Subduing and Dominating

Posted by on May 3, 2014 in Biblical Reflection | 0 comments

Scripture: Genesis 1:27-31 and 2:7, 15, 18-19, 21-22.

As those who study Scripture know, there are two accounts of creation in the Book of Genesis.  In the one that appears in chapter 1,

“God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.  Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.’  God also said; ‘See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food.” And so it happened.  God look at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Gen. 1:27-31). 

In the second account, in chapter 2,

“the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being (Gen. 2:7)…The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it (Gen. 2:15)…The Lord God said: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a suitable partner for him.” So the Lord God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name (Gen. 2: 18-19)…So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  The lord god then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man (Gen. 2:21-22).

In her TEDx Talk of December 9, 2012 [ of Men and Women], Joan Chittister refers to this first book of the Bible to make the points that (1) they were undoubtedly written by a man from a male point of view; and both (2) hierarchy (man created first; woman second and subject to him; (3) and patriarchy are built in and have influenced history and culture ever since.

Why in some countries are women and girls forbidden to become educated or even to drive?  Isn’t the argument that: it is the woman who attracts the man; it is the woman who gets pregnant, carries the child for months, and then gives birth.  It is the woman who nurses the child and forms that first and closest of bonds with the child.  It is the woman who towards the end of her pregnancy, has that urge “to nest;” and after she gives birth, she often is the one who sees to it that her family is taken care of in their nest/home.  It often (usually in those days) falls to her to plan meals, cook (develop creative ways to deal with food), sew (or keep family in suitable clothing for the weather, culture, style, etc.), clean (especially laundry).  In those early years, we are told, roles were defined for men as well.  And there were always outstanding exceptions.

And so it seems at first glance that man was to subdue the earth and likewise subdue the female. He had naming rights.  She had her place as his helpmate and he had his as her provider, warrior, defender and leader.  Monogamy slowly evolved to become the preferred relationship and was accepted by nearly all cultures as the best institution to preserve a safe, secure and caring family.

What do you think of these descriptions?  When we think of the difficult words in that first chapter of Genesis, they surely are the words “subdue” and “dominion.”  It’s as if the writers, story tellers, myth makes of Genesis are putting these words in the head of Adam.  He is to subdue and have dominion over all of creation, including his mate.   And in the second chapter, when God is portrayed as feeling sorry for the man because he is alone, God first gives him animals and birds and almost as an afterthought, a female companion.   Do you feel that readers and students of Genesis could derive these meanings from the text?

Joan Chittister maintains that when Galileo used a telescope and Darwin collected evidence that living things adapted to their changing environments by modifying themselves over centuries­—a process we call evolution—things can never be the same; and we cannot go back to these ancient and literal interpretations of Scripture.

Largely led by males, we have tried dominating nature and subduing it according to our needs for food, pleasure and comfort.  As we have succeeded, we were aggressive in acquiring more land and in inventing weapons for keeping our acquisitions safe from those humans who want what we have.  In the western world, we have built our society around constant and necessary growth.  We have allowed structures to develop that assured that some people have more resources than others.  We claim that the upper classes have worked harder, were more intelligent, ingenious in investing, and careful about passing their wealth on to younger generations.

But now we may be at a tipping point: we may have subdued the earth to the point that it cannot recover and will soon be unable to sustain our burgeoning population.   After the industrial revolution, we have kept making things without much thought for their disposal.  We have dumped so much trash into the oceans that delight and sustain us, that it litters the bottom of every sea, and huge islands of plastic float about, often in dead zones that are bereft of oxygen and aquatic life.

We have taken to subduing others, to taking from others what we want.   As our local media reported in May, 2014, there is so much gunfire in a certain section of Cleveland, that people no longer report it as a problem or even hear it.

The good news is that many people are awake to these issues and are actively doing something about them.  They are steering away from a domination hierarchy to partnerships, beginning with loving partnerships between husbands and wives, men and women.  This transition is NOT easy and is fraught with controversy.  A surprising number of men and women are using their intelligence and influence (power) NOT to get or acquire more, but to GIVE.  Instead of denying the results of scientific study, they are seeking to understand this data and its implications for our future.  They are focusing on water, its distribution and purification; they are discovering and/or supporting initiatives for stopping or at least lessening pollution of our air; they are making loans to people in third world countries who would never be able to start a business without them; they are devising new ways to be philanthropic that don’t just throw money down the deep holes of poverty but “teach people how to fish” (or raise fish).

These are our new heroes and heroines, who travel to foreign countries with sewing machines, and music, and the wherewithal to build dwellings, schools and libraries.  Whole organizations exist to promote peace and to practice it by reaching out to their former enemies in a posture of dialogue and cooperation.   In short, they are assisting in God’s process of creation and in his process of evolution.  They are calling everyone, inviting, challenging us to live as ONE.  For Christians, this is to fulfill the law of Christ.

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