Book review

Christian development view

27 February 2007

In his book Responsible Dominion, Ian Hore-Lacy explores the concept of sustainable development according to his interpretation of the word of a Christian God. By Catherine Cooper

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth. The Earth with its moon was part of the solar system of planets revolving around the sun… The sun was a source of much of the world’s energy… The Earth was endowed with many minerals as part of its geological structure, which was good… Then, having bounteously equipped the world with every imaginable resource, in abundance, God said ‘let us make humans in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the rest of creation’.”

Thus Ian Hore-Lacy begins his book Responsible Dominion on Christian sustainable development with a modern-day paraphrase of the creation account in the book of Genesis. His point is simple: God did not create just the Earth, but endowed it with many good things for people to use in their stewardship of creation. Hore-Lacy sets out to show that a truly Christian approach to environmental issues must not neglect the people of the world – their needs and ingenuity – when it comes to solving the dilemmas facing humanity today.

In the past, some people have sought to blame the Christian concept of dominion over creation for much reckless and unthinking exploitation of the environment. However unfounded this charge may be, it may have in part contributed to Christians accepting unthinkingly the Green agenda. Hore-Lacy shows how the neo-romantic view, in which nature is in some sense sacred, or has spiritual values intrinsic to itself is essentially an un-Christian way of thinking. The environment does have a value in itself, because it was created by God, but this must not lead to the needs of the Earth taking precedence in our thinking over the humans who live on it. He champions instead a Christian stewardship defined as “caring for it as God’s handiwork, respecting and admiring it, but also with thanks and rejoicing making its bounty sustainably accessible to the six billion people whom God loves.”

Science versus faith

There is also a tendency on the part of both some Christians and some scientists to fear that science and technology are in opposition to the Christian faith, so that in relation to issues like genetically modified (GM) foods, scientists can be condemned for ‘playing God’. Hore-Lacy corrects this by showing that a truly Christian perspective is that understanding the creation better actually brings glory to God. Science and technology are great blessings given to help us to be good stewards of the Earth.

These two factors, along with others, have led Christian writings on the environment to be short on grappling with the practical issues of how activities such as farming, mining and forestry should be undertaken. This is the gap that Responsible Dominion aims to fill. The book seeks to be practical, rather than preaching from an ivory tower, reminding “urban dwellers [who] forget where God’s provision of food, fibre, fuel and other materials come from” that we must try and perceive the “creation from the Creator’s perspective, and discern his purposes in all the varied and extraordinarily abundant provision he has made.”

After giving the reasons and background to the book, there then follow a series of chapters about some of the issues facing Christian stewards today. These chapters do not always aim to provide answers, but to lay out some of the dilemmas and point out the ways in which Green thinking can ignore the needs of the people.

For example, Hore-Lacy argues that while many would say the Earth’s resources are diminishing through unsustainable development, there are in fact many factors which work in the opposite direction. Technological innovation renders previously unobtainable mineral deposits accessible, and markets increase the price of scarcer resources, leading to the development of replacements. He cites the example of an iron-ore deposit in Western Australia, previously too remote to be viable. The development of large-scale mining technology and railways means that the mine now creates much wealth for Australians and supplies many people in the world with the metal they need. Thus the concern of many environmentalists that resources are running out, and the only thing to do is to use less of them, is underestimating the technological developments that may be coming in the future.

In the area of fresh water supply, he reminds us that irrigated land provided us with 30% of world food production in 1990, but also brought some spectacular environmental disasters caused by damning or diverting surface waters. Similarly, drinking water is a concern in many areas, with one fifth of the world’s population estimated not to have access to it. He concludes that stewardship of fresh water needs to consider more recycling and also desalination, an energy-intensive process that probably requires nuclear power as an energy source that does not emit greenhouse gases.

Tackling the issue of GM food, Hore-Lacy calls it part of a continuum of technology that starts with selective breeding. He gives examples of many of its benefits (higher yields, extra nutritional value) and states that “we have an ethical obligation to explore the benefits and possible hazards of GM food.” He calls on Christians to “stand firm against Romanticism and neo-pagan junk science.”

Many of the topics and arguments may be familiar to some, but for a Christian seeking a well thought through introduction to sustainable development this book will be a valuable contribution. It is good to be reminded that humans are not “a pest in the biosphere” but, made in God’s image, must treat creation as well as He does. And also to remember that humans, made in His image, must be a high priority too.

Author Info:

responsible dominion:// a christian approach to sustainable development by Ian Hore-Lacy (ISBN: 1573833428) is published by Regent College Publishing, 5800 University Blvd., Vancouver, BC, V6T 2E4 Canada

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