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    The whole of Nature, as has been said, is a conjugation of the verb to eat, in the active and passive
    William Ralph Inge (1860-1954), Dean of St Paul's , Outspoken Essays


    Traditional Christian attitudes to Earth's resources are similar to its attitudes to animals. Christians had dominion over Earth (Genesis 1:26) and had been told to subdue it*. Since Earth was provided by God for the benefit of mankind, and since God had given unfettered dominion over it, Christians deduced that they could do to it whatever they wanted.

    Whereas the ancients had cherished Earth as their mother, the Christian view was that it could be raped and exploited at will. Jérome Cardan summed up the Christian approach when he said "Wisdom, like other precious substances, must be torn from the bowels of the earth". As one medievalist has put it: "The world ... existed simply to be cooked or distilled, or mutilated in man's service"*.

    It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Christendom was perpetually at war with nature, fighting battle after battle to obtain security, food or wealth. The fact that Earth's resources are limited seems not to intrude into religious thought. The position is gradually changing, but many Christians are still hostile to conservation groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, apparently suspecting them of worshipping the ancient Earth-goddess Gaia or some other Earth Mother.

    A man standing atop a mountain of bison skulls that are about to be ground up into fertiliser 1870s. Bison were nearly exterminated by Christian settlers - partly in order to destroy the way of life of the indigenous peoples. As society was overwhelmingly Christian, no-one saw anything wrong in wiping out an entire species.

    Since God had created the world for the benefit of mankind, Christians felt that they could do anything they wanted. Another consideration has always been that the end of the world is nigh. Why plan for the long term if God is planning to destroy the world any day?

    My responsibility is to follow the Scriptures which call upon us to occupy the land until Jesus returns. We don't have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand. (James Watt, Secretary of the Interior for US President Ronald Reagan, quoted in the Washington Post, May 24, 1981)




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    § Genesis 1:28; God had mentioned replenishing Earth too, but that does not seem to have had the same appeal, and so was rarely cited.

    §. A. R. Hall, The Scientific Revolution 1500-1800, Longmans, Green ( London, 1954), p 29.

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