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Subduers of the earth? : the Bible, Christian faith and environmental ethics

Smith, Ivan Graham (2002-12)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stelenbosch University, 2002.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: I begin this assignment with an examination of verses such as Gen. 1:28 from the period of primeval history in the Old Testament (0. T.) of the Christian Bible which have been seen by some commentators, particularly Lynn White, as being responsible for a despotic attitude towards the natural environment and consequently for much of the damage that has been done to the environment. These texts are critically examined to determine whether one may interpret them in that manner but also taking into account the form and context of writing. The 'despotic' interpretation of these texts is contrasted with the views of others, such as Robin Attfield who see in them a call to stewardship, not a licence to ruthlessly subjugate. Attfield particularly does not believe that these ancient texts can be held responsible for the present ecological crisis. Thereafter an examination is made ofO.T. texts which refer to the concept of rest for the earth which, for our present-day context is interpreted in this assignment as a rest from the rigours of environmental degradation and from the over-exploitation of the earth's resources. New Testament (N.T.) texts are also critically examined in section 4, examining in the gospels Jesus' attitude towards the natural environment, and also other N.T. texts, particularly from the epistles ofSt Paul. The conclusion in this section is that the N.T. writers portray a benevolent attitude towards non-human nature and portray God as caring for even those inhabitants of the natural realm which humans may deem insignificant, eg, the sparrows referred to in Luke 12: 6. In section 5, there is once again an examination ofN.T. texts, but this time for the purposes of re-interpreting the concept of salvation so that it embraces the whole of creation and not only humankind. The point of departure here is that humans cannot be separated from their non-human environment on this earth. Salvation and reconciliation is for the whole of the created order, as St Paul seems to indicate. Therefore in this section of the assignment an holistic view of salvation is adopted: we are saved in our world and with our world, not apart from it and out of it. Section 6 endeavours to draw together the criteria that would inform an environmental ethic that Christians can subscribe to, given the approach that has been taken in the previous sections of the assignment; 6.2 lists the features necessary for such an ethic. An examination is also made of various ethical theories such as Natural Law (Teleology), Utilitarianism, and Deontology and what impact they would have if applied in an environmental framework. This section ends in 6.5 with an overview of the main tenets of the Deep Ecology movement, not viewing it so much as an ethical system, but more as a set of values which accord with a deep respect for all of nature and which may guide humankind to transform destructive attitudes towards the environment. Because this assignment deals with Christian morality in respect of the environment, it is necessary to critically examine the concept of stewardship which is the thrust of section 7, titled 'Stewardship Revisited'. The views of Robin Attfield, John Passmore and William Dyrness with regard to stewardship in the Bible and Christian tradition are contrasted. Thereafter Elizabeth Dodson Gray's views are referred to and supported as the way towards a much-needed transformation of humans' attitude to the natural environment. Gray rejects the notion of stewardship as an acceptable environmental ethic because it retains the overtones of domination and paternalism. It is concluded that stewardship, even if it is biblically justified and is supported by Christian tradition, has failed to arrest the degradation and destruction of the natural environment caused by human activities. This then leads on to the next section where this assignment supports Gray's 'Ethic of Attunement'. 'Becoming Attuned', the heading of the section describes in two words the basis of Elizabeth Gray's environmental ethic. It is noted here that she calls upon humankind to become attuned to our ecosystems and the life-support systems in the biosphere and to plan and structure our industries and activities to 'fit in'. Gray's ethic of attunement is also supported because it is practical, down-to-earth and takes into account the needs of human beings as part of nature. Section 9 gives a brief overview of some practical implications and applications of an ethic of attunement. The fields of education, industry, farming, energy and nature-conservation are touched on. The last subsection under 9, 9.6, gives a recent example of a clash between human and non-human nature in the Cape Peninsula, namely, the so-called invasion of residential areas by baboons. How this problem may be dealt with under an ethic of attunement is discussed. This assignment concludes in section 10 with the exhortation to move beyond an ethic of stewardship of the natural environment to one ofattunement. Moreover, the urgency of doing so is emphasised. If we do not change our ways to fit in with nature, planet Earth is doomed to eco logical destruction.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In die begin van hierdie taak word verskei Bybelse verse uit die oergeskiedenis in die Ou Testament (O.T.) ondersoek om te bepaal ofhulle verantwoordelik gehou kan word vir die mens se despotiese gesindheid teenoor die natuurlike omgewing en die gevolglike skade wat so 'n gesindheid veroorsaak. Verklaarders soos veral Lynn White is van mening dat verse soos Genesis 1: 28 wel aanleiding gegee het tot so 'n despotiese gesindheid teenoor die omgewing. Hierdie mening word in teenstelling geplaas met die sienswyse van skrywers soos Robin Attfield wie meen dat die verse onder bespreking te doen het met rentmeesterskap eerder as despotisme. Bowendien glo Attfield dat hierdie oeroue tekste nie verantwoordelik gehou kan word vir ons hedendaagse ekologiese krisis nie. Daarna word ondersoek ingestel in die O.T. tekste wat te doen het met die konsep van rus vir die aarde. Die konsep word in hierdie deel van die taak vertolk in ons hedendaagse konteks as 'n_rus vir die aarde van omgewingsdegradasie en die onmatige ontginning van die aarde se hulpbronne. Tekste uit die Nuwe Testament (N.T.) word ook ondersoek. In afdeling 4 word gekyk na Jesus se woorde en gesindheid met betrekking tot die natuurlike omgewing asook ander verse uit die sendbriewe van Paulus. Hier is die gevolgtrekking dat die N.T. skrywers welwillendheid betoon teenoor die nie-menslike natuur en dat hulle vir God afbeeld as besorgd oor die geringste van wesens in die natuurlike wêreld, dit wat die mens as nietig mag beskou, soos die mossies waarna verwys word in Lukas 12: 6. In afdeling 5 word daar weereens N. T. tekste ondersoek, maar hierdie keer met die doelom die tradisionele dogma van verlossing om te skep sodat dit die hele skepping omhels en nie net die mensdom nie. Hier is die uitgangspunt dat ons nie die mens kan afsonder van die res van die skepping nie. Verlossing en versoening is vir die hele skepping, soos dit blyk in party dele van Paulus se briewe. 'n Alomvattende benadering tot verlossing word in hierdie deel van die taak bevorder: ons word verlos in en met die res van die skepping, en nie apart daarvan nie. Afdeling 6 poog om die maatstawwe te identifiseer wat behoort deel te wees van 'n omgewingsetiek vir Christene, gegewe die rigting wat ingeslaan is in die vorige afdelings van die taak. In 6.2 is daar 'n lys opgestel van die maatstawwe wat nodig geag is. Verskeie etiese teorieë soos Utilitarisme en Teleologie word nagegaan om hulle uitwerking op omgewingsetiek te bepaal. Hierdie afdeling eindig met 6.5 waar die grondbeginsels van die 'Deep Ecology' beweging voorgehou word as die soort waardes wat die mensdom kan lei om 'n_innige respek vir die hele natuur te koester. Daar word saamgestem met die mening dat 'Deep Ecology' nie 'n praktiese, stelselmatige omgewingsetiek is nie, maar, as ons die ideale en grondbeginsels daarvan aanneem, mag dit die nodige transformasie veroorsaak in mense se verkeerde gesindheid teenoor die natuur. Omdat hierdie taak met Christelike omgewingsetiek te doen het, is dit nodig om die konsep van rentmeesterskap as omgewingetiek te ondersoek, want dit is deesdae die oorheersende nadering in die Christelike kerk. Die menings van Robin Attfield, John Passmore en William Dyrness met betrekking tot rentmeesterskap word in teenstelling getrek. Daarna word gekyk na Elizabeth Dodson Gray se sienswyse aangaande die etiek van rentmeesterskap teenoor die omgewing. Haar sienswyse word ondersteun - dat rentmeesterskap hoofsaaklik 'n etiek van heerskappy of baasspeel is. Die gevolgtrekking hier is dat rentmeesterskap nie meer voorgehou kan word as 'n paslike omgewingetiek nie. Dit het nie tot dusver geslaag om die degradasie en vernietiging van die natuur deur die mens stop te sit nie. Gray sê dat die mens in ooreenstemming moet kom met die natuur ('become attuned'). Dit is die inhoud van afdeling 8 - 'n uitleg van haar 'Ethic of Attunement'. Haar uitgangspunt is dat die mens homlhaarself moet sien as deel van die natuur en nie as oorheerser nie. Al die mens se aktiwiteite, en veral die nywerheid, moet inpas by die natuur se siklusse. Gray se etiek word ondersteun omdat dit prakties is en omdat dit die belangstellings en benodighede van die mensdom in ag neem, maar as deel van die natuur. Afdeling 9 word gebruik om kortliks te skets wat sommige van die implikasies en praktiese toepassings van hierdie etiek in die samelewing mag wees. Hier word gekyk na die uitwerking op opvoeding, nywerheid, boedery, energie en natuurbewaring. In die laaste onder-afdeling in hierdie afdeling, 9.6, is daar 'n beskrywing van 'n spesifieke probleem wat te doen het met die botsing tussen die mens en nie-menslike natuur. Die onlangse botsings tussen mense en bobbejane in die Kaapse Skiereiland word gebruik om te sien hoe Gray se omgewingsetiek van 'attunement' in so 'n situasie gebruik kan word om 'n oplossing te kry. Die taak eindig met afdeling 10 waar mense aangespoor word om die omgewingsetiek van 'attunement' aan te neem en die etiek van rentmeesterskap af te skaf Bowendien word daar gepleit dat dit dringend moet gebeur want as ons nie ons algemene gesindheid van oorheersing verander nie, is die aarde verdoem tot vernietiging van die natuur.

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