Support the Café

Search our Site

Theological and political carts and horses

Theological and political carts and horses

On the Huffington Post, Jonathan Dudley says the faith claims we say we’ve gotten from the Bible are often staked to the sort of thinking to which we’re already predisposed.

For example, the command found in Genesis to “have dominion” has had several hermeneutical approaches in the history of readership.

As a result of our current environmental woes, today’s progressive evangelicals often read this as a command to exercise “stewardship” over the natural world, to refrain from excessive manipulation of nature and shield it from exploitation.

But early Christians thinkers such as Saint Augustine saw it very differently. Guided by his culture’s preference for allegorical readings and stress on self-denial, Augustine understood “the beasts” to be sinful impulses that “could serve reason when they are restrained.” “Having dominion,” in his culture, meant exercising self-control.

Medieval theologians, by contrast, were interested in creating encyclopedic bodies of knowledge. The command to “have dominion,” in this context, became a command to accumulate facts about the natural world. As Oxford historian Peter Harrison notes, “knowledge of the creatures was thus another way of restoring … the original dominion that the human race had once enjoyed.”

And early modern thinkers interpreted the command to “have dominion” differently yet again. In a cultural context where burgeoning technologies were increasingly used to manipulate the natural world, “having dominion” came to mean intervening in nature to make it more useful for humans. As John Locke put it, “God and his reason commanded him to subdue the earth, i.e. improve it for the benefit of life.”

So be careful.


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bill Moorhead

I just finished reading Dudley’s “Broken Words:…” Good book. I commend it.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café