In his novel, Ishmael, Daniel Quinn suggests that there are two kinds of
people and civilizations: "leavers," and "takers." Some cultures are careful to walk gently on the Earth and leave their environment
in as good a shape as they found it, or better. Others, however, approach the world with the attitude that it is theirs to
take, use, abuse, waste, consume, and discard. Obviously, the civilization of which we are a part, that is, the world of Modernity,
has been guided by the second ideology.
There are those today who call themselves "dominionists," who try and drape a
religious and biblical facade over this philosophy. They claim to base their views on the passage in Genesis where God gives
human beings "dominion" over the newly minted creation. In doing so they assume that what the Bible means by dominion is exemplified
and fulfilled by our current economic regime, characterized by consumerism, industrialism, capitalism, and social philosophies
based on Darwin’s ideas about "the survival of the fittest." In other words, they try to make a case for the Bible being
a "taker" document, giving people a license and a blessing to consume the Earth’s resources as they see fit. Thus they
rationalize and justify our consumer society and economy by pretending that this is what God intended and commanded. "God
put these resources here for us to use," they say.
On the message board of a church near my house I recently read that "God did not
go on vacation and leave you in charge." I understand that to mean that God is still in charge of our lives, which is true.
However, in several of his parables Jesus uses the image of a landowner who has gone away and left the tenants in charge of
his property. In this way the Lord talks about our responsibility for what God has left in our care. When the tenants refuse
to return to the landowner the produce of the vineyard, the landowner is justifiably angry.
Will God be justifiably angry with us if the vineyard placed in our care —
that is, the Earth — is found mangled, exhausted, and destroyed when he returns? God left us in charge of the planet
and what have we done with it? To those who will answer that we did with it as God commanded in terms of dominion, it must
be asked what exactly dominion really means?
For Christians, the ultimate guide and model for the good life is Jesus Christ.
And we know from the gospels that Jesus was anything but a "taker" in his life. He owned practically nothing and walked as
gently on the Earth as possible. He was not a "consumer" in any sense beyond receiving from the Earth with thanksgiving what
is necessary to live. He accumulated no possessions or assets. The kind of "dominion" he exemplified was that of a servant,
a responsible caretaker or steward, whose true power was made manifest in what the world calls weakness. Rather than taking
his living from the world, he gave his life for the life of the world.
Those who espouse a dominionist ethic also often say they are waiting eagerly
for the Second Coming. Indeed, they expect to be "raptured" into heaven at any moment, presumably as a reward for the quality
of their stewardship. This is amazing to me. How enthusiastic about the return of the landowner should the people be who demolished
his vineyard? How do they — or we for that matter — propose to explain to the Lord what became of the species
of his creatures we have driven to extinction, or the poisoning of the air, water, and land he created, or the way our greed
has caused changes in the climate he set up for our benefit? Were I a dominionist the Second Coming of the Lord would be the
last thing I would be hoping for.
The spiritual fact is that consumerism is the human ideology most diametrically
opposed to the explicit teachings of Jesus and the Scriptures. Those who, under the guise of dominionism, seek to justify
our regime of gratuitous and wanton consumption are only apologists for our sins of greed, lust, and gluttony. It is in fact
impossible and a contradiction to think of one’s self as a consumer and as a follower of Jesus Christ. A Christian cannot
be a "taker."
Rather, as followers of our Lord, we are called to be givers who exercise dominion
by our service to the poor. As Jesus shows to us, true dominion means affirming God’s sovereignty mainly over our desires
and cravings, and marshaling the resources of the planet entrusted to us so that all benefit and live to glorify the Creator.