Artwork: “The Oxbow” by Julie Holman, on display now at The HUG Place in Akron.

Places of Goodness or Dominion?

Thursday, October 12, 2023

From Michael Anthony Howard, Minister of Faith in Action,
Living Water Association, Ohio North East, UCC

Tags: Streams of Connection | From Our Association Ministers | Faith in Action

We suffer from a spiritual sickness rooted in the mythology of eternal and exponential economic growth with humanity operating in domination over Creation. We continue to build cities but have forgotten how to be citizens. As the American folk-song mourns, humanity has traded paradise for parking lots. The dreams we have had for the places we inhabit have coalesced into a nightmare for the rest of Creation.

One of the most commonly referenced passages in Christian scripture about our relationship to Creation is found in the first chapter of the book of Genesis. This seminal chapter about Creation’s first dawn is a beautiful and poetic description of God’s relationship with Creation, which makes this language game all the more absurdly ironic. When it is read with the intent of asking about our relationship to Creation, the Western Christian tradition has tended to narrow in on one word: dominion. Much of our malformed spirituality has been justified by various interpretations of this chapter and the meaning of this one word. Throughout history, almost always, the divinely ordained goodness of Creation has been trumped by the human right to dominate it.

The word dominion is repeated twice in Genesis 1, which means it is important. In the entirety of the chapter, seven times God declares of Creation, “It is good.” For God to declare the goodness of Creation even before human beings existed implies that each of Creation’s inhabitants is valuable in its own right—that God delights in each of them. Somehow, unfortunately, a single word seems to be the relational undoing of what was proclaimed by God about Creation at every step along the way. In other words, the flesh that has embodied the word dominion has not turned out to be good news for Creation or most of humanity. Can places of dominion be good places?

The author and animal rights advocate, Carol J. Adams writes,

“It has been said that if kings and queens exercised dominion over their subjects the way human beings do over the other animals, kings and queens would have no subjects. So why is being in God’s image often interpreted in view of power, manipulation, and hegemony instead of compassion, mercy, and emptying unconditional love? We often anthropomorphize God as powerful, fierce, and angry (if not belligerent). When we are lording over others, using power—it is then that we are most likely to assert the image of God. Acts of unconditional love, suspensions of judgment, mercy for the weak, and kindness to animals get associated with a wishy- washy picture of who Jesus was, but are rarely discussed regarding God the Creator.”

What is the Creator’s heart for the places we inhabit? Are we called to be image bearers of dominion or goodness? What would Jesus do?

Human dominion has created a throw-away culture where the fate of all Creation is to be commodified and made disposable for human pleasure and convenience. Just over the horizon appears a dystopian reality of a world without good places. This is precisely because of our malformed relationship to Creation.

As we sit at the feet of our Jewish Rabbi who was crucified by the imperial occupation of his homeland, ought we not offer our lives as prayers for the resurrection of the crucified lands we call home? To choose discipleship over denial is to embrace the divine calling for humanity to live out a more faithful relationship with Creation. The moral imperative of the moment calls for nothing short of a collective spiritual conversion.