"Is Anyone In Charge Here?" A Christological Evaluation of the Idea of Human Dominion Over Creation.
Yeoman, Selwyn Christopher
How are we human beings to understand our place and apparently unique power among all other creatures of the Earth? This may seem a naive question, except that the world of the early twenty-first Century is increasingly degraded precisely because of inadequate answers to that question – or refusals to answer it at all. Apocalyptic scenarios surrounding human induced climate change, global conflicts over access to the Earth’s bounty, resource depletion, unconscionable disparities of wealth and poverty, and dramatic rates of bio-diversity loss seem frequently to be met with the response, “don’t worry. Go shopping!” Consumerism is not only an economic strategy but a therapy, and a way of understanding one’s place in the world. Such indifference is not universal however. In 1967 American historian Lynn White Jnr. suggested that our present ecological crisis was deeply rooted in the Judaeo-Christian heritage and especially the inspirations drawn from the Biblical creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2.1 His argument was that these stories imagined humanity set apart from the rest of Creation by being made in the image of the Creator God, to exercise domination of the world, and indeed, ‘no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.’2 1 Lynn White, Jr. “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” Science, New Series, Vol.155, No. 3767 (Mar. 10, 1967): 1203 - 1207. 2 White, “Historical Roots,” 1205. The purpose of this thesis is firstly, to interrogate White’s account of the impact of Christian faith by demonstrating the reality of serious environmental degradation in contexts quite untouched by Biblical ideas or the Christian tradition. Secondly, I will explore ideas about Creation and human dominion as articulated by the Patristic theologians. These were critical influences during the period of which White writes but are completely ignored in his critique, as also are the Promethean experiments with human power and freedom that have impacted the world since the European Enlightenment. Trinitarian accounts of God are central to Patristic theology and it is in the light of such accounts that I address issues to do with the nature of Human Dominion. It is the heart of Christian faith that Jesus Christ is the true image of God, and as the Word of God embodied in the materiality of Creation he is also the authentic human being. To properly understand our place within the ecology of Creation we must learn from the humanity of Jesus. To exercise our power rightly we must learn his exercise of power. But the Earth’s ecological crisis is ample evidence that humanity is not readily disposed to living well here. This disorientation, in Christian theology, is our sinfulness. It is repaired, not by individual decisions to try and do better, but by deep-seated conversion into the life of Christ, and into participation in the community of his new humanity, which he proclaimed as the Kingdom of God. To assess our power, sources of identity, community or autonomy, orientation of desire, and ecological relatedness, all in the light of Jesus Christ is to engage in a Christological evaluation of our humanity. Such an evaluation is a central task of this thesis. Jesus exercises his power or Dominion as a servant, and we will explore some implications of serving the well-being of all Earth’s creatures. As he embodies the Word of God, we examine what it means for us to be formed by that Word, and how the contemplative life is a necessary counter to the destructiveness of the consumerist life. As he is the true image of God, we will explore aspects of advocacy and representation, participating in Christ’s priesthood for the Earth. By such an evaluation we articulate a way of being that is able to recognize a unique power for responsible nurturing, a fellowship in Christ with all Creation.
Advisor: Rae, Murray; Davidson, Ivor; Holmes, Christopher
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Theology and Religion
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Human Dominion; Creation; Christology; Environmentalism; Conservation; Sustainable development
Research Type: Thesis