Archbishop of Canterbury makes biblical case against ecological destruction
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has said that rightly understood the biblical injunction to 'subdue and have dominion over the earth' is a call to responsibility towards the environment, not exploitation.
His comments echo those of US church leaders opposing a ëfalse gospel' of ecological irresponsibility.
Delivering a sermon at Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim, in Norway over the weekend, the spiritual head of the world's 70 million Anglicans acknowledged that 'those who are now most deeply concerned about our environment often accuse the Jewish-Christian tradition of being responsible for a history of greed and abuse directed at the natural world.'
If people of faith are 'at last to take our proper responsibility for the earth', then they must 'leave behind this particular religious legacy and find another way of understanding our place on the earth', said Dr Williams.
A better approach, he suggested, would start by acknowledging that human beings are made in God's image, which means 'they have something of the capacity to see as God sees and to act as God acts.'
As God's gift, the world is deemed 'good' in the Genesis narrative, said the archbishop. 'So if humans are to ësubdue' the world, the one thing this cannot mean is that they are licensed to treat the creation with indifference or violence or disrespect.'
He continued: 'Perhaps we understand the command to ësubdue' creation better when we think of this as a command not to let ourselves as humans be conquered by the world around us. What is special about humans is that they are free - free to relate to God by their actions and thoughts and hopes as no other being on earth is able to. Let yourself be submerged in desires and preoccupations that bring you down to the level of instinct - fear, greed, aggression - and you become less than you really are in God's eyes.'
Declared Dr Williams: 'Jesus tells us to see ourselves as part of a creation whose value is given by the love of God - to see ourselves and all beings as God sees. What this will mean, he says, is that we become fully free, free to give priority to God's justice.'
For this reason, 'We leave behind the struggle to bend the world to our needs, the search to make ourselves materially safe. And when that happens, justice is possible - because injustice arises from the fear of some people, which leads them to pile up possessions and to fight to defend themselves.'
The Archbishop of Canterbury concluded by saying that 'questions about the environment are themselves questions about justice - about behaving in such a way that all may have the same kind of access to the goods that this world produces - including the good of beauty and solitude that is offered by a world that has not been ravaged by exploitation.'
In March 2005, Dr Williams said that environmental concerns should be central to economic development if social collapse was to be avoided.
In April, in the run up to the UK general election, he called on voters to give politicians 'electoral incentives' to tackle environmental issues.