Christianity and Environmentalism

This was my first ever published article. I wrote it soon after returning from service in the Peace Corps in Paraguay as an extension forester. As such, this article constituted a bridge, from my hitherto contemplated career in forestry (in fact, I had been accepted to Yale University’s forestry school to complete a master’s degree in international forestry) to a career exploring the foundations of civilization sub specie aeternitatis. The article has since been referenced, usually as a foil for environmentalist attack. Admittedly, being a product of youthful exuberance, it is a bit less nuanced than my later work. And it contains a few positions which I have since revised. Nevertheless, it stands as written. Of course, the analysis and agenda could be expanded greatly. That will have to await another opportunity.

My mature thought on this subject is contained in my book, A Theology of Nature.

Environmentalism and Christianity’s Ethic of Dominion

Ruben C. Alvarado

Copyright © 1986 Ruben C. Alvarado

this edition published 2013 in

Originally published in the Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Volume 11, Number 2, 1986-87, pp. 201-215. The original page numbering is included between square brackets.

In the May, 1981 edition of Audubon magazine, Ron Wolf presented his view of then Secretary of the Interior James Watt’s resources management philosophy, in behalf of the environmentalist movement. Watt at the time was redirecting the Department towards a management strategy of development as opposed to preservation, in line with the Reagan administration’s sympathy for the condition of the “Sagebrush Rebels” in the West. Those people saw government lands as the key to their continued well-being, and were understandably opposed to environmentalist efforts to withdraw from development vast amounts of acreage. Environmentalists, in turn, saw Watt as a “fox in the chicken coop,” giving up for despoliation lands which he was sworn to protect.

Wolf’s article was entitled “God, James Watt, and the Public’s Land.” He saw, underneath the squabble over land use, a war of religion taking place: two religions fighting for philosophical control of “the public’s land.” Environmentalism, he wrote, was characterized by a sense of identification with nature. “In general this broad tradition has given rise to forms of belief in which a person’s spiritual, physical, and even economic well-being are considered to derive from his rapport with all of creation, from being in tune with the infinite.” He contrasts this view with that of Watt’s fundamentalist Christianity, of man’s dominion over nature as ordained by God. Wolf says it is this attitude of dominion that is the cause of environmental despoliation. This is the root of the prob- [201] lem, he writes, and the real point of battle between Watt and environmentalism.

The thesis that orthodox Christianity is the cause of ecological disruption by our society is not new with Wolf. Aldo Leopold, whose book A Sand County Almanac (1949) has been termed “one of the bibles” of environmentalism, (1) advanced this idea in his critique of utilitarian conservation philosophy. He wrote, “Conservation is getting no-where because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us.” (2) And again: “In human history, we have learned (I hope) that the conqueror role is eventually self-defeating … In the biotic community, a parallel situation exists. Abraham knew exactly what the land was for: it was to drip milk and honey into Abraham’s mouth. At the present moment, the assurance with which we regard this assumption is inverse to the degree of our education.” (3) This hostility towards the ethic of dominion was made orthodoxy with Prof. Lynn White Jr.’s article “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” (first published in Science, 10 March 1967, and reprinted many times thereafter). After describing the impetus which Western Christianity gave to the development of science and technology, White decries the impact of these developments on the environment, attributing their abuse to the world-view which contributed so much to their appearance. He writes that “somewhere over a century ago science and technology – hitherto quite separate activities – joined to give mankind powers which, to judge by many of the ecologic efforts, are out of control. If so, Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt.” He advocates a return to pantheistic values, where all creatures are seen as equals: “A democracy of all God’s creatures.”

This conflict points to the necessity for a clarification of the issue. Is Christianity the cause of the ecologic crisis? Does Christianity justify the wanton despoliation of the environment for the wants of man? Is Christianity being accurately represented here, or are these accusations properly directed towards a caricature of the dominion ethic? And what is the dominion ethic of Christianity?

Before directly addressing the questions posed above, a quick look at the historical development of environmentalism as a school of thought is in order. Its belief system has only recently become a coherent, viable force in the shaping of the public consciousness, but its roots date back to at least the Romanticist movement of the late 18th/early 19th centuries. Deism, the view which saw the universe as a vast clock-[203] like mechanism set in motion by God, had failed to satisfy the emotional longing of the human soul, its need for intuitional, transcendental experience with the mystical or divine. The mechanistic, “billiard ball” universe which offered so much hope to the constructors of rationalistic philosophy had become a prison. Logic had excluded intuition and inspiration, yet their claims to the heart could not be so easily overridden by the former’s appeal to the head. Inevitably the backlash to secular sterility came, involving a flight to pantheistic experience of oneness with the Infinite. The mechanistic view of nature was replaced with an organismic one.

In young America , this trend received great impetus through the Transcendentalists, Emerson and Thoreau being their chief exponents; today they are patron saints of environmentalism. Emerson emphasized the organic relationship of man to nature, of nature’s being “the mirror of the soul.” Oneness with God for him was the natural condition of every man open to nature’s ethereal pulse, who could find fulfillment not in separation from her but in harmony with her. Nature was the expression of God’s essence, and man was her highest creation, nurtured in her bosom, delighting in her bounty. A process of mutual fulfillment in as-yet-unrealized evolution was man’s destiny with her.

The rise of Darwinism in the mid-19th century brought inevitable conflict with this romanticized view of nature. Here the deistic mechanism which rationalism had previously proposed as the model of Creation gave way to that of a chance-determined process of natural selection. Darwin applied the Malthusian interpretation of the course of life to nature, nailing it firmly down with the concept (succinctly described in the title) The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. There was some correlation between the two views in that both involved a concept of continuity of being and also turned away from the Christian God of ex nihilo creation. Yet Darwin ‘s hypothesis involved quite a strained view of Mother Nature; Transcendentalism’s emphasis on her beneficence and benignity were hard to reconcile with Darwinism’s “red in tooth and claw” paradigm of nature. The enthronement of the ultimacy of chance by Darwinism also brought about unsolvable dilemmas for those with a romantic view of nature.

Notwithstanding such intellectual difficulties, environmental concern as a separate school of thought got underway with the publication in 1863 of George Perkins Marsh’s Man and Nature, a ground-breaking [204] work which called attention to the deterioration of the environment on account of man’s cultural advance. Marsh was an orthodox Christian who grounded his position in the Biblical teaching of righteous stewardship of the natural heritage: “Man has too long forgotten that the earth was given to him for usufruct alone, not for consumption, still less for profligate waste.” (4) This emphasis set the tone for future development of conservation philosophy; (contrary to environmentalist dogma espoused today, it can be seriously doubted if effective environmental concern would have been produced, had Scriptural teaching not made up such a large part of the intellectual inheritance of the time). (5)

Subsequent development also benefited, however, from the notions of state-oriented progress which came into vogue after the Civil War. Already in Marsh, one notes hostility towards private enterprise, and the call for increasing governmental control and regulation of natural resources. Environmental degradation was increasingly seen as wholly the production of unfettered special business interests. (6) Bureaucracy came to be seen as the salvation of the natural heritage: statist control, administered by professional, scientifically trained experts. “Wise use,” “the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run” came to be watchwords. Then came the rise of the Progressive Republicans, who stood against the conservative, laissez faire wing of the party. Theodore Roosevelt was their chief leader; Gifford Pinchot was the ideological exponent of the conservation movement it nurtured.

Pinchot was the first native American trained in forestry. Under his leadership the U.S. Forest Service was established, and through the influence he had with Roosevelt vast amounts of Western acreage were set aside as federal reserves. Pinchot did not advocate setting them aside as preserves, but managing them for “the public good.” This policy was designed to mollify Westerners dependent upon the timber and grasslands for their economic well-being, while protecting the lands from the rapacious special interests. It ran into trouble, however, not so much with these, but with another constituency of the conservation movement – the preservationists.

John Muir was a leader of the opposition to utilization of state-owned natural resources. He carried on the Transcendentalist tradition in that wilderness for him was a spiritual haven:

Muir infused his prose with the religious echoes he detected in his wilderness temples: “The grand priest-like pines held their arms above us in blessing.” Again: “Meadows grassed and lilied head-high, spangled river [205] reaches, and currentless pools, cascades countless and untamable in form and whiteness, groves that heaven all the valley!” (7)

But, as Graham points out, “Muir’s reverence for the forest was pagan rather than Christian.” (8) In keeping with this “sacred grove” tradition, Muir campaigned for the preservation of wilderness from any pressure for utilization by man.

Pinchot and Muir were destined to be antagonists; preservationists and conservationists split over the issue of use vs. non-use. This conflict became apparent in what has come to be seen as a landmark in the history of environmentalism, the Hetch Hetchy Valley confrontation. Hetch Hetchy was a beautiful river valley located less than twenty miles from Yosemite . Another of its “neighbors,” however, was the city of San Francisco , which wished to convert the valley into a reservoir.

This remote mountain valley, which Muir called a “wonderfully exact counterpart of the great Yosemite , not only in its crystal river and sublime rocks and waterfalls, but in the gardens, groves, and meadows of its flowery, park-like floor,” also had certain characteristics that appealed to the city’s engineers. The water carried through the valley by its “crystal river” was sweet and pure. Its “flowery, park-like floor” was flat, suggesting an ideal bottom for a reservoir. And its “sublime rocks” formed steep cliffs narrowing at one end into a slit that would be convenient and relatively cheap to dam. The floor of the valley was about three and a half miles long and it lay 150 miles from San Francisco. (9)

Pinchot led the charge for converting the valley into a reservoir; Muir anchored the resistance. For upwards of 13 years the battle raged, but in 1913 Congress passed a bill allowing construction of the dam to proceed. It was a victory for the advocates of “wise use,” yet it would be seen as the Alamo of the yet-to-be-formed environmentalist movement.

The philosophy which Pinchot and the “progressive conservationists” espoused became the reigning dogma of statist land-use management. Government agencies have since proliferated in this century, especially with the impetus of the New Deal. Their adherence to “wise use” management philosophy kindled the opposition movement which was incipient in the preservationists of Muir’s time. With the end of World War II came a huge increase in the number of people interested in public lands not for purposes of utilization, but for recreation. Increasingly as well came the disillusionment with material progress which [206] spawned a Romanticistic return to the organic view of nature. Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac preached ecological awareness and nature’s intrinsic rights. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring warned of the dangers of the use of pesticides upon the fabric of life. (10) These developments spurred the formation of the modern environmentalist movement, totally adverse to technological exploitation of nature, and dedicated to changing the management philosophy of the government bureaucracies from “wise use” to one of biocentric, harmonious interrelationship.

As has been noted, the notion of man’s oneness with nature is the reigning presupposition of environmentalism. Thus environmentalism is often spoken of as being biocentric, that is, as making nature as a whole the focal point of value. Man is not above nature, but a part of her; as such he is considered of equal value with other animals and plants. The ecosystem as a whole is considered as a unit: its stability and integrity are made of uppermost importance. Right and wrong are then judged in terms of this standard. Aldo Leopold stated it this way: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” (11)

Biocentricity is reinforced by Darwinian theory, which is another pillar of environmentalist thought. Man and nature are products of an evolutionary process of the struggle for life against a hostile, impersonal environment. There is no Savior-God ordaining that which comes to pass; chance is the backdrop against which life has come into being.

The necessary implication of this view of life is statism, as Gary North has shown. (12) The socialistic impulse is pervasive among environmentalists, because salvation is seen to lie in the hands of a planning elite. If society is to be ordered biocentrically, it must be done through this centralization of power, for the vast majority of people care more about themselves than they do about other species of life. Yet they are of no more value than these other species; so in order to properly integrate the ecosystem, planning by ecologically enlightened leaders is necessary. Human survival is seen as at stake in the maintenance of the integrity of the ecosystem, which integrity can only be preserved through centralized planning. The capitalist system is perpetrator of ecological destruction, and must be replaced. Barry Commoner typifies the sentiment here:

[Commoner’s] analysis points to the eventual necessity of a planned, rational, socialist economy because capitalism is inherently wasteful in its [207] irrational pursuit of profit maximization instead of a rational and efficient use of energy, labor, and capital. (13)

These values lie behind environmentalist public policy agendas. Putting land into public (that is, state) ownership and then making sure that agency policy is biocentric are the measures of success. The text used as an introduction to wildlife biology on the university level makes this clear:

The principal goal for any government wildlife agency, state or federal, is to maintain viable populations ofthe wild species of America, living so far as is possible, in their natural habitats. If that goal is accomplished, the agency can be given credit for having done its job well. (14)

Most lands are in private ownership, and commonly the owner does not give wildlife conservation a high priority among the purposes for which he or she uses and manages the land. (15)

[P]ublic lands amount to over 760 million acres in the United States, with the greatest area in Alaska and the western states. According to Gustav Swanson: “Without these lands, the future of wildlife in the United States would be very grim for the onslaught of Homo sapiens is expected to continue.” (16)

[T]hose to whom wildlife is important must play an active political role. Those wishing to exploit land for their own private benefit never cease their political efforts. Those who would protect the natural world cannot afford to do less. (17)

The anti-private ownership bias is evident. Salvation for the ecosystem is obtained by the work of collective man, who must organize and regulate society for the preservation of the ecosystem as a whole.

The biocentric orientation of environmentalism is its Achilles’ heel. It is idolatrous to make the ecosystem the focal point of value. Psalm 24 states that “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” Valuation must come in terms of His Word.

Herbert Schlossberg succinctly states the issue:

Idolatry in its larger meaning is properly understood as any substitu-tion of what is created for the creator. People may worship nature, money, mankind, power, history, or social and political systems instead of the God who created them all. (18)

The ramifications of this idolatry include a decisive distortion of the [208] issue and a consequently perverted plan of action. In the case of environmentalism, the idol of material progress has given way to that of nature redivinized.

Now that nature is no longer to be exploited, it is ready to be worshiped. It is still the whole show and we are still part of it, but now being part of it means that we no longer recognize anything that transcends it. For this mentality, the closer we are to nature and the further from civilization, the better off we are. The extreme hatred for human beings and corresponding love for animals that fills the satires of Jonathan Swift is coming into vogue … Pure nature, hateful mankind. (19)

With this pantheistic view of nature, human beings lose their value as made in the image of God. There is no way to decide upon what portion of the ecosystem, and how much of it, is to be expended on human needs. All human action modifies ecosystems to some extent; the system which sees ecological integrity and stability as primary would then necessarily see satisfaction of human wants as subordinate to whatever measure of stability the ecologists happen to settle on. Yet Jesus said that we are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31 ). Francis Schaeffer notes that “The economic dilemma of India is complicated by their pantheistic system, in which the rats and cows are allowed to eat up food that man needs. Instead of man’s being raised, in reality he is lowered … Man becomes no more than the grass.” (20) The pantheistic, mystical view of nature is thus a primary cause of the poverty in many areas of the world. (21)

In addition to the ruin pantheistic values would bring to society, the triumph of statism would bring about the repudiation, not the establishment, of environmentalist values. Bureaucrats are oriented towards acquisition and maintenance of power, which power is derived much more readily through the utilitarian exploitation of nature than its conservation.

The more powerful the State, the more concentrated the control of economic resources available to State administrators, the more opportunities for economic control through monopolistic economic manipulation, the more ruthless will be those who satisfy their quest for power. The bigger the stakes, the more likely the least moral, most unscrupulous people will claw their way to the top. (22)

Unless the Stalins of this world harbor a soft spot for unspoiled wilderness, there can be little doubt that eco-values would be short-changed [209] under a socialistic regime. Even in a “free” society, bureaucracies tend to maximize agency benefits, whether or not they serve the public interest. Predation on the Treasury “commons” becomes an end in itself, rather than the common good being the end. (23)

The upshot of biocentricity is fittingly summarized by Schlossberg:

The heaving sea of naturalism therefore casts up onto the shore two odd fish. One is he of whom Charles Reich is the exemplar: noumenal man, with a dreamy irresponsibility repudiating the rationality that makes possible what he values as well as what he hates, glorifying sensual experiences, and exalting attitudes and values that, widespread enough, would make it impossible for society to persist. Here is an antinomian egoism that by some miracle is expected to result in love and justice. The other is he heralded by the Galbraiths and the Skinners: phenomenal man, exalting rationality with a philosophy that makes reason impossible, submerging man into a nature that binds him irretrievably, giving him the status of brute or machine and, finally, taking charge in the name of survival. The phenomenal man is the one who kills Reich as a parasite who reduces the chance of survival. We have had prophets warning us about both specimens since early in the century, and we do not yet know which is the greater danger or which will gain ascendancy. (24)

Environmentalist values thus provide no way of providing for either the needs of man or those of nature. Environmentalism tries to safeguard nature’s integrity by subordinating man to like creaturely status with the animal and plant kingdom. It tries to promote man’s survival by making him aware of ecological interrelationships. Nowhere does it justify or regulate the exploitation of nature for the needs of man, provide for human rights, or resist the slide into totalitarianism. Its idolatry condemns it to outlandish and ineffective programs for the stewardship of the natural heritage, and subjugation to political expediency. May the Church be prepared with its own program for the righteous stewardship of God’s creation, derived from His Word.

As has been noted, environmentalism is essentially a reaction to technology and material progress. It is spiritual heir of the Transcendentalist movement, embodying values consistent with a sacralized view of nature, and the necessity of organic harmony with her. As such it is a form of idolatry, in that it replaces the Christian view of creation and dominion with pantheism and escape from responsible stewardship before God. If nature is to be properly conserved, a framework consistent with God’s Word is needed to guide the body of Christ in [210] stewarding the creation, which avoids the pitfalls of unrestrained exploitation on the one hand, and inability to provide for human need on the other.

That man is called to dominion over nature is made explicit in God’s initial commandment to him (Genesis 1:26 -28). He, as made in the image of God, is above nature, and he is called to fill the earth and subdue it. The implications of this command are decisive.

In the first place, it is clear that nature was created for the benefit of man. From it he was to derive his sustenance (Gen. 1:29). He was to cultivate it (Gen. 2:15). The animals were created as helpmeets for him (Gen. 2:18-20). The biocentric perspective contradicts this, because man is placed on a par with the rest of creation.

Additionally, this dominion over nature was to be pursued familistically. God created man male and female (Gen. 1:27), and created Eve as helpmeet for Adam in their common mandate. Rushdoony notes that

Although originally only Adam was created (Gen. 2:7), the creation mandate is plainly spoken to man in the married estate, and with the creation of woman in mind. Thus, essential to the function of the family under God, and to the role of the man as the head of the household, is the call to subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it. (25)

The family is thus the primary institution of dominion.

Ownership of the land is unavoidably an aspect of dominion. Psalm 24 affirms God’s primary ownership, yet He delegates such to men.

The earth is indeed the Lord’s, as is all dominion, but God has chosen to give dominion over the earth to man, subject to His law-word, and property is a central aspect of that dominion. The absolute and transcendental title to property is the Lord’s; the present and historical title to property is man’s. (26)

Environmentalists characteristically advocate placing the ownership in the hands of the state (“public” ownership). Yet as the Bible calls man to dominion in terms of the institution of the family, it speaks of familistic ownership of property. “The scripture … places property in the hands of the family, not the state. It gives property to man as an aspect of his dominion, as a part of his godly subduing of the earth.” (27)The stewardship of resources should be supervised by the most intensely committed social unit, the family. It is not the only legitimate institution of ownership, but it is unquestionably the most universally recognized ownership [211] institution historically, and it is the social unit to which God originally announced the dominion covenant.” (28) Thus the family is called to steward the creation in terms of private ownership.

To all of this must be added a time perspective. Dominion must be attained through a trans-generational orientation, that is, in terms of inheritance. Parents are to pass on to children the teachings and the tools that enable them to continue the extension of their dominion in the earth. Gary North calls this familistic capital: “Capital is to be used faithfully, expanded, and directed into the hands of one who will continue the faithful administration of the assets. Capital is primarily familistic capital.” (29) Economic growth is then a function of the extension of families in the land over time. In this light the command to population growth (Gen. 1:28) must be seen.

Here again, environmentalism is at odds with biblical teaching. Population growth is seen as inimical to the preservation of the natural heritage. North gives a concise and absolute rebuttal to this perspective, which deserves quotation in full:

Unquestionably, nothing can grow at a constant rate of increase forever. The effect of “positive feedback,” meaning compound growth, is to push life against the inescapable limits of the environment. If, for example, the population of the world in the 1970’s, some 4 billion people, were to increase at 1 per cent per annum for a thousand years, the world’s population in human beings alone– not to mention the supplies of beef or other animals to feed them – would be over 83 trillion. Either the rate of increase slows eventually to zero, or less, or else we run out of time. But this is precisely the point: exponential growth, meaning compound growth, points to a final judgment, the end of time. If the growth process is God-ordained in response to a society’s covenantal faithfulness, then the day of judgment should become the focus of men’s concern and hope. History is not unbounded. The zero-growth advocates assume that resources are finite, that history is indefinite, and therefore growth has to be called to a halt eventually. The Christian response is different: growth is legitimate and possible, resources are indeed limited, and therefore the end of history will arrive before the growth process is reversed, assuming society does not first return to its ethically rebellious ways, thereby bringing on temporal judgment (Deut. 8:19-20; 28:15-68). Any attempt to challenge the ethical legitimacy and economic possibility of an epoch of long-term compound growth that is the product of God’s external blessings for covenantal faithfulness is nothing less than paganism. Such an attack is based on a philosophy of history which is unquestionably pagan, either cyclical time or [212] unbounded temporal extension. The goal of both views of history is the same: to deny the possibility of an impending final judgment. Compound growth points to final judgment, so humanists are faced with a major problem: either the growth must stop or history must end, and most Western humanists in positions of academic, economic, or political responsibility are afraid or unwilling to admit the existence of this dilemma. They want endless progress and growth, and the “numbers” – compound growth rates matched against finite resources – testify to the impossibility of achieving both goals. A few have become zero-growth advocates; most simply prefer to ignore the problem. (30)

These are the basic aspects of the dominion mandate. This mandate must be prosecuted covenantally, however, and not in autonomy of God. This is the key difference between secular and Scriptural dominion. Secular dominion operates in terms of human needs, wants, or desires. Scriptural dominion operates in terms of God’s commandments.

It has been noted that environmentalism is a response to technological progress. This “progressivism” was, in turn, a secularized form of the dominion mandate – it is a parody of that mandate. Pollution, degradation, and despoliation of the environment are effects of man’s rebellion, of Adam’s fall. Since then, man has operated in terms of what he has wanted to do, not what God has wanted him to do. The result of this with respect to the environment has been an alternating wanton exploitation of it, or an abject subjugation to it. Yet the dominion mandate partakes of neither of these; its prosecution, conducted covenantally before God, results in both the dominion of man and the fulfillment of nature.

This can be understood when we see that the fall of man has resulted in the creation’s subjection to “vanity” (Romans 8:20) and “bondage to corruption” (v. 21). Paul says that “we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (v. 22). Man’s sinfulness redounds to the corruption of nature. Such passages as Isaiah 24:4-6 chronicle this result: “The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of earth do languish. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.”

Yet Paul speaks as well of the redemption of the creation from this [213] condition: “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God … Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:19,21). He thus ties this redemption intimately with the rule of the righteous. The covenant of grace, then, encompasses the dominion mandate, as in Christ the curse is lifted. The pride, selfishness, and greed of humanity are replaced with meekness and humility. And this, far from resulting in an escape from dominion, is its restoration.

Jesus Christ described Himself as “meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. I 1:29, rendered “gentle and humble” by both Moffatt and BV). He described Himself as such in relationship to those who sought Him. In His relationship to the Pharisees and Sadducees, Christ’s conduct was firm and resolute. As Christ used the term meekness, it meant not the surrender of dominion, but rather the wise, merciful, and gracious use of dominion. We cannot understand the meaning of meekness in Scripture unless we realize that it is not the surrender of dominion but rather the humble and godly use of dominion that it has reference to. The blessed meek are the tamed of God, those harnessed to His law-word and calling, who shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5:6). The blessed meek are those who submit to God’s dominion, have therefore dominion over themselves, and are capable of exercising dominion over the earth. They therefore inherit the earth. (31)

The covenantal use of the natural heritage then involves not only cultivation, but also conservation (Gen. 2:15). This is the twofold character of righteous stewardship. The Mosaic law provided for soil conservation and also wildlife conservation in the Sabbath ordinances. Rushdoony notes that the Sabbath symbolized the rest and release of redemption and regeneration for all of creation, and that “[t]he great work of restoration, of undoing the work of the Fall, includes the soil also. By this rest, the soil also is restored and revitalized.” (32) In Leviticus (25:7) it is stated that, among others, “for the beast that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be meat” during the Sabbath rest for the land. The first ordinance for the protection of wildlife in man’s history was a part of the Mosaic law, specifically Deuteronomy 22:6. (33)

Such examples make clear that a place is to be left for nature in the kingdom of God . It must be understood, however, that nature is subordinate to man, to be utilized in the first place for his benefit. Man in submission to God is to fill the earth and subdue it. Christ is Lord of heaven and earth since His ascension to the right hand of the Father, [214] who has put Him “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet” (Eph. 1:21-22). His kingdom is extended through His chosen: “and [the Father] gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (vv. 22-3). Thus through the church the kingdom is extended, to the extent that the church is established. The fulfillment of the kingdom is seen in such prophecies as Isaiah 11:6-9 and 65:25, where the wild kingdom is tamed, and brought into the fellowship of the kingdom. This is the fulfillment of the Father’s eternal purpose: “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Eph. 1:10).

This is the fulfillment of the dominion mandate, and this is what makes it essential. We cannot escape this calling, nor seek to prosecute it apart from God. We must work to complete this task; as Jesus said, “Occupy until I come” (Luke 19:13). Renunciation is as sinful as wanton exploitation. Our task now is to bring, in the various fields of natural resources management, “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5); that is, into conformity with the categories of thought revealed in Scripture.


1. William Tucker, Progress and Privilege: America in the Age of Environmentalism (Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1982), p. 130.

2. Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1966 [1949]), x.

3. ibid., p. 220.

4. George Perkins Marsh, Man and Nature [David Lowenthal, ed.] (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 1965), p. 36.

5. “All over the globe and at all times … men have pillaged nature and disturbed the ecological equilibrium … nor did they have a real choice of alternatives. If men are more destructive now … it is because they have at their command more powerful means of destruction, not because they have been influenced by the Bible. In fact, the Judeo-Christian peoples were probably the first to develop on a large scale a pervasive concern for land management and an ethic of nature.” Rene Dubos, A God Within (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972), p. 161; quoted in Tucker, op. cit.

6. However, Tucker writes that “one of the greatest confusions about both the Conservation Movement and current-day environmentalism has been the idea that they pit ‘the public’ against ‘the special interests,’ or ‘big business.’ This is not the case. Since the beginnings of our history, the major environmental and conservation battles have pitted the land- and growth-hungry masses against a smaller minority that was attempting to husband resources under the principles of aris- [215] tocratic stewardship. If anything, ‘big business’ has usually been a spectator to these conflicts. And … big business has often been on the side of the conservationists and opposed to unrestricted development.” Tucker, op. cit., p. 47.

7. Frank Graham, Jr., Man’s Dominion (New York: M. Evans and Co., Inc., 1971), p. 151-2.

8. ibid., p. 152.

9. ibid., p. 160.

10. Note 2013: and condemned millions in the Third World to death by malaria. See “Malaria Victims: How Environmentalist Ban on DDT Caused 50 Million Deaths,” DiscoverTheNetworks.Org, A Guide to the Political Left, among many others.

11. Leopold, op. cit., p. 240.

12. Gary North, “From Cosmic Purposelessness to Humanistic Sovereignty,” Appendix A in The Dominion Covenant: Genesis (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1982).

13. Joseph M. Petulla, American Environmentalism: Values, Tactics, Priorities (College Station: Texas A&M Univ. Press, 1980), p. 70.

14. Raymond F. Dasmann, Wildlife Biology [2nd ed.] (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1981), p. 181.

15. ibid., p. 184.

16. ibid., p. 189.

17. ibid., p. 191.

18. Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction (Nashville: Th. Nelson Publishers, 1983), p. 6.

19. ibid., p. 170.

20. Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man (Wheaton, III.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1970), p. 33.

21. P.T. Bauer, Dissent on Development: Studies ond Debates in Development Economics (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1976).

22. North, op. cit., p. 97.

23. John Baden and Richard L Stroup, eds., Bureaucracy vs. Environment: The Environmental Costs of Bureaucratic Governance (Ann Arbor: The Univ. of Michigan Press, 1981); John Baden, ed., Earth Day Reconsidered (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 1980).

24. Schlossberg, op. cit., p. 173-74.

25. R. J. Rushdoony, The institutes of Biblical Law [Vol. I] ( Phillipsburg , N.J. : The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1984 [ 1973], p. 163.

26. ibid., p. 451.

27. ibid.

28. Gary North, The Sinai Strategy (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986), p. 167.

29. North, op. cit., p. 162.

30. ibid., p. 175.

31. Rushdoony, op. cit., p. 450.

32. ibid., pp. 142-3.

33. Class notes from a wildlife biology course given in spring 1982 by Prof. James D. Fraser, Va. Polytechnic Institute and State University.