Reflections

What does it mean to “have dominion?”

Eleanor Deckert

There it is. Right there in Chapter One - “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gen. 1:28)

That's God Almighty speaking, giving instructions to the first people, both male and female. This announcement authorized every invention and development from then until now.

With our opposable thumbs and use of language, we built shelter, mastered agriculture and harnessed fire; we domesticated animals, invented writing, and forged weapons; we spread out and we gathered together. For centuries, we made tiny scratches on the earth, with the occasional more permanent stonework: Stonehenge, Pyramids, Mayan Temple, Roman roads and the Great Wall.

Although we had some degree of dominion over the immediate location where our clan lived or migrated, we left very few lasting marks on the face of the Earth. The muscle power of beasts of burden meant we could produce more work. Except for stone monuments and metal artifacts, our shelters, inventions and the clay, wooden and bone tools were all biodegradable.

Not until the combined effect of historic changes did human effort begin to achieve the modern ecological damage we face today. We built with steel, dominating the earth with mines, railways, ships, weapons, replacing muscle power.

We washed our hands and began to eliminate disease, reducing infant mortality and childhood illness that dramatically increased the population growth curve.

On July 1, 1867 Canada became a Confederation within the British Empire. This holiday used to be called 'Dominion Day.' Canada's Motto,  A Mari Usque Ad Mare, is taken from Psalm 72:8, “He shall have dominion from sea to sea.”

When I first came to Canada, that motto made me feel tall and proud. This vast, spectacular, abundant, resource-filled, multi-cultural, cooperative, peace-loving country was my new home!

That was in the late 1960s. About that same time, 'Pollution' was a growing concern. Water, air, soil, were all contaminated and chemicals entered the food chain, even entered our blood streams.

Is this what 'Dominion' means? “I get what I want (money) no matter what the impact?”

As a young adult, I was attracted to the Mother Earth movement. I explored my own attitude to 'dominion' and made lifestyle decisions to always be aware of and reduce my own contribution to pollution. The word 'karma' became popular, the belief that what I do will return to me in this life or the next. A common saying was, “What goes around comes around.”

It sounded like what I had read in the Bible, common observations written by authors separated by a thousand years. - “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble, reap the same.” (Job 4:8); “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Gal. 6:7).

Fifty years ago, when the pollution warning alarms first resounded, I thought that we humans would figure this out before it became a disaster. Yet Facebook photos show shocking portraits of whales, birds, seals and shorelines entangled and overcome by garbage.

With a sense of hope, there are also photos of volunteers and machinery gobbling up tons of floating waste. Plastic straws have become the poster child for pollution. Single use shopping bags have become banned in some countries.

National Geographic states that there are “eight million tons of plastic dumped in the ocean every year.” Really? Which countries still dump their garbage into the ocean? Hello?

What goes around comes around.