Lynn White, Jr.

Lynn White, Jr., “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” in Larry May, Applied Ethics: A Multicultural Approach, Prentice Hall, 2011, 5th ed., pp. 155-162.

White makes the case that the present-day ecological crisis has its roots in one of the most human-centered religions that has emerged in the course of history. This anthropocentric (human-centered) religion is Christianity with its roots in Judaism.

When the culture that produced the bible assigned to humans dominion over all other creatures, the stage was set for a treatment of nature that has persisted into the present day. Even Western science has come under the influence of the attitude of mastery over nature.

The feature of Christianity that gave rise to the attitude of mastery was the assignment of spirit (or souls) to humans only. Animals and other living things were denied a spirit in mainstream Christianity.

A minority voice within Christianity has been that of St. Francis. He rejected the narrow view that only humans possess a spirit or soul and considered all life as sacred. He in effect assigned a spirit to every living creature.

The present-day environmental crisis may be more adequately addressed if people—including Christians—turn to the themes advanced by St. Francis.