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An Ironic Dominion

Over the last week or so I have been making my way through an article from last month’s issue of The Walrus which discusses the imminent demise of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. The article talks about the rising acidity levels of oceans around the world by virtue of increased CO2 emissions and the warmer water temperatures this produces. It predicts that some of our most magnificent ecosystems (like the Great Barrier Reef) are living on borrowed time because of human-induced climate change. In some ways, the article reads like many others: it is a tale of human beings wantonly wreaking havoc with nature and a plea to do something about it.

But the article is somewhat unique as far as the solutions it sets forth. We are used to hearing calls to reduce our CO2 emissions by any and all means in order to combat climate change. This author argues that we are long past the point of these strategies having a meaningful impact. We have already done too much damage. Rather, our focus might need to turn to “geo-engineering”—deliberately manipulating the earth’s climate to counteract the effects of global warming. There are a variety of ways this might be done (many of which I can barely understand, much less imagine!), but the overall goal is to accept the (permanent) damage we have done and do what we can to minimize the calamity in the brave new world we have brought about.

Turner admits, this response sounds somewhat counter intuitive, to put it mildly :

[I]t is predicated on the twisted logic that a reasonable response to evidence that human industry has irrevocably altered the biosphere would be to undertake to alter it in much more intentional and grandiose ways.

Nonetheless we are, quite simply, past the point of no return. Recycling our newspapers, driving hybrids, and using energy-efficient light bulbs, while good ideas, are not going to save us (or the Great Barrier Reef!). More radical surgery is required.

As my head was swimming with strange new terms like “anthropocene epoch,” “geo-engineering,” and “carbon sequestration” some very old words also came to mind:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.  And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Familiar words, no doubt. Words that have often been used as an excuse to exploit and dominate nature for human needs. Words that have been used to justify irresponsibility and abuse. Words that have been interpreted as placing an improper ontological gap between human beings and the world they live in.

But as I see it, the article cited above shares a deep irony with a good deal of “environmental” (for lack of a better word) discourse: like Genesis 1, it assumes a sharp distinction between “human beings” and “nature” but from within a mostly naturalistic framework. While it would obviously be too strong a claim to say that all those who advocate care for the environment are atheists or agnostics, I think it would be fair to say that a high percentage of environmental warnings in our public discourse are based upon and justified via a methodological (if not ideological) atheism. God is not really part of the picture (we have no need for that hypothesis) and neither are those charged with caring for the world seen as anything resembling divinely appointed image bearers charged with the lofty task of “ruling” (to borrow from Genesis again) over the natural world.

Yet the article, which advocates human beings altering the very atmosphere we live in, assumes a level of “dominion” over nature that would have staggered the biblical writers. Despite the widespread assumption/belief that human beings are simply a part of nature—one more random organism thrown up from mother nature’s clay—articles like this one assume, indeed depend upon a fairly exalted anthropology. They assume that we are not just a part of nature, that we have the ability and obligation to control nature, that we have a duty to protect nature, to preserve its variety, wonder, and beauty.

This is the language of human dominion, not of one species humbly assuming its place among all others. Of course, from a Christian perspective, this is to be expected. A Christian anthropology can accommodate both the obvious differences between human beings and the rest of creation and the imperative to steward creation responsibly. It can accept that we have much in common with our fellow creatures (that we are, in obvious ways, “of the earth”) while at the same time recognizing that our obligations and abilities extend far beyond theirs.

But the same cannot be said about much of our public discourse with respect to the posture we ought to take toward the world we inhabit. Our public narratives have no place for a God to whom we are accountable for our care of the world. But it seems to me, as I read articles like this one and others, that one of the most pressing ethical issues of our time depends upon, even if it does not acknowledge, something like a biblical understanding of human beings and their position in the cosmos. At least in the realm of our public discourse, ours is an ironic dominion indeed.

51 Comments Post a comment
  1. I am so glad you ended up posting this. You raise some very valid points.

    “it assumes a sharp distinction between “human beings” and “nature” but from within a mostly naturalistic framework”

    We are special in terms of certain attributes just as other animals are in certain attributes. However, I don’t think humankind has a dominion over nature. However, our special attributes (divinely endowed or thrown up my nature) does give us the unique ability to contemplate and foresee potential futures. With these visions we have the ability to protect ourselves, and by our immense power now, other creatures and global systems. If we want view ourselves as part of nature, and not inconsistently like you point out, we have decide if we are developing into a caring species that protects others or do we truly consider ourselves to have dominion, possibly using a master slave/mortality. If it is the later then we have to accept the full set of consequences that come with that – such as its application among humans. As far as I am concerned you can’t have both views, they are incompatible.

    I think a view that we have dominion over nature has caused us to end up where we are at and now we don’t like the potential consequences. Regardless if we accept it or not, our actions have been geo-engineering the globe. I would argue that the appropriate response is to depart from this traditional view and attempt to right our wrongs through a shift in thought that doesn’t view humankind as having dominion. To me we need to show compassion to nature rather than dominion over it, a very fine line to walk.

    November 7, 2009
    • Thanks Tyler. I think the question is less, “should we understand ourselves as being in ‘dominion’ over nature or not” than it is “what kind of dominion ought we to exercise and to what end?” Regardless of whether we like the word “dominion” or not, our actions indicate that this is already how we understand ourselves (as the article above and innumerable others ably demonstrate). As you say, we’ve been geo-engineering for some time now. As I see it, we are now simply being urged to exercise our dominion in a different way.

      From a Christian perspective, I obviously think it is possible (and obligatory) to exercise dominion compassionately and responsibly. I think we have good theological reasons to do so. But I’m not so sure about some of our other environmental prophets. I’m not sure how they can advocate human beings playing the unique role that they feel we must without some kind of adequate grounding for human uniqueness within the “nature” we are supposed to be saving.

      November 7, 2009
  2. jc #

    “They assume that we are not just a part of nature, that we have the ability and obligation to control nature, that we have a duty to protect nature,to preserve it’s variety and wonder and beauty.”

    It’s odd to me that people think we need to protect the current state of the Earth. The belief that right now we are at the optimal temperature and we should try to act to either not make it colder, as some advocated in the 70’s or warmer as they some advocate now. All species or natural wonders must be preserved and if one of them goes out of existence then it is a great blemish on mankind.

    The Earth seems to be warming. I don’t know if it is human caused or not. There is so much propaganda and hype around global warming its hard for someone like myself to educate myself properly without getting a couple of PHD’s. It seems like the anxiety over global warming is going to end up marginalizing developing countries for the sake of a perceived threat of an environmental apocalypse.

    November 7, 2009
    • I think you raise some good points. How do our environmental policies affect our human brothers and sisters around the world? What is the basis for arguing that we have a duty to protect this or that species from extinction (especially when we are told that the overwhelming majority of the species that have ever existed are already extinct)? Is it a utilitarian argument? Does each and every species have a right to existence? On what basis? We’re not often told. I happen to agree with those who issue the pleas to protect the environment, but once again I think I have better (theological) reasons for doing so 🙂

      I came across this article from today’s Globe and Mail shortly after finishing this post. It’s not directly related to the issue under discussion, but I think it’s at least tangentially related (or at least just interesting). Rex Murphy looks at two recent decisions in the European context. On the one hand, a solitary complaint lodged by an atheist has led to a furor about crucifixes in Italian schools; on the other hand (and more related to this discussion), a ruling in England has given environmental beliefs the same status as religious ones. As silly as I think both of these cases are, I also think it they are an ironic reflection of the way things actually are (and are going). Anyway, it’s worth a read.

      November 7, 2009
  3. Ken #

    I think our understanding of the threat we pose to the rest of nature is founded in the view of evolution that Darwin gave us. We are where we are because we multiplied as much as because we have had dominion. That is Darwinian. And the Darwinian view provides no role for God in evolution, no need for God in the explanation of our situation.

    I think if there is an ethic here, it is not a shall or shall not kind of thing, not a morality thing, nor even a love kind of thing. It is necessity, and nothing more.

    Ultimately the question is whether humanity will survive and whether we will annihilate the rest of nature on our way out. So far, I think the analysis offered by James Lovelock is the most persuasive. A remnant may survive, a very small remnant.

    Theology may someday contribute to our understanding of this situation, but I think as of today theology has fallen behind, been unable to deal with the problem ecology assures us we face.

    November 7, 2009
    • I’m not sure Darwin plays such a crucial role, actually. It’s not just that we’ve multiplied effectively, after all, it’s the kind of species that we are with the kind of faculties we possess that leads to our unique position not just that there happen to be a lot of us kicking around. I think theology actually contributes more to understanding our situation than many interpretations of Darwin’s theory. Darwin alone leaves us inexplicable to ourselves—it leads us to the weird kind of inconsistency I highlighted in the main part of the post: we act like we are distinct from and sovereign over nature even if our publicly accepted narratives describing who we are and how we’ve arrived here seem not to allow this.

      November 8, 2009
      • Ken #

        Many of us, including the authors I listed above, who accept the Darwinian narrative don’t “act like we are distinct from and sovereign over nature.” (We act instead as if we are part of it and depend on it and love it.) But certainly you are right that there are those who do act as you say, just like the ones you identified in your posting appear to do. James Lovelock approaches global warming quite differently from their way.

        Lovelock and others associated with ecology have been ridiculed by their critics as having a green “religion.” Often this criticism has been made because ecology has an aim of preservation. But it is not odd for science to have an aim, historically. Bacon, for example, saw science as the way of progress. In addition, this criticism has been made because ecology has come to view the world as behaving something like an organism. That is a heuristic device, one that Lovelock contributed to ecology.

        Lovelock’s view, which has significantly shaped the central paradigm of ecology, is purely Darwinian.

        In addition, I don’t think it is a bad thing to have a green religion. The Darwinian view is a comprehensive way of seeing the world and ourselves. If it becomes the basis among some of us for a kind of spirituality or sacredness, that is okay. It need not be accompanied by anticlericalism nor by humanism, as it is, for example, in the work of Dawkins and as it was in the work of Darwin’s bulldog, Huxley.

        November 8, 2009
  4. Paul Johnston #

    Sorry, Ryan I’m a little confused. Does your post assume that, to whatever degree the planet suffers ecologically, Christian expression has been the primary cause?

    I tend to think economic imperatives are mostly responsible.

    November 8, 2009
    • Ken #

      While Ryan prepares his response here, I have something to offer related to this question.

      A number of important books have dealt with this question. Among them are: Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac), Roderick Nash (Wilderness and the American Mind) and Max Oelschlaeger (The Idea of Wilderness.) Leopold and Nash do blame Biblical and Christian expression related to dominion and Leopold contrasts the dominion idea with his “land ethic.” They also associate the economic dominion of the West with the same roots. Oelschlaeger does not blame Biblical and Christian expression and sees in our religious heritage the roots of conservation and even Leopold’s land ethic. (I think this is in line with Ryan’s feelings about this.)

      BTW, to anyone interested in this area, like me, I recommend all three books. They are foundational works.

      November 8, 2009
    • No, Paul, I don’t think Christianity is exclusively to blame. But I don’t think it is blameless either. We have exercised our dominion poorly, at times. That much seems fairly obvious to me.

      Thanks for the recommendations, Ken. And yes, I would probably align myself with Oelschlager as opposed to the others (at least as you’ve described them—I’ve not read any of them, to my shame!).

      November 8, 2009
  5. JC #

    Thanks for the link to the Rex Murphy piece. Funny and sad at the same time. I have noticed a lot of people have been pointing out the rise of the green religion.

    November 8, 2009
    • Thanks for the link, JC. Well written, funny, and tragically accurate.

      November 8, 2009
  6. “Sorry, Ryan I’m a little confused. Does your post assume that, to whatever degree the planet suffers ecologically, Christian expression has been the primary cause?

    I tend to think economic imperatives are mostly responsible.”

    My interpretation is that Ryan is highlighting the irony of assuming one is from nature, as a no more or no less exceptional being than any other, but then acting in way that stresses the importance to protect or control it.

    November 8, 2009
    • Bingo, Tyler. As I see it, there is a massive inconsistency in the view that on the one hand we are just another part of nature but on the other that it is our job to save and preserve it. Seems much simpler to me to acknowledge the obvious: we are unique, we do have capacities and obligations that are utterly unlike any other creatures, and we are responsible to be good stewards of what we’ve been given.

      November 8, 2009
  7. Paul Johnston #

    I understand the irony of a mostly atheistic methodology, particularly as it applies to the solution offered by Mr.Turner, Tyler. As a Roman Catholic, my only concern, is what I should understand and accept as sin. And then, going forward how I should amend my ways so as to not sin further.

    Ryan is a really smart guy and I think he can help inform me in this way.

    Other than that I should sincerely pray for conversion, ironies and inconsistencies in atheistic arguements, or even atheistic arguements themselves, are irrelevant at best. At worst,Phillipians 3:2.

    Either way, I don’t have enough time for the illusions of men. Mine included.

    What does God say? What does God want? What else really matters? Why are we so bent on dialogue with the beast?

    November 8, 2009
    • As always, I appreciate the kind words Paul. But I’m curious: if you see your sole tasks as praying for the conversion of others and understanding the nature of sin, why waste your time with “irrelevancies” like the ones under discussion here?

      November 8, 2009
  8. Paul Johnston #

    Three reasons. One, as asked, you’d be doing me a great service by fleshing out the case against Christian stewardship. Off the top of my head I think it is a canard. Real Christian stewardship of this planet ended a long time ago, long before the devastating effects of man’s technology began playing havoc with the material world.

    (OK, let me revise that opinion, there is some latent blame to be laid squarely at the feet of the myopic Protestant work ethic,{other/self and envioronmental prostitution if neccessary but not neccessarily prostitution of other/self or envioronment} but to be fair to Calvin and Luther I’d be interested to know of the modern industrialized nations and/or corporate multinationals that openly subscribe to such values.)

    Two, you’re a hell of a voice but you struggle with right content. You need me. 🙂

    Three, all the twenty somethings who read your blog, (and any blog for that matter), need to be encouraged to develope integrity and consistency in their relationships with God, themselves and others. Keep it focused on love and values if you really want to help young people mature in faith.That is more than enough.

    They are too young and inexprienced to be encouraged to have a worldview. Two really bad things happen when young people hold permanent opinions before they hold permanent love relationships. They either spend a decade or more unlearning all the self centered loveless bullshit they think matters to them, after they discover love, or they become so self satisfied in their opinions that they never discover love.

    Sucks either way.

    November 8, 2009
    • First, really bad things happen when older people hold permanent opinions as well.

      Paul, this is the second time in very recent memory that you have associated (and exclusively) wisdom with age. Without a doubt wisdom can be gained through age and experience – this is by no means a dispute to that. An entire life is a learning process, to assume there is a magical age of wisdom is a little short sighted. Personally, I have heard wise words voiced by very young people and very ignorant words voiced by those up there in years. The opposite of this is true as well. Thus, showing me that wisdom is independent of age.

      Also, I have noticed there seems to be some exclusivity to your world view. Age, kids, anything else us twenty-somethings are missing?

      I am sorry if this sounds defensive, but to blunt, I have found your recent comments offensive to myself and others. Moreover, I find them containing very little that contributes to reasonable discourse.

      “Two, you’re a hell of a voice but you struggle with right content. You need me.” What is the right content?

      Oh, and I am pretty positive that since the Globe is still spinning with humans on it, Christian stewardship is still required.

      November 8, 2009
    • “Keep it focused on love and values if you really want to help young people mature in faith.That is more than enough.”

      Knowing Ryan over the last year and a bit has showed me he is focused on love and faith. He has done so with consistency and integrity and neither his voice nor actions from my viewpoint has ever compromised that. That is what helps people mature in their faith.

      November 8, 2009
    • I will address your three “reasons” in turn:

      1) It should be obvious that I will not be making a case against Christian stewardship anytime soon. One of my many unfortunate Protestant deficiencies, no doubt. Or maybe not

      50. This responsibility is a global one, for it is concerned not just with energy but with the whole of creation, which must not be bequeathed to future generations depleted of its resources. Human beings legitimately exercise a responsible stewardship over nature, in order to protect it, to enjoy its fruits and to cultivate it in new ways, with the assistance of advanced technologies, so that it can worthily accommodate and feed the world’s population. On this earth there is room for everyone: here the entire human family must find the resources to live with dignity, through the help of nature itself — God’s gift to his children — and through hard work and creativity. At the same time we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it. This means being committed to making joint decisions “after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying”. Let us hope that the international community and individual governments will succeed in countering harmful ways of treating the environment. It is likewise incumbent upon the competent authorities to make every effort to ensure that the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations: the protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet. One of the greatest challenges facing the economy is to achieve the most efficient use — not abuse — of natural resources, based on a realization that the notion of “efficiency” is not value-free.


      2) That’s funny.

      3) So many stereotypes and sweeping generalizations… it’s hard to know where to begin… How do you know that the twenty-somethings who read this blog do not have “integrity and consistency in their relationships with God, themselves and others?” Do you know them personally? Have you spent time talking with them face to face? And aside from being a ridiculously condescending statement, what on earth does it mean to say that this demographic is “too young and inexprienced to be encouraged to have a worldview?” Everyone has a worldview. It’s unavoidable. Or maybe you mean to say that the young shouldn’t be encouraged to have worldviews different from yours?

      As Tyler said, there are many among the young whose worldviews are more mature, gracious, and hopeful than those much more advanced in years. It seems somewhat odd to have to remind you that we follow one who did not seem to think age was much of a hindrance to embracing and understanding the truth.

      November 9, 2009
  9. Paul Johnston #

    Don’t let the the rattling chains startle you young, Ebenezer. They, like my prattling moan are intended to edify.

    Jacob Marley

    PS. Fix your pants I can see your underwear from here.

    November 9, 2009
  10. Paul Johnston #

    As an aside, Mr. Brown there is an old Scottish proverb that essentially says that sometimes the only propellant from point A to point B is a good, swift hoof to the…

    It is a method of transportation that I have often favoured.

    November 9, 2009
  11. Well Paul… an honest question; are you qualified to be the one to deliver said “…swift hoof to the…” ? 🙂
    You’re sounding a lot like a spiritual babysitter who has never had children. Stop it will you?
    If you need some back-up–

    Romans 14
    1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.

    This goes for those who you ‘believe’ are weak, which you seem to allude to when you condescend, and you do. What ever it is you think is weak about a persons faith… isn’t your business to correct unless it is a ‘sin issue’.

    November 9, 2009
    • PS re; “They are too young and inexprienced to be encouraged to have a worldview”
      No one lives in a vacume. It is impossible not to have one.

      November 9, 2009
  12. Paul Johnston #

    Hi Deb, I have three children. Aged 24, 16 and 4.

    I think it fair to suggest, though to be fair I don’t know the specific context to which your referencing, that what you might discern as condescending, I might consider as misunderstanding or perhaps over sensitivity. I hope we can agree to disagree without digression but if you would like me to elaborate on a specific, I am willing.

    I’m sure, Tyler is a good kid and his testimony of Ryan’s pastoring speaks highly of both himself and of Ryan.

    Tyler, I would hope for you that your refencing of the relational aspect of Ryan’s ministry, is your priority over the intellectual aspects. I truly believe you will prosper more if that priority is maintained.

    I hope you find yourself and your purpose, in life. I hope you fall in love. I hope you allow the woman you love to teach you the rythm of life; it’s dance. My experience is a that a Godly woman’s intuition is a lot “smarter” than anything I think I know. I hope you have children. Through them you may well discover a character of holiness within yourself, that you might not otherwise encounter.

    I hope you have or make peace, and have a lasting bond of love and forgiveness, with your parents. It is absolutely crucial. I hope you are a good and faithful friend and that you have good and faithful friends. I hope above all, that you find a quiet time each and every day to spend alone with the Lord our God.

    It really isn’t, nor should it be, my priority to have a a pissing contest with you, Tyler. Humourously sprayed, or not.

    I’d much prefer a conversation…

    As for my hostage taking of yet another thread, 🙂 I’m still waiting for a more in depth explantion as to how, yet again, the Christian hordes have slandered creation. This time apparently by their complete and utter disregard for the envioronments in which they exercise full and total dominion. While I’m sure the roots of global warming can be traced to the 80’s explosion of Charasmatic expressions of the faith, and all their intendant temperature raising gyrations, some confirming scientific data would be nice.

    Seriously, maybe Ken can offer some insight.

    November 9, 2009
    • RE: “…While I’m sure the roots of global warming can be traced to the 80’s explosion of Charasmatic expressions of the faith, and all their intendant temperature raising gyrations, some confirming scientific data would be nice…”

      sweet! I’m charismatic, it’s all about me and my Holy-Spirit filled, hand-raising, overly-sensitive worship-song-singing friends. We did it.
      We killed the planet… LOL, sorry, I just had to:)

      RE:”…I don’t know the specific context to which your referencing, that what you might discern as condescending…”

      hmmm… what can I say, sometimes, you are condescending. You don’t see it and I can’t make you.

      RE: “…pissing contest…”
      I know that wasn’t addressed to me but
      I’m 45, I have three kids, 21, 23, 25.. I win! LOL:)
      I was very young, & wise enough to have them while I was still sure I knew everything!

      I was actually referring to the tone I hear in your written voice of ‘spiritual babysitter’, to ‘spiritual children’ (namely- the readers and writers on this blog) but I don’t get a sense that you are qualified to ‘parent’ conversations. I don’t think that role has been given to anyone, yet you seem to take it.

      I don’t believe I have missunderstood you- and I don’t believe I have been ‘oversensitive’. That word is an easy out. I would say that I was sensitive enough. But again, you don’t see it, and I can’t make you.

      End counter-rant 🙂

      November 9, 2009
      • PS… I almost forgot,(was too busy speaking in tongues …wink)

        We are responsible for everything God gives us.
        He gave us this planet. We should do what we can- ‘too late’, or not. It’s an issue of thankfulness and humility. We are connected to one another on this big rock and what I do here affects someone, so it is wisdom and respect (Godly attributes) to wake up to my responsibility to govern well the space God gave me. It’s not complicated.

        November 9, 2009
      • Mike C. #

        Thanks Deb – well spoken…as a frequent reader but infrequent commenter on Ryan’s fantastic and thought-provoking blog.

        November 9, 2009
      • Deborah #

        Hello Mike C.
        I’ve suffered from ‘foot in mouth’ disease for as long as I can remember-a family trait I think. It’s always a lovely shock to read my name allong-side the words “well-spoken”.
        Thank-you, you’ve given me hope, lol 🙂

        November 10, 2009
    • “Tyler, I would hope for you that your referencing of the relational aspect of Ryan’s ministry, is your priority over the intellectual aspects. I truly believe you will prosper more if that priority is maintained.”

      I am actually referencing his person. Both his ministry and intellectual aspects (and more) are apart of that.

      “I’m sure, Tyler is a good kid and his testimony of Ryan’s pastoring speaks highly of both himself and of Ryan.”

      I’m not a kid.

      “It really isn’t, nor should it be, my priority to have a a pissing contest with you, Tyler. Humourously sprayed, or not.”

      Nor is it mine with you. However, I refuse to stand by when your comments insult myself, Ryan or any other. A difference of opinion is fine, but the delivery does not need to be condescending or simply rude. I appreciate your hopes for me, and a hope I have for you is that you explore interactions with people, other world views, your own world view with open mindedness and respect.

      November 9, 2009
  13. Paul Johnston #

    Love the quote from in “Caritas in Vitate”, not sure of the source, I’ll keep a watchful eye on them, but they sound like reputable people.

    Still, while it is a profoundly eloquent statement as to how we should go forward, it doesn’t speak to the specifics of Christian culpability with regard to the present state of ecological affairs, implicit in the origional post. I am simply asking you to make the case against the Christian faith as you understand it.

    Crap, I don’t ask too much do I!! 🙂

    As for point 2, thanks for that, clearly I think of myself as being endowed with more comedic talent than is percieved here…or there….or in my life in general…hmmm

    As for the more serious charge in point three, let me say this. By advancing the arguement that priority be given to the relational over the intellectual, to wit, that prioritizing the teaching of integrity and consistency (and other important aspects of character for that matter), over worldviews, is not the same as saying that the student is devoid of either or any of the aforemention or implicit, characteristics. ( whew! no there’s a mouthful of hearty legalese soup!) Or that worldviews, in of themselves are wrong.

    It is simply meant to underscore the importance of first being of good character, of being in right loving relationship with God, self and others. It is meant to put the cart before the horse, albeit as I see how a cart and horse ought to be arranged.

    No insult is meant to be expressed or infered.

    My experience, as hopelessly unempherical as it may be, is that to be grounded in worldview before being grounded in love, is a recipe for a lot of heartache.

    No more, no less.

    November 9, 2009
    • Paul, I think I may have misunderstood your initial question. When you asked me to “flesh out the case against Christian stewardship” I thought that you were asking me to argue against the idea that we are called to be stewards (I’ll admit, I did think it was a strange request). And this bit made me think that you thought we were no longer called to stewardship (it “ended a long time ago”):

      Off the top of my head I think it is a canard. Real Christian stewardship of this planet ended a long time ago, long before the devastating effects of man’s technology began playing havoc with the material world.

      This was why I included the quote from Benedict’s encyclical (let me know if the Vatican’s website checks out as a good enough source :)). I thought it was a tad peculiar that you were going against the Holy See itself.

      Based on subsequent comments, it seems like you were looking for an explanation of why people think Christianity has been harmful to the environment. Aside from Ken’s points, I would add that some strains of evangelical eschatology (primarily, although not exclusively courtesy of our neighbours to the south) have often been cited as harmful to the environment. Believing that the world is just going to burn up anyway as Christians are being raptured out of it can lead (and did) to a fairly careless approach to creation in the meantime.

      November 9, 2009
  14. Paul Johnston #

    If your intuition as a Godly woman reads me in the way you’ve described, I have to listen…

    Shoot! Hoisted on my own petard.

    More specificly your metaphoric use of “parenting” in your last response speaks of some truth.

    …”let him who exhorts, exhort.”…quite simply that is my only real defense.

    Still, there is a serious responsibility to be charitable. Points taken.

    November 9, 2009
    • I’ll give you this.. you’re most definately fun to banter with:)
      Your sense of humor is well intact my friend!

      November 9, 2009
  15. Paul Johnston #

    Likewise, my friend.

    November 9, 2009
  16. Ken #

    Aldo Leopold criticizes and blames an “Abrahamic” conception of land for our destruction of the wilderness. The expression in his writing means something like “dominion.” He saw all human ethics as too human. The key to the land ethic is that it is not concerned with humans. That challenges Christian and humanistic ethics. At the same time, when we wrote so ecstatically about the return of wild geese to the land he restored, he expressed what happened with Biblical imagery, with Saint Paul’s imagery of the sound of trumpets at the second coming.

    Max Oelschlaeger is a writer (philosopher) like Charles Taylor who digs into the historical roots of our values. In his analysis, one cannot really lay the blame on Christianity or the Bible for the destruction of wilderness because they have shaped every value in the west – values we might now consider good as well as those we now reject.

    To consider the land ethic as an alternative to all of our other human ethics is a radical suggestion. It is hard to not admire that ethic when one loves the land, when one loves wilderness.

    Robinson Jeffers was one who believed in the land ethic. He was criticized for being an “inhumanist.” To love the land is a radical love. It is not easy for a Christian, or a humanist, to love the land that way. And yet, it is hard to turn away from this profound love. Jeffers, although not at all orthodox, believed in God. The beauty of the land, of the wild, was the sign that revealed God to him.

    Before Leopold was born, Thoreau adopted the land ethic, although not by that name, of course. It was his religion, or part of his religion, a kind of transcendentalism, one might say.

    In the land ethic, humans have no dominion and are not stewards.

    Emerson wrote, “the earth laughs in flowers” at the foolishness of those who believe they own the land (whether by dominion or stewardship.) The earth laughs because our rotting corpses buried in the land give nutrients to the flowers. It is in his poem, Hamatreya.

    November 9, 2009
  17. Paul Johnston #

    You almost always point me in a direction that is outside myself Ken, thank you.

    Ken, when you consider the radical love of the land as an alternative to Christianity, does that consideration look to acknowledge points of shared concerns and ethics?

    November 9, 2009
    • Ken #

      I think it can. Somehow the two exist in me, this radical love of the land and the love of God, the one in the Bible.

      About his feelings in the wild with trees and flowers and other wild things, Emerson wrote: “I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.”

      It may be that the challenge that the idea of a land ethic poses to Christianity is to see in it an epiphany, one that has always been there but which we had not yet seen, something like in Emerson’s last sentence.

      My intuition is that the land ethic is rooted in our religious heritage, even though Aldo Leopold thought it was not.

      I think the poetry of Robinson Jeffers comes close, as in his poem, The Excesses of God. His expressions, “the superfluousness of God” and “the extravagant kindness” refer to Grace revealed in the beauty of the creation.

      November 9, 2009
  18. Paul Johnston #

    Thank you, Ken. Your land ethic perspective sounds more than just utilitarian, more than just about ethical resource management, it sounds sacred. I really like the idea of ephiphany. A truth revealed but not yet explicit.

    If ordered, God before nature, your intuiton makes sense to me.

    November 9, 2009
  19. Paul Johnston #

    Ken, do you have any thoughts with regard to contemplative forms of worship?

    Funny, but the poetic self realization passage Emerson attributes to his experience of the wilderness sounds a lot like the interior experience of contemplative prayer.

    November 9, 2009
    • Ken #

      Lectio Divina is my favorite way. And when I hike in the wilderness, I often memorize a few verses to carry with me.

      My favorite hiking/lectio verses come from Isaiah 2. As I carry them with me they are: In the latter days it shall come to pass that the mountain of the Lord will be the highest mountain, higher than all these hills. And in those days everyone will come and say, “Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord so that we might learn his ways and walk in his paths.”

      I have climbed many mountains with those verses.

      November 10, 2009
  20. Paul Johnston #

    Sorry for the confusion, Ryan.

    November 9, 2009
  21. By the way Paul… do you have a blog? and do you want to share it?

    November 10, 2009
  22. Paul Johnston #

    Hi Deb, I once had a blog, “Sirach and Me”, if I remember it correctly. I think in one of my last posts to self, I opined that I was tired of throwing a party and having nobody show up.

    I then promised to take all my sodium reduced intuitions and de-alcoholized thoughts and crash somebody else’s party. Ryan, ya poor bastard, I am Randy Quaid to your Chevy Chase. I am the insufferable spiritual brother in law who showed up for your Dueck/Griswald European, Mennonite, Summer, Christmas Blogation, Vacation and never went home…

    I’ll keep you in prayer.

    November 10, 2009
    • Deborah #

      sounds interesting 🙂 I’ve had blogs no one reads, but I’ve decided not to fret. It’s just fun. If you ever decide to do another one, let us know:)

      November 10, 2009
  23. Paul Johnston #

    Thank you again, Ken. God is truly among us, I feel His presence in your prayer.

    November 10, 2009
  24. Paul Johnston #

    Ken, I took a shot at browsing Taylor’s “Secular Age”. Doctor… MY BRAIN…HURTS!!! I am mostly a Dragnet, Joe Friday, “Just the fact’s ma’m” kind of guy. There was way more digression, contrast and qualification of point, then I could keep up with, and I didn’t even get past the introduction!

    After struggling with about six pages, I imagined it to say;





    Bloody Calvinists, it’s another fine mess they’ve gotten us into.

    Seriously though, if I want to get something of value from the book I’m going to have to buy it and struggle slowly with the content. Very slowly, my “wicked smart” friend. 🙂

    As an interesting aside the book was placed on the shelf beside a Thoreau biography with a forward by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Turns out that Thoreau was thought of as, “the most Protestant guy I know” and everybody who knew him pretty much hated his guts.

    Don’t blame me, Ryan, blame Waldo.

    November 10, 2009
    • Ken #

      It is a book that can only be read slowly. Still, I imagined it says based on the first six pages does capture at least an element of what he says, and your expression of it is so humorous, like Emerson’s summation of Thoreau.

      What we really need is a good website for light-hearted catholic/protestant jokes.

      November 11, 2009
      • Ken #

        Meant to say in the second sentence, “Still, I think what you imagined …

        November 11, 2009
  25. Ironically for all the citations of the ‘Cultural Mandate’ of Genesis 1, the consequences of the Fall in Genesis 3 don’t seem to come into play. When the ‘mandate’ is reiterated in Genesis 9, post-Flood its character is totally different. No longer does man tend the garden. Not only must he sweat and deal with the weeds but now the relationship with creation is modified. Now there’s fear and emnity.

    The fundamental nature of the relationship is changed. This notion that we’re going to take Dominion is gone. Our hope in Garden-Restoration (as it were) becomes eschatological. The nature of work and labour on this earth has changed. We can’t make the earth into Eden but at the same time we can’t just destroy the means of God’s Common Grace under the auspices of some erroneous notion of Dominion and what amounts to Constantinian Utopianism.

    May 3, 2013
    • Yes, good points. I think that both pre- and post-fall, the imperative to be good stewards remains, even if this stewardship is understood and practiced differently once sin has entered the equation.

      May 3, 2013

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