Dominion Over All the Earth
Whether we follow the Bible, evolutionary science, or any world faith, we are called to care for the earth from which we came.
BY: Cheryl M. Walker
I've been reading an awful lot these days about the debate between the creationist and the evolutionists. Science teachers are now being told that they must say that evolution is only a theory and just one possible reason that human life exists. I thought we had put that debate to bed a long time ago, but it seems, that we are still debating.
Now we have theories about creative evolution. A synthesis between the two schools, that says, yes, we evolved, but it was the creative spark of God that caused the evolution. And here we are,homo sapiens
, at the end of the evolutionary chain, the very end-all and be-all of evolutionary process and God's design. At least that view doesn't want to disregard science, but still it wants to hold onto the idea that we are the final creation. I wonder why there is such a need to hold onto the creationist view of humanity's beginnings? Could it be because any other view somehow diminishes our "special" place in relationship to the Holy? I can't see how it would. Wouldn't we be in fact extra specialbecause
Or perhaps it is because the evolutionary view means ultimately that we homo sapiens will become extinct? Assuming the evolutionary process didn't just stop dead in its tracks, somewhere down the line we too will become extinct. If you don't believe me, just ask any Australopithecus, if you could find one.
And that must be a little frightening for people, to know that really we're not the end-all and be-all of life on this earth. But I'm not particularly afraid or, for that matter, even concerned that we might eventually evolve out of existence. I just hope that we do not cause our premature extinction by continuing on a path of disregard for and abuse of the very earth that sustains us.
The creationist school of thought uses as it textual basis the book of Genesis from the Hebrew bible. I rather like how Gary Kowalski has reframed the Genesis story to reflect more correctly the billions of years it might have taken to actually create a universe. And one thing he illuminated was that tricky little passage in Genesis that gives humanity dominion over the earth and its creatures. We have too often taken that part of the text to mean that we can do as we please and exploit the world's resources to our own gain. But dominion over the earth comes with a great responsibility.
Anyone who has ever had "dominion" over anything or anyone, whether as a parent, or a boss, or a king or queen (though I don't know anyone who holds that particular title) knows it means that you are responsible for the care and well-being of those over whom you have "dominion." You are responsible for making sure that they are healthy and fed and well-tended. So the Genesis text tells us that we are responsible for the health and well-being of this earth. We may cultivate the land that feeds us, but we may not do so in a way that destroys the other creatures who inhabit it. If we have dominion over all of earth's creatures then we have a responsibility to all of them.
Later this week we will celebrate Passover. It is a celebration of the journey of the Hebrew people out of bondage in Egypt into freedom. And we will remember the people as they wandered for forty years in the desert until they came to the land of milk and honey. While the people were in the desert, they were given the Torah, the law. And even though they were nowhere near the land they would eventually inhabit, the law spoke of how to take care of the land. It said that every seventh year the land should lay fallow, be allowed to rest. The people were not to farm or cultivate the land during its Sabbath year, but they were to only take what the land would give them. Again, a reminder that we may use but not abuse the earth.
The Western-based biblical view, is of course, only one way of thinking of our relationship to the earth and all of varieties of earthlings that inhabit it. I heard a story recently about a Buddhist monastery in a remote part of Thailand called the Temple of the Tigers. Because development began encroaching on their natural habitat, animals began to show up at the monastery. First there were birds and then a wild boar who was wounded by hunters. The monk fed and cared for the animals and then set them free, but the boar returned with a whole group of other boars. The monk cared for them all. One day someone came with a wounded tiger, and the monk took care of it too. Pretty soon villagers were bringing all manner of animals to the monastery, and the monks there took care of each of them. Now they have fifteen tigers and a whole assortment of animals. All of them live peacefully together.
When asked why they took such care, the abbot explained that the spirit of the tiger may have been the same spirit of another monk, or someone's mother or brother or friend. And that the spirit of a tiger may be the same spirit that is now inside of the abbot or another of the monks. We cannot know whose spirit is reincarnated in any of the animals or for that matter the plants that feed the animals. What we do know is that we are to care for all of the spirits of the earth. Unlike Western conservation, which begins with the land and then the animals on it, they begin first with the spiritual nature of those who inhabit the land. As the abbot said, if you save the animal's life, in turn it means you save your life. If you do the best for the other life, the best of qualities of life you will earn as well.
All religions, Western, Eastern, Native, Indigenous, Earth-centered or God-centered, theistic, pantheistic, and atheistic, all of them call us to nurture this great big blue marble we call Earth. The basis for this call may differ, but the message is the same, you have come from the earth, you will return to it, and in between you must care for it.