Religion and Environmental Ethics

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RELS5149 Religion and Envirnomental Ethics
Student#1155012742 - Li Wai Tat, Victor

Does Christianity have a "Burden of Guilt" in our Ecological Crisis?

Introduction and Methods
In 1967, Lynn White Jr., published a paper in Science (Vol 155, 1967, pp 1203-1207) "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis", which was to become a seminal work on the relationship of Ecology and Christianity and had since then provoked enumerous debates on the topic.

In the paper he wrote "Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt" and concludes that "Hence we shall continue to have a worsening ecologic crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man."

White depicted Western Christianity as seeing the world existing primarily for the benefit of man, and man, bearing God's image and sharing in great measure God's transcendence of nature, exploit nature for his proper ends according to God's will. This thesis of White shall be referred to as "Dominion Hypothesis" for ease of identification in this paper. But are the claims in his Dominion Hypothesis valid? Does Christianity bear a burden of guilt for the ecological crisis of the world? The purpose of this paper is to assess the strength of his thesis by firstly analysing what the biblical scriptures and theologians have to say with regard to the relationship of God, man and the environment. Next the symptoms and origins of our ecological crisis are examined, after which their ties with Western Christianity are assessed to determine whether the later has causal relationship with the former. Finally, after arriving at the conclusion, some recommendations are presented.

1

White's Thesis
White's thesis can briefly be summarized as: "All forms of life modify their contexts, and the human race has in one sense simply done this more than others. However, the human impact on the environment, whilst frequently detrimental in the past, was given an added impetus by Christianity in its Westernized form. Western society, as a product of Westernized Christianity, inherits an exploitative attitude to the natural world which is the key to our present ecological crisis." (Richardson, 1998) . White depicted Western Christianity as seeing the world existing primarily for the benefit of man, and it is according to God's will that man exploit nature for his proper ends.

Biblical verses that align to the Dominion Hypothesis
Arguably the following passages from the Bible are aligned to the Dominion Hypothesis and are most frequently cited by ecology critics of the Bible. "Then 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 birds of trhe air, and over the the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thinng that creeps upon the earth' So god created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, 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 every living thing that moves upon the earth.' And God said, 'Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.' " (Gen. 1:26-29)

"Yet thou has made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor. Thous hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands; thous hast put all things under his feet; all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea." (Ps. 8:5-8)

2

"And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea;...
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