Monday, June 4, 2012


In my blog Hopeful Homeschooling, I wrote about reading the book of Genesis to my son and our conversation about dominionism. 

In politics, dominionism is a term applying to groups of conservative Christians who are doing whatever they can to shift our government to one that is run by conservative Christians according to a conservative interpretation of the Bible.  I've always found it incredibly difficult to relate to these ideals, and some people are very concerned

While reading to my son Genesis 1:26, "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth,"

It finally hit me - how the words in this one small part of the Bible - the book of Genesis - relate to everything that the conservative Christians stand for - from denying global warming to opposing equal rights for gay people. 

Some of the more liberal Christians tend to see dominionism as stewardship.  This refreshing viewpoint can be found in the Christian book, Eco-Spirituality: Toward a Reverent Life by Charles Cummings.

He writes:  "There have been several attempts to reinterpret what Genesis says about subduing and mastering the earth.  Interpretations that would justify unrestricted exploitation are no longer fashionable.  As ecologist Jeremy Rifkin puts it: 'We have misread our mandate.  We believed that to have dominion meant to exert power, to control, to dominate.'  Domination was a typically masculine or patriarchal explanation.  Domination has led us to devastation."

Clearly not all Christians believe that the earth exists solely for exploitation by humans.

Personally, I don't try to reinterpret the Bible.  I don't try to make it fit modern times so that it can be relevant in my life.  It's  a collection of ancient essays that have survived into modern times.  It seems obvious that there have been many essays, many conversations about cultural norms, social mores, origin stories, accounts of historical events and spiritual beliefs in every culture and every age.  Most of these are lost.  Of those that remain, the Bible is the most accessible, so it's no wonder that many people believe that it's the only one that is relevant.  The works of the Bible are a part of these ancient conversations but certainly not all of them.   They give us a narrow glimpse into human thought and culture of a specific group of people in their time.  The glimpse is distorted because we don't know how many conflicting views were lost or never written.  Due to translations by monks and edits by kings, the glimpse is further distorted.  As a result, we will never really know what people truly thought and believed in Biblical times.

As I read the Bible, I am aware of the layers of storytelling.  Like the game of "gossip," where a group of people sit in a circle, and one person starts by whispering in the ear of the person next to them, by the time I read the words of the Bible I am aware that the original message is lost.  The story that remains is the basis for the beliefs of a group of people today.  The Bible helps me to understand today's modern Christians far more than it helps me to understand God.

As with any conversation, I try to read the Bible with a listening ear.  As I listen, I try to understand with compassion and empathy.  I read it as a conversation - this is where we agree.  This is where we disagree.  This is where we can find similarities.  And here are our differences.  It's all good.  Yet for me, it's not particularly relevant as a guidebook to how I live my life. 

It can be baffling to contemplate the mental gymnastics a person needs to go through in order to conform with a literal interpretation of the Bible or any other holy book.  They ignore the evidence in the world around them and believe the words in a book instead.   In my view, lack  of evidence is not proof that there is no God, (in this context "God" is a universal term and doesn't imply any particular religious or spiritual belief,) but I don't take the Bible as proof that the world was created in seven days.  A day is a revolution of the earth.  Prior to the creation of this planet, how long was a day and how was it measured?  Science and spirituality are mutually exclusive disciplines.

On my fifteenth Christmas, my  beloved grandparents gave me a beautiful leather bound edition of the King James Bible, with delicate parchment pages edged in gold.  Before then, I had attended church and Sunday school, had read a paperback version of the New Testament, but had never really sat down and read the Bible.  I dutifully read it, cover to cover, and found that it was filled the contradictions and illogical statements.  Worse, many of the words raised troubling conflicts between the cold paternalistic moral paradigm represented therein and my inner beliefs in love, caring for others, equality and respect.  Little did my dear, faithful Christian grandparents know that the gift of this holy book would bring the first step in my journey away from the Christian church.  I loved my grandparents very much and I still treasure that Bible, but their faith was never enough for me.

I believe that we are in a relationship with the earth, but it is not a relationship of dominion or power over the earth.  We are made of the earth.  We are formed from it.  If anything the earth is our mother.  This planet was formed from stardust and our species evolved here as a result of a dance between the sun and the earth which could be compared to the mating of male and female to form a child.

According to Encarta, Dominion is defined as:
1. ruling control: ruling power, authority, or control
2. sphere of influence: somebody's area of influence or control
3. land ruled: the land governed by a ruler ( often used in the plural )
"the monarch's dominions beyond the sea"
4. self-governing territory: a self-governing part of the British Commonwealth or, formerly, the British Empire

We humans do have dominion over our own destiny, over our choices and values.  Each of us is a world, and we have control over our own world.  But we better serve ourselves when we also respect the sovereignty of others.  This idea of each person being unique, having dominon over their own choices while respecting the choices of others is at the foundation of my views on civil rights.  The authors of the book of Genesis had never heard of civil rights as we know them today.

In my view, the idea of of dominionism as it comes from the Book of Genesis came from the mind of men still in an immature stage of our development as a species.  Worse, the perpetuation of these ideas has caused considerable harm to mankind and our environment.  Thankfully, we have free will.  We can choose. And we do.  Hopefully enough of us will choose a better world, regardless of our faith.

1 comment:

Skylar said...

What a wonderful essay! I have often wondered how many people have actually read the Christian bible, even one version of it.

I have this discussion with my parents on a regular basis. They're mystified by my view of the bible as a record of folklore rather than "truth."

Bravo to you for exposing your son to different viewpoints. If only more people utilized this!