Christian responses to environmental concerns
and Genesis 1:26
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Notes on dominion theology and Genesis 1:26:
Wikipedia describes Dominionism as follows:
"The dominionist interpretation sees adherents as heeding a command from
God to all mankind to subject the world to the rule of the Word of God. The
terminology of dominionism, and the broad concept of the trend
described by critics, has been taken from the King James Version of the
Bible, Genesis 1:26
"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and
let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of
the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every
creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." 1 (Emphasis ours)
Many people blame the dominion theology of Genesis for our environmental
problems. (John M. Cuble) 2 Numerous ecologists have argued that the command to
humanity in Genesis 1:26 defines the crisis we face. For
example, the historian Lynn White Jr. 3 claims that the relationship between
humankind and the world, which has resulted in the continuing destruction of
nature and rape of the earth, has come about because of 'the orthodox Christian
arrogance towards nature, following the imperative of the Genesis command.'
4,5 Lynn blames our Western attitude of exploitation of the earth on that part
of the Judeo-Christian tradition that conceives man as superior to all the rest
of creation, which exists merely for his use. Similarly, according to Ian L. McHarg,
6 the man/nature relationship as
portrayed in Genesis not only fails to correspond to reality as we observe it,
but in its insistence upon dominion and subjugation of nature encourages the
most exploitative and destructive
instincts in man. Indeed, if one seeks license for those who would create canals
and harbors with nuclear bombs, employ poisons without constraint, or give
consent to bulldozer mentality, there could be no better injunction than this
The creation story of Judaism was absorbed unchanged into Christianity,
and is reflected in Islam. So far, attempts to put a more favorable light
on the respective chapters in Genesis by reinterpreting them have largely failed. A
completely new wording is required if religion is to play a role in the world's
ecology, which it eventually must do to pre-vent the destruction of our world as
we know it. 6
There is certainly tension between Genesis 1:26-30 and 9:1-7, 7,8,9 but
there is no doubt about the assumption of man's absolute rule over nature, which
is based on Genesis 1:26-28, 9:2-3, and Psalm 8:5-8: All things are created
for human use and for no other purpose. This is in spite such arguments as
those by Norbert Lohfink that Genesis 1:26 gives no sanction to domination and
exploitation 9, and that 'to be subdued or to rule'
has to be understood as shepherding. 8
Ecological points raised in
connection with Genesis 1-11 were also investigated by such Catholic scholars as
Paul Beauchamp 7 and Erich Zenger.
The Hebrew word kibbes (used in
Genesis 1:28) is properly translated as 'subdue', and is used, for instance, in
making someone into a slave. This does not make particularly persuasive attempts
to interpret kibbes and/or dominion (in Genesis 1:26,28 as well as in Psalm 8:6)
in the sense of shepherding or of humans acting as trustees or stewards
responsible to God. It just replaces a good translation by a bad one. Contrary
to the claims by some theologians, Genesis 2:15 where Adam 'is put into the
garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it' cannot make much difference to this
Interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures has additional problems:
||If Genesis 1:26-30 does not allow humans to kill animals, how
could have Abel offer a sheep as a sacrifice to God, and why did God accept the
sacrifice? (Gen-esis 4:4).
Concern for animals is shown in Deuteronomy 25:4: 'Thou shall not muzzle the ox
when he treadeth out the corn' and the story of Noah emphasizes the preservation
of species (Genesis 6:19-20). Yet Christians have always tended to deny value
and rights, and even souls, to non-human life.
||Deuteronomy 22:1-4 shows kindness to the owners, not the animals!
The New Testament appears have only incidental references to animals.
As to other Christian sources:
Augustine maintained that 'Reason has not been given to animals to have in
common with us, and so, by the most just ordinances of the Creator, both their
life and their death is subject to our use.'
Saint Thomas wrote: 'It is not wrong for man to make use of animals either by
killing or in any way whatever.'
||When Luther considered the role of animals in his lectures on Genesis, he did
so in terms of human dominion over them.
Mainstream Christianity still propagates a range of ideas about animals that are
detrimental to their status and welfare. Typically, animals are 'made for us';
animals have no immortal soul, no rationality, no intrinsic worth; humankind
has been given dominion over animals. How far these ideas are distinctly or
authentically Christian is besides the point; the fact is the Christian
tradition has propagated them, and still defends them. Christian Churches
are reluctant to accept any responsibility for the whole of creation. The
scriptures deny value and rights to non-human life. Such teaching closely
resembles Islam. In the relationship between humans and animals, animals seem
to be treated with more consideration by religions outside the Abrahamic faiths.
There are other points that should be discussed within the framework of
||Whether salvation is for all creation.
None of the Ten Commandments gives us any
instructions regarding the
Sean McDonagh writes:
"There is no support in the New Testament for the exploitative, throw-away
consumer society which in the past four decades has destroyed the natural world
in so many parts of the globe and produced mountains of non-biodegradable and
toxic waste." 10
Capitalism has played a large part in the destruction of our earth.
Christianity has to accept some of the responsibility for its emergence. 5 It
should be rather embarrassing for Christians that the 1.5 billion followers of
Jesus, 'who had no place to rest his head,' now control two-thirds of the earth
resources and, on average, are three times better off than their non-Christian neighbors.
If the Catholic Church really wants to play a part in alleviating world hunger
it could promote abstinence from meat on a number of days each week rather than
pushing genetically engineered crops. 11
||As can be seen from the Job 28:9-12, ours is not the first generation
to be concerned about the way humans treat the environment with little regard
for the consequences.
There is a powerful movement within U.S. Christian fundamentalism that
interprets the 'Book of Revelation' as justifying the destruction of the
environment. They believe that by exhausting our natural resources they will
hasten the rapture, the
second coming of Jesus Christ, and the Apocalypse.
Man's successfully working the earth is described by Job 28:12 in the
following words: 'But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of
The following information sources were used to
prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still
"Dominionism," Wikipedia, at:
Russell C. Train, "The Environmental Crisis: A Challenge to the
Churches," Woodstock Report No. 211, 1990-MAR.
Lynn White Jr., "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,"
Science 155 (# 3767), 1967.
Charles Birch, "Purpose in the Universe: A Search for Wholeness,"
Zygon,6, No.1, Pages 4-27 1971-MAR.
Sean McDonagh, "The Death of Life. A Challenge to Christians,"
Ian L. McHarg, "Design with Nature," Wiley, (1992).
- Paul Beauchamp, "Cr'ation et fondation de la loi." in: F. Blanquart
(Ed.), "La Cr'ation dans l'orient ancient," Les 'ditions du Cerf, (1987).
Norbert Lohfink. "Great Themes from the Old Testament," T.&T.
John William Rogerson, "Genesis 1-11," JSOT Press, (1991).
Erich Zenger, "Gottes Bogen in den Wolken." Katholisches
Sean McDonagh, "SOURCE," 2004-SEP-15. at:
Copyright © 2006
and 2007 by Vladimir Tomek
Original publishing date: 2006-AUG-16
Latest update on: 2009-AUG-23
Author. Vladimir Tomek