Christianity and the Earth: Dominion versus Stewardship

How did Old Testament stories influence Western views of nature? What's the difference between having dominion over the earth and practicing environmental stewardship? Ecologist Elaine Friebele, a longtime Dumbartonian, was on hand May 22 to discuss these questions with Adult Ed.
 
According to Friebele, the familiar stories of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel were meant to show how humans' disobedience damaged their relationship with the earth. "Cain killed Abel on his own land," she said. "In this story land becomes a living character."
 
"Wilderness" is mentioned 250 times in the Bible. It was often viewed as a place of hardship where spiritual catharsis occurred.
 
For 13th-century St. Francis of Assissi,wild creatures had souls, and  nature was "the mirror of God." A century later Petrarch made this observation of the mountain he was climbing in northern Italy:
"I stood like one dazed. Clouds floated beneath my feet." He paused to read some of Augustine's Confessions urging Christians to focus on heaven, not on earthly pleasures. "I was abashed," Petrarch wrote.
 
The ecotheology of modern times, reflected in the writings of Matthew Fox, Teillard de Chardin, and others, views nature positively. Humankind is responsible for the planet and charged with protecting it. Instead of being "rulers" with dominion over the earth, men and women are "stewards" taking care of it.  
 
Friebele reminded Adult Ed of today's environmental concerns--for example, the garbage path in the Pacific which is as large as the state of Texas. Noted Friebele: There is no plan of action in the United Methodist Church."

--By Ginny Finch