Human Dominion and Animal Neighbors
Because it is the fi rst word the Priestly writer of Genesis uses to describe human relationships with nonhuman animals, a Christian animal ethic would be incomplete without addressing human dominion. Drawing on the earlier themes of responsibility, care, and nearness my examination and critique of human dominion in this chapter proceeds in three stages. First, according to a close reading of Gen. 1:28, dominion over animals (rādâ) is distinguished from subduing the earth (kābaš). According to ancient Hebrew thought, Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad asserts, plants do not share with humans and other animals in life, or breath (nephesh).3 For this reason, two distinct words are necessary to express humanity’s relationship to the rest of Creation. Human dominion describes a relationship between two relational subjects, like that of the ancient shepherd king, or Martin Buber’s more contemporary I and Thou. Subduing, on the other hand, represents a subject-object relationship. Second, in light of this distinction between dominion and subdue, I critique a common tendency in both Christian stewardship ethics and environmental ethics of lumping together animals, plants, and inanimate natural phenomena into a singular other to which humans have a singular responsibility. Such a compilation ignores important differences among these different kinds of creatures. As such, I present human dominion over animals more as a relationship of responsible care for one’s neighbors than a kind of stewardship for the natural environment in general. Third, I consider Karl Barth’s description
of the responsible horseman as an exemplary model of “responsibility as understood in the limits of dominion.”4 The human and animal in this example partner together to achieve a common goal. To revise Kantian terms, the animal is used as a means, but not reduced to a means. Its individual subjectivity as an end is always respected.