On the fifth day

June 10, 2010 § 8 Comments

Humour me while I quote from the Bible:

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And 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.”

William Blake's vision of Genesis

William Blake

The Christian account of “Genesis” in the Bible, taken from what is called the “Revised Standard Version” includes these words above, as it describes the creation of all the animals of the land, air and ocean. It was day five, and man was given “dominion” over all these creatures, to use as he saw fit. It was all in a day’s work for God, and all in the first thousand words of the Old Testament.

If you were to look at the “American Standard Version” of the bible the words are slightly different reading ;

“And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he them; male and female created he them. And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over … [the animals etc]”

Seemingly harmless words, but these words can be taken so many ways.

Remember these are the opening words of the Bible, and this acts as the explanation for how everything got here. So, if taken literally, these are some of the most powerful and important  words in the Bible.

These are but two of many available versions of the Bible available at this time, and I’m sure these are not the last, but there is a distinct difference between the two with the words “and replenish the earth and subdue it” included in the American Standard Version. These few words combined with the idea of having “dominion” over the plants and animals made me wonder about the intended meaning of these words, and the implied meaning they have.

And as a slight aside, while both of these versions of the Bible say that man has been given “every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit”, nowhere in this does it mention the idea of meat as food. Does the Bible signify that we should all be vegetarians? In fact, it seems to imply that ALL animals should be vegetarians, including the carnivores.

In any case, the idea of having dominion over the earth, and subduing it are very strong words, making instantly man the owner and ruler of the earth, man is owner and dominator over everything. A quick google search reveals the meaning of “dominion” as:

Sovereign or supreme authority; the power of governing and controlling; independent right of possession, use, and control; sovereignty; supremacy.

So by the very words of the Bible, man is immediately removed from everything else, and not only owns and must take power over nature, but is supreme over nature. We are better than ALL of nature and should treat it however we see fit.

The problem with this understanding should become apparent immediately. Western Christian based societies have done just this. By this doctrine, we have subdued and had our way with the environment, have raped and pillaged it, have sucked it dry at the environment’s expense, and have done it all pretty much as the opening of the Bible suggested.

To be completely reasonable, I’m not implying that man’s stupidity in dealing with the environment was all due to the opening passages of Genesis. And I speculate that if there were no Bible we may have, and quite probably done exactly the same thing to our environment. But a lot of civilization has built itself on the foundations of a Christian society, so it is the Holy Book of the Christian world that lays the foundation for much of the goings on in Europe and the Americas.

This is a bad place to put humans, especially when those who believe the words of Jesus (or Mohammed for that matter), see the earth as a temporary place, one that they leave behind once they have finished with their earthly life if they have been good and pious.

Not really much of an incentive to look after the earth is it? On the one hand the Bible give us permission to do whatever we want with the plants and animals, and on the other hand, we won’t be here too long anyway, and what comes after earth is much better anyhow.

I know I am being overly dramatic here, but remember, there those who read the Bible literally, and take every word as “The Word of God”. Most Christians I know are reasonable people, and know that the destruction of our world’s habitats is wrong, and getting worse with time. And in any case it leaves the theistic world with a pretty bad starting place when dealing with the world.

In the Islamic state of Malaysia, the Malacca Chief Minister Mohamad Ali Rustam reportedly stated last week that “God created animals for the benefits of human beings. That’s why he created rats and monkeys…” And while I’m cynical of the media and its spin, and while I’m not making a case here for animal testing and whether I am against it or not, this is the kind of thinking I see again and again from the religious extreme. To use the words of a stone-age text and ideals that are no longer relevant in a time when we may well destroy ourselves if we don’t make our choices wisely. All of us.

Another implication from Genesis that I think has a negative effect on the way we have historically viewed our environment is that it is claimed it took God only 6 days to create what has actually taken 13.73 billion years to arrive at what we call “now”,   and do not imply that what we have here on earth is special. If we destroy God’s sandbox, couldn’t he just create another one in less time? This is a digression, but I do think there is some psychological effect if you believe what the Bible says (or the Koran for that matter) as pure, wholly true and is a historical account.

Each of our existences is an incredible meeting of chance with chance. We should be humbled at the sheer expanse, the sheer power, the immensity and beauty of our natural universe. But if a person claims they speak with  heavenly ordained authority from the “powers that be” and make decisions for others and themselves based on authority, people have a tendency to use this as a way to get what “they” want and claim it as “God’s will”.


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§ 8 Responses to On the fifth day

  • mythicsushi says:

    I was just reading recently an article by a Christian that said, paraphrased, “we should do what’s reasonable to preserve the environment, but don’t worry too much-Jesus is coming soon, and he’s going to remake the world anyway!”
    This reasoning is blatantly illogical-even if you believe that Jesus is returning someday and remaking/repairing the world, there’s no telling when that time will be.

    No matter what your religious persuasion, good stewardship of the environment is simply the right thing to do. I’m sure that a good God would agree with me on that one. It seems to be mainly elements of the evangelical/fundamentalist Christian groups that demonstrate indifference to environmental issues.

  • DistroMan says:

    As usual you have told it just like it is. The bible gives mankind no reason to care, just cruise along and wait for the Rapture while leaving the earth to suffer. If there really was a god, he wouldn’t take up anyone who acted like that anyway.

  • ummadam says:

    Could you please take a look at my recent blog posts (over a weeks worth toknow the whole story)? My family is suffering at the hands of a Mennonite Pastor and I would like to hear from bloggers, what they think of it.

  • Luke says:

    You’re on the money with the pillaging and the raping of the Earth’s resources, keyword being ‘money’.

    How would we treat the planet we’re lucky to live on if these words weren’t in the bible? It’s incredibly insane that someone would say not to worry about the Earth because jesus is coming to remake it! The fact that they aren’t allowing for the possibility that he WON’T come and therefore make their best efforts to contribute to sustaining what we’ve got only contributes to how narrow minded and selfish some people become through their faith’s teachings. What if there’s nothing better after this? Don’t those that are to come after us not matter? Not even their own future kin? Guess not…

    Unfortunately, my guess is that people would’ve treated the Earth in the same manner even had the bible not been written. There’s money to be had in feeding hungry bellies and the capitalists know and exploit it. But one can concede that this idea may very well have stemmed from/been contributed to by the bible.

  • Kat says:

    I don’t think you are being “dramatic”. I think this world view has definitely had a hand in shaping the Western view of how we use the earth. Another problem is that some groups of christians are also climate skeptics. They believe that scientists are not only wrong about how the earth was made, but that they are wrong about human impact upon the earth. They also believe that they should have as many children as possible to populate the earth with more christians and not worry about the over population which is another “lie” they have been told.
    I don’t get into debates very much about what people believe. I know what I know and that is good enough for me, unless it impacts upon society as a whole such as in public education. This attitude should concern us. It is misinformed and potentially dangerous when it comes to policy making. Australia needs to realise these ideas are no longer in the US or elsewhere. They are creeping into Australian politics and policy making and could spell disaster.

  • In liberal churches there’s a move now towards environmentalism, which I’m glad of, but it’s so little so late. I remember the first time I read about Native Americans, and how they treated the earth, feeling awed. No one in my Christian home or church treated “God’s earth” as reverently as the Indians.

  • […] just such attitudes toward the world, the idyllic paradise we live in all so amazing and beautiful, all created so man could enjoy it.What a lovely picture, all this is just for […]

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