Some aspects of Western religious thought and man's use of land Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/1n79h872s

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  • 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 itself. 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.
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