'Dominion over all the earth': exploitation or stewardship?
A Christian Science perspective: A reminder this Earth Day of the spiritual underpinnings of responsible stewardship of our planet.
It is possible to feel overwhelmed by the growing number of environmental problems today: species extinction, an expanding list of endangered animals, air/water/soil pollution, declining biodiversity, crashing fish populations, habitat loss, and changing climate – to name a few. It can feel even more upsetting to know that a majority of the problems are due either directly or indirectly to human activity. Yet Christian Science provides a basis from which to tackle the root causes from a spiritual standpoint, by addressing the thought behind such activities.
The first chapter of the Bible says, “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth”
But what does “dominion” really mean? It is traditionally interpreted as “to subdue” or “to rule over.” When taken to an extreme, it can include oppression and exploitation. However, an exploited planet Earth does not leave humanity richer. Perhaps there is a deeper, more sustainable aspect of dominion that includes a sense of service to one’s fellow creatures and even a compulsion to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
Isn’t it possible that in its highest form, dominion includes responsible governance and stewardship, which is defined as an “individual’s responsibility to manage his life and property with proper regard to the rights of others”?
Interestingly, a recent documentary film titled “I Am” challenges the belief that the primary governing principle of the natural world is survival of the fittest. The film proposes that there is actually more precedence for cooperation and collaboration. It highlights the modus operandi in nature of living organisms to use nothing more than they need.
This is in sharp contrast to the material scene and the representation of humanity as greedy, wasteful, and unwise. That material view certainly doesn’t mesh well with the New Testament’s teachings. It states, “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (I John 4:16). If “God is love,” and God made man “in [His] image,” would the identity of the man and woman of God’s creating include qualities that would lead to oppression or exploitation? It is not likely.
God’s sons and daughters are spiritual. They live in an atmosphere of love, and therefore are capable only of loving. Rather than exploiting, spiritual dominion naturally governs the environment in a respectful, supportive, and responsible manner.
As Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote, “Reflecting God’s government, man is self-governed” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 125). She also wrote, “The perfect man – governed by God, his perfect Principle – is sinless and eternal” (p. 304).
Just as most of us wouldn’t commit the small sin of throwing garbage into our neighbor’s yard, we can reconsider participating in or supporting activities that release waste into the air or water or ground or somewhere “away.” Realizing that those actions have an impact on a neighboring country or fellow creature strengthens our desire to act wisely.
It naturally follows that instead of ignoring careless or illegal acts in our own area or beyond, it’s more beneficial for everyone (including us) to recognize that all people can express intelligent caring for the world. It’s also useful to let our thoughts be focused on love, mercy, and trust in good, rather than on pollutants like anger, envy, or frustration.
Science and Health states, “Whatever is governed by God, is never for an instant deprived of the light and might of intelligence and Life” (p. 215). This important promise is fulfilled when we accept that each of us is a spiritual idea created by God. Since God’s creation expresses His government, we can correctly identify ourselves as God’s sons and daughters, having dominion over ourselves and our environment.
Also, as God’s creation we naturally express and are governed by spiritual qualities such as compassion, selflessness, and intelligence. Under this government we will be led to decisions that are supportive of our surroundings. We will also be able to support in prayer the intelligent and responsible choices of others, as they contribute to an outcome in which all creation may live in harmony.
April 22 is Earth Day.