Monday, 16 February 2009

Etymological Back-Peddling

The “intended” scriptural meaning of the word 'dominion' cannot be used to account for Christianity’s prolonged contribution to the current environmental crisis [‘Sir David has Misunderstood the Scriptures’ published in The Independent, 31 January]. Christianity, however, can; in so far as it has perpetuated the negative interpretations of such words and has done little to counteract the actions that such (continuing) interpretations have lead to [Lynn White’s article The Historical Roots of Our Environmental Crisis, first published back in 1967, is probably still the most noteworthy study in this field].

The etymology of the word 'dominion' is of little importance when considered in relation to the rest of the Book of Genesis. Consider the word “subdue” for example: I doubt that it has many positive connotations. Scripture alone cannot be held to blame for the blindly hubristic actions of man (a term which I use here purposefully). It is simply a good excuse.

But, of course, it is not only Christianity that is responsible for disseminating the (predominately western) idea of man's superiority in relation to the non-human world. In proclaiming “I think, therefore I am” not only did Rene Descartes succeed in denying the non-human world an equal existence to man; he denied it any existence whatsoever!

By championing the rational intellect as the sole source of Truth, Descartes and other dualistic philosophers have, for centuries, stifled and misinterpreted the value of personal experience in conviviality with the non-human world.
Perhaps it is time we began to redress this balance in the most appropriate way possible: by making small but significant changes in our own lives, instead of indulging in repetitive and fruitless discussions about phraseology, policy-making and blame.

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