When humans act like gods, Earth and its species suffer
- Buzz Thomas is a former minister, lawyer and member of the USA Today Contributors Council.
Somewhere between the Garden of Eden and Walmart, human beings got lost. And I decided – like poor Adam – that we were in charge. Like gods.
Dominion theology played a role. This silly idea that because God gave us “dominion” over the planet through the King James Bible, we could do absolutely anything to the plants and animals that live here. We were in charge! Human supremacy. The ultimate vanity and, perhaps, the true “original sin” of mankind.
Combine that sort of pride with the biblical charge of “to be fruitful and to multiply,” and you come to our current dilemma. A species out of control. Not just for our own destruction, but for the destruction of all species on the planet. Not a humble species among millions but the lords of the mansion.
We’re heading for a mass extinction event
Earth scientists tell us that human population growth, habitat destruction, overconsumption, and the technological power to do almost anything combine to create a mass extinction event. The sixth in 540 million years. The fifth happened 65 million years ago when dinosaurs were wiped out from Earth.
Freshwater systems and tropical forests are disappearing. The same goes for the coral reefs on which the marine ecosystem relies, as well as the oxygen-producing algae that float above the sea. Industrial agriculture, surface mining and fishing Industrial trawl nets are also doing their part, as are fertilizers and runoff. Then there are the 33 billion tonnes of carbon that we release into the air each year and that heat the planet like a tandoori oven. The result of our collective misdeeds is an extinction rate a hundred times faster than it should be. At the current rate, some scientists say that half of the world’s species will be extinct by the end of this century.
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Now I am not a scientist. I vaguely remember from my high school biology class that chlorophyll is green. But I am a minister. And a human being.
We go beyond murder to torture animals
So I ask you: what is wrong with us? When did we decide we could get away with murder? And not just a murder. Torture. We have become a particularly cruel species. No other species compares. Not sharks. Not polar bears. Not grizzly bears, lions, or black widow spiders. These animals kill to eat, and this is usually done quickly and efficiently. Humans kill for sport. And even when we kill for food, we use our technology to suit us and disturb our prey.
The slaughter of the large herds of bison for their skin and tongue is one of the ugliest examples in history, and we look at the people who did it. But our current abuse of chickens, pigs and other sentient creatures makes slaughtering bison look like a Sunday school picnic. You don’t even want to know what a salmon or catfish farm looks like.
Watch what we say to ourselves to make us feel good about the nightmare we are inflicting on the planet. “Sharks are monsters!” we say when, in the world, they kill ten people a year. We – on the other hand – happily kill thousands of sharks. Every day.
What helps a woman teach her children what it means to be a good person by eating pieces of an animal that has been tortured? “Nuggets”, we call them. See how much better it does?
This conversation cannot continue only in churches because it affects us all. And it should start with a frank admission of the truth. What we actually do behind our golden arches and all-inclusive resorts. Then the first act of genuine love should come. Listen. To experts, of course, but also to animals. It is not necessary to speak of a dolphin to understand a cry.
Any religion that puts humanity on a throne is a false religion – even if it has the temerity to call itself Christian. True religion begins with the simple recognition that “the Earth belongs to the Lord and its fullness” as the elders say, and we are just the extremely lucky keepers. Until that day comes, I fear we will remain mere savages.
Buzz Thomas is a former minister, lawyer and member of the USA Today Contributors Council.