The I-and-Thou worldview
the ancient Near East the realm of nature and the realm of man were
not distinguished. The ancients, like modern savages, saw man always
as part of society, and society as imbedded in nature and dependent
upon cosmic forces
The fundamental difference between the
attitudes of modern and ancient man as regards the surrounding world
is this: for modern man the world is primarily an "It";
for ancient man it is a "Thou."
The difference between (an I-and-It relationship and an I-and-Thou relationship) is, in the first the person is actively determining the identity of the object. That is something the person does. In the I-and-Thou relationship the person is essentially passive. The Thou, whether it is an animal or a river, is a fellow-creature of which the person receives an impression. This knowledge is direct, emotional, and inarticulate, it is not intellectual knowledge. To ancient man Thou is a live presence.
There is yet another important difference. An object, an "It," can always be scientifically related to other objects and appear as part of a group or a series. In this manner science insists on seeing "It"; hence, science is able to comprehend objects and events as ruled by universal laws which make their behavior under given circumstances predictable. "Thou," on the other hand, is unique. "Thou" has the unprecedented, unparalleled, and unpredictable character of an individual, a presence known only in so far as it reveals itself. "Thou," moreover, is not merely contemplated or understood but is experienced emotionally in a dynamic reciprocal relationship
This does not mean (as is so often thought) that primitive man, in order to explain natural phenomena, imparts human characteristics to an inanimate world. Primitive man simply does not know an inanimate world
The world appears to primitive man neither inanimate nor empty but redundant with life; and life has individuality, in man and beast and plant, and in every phenomenon which confronts primitive man the thunderclap, the sudden shadow, the eerie and unknown clearing in the wood, the stone which suddenly hurts him when he stumbles while on a hunting trip any phenomenon may at any time face him, not as "It," but as "Thou." In this confrontation, "Thou" reveals its individuality, its qualities, its will. "Thou" is not contemplated with intellectual detachment; it is experienced as life confronting life
Early man confronts a living "Thou" in nature; and the whole man emotional and imaginative as well as intellectual gives expression to the experience An account of such events and also their explanation can be conceived only as action and necessarily takes the form of a story. In other words, the ancients told myths instead of presenting an analysis or conclusions
Primitive thought naturally recognized the relationship of cause and effect, but it cannot recognize our view of an impersonal, mechanical, and law-like functioning of causality The primitive mind cannot withdraw from perceptual reality. It looks, not for the "how," but for the "who," when it looks for a cause.
Since the phenomenal world is a "Thou" confronting early man, he does not expect to find an impersonal law regulating a process. He looks for a purposeful will committing an act. If the river refuses to rise, it is not suggested that the lack of rainfall on distant mountains adequately explains the calamity. When the river does not rise, it has refused to rise. The river, or the gods, must be angry with the people who depend on the inundation. At best the river or the gods intend to convey something to the people. Some action, then, is called for.