The Anthropocentricity of Western Christianity and the Church

Growing up in a private, Christian school, learning and memorizing the Bible was an integral part of the curriculum, but one section was hammered into our heads, over and over: “And God said to them … have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28. In the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, God calls Adam and Eve to populate the earth, but more importantly to express domination over it. Even today, Christianity takes an anthropocentrist view on the world, encouraging young minds to think of our planet not as a home, but as a tool, a resource.

In Pope Francis’ piece “Laudato Si”, he calls Christians to think about their place in our world, and how the dominion mandate detailed in the Bible does not mean absolute domination, but a responsibility towards cultivation and upkeep. The other piece, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” by Lynn White Jr. takes a more aggressive approach towards opening the eyes of the people towards the current ecological crisis, detailing the effects Christianity has had on Earth’s biosphere, and how it has led to the problems we are faced with today. The call to action in both articles is clear and easy to follow: these two authors agree that Christianity as a whole, and the Church need to reevaluate the anthropocentrist beliefs pertaining to our environment that have sprung up from Western Christianity, and in turn have influenced western civilization towards the belief that in order for humanity to progress at all, total domination is required. 

The ideas of each piece are almost indistinguishable from one another; Francis and White both place a burden onto Christians to reexamine their beliefs, but the approaches they take cannot be more dissimilar. Francis’ article is more of a gentle call for the people who he acts as a head of, stating that Christians have misinterpreted multiple verses and passages pertaining to the domination of the earth in the past, but they should begin to reject the notion that just because we are made in God’s image, that we are given the right to total domination. On the contrary, White places a “huge burden of guilt” on Christian’s arrogance aimed at the environment, blaming them for the ongoing ecological crisis. Although the vehicles of delivery are different for each of the pieces, they maintain the same message; shape up Christians, or ship out.

Pope Francis, Laudato Si

Lynn White, Jr., “The Ecologic Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” Science 155:3767 (10 March 1967), 1203-1207.

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