Giles Fraser: Correct the false ideas of dominion

29 February 2012

They look a bit like the fluorescent rings that zap flies in kebab shops. Set on three prominent London columns — in Paternoster Square; at Seven Dials, in Covent Garden; and in Waterloo Place, off the Mall — the bright blue rings form a work, Plunge, by the artist Michael Pinsky.

They mark an imaginary sea-level, in a world 1000 years hence, after the effects of runaway climate change. It is a world where most of London would be under water. Having listened to last Sunday’s read­ing from Genesis about the flood, one cannot avoid the theological reson­ance of Plunge.

The Christian response to climate change is generally helpful. Useful contributions such as that of Opera­tion Noah and the recent Ash Wed­nesday statement have rightly in­sisted that it is a vital issue of social justice, and that Christians’ attitude towards creation must be one of care and gratitude (Comment, 17 February; News, 24 February).

“For the Church of the 21st cen­tury, good ecology is not an optional extra but a matter of justice. It is therefore central to what it means to be a Christian,” wrote the Arch­bishop of Canterbury, when he was launching the Church of England’s Shrinking the Footprint project in 2006. The astonishing target that the Church has set itself is an 80-per-cent reduction in carbon-dioxide emis­sions by 2050, with an interim target of a 42-per-cent re­duction by 2020.

Yet, for all these good projects, that word “creation” is becoming increasingly politicised in the so-called God Wars. The problem with the Rowan Williams v. Richard Dawkins clash of the type held in Oxford last week is that it can easily reinforce the idea this is really a debate between a mutually exclus­ive understanding of religion and science. What is so problematic here, especially when it comes to climate change, is that these two ought to be natural allies.

The fly in the ointment, however, is the increasingly popularity of dominion theology among right- wing Republicans in the United States. Rick Santorum, who is cur­rently running for the Republican nomination for the presidency, said last month: “We were put on this earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the earth, to use it for our benefit not for the earth’s bene­fit.”

He went on to call climate change “an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life”.

This has become a form of right-wing political correctness. If we are to exercise the brave leadership of Noah, we need first to see off dominionism.

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