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David Otten: What does 'dominion' mean regarding man's relationship with fellow creatures?

 
By David Otten
Contributing writer
updated: 1/15/2019 4:58 PM

Greetings from Faith Lutheran Church in Eldorado.

The environmental movement burst into the mainstream American consciousness in 1963 with the publication of Rachel Carson's book, "Silent Spring."

Others before had raised concerns about the environment, including John Muir, John James Audubon, Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold, but not with the same alarm as Carson did in exposing the danger of DDT to the food chain.

From this spark, a fire has roared through America and the world, changing hearts and minds, as well as laws and policies.

In 1967, Lynn White, a medievalist at UCLA, blamed Christianity and its appropriations of Genesis 1:28 (And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.") for the West's disregard of nature through an industrial society.

Others joined him in the accusation, painting even a worst picture of Christianity's relationship to the environment.

Various Christians have been off base concerning the relationship of God, man and nature. Thomas Aquinas, Rene Descartes, Frances Bacon and the Puritans were some of the worst offenders. Yet, St. Frances of Assisi, Desert and Celtic monks, and many others approached the triad of God, Man, and nature in a different way.

Divide this list into two groups: flies, angels, pigs, dogs, God, lions, men and snakes. If you are influenced by Greek thinkers like Plato, the list would be divided as follows: flies, pigs, dogs, lions and snakes on one side and men, angels and God on the other.

A Biblical division is: flies, angels, pigs, dogs, lions, men, and snakes on one side and God only on the other. The Bible views God as the creator and everything else as creatures.

I do believe that Platonic thinking has crept inside the attitude of many Christians.

The dominion God gave to man in Genesis was not that he was there to be a tyrant over nature or his fellow man. The Hebrew word Radah ("dominion") carries the idea of a gracious reign of a shepherd king. God did not give up His creation but invited man to share in caring for it. The picture of Adam naming the animals and Noah safeguarding them on the ark is more of the picture we are to have.

But, as man fell into sin, his attitude toward nature, his fellow human beings and God became corrupt. He became egocentric, not exocentric. The weak were at man's mercy -- from the weakest members of the human race to that of nonhuman creatures.

There is a need to for us to look at all life as coming from the hand of God and therefore sacred. God did give Noah permission to eat meat; it still stands, yet there still must be respect for God's creation in all we do. More next week.

• David Otten is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Eldorado.