Riders on the earth

Our conception of ourselves and of each other has always depended on our image of the earth. When the earth was the World -- all the world there was -- and the stars were lights in Dante's Heaven, and the ground beneath our feet roofed Hell, we saw ourselves as creatures at the center of the universe, the sole particular concern of God.

And when, centuries later, the earth was no longer the world but a small, wet , spinning planet in the solar system of a minor star off at the edge of an inconsiderable galaxy in the vastnesses of space -- when Dante's Heaven foundered and there was no Hell -- no Hell, at least, beneath our feet -- men began to see themselves not as God- directed actors in the solemn paces of a noble play, but rather as the victims of an idiotic farce where all the rest were victims also and multitudes had perished without meaning.

Now, In this latest generation of mankind, the image may have altered once again: For the first time in all of time men have seen the earth with their own eyes -- seen the whole earth in the vast void as even Dante never dreamed of seeing it -- seen what whimpering victims could not guess a man might see.

The medieval notion of the earth put man at the center of everything. The scientific notion put him nowhere: beyond the range of sense or reason, lost in absurdity and death. This latest notion may have other consequences. Formed as it was in the eyes of heroic voyagers who were also men, it may remake our lost conception of ourselves. No longer the preposterous player at the center of an unreal stage -- no longer that degraded and degrading victim off at the verges of reality and blind with blood -- man may discover what he really is.

To see the earth as we now see it, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the unending night -- brothers who seem how they are truly brothers.

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