Eurocentric thought is rooted in this religious context: that man (specifically cis-gendered males) is the pinnacle of creation.
Psalm 8:4-9 informs this kind of thought and belief: “What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler of the works of your hands; you have placed everything under his feet: all sheep and oxen, and even the beast of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
God may theoretically occupy the central spot in the created order, but all of creation exists for the purpose of glorifying man. Man’s raison d’être is to rule and have dominion.
Early in the story, God proclaims: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, so that he may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26).
The Hebrew word used for rule – וְיִרְדּוּ֩ (râdâh) – can be translated as: “to dominate, to subjugate, to subdue.” The word connotes the absolute power once held by ancient world sovereigns.
More liberal Christians – wanting to save the Bible from the Bible – may wish to instead connote “stewardship,” hoping to provide a more ecological positive reading.
Yet, the truth of the matter is that the biblical text, foundational in the construction of Western Christian thought, commands man to have dominion over the earth, and every living creation that draws its substance from Gaia.
With time, this Christian command to dominate morphed into a Eurocentric Christian supremacy. Man as pinnacle came to be understood as white men.
Creatures came to encompass all who fell short of the white male ideal, specifically women and those occupying land in need of Christianization and civilization.
Those who were not white, living on lands rich in natural resources and minerals, were like animals in need of the benevolent husbandry hand of white believers fulfilling God’s call to râdâh.
Even more recent Christian leaders continue to perpetuate a worldview which calls for the subjugation of the earth. Pope John Paul II proclaimed: “Everything in creation is ordained to man and everything is made subject to him” (Evangelium Vitae: 34).
Because human destiny resides in some heavenly abode, why care about this earth upon which we are but sojourners?
The Christian worldview’s understanding of creation and the hierarchy derived from it is damning not only to those who were colonized, but also to the earth itself, and all that rely upon it for existence.
Creation should mean that everybody and everything – whether it contains life or not – has basic rights which requires respect. Liberation is not limited to the earth’s marginalized, but to the earth itself.
As Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff notes in Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor: the cry of the poor is intertwined with the cry of the earth, for both are victimized by the same structures of oppression.
Salvation of our planet requires a repudiation of the anthropogenetic destruction justified by the Christian doctrine that man is the pinnacle of God’s created order.
Any worldview grounded on the base, self-centered interest of preserving one’s own power, privilege and profit is at best primitive, at worse savage. If Christians weren’t so convinced that only they have the truth, then they might learn from those whom they have defined as primitive.
Osage scholar Tink Tinker provides a more holistic worldview. He writes: “In the Native American world, we recognize that interrelatedness as a peer relationship between the two-legged and all others – four-legged, winged, and other living things. This is the real world within which we hope to actualize the ideal world of creational balance and harmony.”
Rather than domination, harmony connotes coexistence. Nothing is appropriated without reciprocation.
To live in creational balance is so contrary to the profit-generating concept of using and abusing all that is lower than man that these two worldviews are mutually exclusive. We must choose one and reject the other.
Living in harmony with creation recognizes man is neither the pinnacle nor the center, but just another component – no greater or no lesser than the trees, or the hills and mountains, or even the stones which cry out the glories of the Creator (Isaiah 55:12); for they all also possesses basic rights which protects them from being misused or abused.
Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, comprised of a body of experts convened by the United Nations, released a report warning that our planet is rapidly reaching a tipping point for a catastrophic hotter future.
Global cooperation, billions of dollars and a radical change in how humans approach their relationship with the earth over the next decade is crucial to avert pending calamity. In effect, this is humanity’s last chance.
Do I believe humanity will heed these warnings and rise to the occasion? No. I am quite hopeless.
Why? Because of our Eurochristian worldview of man’s command to râdâh. Too much profit remains to be made in domination.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.