- This study examines a limited number of selected themes in
Judeo-Christian, or Western, religious thought and their implications
for man's use of land, with the objective of discovering the influence
of Western religion on attitudes toward nature and land.
Five themes are examined: dominion of man; stewardship; contempt
for, and rejection of, the earth as a suitable dwelling place
for man (Contemptus Mundi); wilderness; and monasticism. Each of
these themes is closely associated with the Bible, the first three
especially with the opening chapters of the book of Genesis.
The study concludes that each of the themes examined has, in
varying degree, affected Western man's attitude toward nature and his
use of land. The last two themes, wilderness and monasticism, are
found to have had the most dramatic and visible effects on the land
A provocative 1967 magazine article by Lynn White, Jr., Professor
of History at the University of California at Los Angeles, is
also employed as a vehicle to assist in the examination of the influence
of Western religious thought on man's attitude toward nature and land. The article, "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis," has
as its thesis that Christianity is a major culprit in today's ecologic
and environmental. crisis. After reviewing the opinions of several individuals
as to the validity of White's thesis, the present paper concludes
that the latter is an oversimplification which at best possesses
only a limited and partial validity.
White is correct in asserting that today's environmental crisis
possesses an important religious dimension. Western man has been prefoundly
influenced by Christianity and has acted as if he rightfully
had dominion over the rest of the created order and license to utilize
nature in whatever way he pleases. He does exploit the environment.
White is in error, however, in attempting to place the major
blame for the ecologic crisis on a Christian view of nature. There
are significant causes of environmental pollution, both in the West
and elsewhere, that have little or nothing to do with religious thought.
Squandering of natural resources is not a recent development. From
earliest times, and in all parts of the world, men have plundered
nature and upset the ecological balance. Nor have Christian cultures
had a monopoly on ecological damage, which in fact began long before
Christianity and has continued throughout historical time. Other, non-
Christian cultures have experienced--and are experiencing--the same
environmental problems as the rest of the world.
The Bible does not provide warrant for an exploitative, man-centered theory of environment. While assigning man a unique role
toward the rest of nature, it does not advocate dominion in the
sense of destructive exploitation.