Did G-d Gave Us the Right to Take Advantage of the Earth?

18 Aug

26Then G-d said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So G-d created man in his own image,
in the image of G-d he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 G-d blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue itRule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then G-d said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Genesis 1:26- 30

I am not sure if this is an argument that people commonly make, however, I was reading Genesis last night and it sounds like G-d put all of these creatures on the world to support the human population. Whether you believe in G-d or not, most people believe that humans are the keepers of the world. The most basic way this distinction is made is humans do not call themselves animals. We believe that we have evolved so far past our closest animal relatives that we should not be placed in the same category as them.

Genesis states that on the third day G-d covered the land with vegetation, on the fourth day G-d filled the oceans and the sky with creatures. And then on the fifth day G-d put cattle and other wild beasts on the land. Finally, on the sixth day he created man in his own image.

However, from the text we see that man was created with a purpose. 26Then G-d said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” When G-d created the created land, it says 9 “And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.”

I think that in a very Judeo-Christian world humans are given a sense of entitlement and ownership over the natural world in the first chapter of the Bible.  People around the world live and die by their religious beliefs, and there it is, so subtly slipped in that humans are to rule over the fish, birds, livestock and over the earth. This ownership does not come with a sense of responsibility, at least not here.

At this time, no matter when you think the beginning of humanity was, the human population was significantly smaller. It’s possible that the author of this text had no idea that humans would ever reach the carrying capacity of the Earth or that they would use the resources in such a way that these animals and plants that humans were to rule over would become extinct.

Also, rule over does not have to mean take advantage of. A dictator can be a terrible and harsh ruler, but if he kills of his subjects who will he rule and how will he sustain himself.

Additionally, while the Bible states that man will rule over the Earth it is clear in later parts of Genesis and the Bible that people are responsible for these other creatures. Most famously, Noah is told, 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.

Noah and his family will need these creatures to survive in the future but G-d says that the creatures “will come to you to be kept alive”. It does not give a reason for keeping these animals alive, but rather just says they need to be kept alive.

G-d was going to annihilate all of the people that were on the Earth, these people that were created in His image and the requirement for Noah and his family to be spared was that they build an arc to save two individuals from each species so that they did not die out during the flood.

Another example is seen when the rules are about the year of rest are given. People are given a weekly Shabbat. Slaves are freed after six years and on the seventh year the ground is let rest (no crops can be planted) and the animals are given a break.

To me this means that even though G-d put all of these creatures on the Earth for people to rule over, we are supposed to protect them. We are allowed to use natural resources but we are not supposed to take advantage of them. Just as with dictators, if we kill off all of our subjects we will not be able to sustain ourselves.

1 Comment

Posted by on August 18, 2009 in sustainability


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One response to “Did G-d Gave Us the Right to Take Advantage of the Earth?

  1. John Grant

    August 18, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    There’s a fascinating discussion on this in David Abram’s book the Spell of the Sensuous. His view (grossly simplified) is that writing was a key instigator of a split between human beings and our previous boundless participation in nature (eg animism) – and that the semitic people’s who wrote these early books of the bible were one of the first to fall under writing’s magic (literally – in the case of kaballah mysticism) and the intoxcating illusion that nature is something for humanity to control and dominate as opposed to worship as our matrix/womb, as was the view in more traditional religions in this region. I’m not doing it justice but it’s an awesome book on the sources of our worldview.


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