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2012 Archives

TEXAS FAITH: Are humans to serve the Earth? Or is the Earth to serve humans?


The following ran on the February 29, 2012, edition of the Dallas Morning News Texas Faith blog. Political Scientist Matthew Wilson provided expertise for this story.

March 8, 2012

By William McKenzie

This week's question comes from a suggestion by panelist Daniel Kanter and it follows up on remarks that Rick Santorum made recently in speeches and on TV about the environment. Here is an excerpt from Santorum's February 19 appearance on CBS' Face the Nation:

"Man is here care for the Earth, to be a steward of the Earth. But we're not here to serve the Earth. The Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective. And-I think a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside down."

 Previously, Santorum made similar comments in Colorado, where he reportedly said:

"We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth's benefit."

 Santorum followed up his observations in Colorado with comments about climate change. But I'm not interested in a debate about the pros-and-cons of that subject for this week. Rather, I would like to hear your answer to this philosophical and theological question:

Is man here to serve the Earth? Or is the Earth here to serve man?

Read on to hear what our panelists think about this issue, which goes to the heart of the religion-and-politics nexus....

MATTHEW WILSON, Associate Professor of Political Science, SMU

When it comes to the environment, Santorum is right that the Earth has been given to man to support and sustain him. This is unambiguous in the Bible and in the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Any attempt, then, to create moral equivalency between man and animals, or between man and inanimate objects, is theologically misguided -- a "false theology," if you will.

That said, this does not create a carte blanche license to exploit and despoil creation. Natural resources can and should be used in the service of human development, and such development should serve the common good.

The harnessing of natural resources over the last two hundred years has led to revolutions in transportation, communication, and human health, and I think it hard to make the case that we should turn our back on that progress in an effort to preserve a more pristine planet. Human beings do, however, have an obligation to think of succeeding generations, and to take seriously the implications of our decisions about whether and how to use resources for their quality of life.

Each generation is called to exercise stewardship of the Earth and to pass it on as a nurturing resource to the next. In doing so, however, they should always have the wellbeing of mankind as the central focus -- not a veneration of the Earth for its own sake....