Violence and Stewardship 


Here is a slightly revised version of

a newspaper op-ed piece

I published shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

I offer it, here, as a counter to

Steiner's teachings about nature and the cosmos.


Following it are additional, more recent thoughts.



It's hard to know what to say, these days — it's hard to see any light in the darkness cast by Sept. 11's horrific terrorism. I'll tell you what's been going through my mind, though.

I've been looking at a photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronomers pointed the telescope at a blank patch of sky, a place where no stars were visible. They left the lens uncovered for 24 hours, gathering extremely dim light that otherwise would have gone undetected. When they looked at the resulting image, they were amazed. That "empty" sky spot held scores of galaxies, some of them as big as our own Milky Way, some even larger. Presumably we would find the same thing anywhere we looked: swarms of galaxies, each containing millions and millions of stars — and, as seems likely, even greater multitudes of planets.

I take comfort in this admittedly hard-to-grasp, almost abstract reality. It's the same comfort I take from a walk in the woods, where I find myself surrounded by myriad plants, animals, and insects, all busily oblivious of me and my troubles. The universe is incredibly diverse, full of beauties and mysteries. The only sensible response to the immensity of nature, I think, is profound humility blended with wonder. We can't begin to get our small minds around the truths of nature, the facts of the universe. We haven't had a close-up view of even a tiny fraction of the cosmos. For us to feel that we know what's what — for us to feel certain and self-righteous (self-righteous enough, for instance, to kill in God's name) — is utterly absurd.

That leaves open the question of how to react when some of our fellow human beings commit self-righteous mass murder. Like almost everyone else, I'm full of anguish, horror, disbelief, anger. But I also continue walking in the woods, and looking at the sky at night, and finding comfort in what I see there.

Years ago, I learned a meditative exercise: to visualize the ideal place. The ideal is different for every individual, probably. For me, it is a glade in a woods on a mild summer's day, with sunlight streaming through the high foliage. My wife is with me, and all our pets, and there is perfect peace. I would gladly spend eternity in that ideal, imagined clearing. Of course, I don't have such an option in reality. Yet I do have the option, almost every day, of walking out into our actual woods and finding an approximation of my ideal. And for a while, I can feel that no matter how much sorrow haunts the world, life can be good — and I can be glad to be alive.

I guess nothing is solved by such meditations or woodland walks. But one response — maybe the best response — to small-minded zealotry and fanatical blindness is to open one's own mind as much as possible, to try to see the light and to affirm sanity over its opposite. Probably we cannot reason with terrorists. Probably we will have to fight the people who have declared war on us. But I hope that in dealing with those who hate us — indeed, in dealing with all of our fellow beings — we will use peaceful measures to the greatest extent possible. If so, then after the hard times that lie ahead, perhaps we will be able to move up the ladder of rationality and civilization another rung or two. That's the hope that sustains me now.


[R.R. photo, 2005.]

Here's a second, more recent piece,
in this instance written with Steiner in mind:


Rudolf Steiner’s admirers often express amazement at the scope of his vision, ranging far out into the depths of space. The truth, however, is that Steiner did not even begin to grasp the real magnitude and grandeur of the universe. His imaginary cosmos is like an infinitesimal droplet of moisture suspended inside an immense bank of clouds: It is altogether dwarfed by reality.

Steiner saw nothing in its true proportions. Like so many other false oracles, he offered the flattering delusion that we human beings are extremely important to all of creation. The future of the universe is bound up with us; our planet is the locus of cosmos-shaking dramas. Steiner went so far as to revive the fallacy that our terribly important planet does not orbit the Sun. Claiming to be a scientist, he could not very well argue that the Sun orbits the cosmos-central Earth, so he did the next looniest thing, teaching that neither Earth nor Sun orbits the other. [1]

In this, as in so much else, Steiner was flat-out wrong. Here’s a more accurate summary of what we actually know about our place in the universe. Earth is a rather small, undistinguished planet orbiting a rather ordinary star in an outlying region of the Milky Way galaxy. We are hidden away in one of the spiral arms of this galaxy, far from the galactic center. The Milky Way itself is a rather commonplace, fair-sized galaxy swimming inside a vast cloud of other galaxies — some larger, some smaller; some older, some younger; some nearby (in cosmic terms), and most far, far away. [2]

We are in no way central. God may love us, nonetheless. And our lives may have meaning, nonetheless. But that meaning is not to be found in “clairvoyant” fantasies. Both science and religion [3] would lead us to the conclusion that at least part of our meaningful duty is to serve as good stewards of the Earth. Sadly, we haven’t been doing a very good job. We may soon destroy most life forms on Earth, including ourselves. Maybe we’ll do it with global warming. Maybe we’ll do it by using the nuclear bombs we’ve so carefully amassed. Or maybe, just maybe, we’ll wise up before it’s too late. [4]

If we do manage to destroy ourselves, our passing will probably mean little to the universe at large.

A man said to the universe:

"Sir I exist!"

"However," replied the universe,

"The fact has not created in me

"A sense of obligation."

— Stephen Crane

Still, insignificant as we may seem to any residents of distant galaxies, we do have moral responsibilities — to Earth, to one another, and to all other forms of life.

And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.

— Luke 16:1-2, The Parable of the Bad Steward

If, as the worst possible stewards, we choose to create a global catastrophe, earthly life will probably continue regardless. We may drag down all mammals, reptiles, and birds when we go, but a great many microorganisms — and probably at least some insects — will remain. And then nature will begin working to repair itself. Over long millennia, evolution will slowly repopulate the planet, and eventually another form of “intelligent” life may arise to become the new stewards. We can only hope that they will be more intelligent than we have often been, and that their path will not be darkened by occult untruths.

Are my words too bleak? That’s not my intention. Despite everything, I’m an optimist. I think that, in many ways, the present is better than the past, and I cling to the hope that the future may yet turn out to be better than the present. But to attain that fulfillment, we must become more rational, and we must stop telling ourselves lies. We must earn the proud title we have bestowed upon ourselves: homo sapiens, the wise humans. My optimism includes faith that by aspiring to wisdom, and by sharpening our comprehension of what wisdom is and is not, we may one day achieve it.


[NASA photo.]

The following items originally appeared as 
Daily Quotes, with commentary, 
on the Waldorf Watch "news" page.
I have edited them slightly for use here.


“Not only does [a] purifying and ennobling process continue throughout a single lifetime, but through many, as the ego evolves to higher and higher stages of development through successive lives or re-embodiments ... [T]he twin concepts of reincarnation and karma or destiny are central to [Steiner’s] spiritual-scientific system.” — Gilbert Childs, STEINER EDUCATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE (Floris Books, 1991), p. 28.

There is no science in Anthroposophy (i.e., “spiritual science”). And, sadly, there is very little real spirit in it, either.

Anthroposophists disparage reality, calling the physical universe a “materialistic” sphere of entropy and death. They want to inhabit a higher, immaterial universe of living spirits. Probably most human beings can sympathize with this aspiration. We all want meaning and magic in our lives. But unless we open our eyes to factual truth — what we might call reality — the aspiration in and of itself will get us nowhere. Consider. We know for certain that some forms of life exist: ourselves, dogs, cats, whales, cattle, horses... And where do they exist? Right here, in the real, physical universe.

And what about spirit? Do we know for certain that some forms of spirit exist? Of course. The spirit of friendship, the spirit of love, the spirit of mercy, the spirit of honesty, the spirit of truthfulness, the spirit of reverence... And where do these forms of spirit exist? Right here, in the real, physical universe; they exist in the hearts and minds that we, as real forms of life, possess.

To anyone who wishes for a universe of living spirit, I would say: Open your eyes. It is right here. It is all around you. In the real, physical universe. You don't need to flee to your fantasies; stand instead, proudly, on fact.


Anthroposophists often quote Steiner as saying that the gods worship us. For instance, "[H]igher beings, the gods, also have a religion: they too look up to something in awe and reverence. What is this religion of the gods? What is it that the gods revere? It is man. Man is the religion of the gods." — Rudolf Steiner, quoted by Charles Kovacs, THE SPIRITUAL BACKGROUND TO CHRISTIAN FESTIVALS (Floris Books, 2007), pp. 72-73.

Steiner's doctrines certainly attribute to humanity a central, august place in the great scheme of things: “The aim of the creative activity of the Gods is the Ideal Man. That Ideal Man does not really come to life in physical man as he is at present, but in the noblest spiritual and soul life that is possible through the perfect development and training of aptitudes which this physical man has within him. Thus a picture of Ideal Man is ever present to the mind of the Gods. This is the religion of the Gods.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE INNER NATURE OF MAN AND LIFE BETWEEN DEATH AND REBIRTH (Kessinger Publishing, 1998), p. 18.

We can all sympathize with the desire to believe that God loves us — or that the gods do. We all want to believe that we are important, that our lives have meaning and value, that what we think and do is significant. We want to assure ourselves that we are not mere assemblages of dust, not robots made out of meat, not naked monkeys. We quite rightly want to deny that our lives are random, empty affairs that end quickly and pointlessly. Such ideas appall us. No!, our hearts cry out. We are important! Our lives are important!

This deeply felt human desire explains the appeal of Anthroposophy. Not only are we important, Steiner taught — we stand at the absolute center of the created universe. Everything revolves around us; everything was made for us. Verily, the gods lavish their care and concern on us.

These are alluring ideas, certainly. But are they based on anything except our fear that, actually, we are small and ephemeral? Are they anything more than rather pathetic attempts to prop up our frail egos, telling ourselves lies about ourselves?

History shows that for millennia, we have told ourselves such lies. The Earth is the center of the universe. The Sun orbits the Earth. We are wholly superior in all ways to all the other creatures who share our planet. Most assuredly we did not evolve from apes.

History also shows that, gradually, we have had to wean ourselves from such beliefs. It is still hard for us to let these ideas go, but let them go we must. And as we toss them away, we need to toss out Anthroposophy as well. It is merely one of the more recent versions of our ancient self-deceiving misconceptions about ourselves.

But where does this leave us? Does this mean that our lives are meaningless and we ourselves are unimportant? Of course not. We are capable of love, intelligence, creativity, joy, pity, kindness, altruism, reverence. Our lives are blessings, gifts. We stand upright in a universe of beauty and majesty. But we do not magnify any of this by lying to ourselves; indeed, we only diminish ourselves through such lies. Our glory must be that we embrace life as it truly is, and that — with our eyes open and with respect in our hearts — we rise to the potential that we have to live compassionately, humbly, and wisely. We need to grow up, affirm what is true, and set aside the myths we believed as children.


[R. R. painting, 2010.]


[1] In speaking with teachers at his first Waldorf school, Steiner stated that Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter travel in line with the Sun — they do not orbit it. [See Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 30-31.]

It is instructive to note that the Waldorf teachers evidently accepted Steiner’s statement as factually correct. That’s where faith in a truthless oracle will get us.

Rudolf Steiner himself is certainly not central to humanity. Most people are fortunate enough to have never heard of him. He is interesting primarily as one small example of mankind’s sad penchant for delusion.

[2] The number of galaxies we have spotted is utterly immense, and the total keeps rising.

The galaxy closest to the Milk Way and roughly equal in size is Andromeda, about two million light years away. A light year is approximately six trillion miles. Thus, the distance from Earth to our nearest galactic neighbor is about 12,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles. Pack a large lunch.

Astronomer Carl Sagan said that the Earth, as photographed by a Voyager space probe near the edge of the solar system, appears as a small bluish dot, a pixel, featureless and infinitesimal:

"That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." — Carl Sagan, PALE BLUE DOT (Random House, 1994), p. 8.

Sagan and his colleagues were not oppressed by their knowledge of our true stature — they found value in our little lives. On the Voyagers, they placed gold-plated records bearing greetings from Earth, including photographs of ourselves and our works, and 90 minutes of music, and an audio essay that includes the sound of a baby's cry, and the sound of a kiss. Perhaps someday, far away in the vastness of space, some alien beings will discover that record and learn a little of our story.

The vastness of our universe exceeds our powers of comprehension or visualization. And that may not be the whole story. Some physicists find good reason to think there may be other universes, perhaps a near infinitude of them. They speak of a "multiverse" of universes. But perhaps we can agree that our own universe, infinite for all practical purposes, is quite enough to try bending our minds around. 

[3] There are, of course, many religious traditions offering us many teachings and instructions, sometimes at variance with one another. I am not aware of any major religion that advocates bad stewardship, but I don't mean to claim more knowledge than I actually possess.

[4] Steiner, Waldorfs, and Anthroposophy hardly fill all my waking moments. During the time when I have been researching and writing about Steiner, I have also been active in such undertakings as caring for abandoned animals and working against mountaintop removal mining. “MTR” is an environmentally disastrous form of coal mining, which causes severe pollution of air, earth, and water. 

I count these three activities — exposing Steiner, caring for animals, and trying to protect some portions of the Earth — among my modest efforts at good stewardship.

Steiner's description of reality is like a negative image:
attractive, perhaps, but with all the substance drained away.
We cannot save ourselves or our planet
by substituting fantasy for reality.

[R.R. sketch, 2010.]

To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, 
use the underlined links, below.


A look back, plus

Mystical thinking, realistic thinking

Reports and advice from parents whose children attended Waldorf schools

A report by a mother who was drawn to a Waldorf school but left disillusioned

Talking it over

Had enough?

Crossing many lines

Describing the near-collapse of the Waldorf school I attended

Deprogramming myself after Waldorf

Who the heck am I?


Short and sweet

Can you trust me?

[R.R., 2017.]