.
Christianity merely strengthened that assumption by pointing man’s source of authority. This generally validates the earlier assumptions of Aristotle and Plato (who became the models of Western thought). By pointing man’s source of authority, the Christian religion finally made man the owner of God’s creation – with full authority to utilize it – although in moderation.
In contrast to Western culture, Eastern culture views man as a necessary part of nature. Man is neither greater nor less than other creatures. Certainly, equality does not presume to have hold in the universe. The same case can be said of inequality. The important thing is that man is an essential part of the universe. According to Chuand Tzu:
As Taoists, in harmony with nature and with the Tao, we seek the health and well being not just of our body, of the entire person, and not just ourselves, but all things, because all things are of the Tao, so to injure one is to diminish all (Smith, 407).
For man to find himself he must first seek his position in nature; that is, he must not force himself to be dominant, rather to be flowing. By this, he would be able to appreciate things; things that may appear of no significance but in reality full of meaning and life. In general, Eastern culture puts man in the position of an observer. This is the case since man has the ability to see the intricateness of nature. He has the ability to appreciate the interrelatedness of creatures; in essence, the interdependence of all that exist in time and space.
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. William Benton (ed.). Britannica Encyclopaedia. Britannica Encyclopaedia Inc., 1989.
Curtis, Michael. Great Political Theories. New York: Avon Books, 1981.
Smith, Houston. The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 2004.
Ways of Wisdom: Readings on the Good Life. Steve Smith (ed.) and Linda Leviton (illus). New York: University Press of America, 2005.