Genesis and Environmentalism: The Special Status of Man under Attack

The first main thing to consider in the Genesis narrative of creation is the simple fact of creation and the meaning of the distinction of things and their goodness. I have written about that during the course of the last three Sundays. Now it is time to address the second main point of the creation narrative, the special status of man, created male and female, in the image and likeness of God.

In today’s world the special status of man has been under a sustained attack for more than a century, indeed since the time of Charles Darwin. Whatever else might be said about the theory of evolution, it has been used to deny that human beings belong to higher order than the animals.

Human intelligence is seen as no more than an accidental byproduct of evolution that may have made us to be more powerful than other animals, but does not otherwise elevate us above them, or characterize us as having a more noble nature. Scientists will spend a great deal of effort trying to show that the most developed among other animals (e.g. chimpanzees and dolphins) truly have intelligence. Indeed, the language of intelligence is readily applied to all sorts of animals, without any clear idea of what makes human beings different. Where there is no evidence of intelligence some people are quite ready to affirm that we might just not understand their language. Actually birds might be having very sophisticated conversations, we just don’t understand them.

The concept of justice actually reveals the uniqueness of human intelligence, because through the concept of justice we grasp an invisible order of relationships among persons and things that transcends both pleasure and utility. The concept of beauty also reveals the character of human intelligence, because it shows that we are capable of simply admiring a person or thing for what it is, not what we can get out of it. Some animals might exhibit a sort of curiosity, but not admiration.

Nevertheless, on the political front we now have the ‘animal rights’ movement, which is not just about humane treatment of animals, but declaring the equality of species. Therefore animals must have rights just like we do, even equal rights. Last year a lawsuit was filed in Washington County, Oregon on behalf of horse against its previous owner, seeking damages for neglect. Fortunately some measure of sanity remains, as the judge deemed the horse did not have legal standing and so dismissed the lawsuit. Nevertheless, the dismissal has been appealed.

We could perhaps distinguish two major, distinct, yet intertwined threads of the environmentalist movement, the scientific thread and the religious thread, which following the ‘Gaia hypothesis’ moves towards a sort of worship of the earth and of ‘mother nature’.

Religious environmentalism does not only seek to impede and avoid ongoing degradation of the environment for the sake of human life, but rather tends to see humans as the enemy and wants to make the world safe from humans.

Religious environmentalist reacts both against the technological society and the Christian faith. Indeed, because of the 1st chapter of Genesis, in particular the passage in which God says to men, Fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth, religious environmentalism typically blames Christianity for the degradation of the environment. (Gen 1:28)

In truth, the modern degradation of the environment results from the drive to conquer nature that began only in 16th century Europe. At that time it was not very safe openly to proclaim atheism, but the roots of the drive for the conquest of nature were truly atheistic.  (To be continued)



Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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