The whole of Nature, as has been said,
is a conjugation of the verb to eat, in the active and
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.
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)
More social issues: