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    Environmentalism v. Taking Dominion {Part II}

    June 11, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    We have the right to rid our house of ants; but what we have no right to do is to forget to honor the ant as God made it, out in the place where God made the ant to be. When we meet the ant on the sidewalk, we step over him. He is a creature, like ourselves; not made in the image of God, it is true, but equal with man as far as creation is concerned.

    Francis Schaeffer

    Like any subject, it’s probably best to try to think of the First Things. What I mean is, what are at the roots of the environmental movement? What are the primary ideas involved? How do those ideas compare with Scripture?

    Now that I have asked these questions, I intend not to answer them. He he. At least not all of them. I want today to focus on only one of environmentalism’s First Things, an underlying assumption that is primary, I believe, to understanding the movement.

    It is encapsulated in the phrase for the planet. Sometimes, I hear it termed for the earth. I’ve come across this sort of thinking in much of my gardening research. Typically the author will not just say that something is better for the earth, but that they are straining to do something for the good of the earth or the planet.

    Why does this raise a red flag?

    Don’t worry, that was a rhetorical question.

    I see this sort of reasoning as being antithetical to the idea of taking dominion. And now I will do my best to explain why.

    Once upon a time, in the late 1980s, I was introduced to the idea of Gaia worship as a foundation of environmentalism. I have noticed ever since that the earth, or more rightly Earth, is often personified within the movement. Sometimes it is subtle, sometimes it is overt. But often, it is there, this hovering sense that the Earth is living in a spiritual sense. It must not only be saved; it must be served. And we exist to pay her homage.

    The blogger Mark, the Multifarious Modernist wrote a post on Gaia Theory back in January. In it, he mused:

    …if we, conscious organisms, are indeed just an extension of Gaia {and the Universe as a whole}, then could ’she’ not be said to be conscious, on some level, through us? …if Gaia does indeed exist, then does not our short sighted, self-serving exploitation of ‘her’ not resemble that of a cancer or harmful parasite, methodically killing it’s host and hence ultimately itself?

    This theory now has an increasingly strong following among many Scientists, Futurists and Environmentalists; the main criticisms concerning the quasi-religious connotations of the word Gaia and the fact that some Gaia theorists imply that the Planet will literally ‘get revenge’ if we continue abusing it.

    For some scientists, Gaia Theory is purely metaphorical. The name was taken from an ancient pagan deity, also known as the Mother Goddess. This is akin to naming the theory Mother Nature Theory {to use a term from our own culture}. For others, however, there is a religious nature involved. For instance, we see shades of Hinduism in the form of a goddess, Buddhism in the form of all of us being not just connected, but “one.”

    By the way, Gaia Theory is actually a pagan interpretation of something that is mentioned in Scripture. Think of the overwhelming symbiosis of it all. Everything is held together. Dissimilar organisms live in harmony and are mutually beneficial. From the tiniest atom, to the farthest corners of the universe, the created world looks as if it should fall apart into chaos, and yet it never does. Colossians 1:7 explains that our Lord was before all things and holds them all together. It is His will and purpose that Gaia Theory is attempting to explain.

    Christians start from a very different point when thinking about these issues. Sure, we believe the earth is to be cherished. And, sure, we think it is our job to do so. It is the why we think these things that sets us apart in dramatic fashion.

    When we head to the earliest chapters of Genesis and the creation account, we see, first of all, that the earth was planned, sculpted, created by the Lord we serve. That is a good enough reason to cherish and respect it. It is other than us, and yet created for us as the perfect place for us to live and build culture. However, the Bible elaborates and tells us that God created male and female and gave them the job of tending the garden. He commands them to have dominion over all the creatures and over the earth itself. The original Mr. Webster defined dominion as

    Sovereign or supreme authority; the power of governing and controlling.

    Supreme authority means we have the right to do as we wish. However, being that we are created in God’s image, and that He so tenderly crafted this world, there is, I think, an assumption that we, too, would be caring and loving in our actions toward creation.

    Genesis also reveals the source of difficulty, the Fall of Man. When Man is cast out of the garden, it is said that, instead of tending a preexisting garden that is perfect in every way, and expanding it over time as they are fruitful and increase in number, they must work the ground outside of the garden. Here enters toil, sweat, and also failure. Man may slave over the ground, but it will not always yield to him. Crops may fail. Droughts may plague. Floods may destroy. The Man given the supreme authority becomes, in one sense, powerless.

    Going through all of us helps us understand a few things. It is made obvious Whom we are to serve and what we are to govern. We are created to be in authority over the earth and its inhabitants while being in subservience to the Creator. More importantly, the account of the Fall shows us that it is we, and not the planet, who are in need of saving.

    I try to take these distinctions to heart and make sure that what I am doing is being done within a Biblical mindset. This means that, if I conserve water, I am not doing something “for the earth” {which implies that I am doing something in its service}. Rather, as one who has dominion over one small plot of land, I am making the types of decisions a responsible steward should make. I live in a desert, so I am making sure there is also enough water for my neighbors by not using more than is necessary. Because I care about the things that God has made, I will shun waste {which was considered sinful by Christians until the early 1900s}. But all of this flows from the idea that I govern the garden while serving the Lord.

    Many of environmentalism’s pet causes have a panic mindset to them. Global warming is the most obvious, with the outlook for all of creation being quite dour. Ted Turner recently revealed the extent of the alarmism:

    We’ll be eight degrees hotter in ten, not ten but 30 or 40 years and basically none of the crops will grow. Most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals. Civilization will have broken down. The few people left will be living in a failed state — like Somalia or Sudan — and living conditions will be intolerable. The droughts will be so bad there’ll be no more corn grown.

    I am not interested in debating global warming. What I am interested in is seeing Christians feel empowered to rise to their position in the created order. They do not need to worry or be reactionary. Rather, they are free to live out God’s calling. They can seek wisdom and tend the garden responsibly. And they can know that, in the end, it matters that they served God well and took their dominion seriously. We can also rest in the fact that it is our Lord, and not us, who holds all created things together. These underlying assumptions, which differentiate us from secular environmentalists, also allow us to maintain the peaceful demeanor which Scripture so often attributes to believers. Internal peace is best generated by resting in actual truth.

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  • Reply Kansas Mom June 12, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    “as one who has dominion over one small plot of land, I am making the types of decisions a responsible steward should make. I live in a desert, so I am making sure there is also enough water for my neighbors by not using more than is necessary.”


  • Reply Brandy June 11, 2008 at 10:22 pm


    One of the verses that came to my mind this afternoon was Romans 8:19, where we learn that the creation is waiting for the sons of God to be revealed, and it waits in eager expectation at that!

    Also, since all things will eventually be summed up in Christ, and, in the very, very end (which is also a beginning of sorts) there will be a new, redeemed earth, we can know that our future is sure.

    Interesting things to think about…

  • Reply Kimbrah June 11, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    “More importantly, the account of the Fall shows us that it is we, and not the planet, who are in need of saving.”

    Brandy- I think you have hit upon a key concept here. The salvation of the earth coming through the salvation of man. That is a very deep concept indeed.

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