The mandate of humanity

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” From the book of Genesis 1:28

Great programme, Lord! I am pleased to inform you that we almost got there: (1) we are now more than 6 billion people, (2) we succeded in exterminating a lot of cod and other fish; (3) as far as birds are concerned, they are under control too: we watch them closely as they carry around avian flu… (4) Do not worry either about the creatures that move on the ground: frogs and apes are on their way out, and the rest keeps quite! What do we do now, Lord? I hope you have programmed something better for us than Exodus!

Knowledge from a bottle of whisky hidden in a treatise of astronomy!

Knowledge from a bottle of whisky hidden in a treatise of astronomy!

Barbara King (2007) sees the passage from Genesis above in a very different way: When the story of creation is recounted in the Christian Bible’s Book of Genesis, for instance, the voice of God speaks clearly on the relationship between humans and animals: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” This notion of dominion might seem to specify a hierarchy of worth, control, and power, with humans at the pinnacle. Certainly it has been so used by millions over the centuries, to justify practices that subjugate animals to human will. Animal-rights activists point out, however, that one would be badly mistaken to read this passage as God’s giving to humanity free license to control animals and make them do our bidding. Noah’s preservation of all animal species with his ark may be a singularly dramatic event, but many other Biblical passages too portray humans and animals, together, as God’s creatures. We humans are exhorted to be merciful as God is merciful, and to love as God loves, which means mercy and love for all creatures of the Earth. In other words, “dominion” can be taken to mean compassionate care for animals, not control over animals. Here we see that Biblical Christianity may diverge less radically from Native American cosmology (at least on this one issue) than is normally thought. I wonder what that “Christian bible” could possibly be; maybe a “regular Bible” read by a Christian? And Noah is now a protector of biodiversity avant la lettre? I am not convinced!

Notes and references

Thanks to Trina H. for suggesting the reference to Exodus.

Bible quote from the New International Edition, 1984.

Barbara J. King, 2007. Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion. Kindle Loc. 434-45


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