If you look at the creation stories at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis, you will find two myths of creation.
The first describes the role of human beings in these terms: God blessed them (humankind), and God said to them, “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and never every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
The second creation story begins with the creation of man. Everything else is created to produce an “environment” around him, which again implies the subordination of the creation to human beings. The fact that Adam was given the power to name everything reinforces this interpretation: “and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name”.
This can give rise to a very dangerous myth: “subdued” and “dominion” can imply an overwhelming power and “the dangerous myth that mankind is somehow above nature” (Desmond Morris’ phrase).
We are part of nature and dependent upon it. We need only look at the role of animals in our lives, both those that we may feed off and those that we keep as companions, as pets (particularly relevant next Sunday when we give thanks for and bless animals which are our companions). We should value them and treat them with respect rather than lord it over them.
We should also draw on the Christian tradition of seeing human beings as stewards of creation. There is considerable biblical evidence for this position. In the old Testament – in Jewish scripture – the people were taught that they should have concern for the poor and the foreigner in their midst. For example, when they were harvesting corn, they were meant to leave something at the edge of their fields the poor.
Also, the Jewish prophets constantly criticise the rich who ignored the poor and praise those who are considerate towards them. Jesus continues that tradition: in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man is condemned for ignoring the plight of Lazarus, who is poor. Those who ignore the hungry, the thirsty, those in prison, etc., will be judged, while the man who helps his mugged neighbour is praised in the parable of the good Samaritan.
The point of harvest Festival is to be a practical demonstration of our concern for others – our gifts will go to help those in need – and a reminder of our dependence upon the fruits of the natural world and our responsibility for its stewardship.
We cannot claim to be Christian and ignore the threats to the environment, which affect not only us but everyone else on the planet. We have an obligation to behave well where we live – which entails using the gifts we enjoy responsibly and not wasting thoughtlessly – but also an obligation, as citizens, to hold our politicians to account over the stewardship of the Earth’s resources and all the threats to which they are subject.