E. Beliefs about the earth

The society believes that human beings are more important than all other creatures on the earth

Jesus was clear in his teaching about the importance of human beings in comparison to animals. He said, “Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!” (Matt. 12:12). He also said, “Look at the birds of the air. . . . Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26). And he said, “You are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:31).

These statements do not mean that human beings should be cruel to animals or destroy them in a reckless and wanton way. The Bible also says, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast” (Prov. 12:10). But they do mean that we should not allow important and economically beneficial development projects to be hindered or stopped simply because they might disrupt the homes of some turtles, snails, or fish, as often happens in the United States and other developed countries.54

The correct approach is to weigh the costs and benefits of a development project. If it will help human beings but harm some part of nature, some value must be assigned to both the benefit and the cost, and then a decision can be made. Often a market-based approach is helpful, asking both those who want to preserve an untouched area and those who want to develop it how much they are willing to pay for their preference to be enacted. It is not a proper approach to simply say we should never interfere with some animal or plant. God deems us to be much more valuable than they are, and has given us “dominion” (Gen. 1:26; Ps. 8:6) over all the earth, both to preserve it and to use its resources wisely.

By contrast, if a culture believes that the earth is more important than human beings, or that all living beings are equally as important as human beings, then economic development will be hindered and poverty perpetuated. This happened, for example, in India in past years, when huge portions of the grain production each year were destroyed because of Hindu beliefs that prohibited the killing of rats that destroyed the stored grain.[1] Another significant hindrance to productivity is the belief in some Native American religions that man is the servant of the earth rather than its master.

  • [1] In 1976, Time magazine could still report, “India’s rats are believed to eat or destroy almost half thegrain consumed in India—100 million tons. . . . Hence the need for more snakes [who kill the rats].Curiously, both animals are considered sacred—and thus inviolable in some regions” (“War on Rats,”Time [May 31, 1976]: 15).
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