DOMINATION, DENIAL, DESTRUCTION
A Biblico-Theological Reflection for Creation
Domination: Genesis 1
When my son was still in nursery, he came home, one day, very troubled. His first words were, “Ma, sabi ni Teacher ginawa lang ng Diyos ang mga fish para kainin natin? Tutoo ba yon, Ma? E di kawawa naman pala sila.” (Ma, teacher says God only created the fish so we can eat them. Is that true? They are so pitiful.) I could sense his sadness as he loved watching fish swim in the ocean and can spend an hour looking at them in an aquarium. I answered, “Hindi. Mali si Teacher. Ginawa ng Diyos ang mga isda so that they can swim and play, eat algae, and enjoy life. (No. Your teacher is mistaken. God created the fish to swim…) God also loves them and gifted them with life.” In the cartoon movie ‘Finding Nemo,’ which is a story about fish, the son, Nemo, is separated from an overprotective father, Marlin, and the father crosses the ocean to find him. The cartoon is a comedy-drama about the life and love of sea creatures and it is so interesting that it’s creators, film-makers and storytellers, can imagine beyond what we, many Christian educators, cannot.
My son goes to a Christian School and if his education is anything like mine, he was taught that God created the universe. But more importantly, God’s most important creation is the human being. And from the narrative of Adam and Eve and its interpretation through centuries, the most important creation is the ‘man.’ It would seem like God had and has favorites. These are some of the values we teach children in Christian Education.
Does God, whom we say is love, have favorites? Could God have created different creatures and different elements so that one can dominate? Could God have created a hierarchy in creation so that some will actually be powerful while most are powerless?
In understanding the different perspectives of Christianity about the environment, our primary source is the sacred text of the Christian faith which is the Bible. First, let’s talk about Creation. There are at least three narratives about creation in the Bible. The first is found in Genesis 1 where God created by the power of God’s word and in this order: light and darkness or Day and Night, earth and seas, plants and trees, sun and moon, living creatures in the water and the skies, living creatures that walk and creep over the earth, including humankind. In the creation of all of nature and creatures, at every act of creation, it is punctuated with, “And God saw that it is good.” But notice the rhetoric in the creation of humankind, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”(1:27) The text further reads, “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 the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. Then, the text continues, “God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”
Scholars describe this creation story as ‘anthropocentric.’ Anthropocentrism describes the tendency for human beings to regard themselves as the central and most significant entities in the universe, or the assessment of reality through an exclusively human perspective.
The term can be used interchangeably with humanocentrism, while the first concept can also be referred to as human supremacy. The views are especially associated with certain religious cultures. Anthropocentrism is a major concept in the field of environmental ethics and environmental philosophy where it is often considered to be the root cause of problems created by human interaction with the environment.
“So God created humankind in his image…” – establishes the supremacy of humankind and diminishes the value of the rest of Creation.
“… to subdue it; and have dominion over …. every living thing that moves upon the earth… – establishes the domination of humanity over all of Creation
I have given you every plant yielding … you shall have them for food… – presents nature and it’s fruits as something to be possessed and consumed.
In this narrative, nature, the environment, is diminished in value, dominated over and possessed and consumed.
Denial: Genesis 2
The second Creation Story is slightly different. Let me point out a few things. First, It is the human who is first created. But more importantly, “the Lord God formed an earthling/groundling from the dust of the earth/ground,” Adam is not the name of a man. Adam in Hebrew means earthling or groundling because it is made from the earth. The next part of the narrative is that the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there the Lord God whom he had formed for him to till it and keep it. The earthling came from the soil and he was tasked with tilling the same soil. Unlike in the earlier story where a human is made in the image of God. This narrative exhibits humanity’s connectedness to the soil.
Furthermore, God formed the groundling or earthling from the ground or earth and planted the garden. God actually looks like a farmer in the text. Unlike in the first story where God created by uttering words. There, God was more like a landlord or haciendero who owns and commands the planting of crops but may never even touch the soil. In the latter part of the second story, God even walks in the Garden to enjoy the evening breeze. This narrative exhibits God’s connectedness to nature.
The second point I want to emphasize is how trees are given so much value in the text. The text says, it is pleasant to the sight and good for food; it is associated with life and the knowledge of good and evil. Most of us Christians would never describe a tree as having knowledge. But in the text, it is so powerful that it represents life and death, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
Of course we know that they did not die but they were cursed and made to leave the Garden of Eden. While the story ends with sadness for Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden remained untouched and remained to be a source of life. This second creation story exhibits how Creation is a source of goodness for humanity, and how disobedience to God would cause humanity’s separation from the blessing God intended for creation to be. This is the traditional Christian interpretation. However, we can interpret Adam and Eve’s departure from the garden of Eden as a ‘denial’ of God’s design where the human is not the most important creation. It is a denial of the wholeness and interconnected of a creation where every being and element has equal value and worth.
This narrative exhibits humanity’s connectedness to the soil.
This narrative exhibits God’s connectedness to nature;
This narrative demonstrates how human beings deny God’s order in creation.
All they actually did was eat the fruit of the tree and the consequences changed their lives. How much more punishment must be given for those who have cut the trees, mined the mountains and polluted and depleted our waters and vegetation.
This creation story is anthropomorphic. Anthropomorphism is a term coined in the mid 1700sto refer to any attribution of human characteristics (or characteristics assumed or believed by some to belong only to humans) to animals or non-living things, phenomena, material states and objects or abstract concepts. Examples include animals and plants and forces of nature such as winds, rain or the sun depicted as creatures with human motivations, and/or the abilities to reason and converse. The term derives from the combination of the Greek ἄνθρωπος (ánthrōpos), “human” and μορφή (morphē), “shape” or “form”.
Destruction: Genesis 6-8
The last story I want to present to you is not a creation but a destruction story.
When I was pregnant with my second child who I knew was male, and wanted a name that began with the letter N because my husband’s name is Norman, I was thinking of the name ‘Neil,’ which means champion. But my daughter’s favorite Bible story then was Noah’s Ark and so she decided that her brother’s name should be Noah. He is now 13 years old.
Genesis 6 tells Noah’s story, God’s anger and destruction of the earth. It reads in part, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.” Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.
Because of the sin and violence of humanity, God destroyed even the earth.
In this narrative, God only speaks to Noah;
In this narrative, God sacrifices the whole of creation who had no part in the sin of humanity;
In this narrative, God, the Creator, becomes God, the destroyer.
This third narrative, is probably one of the roots of our fear for the end times. It tells us that when we sin God destroys.
It may also be one of the roots of our condemnation of other faiths. When the big tsunami on December 26, 2004 hit eleven countries and not the Philippines, we have heard Christians say that it is because we are Christians.
It may also be one of the roots of our continuing denial and accountability over the destruction of the earth. We ‘wait upon’ God’s creation or destruction of the earth, instead of being responsible for its healing and restoration.
These 3 narratives on Domination, Denial and Destruction continue to influence the Christian churches’ faith and praxis even today.
Some of us believe in the supremacy of the human race and their right to possess and consume everything in creation.
Some of us believe in the interconnectedness and integrity of humanity and the whole of creation, but may willfully deny it.
And some of us that Creation is the stage where God creates and destroys at will.
Psalm 104 is a powerful song that expresses the Creator’s love and provision for all of Creation. It challenges us to move…
from domination to honoring,
from denial to affirmation,
and from destruction to new creations.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.
You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens.
People go out to their work and to their labor until the evening.
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the earth.
May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works —
who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!”