05 December 2009

Jeffrey Burton Russell on Might and Right

Jeffrey Burton Russell It may also now be time for humanity to consider that its responsibilities go beyond humankind and extend to other beings as well—to animals and even to plants. What is the basis of the assumption that I have the right to cut down trees that were growing before I was born? What gives me the right to deprive animals who live in the forest of their sustenance? The Judeo-Christian tradition says that God gave the creatures of the world into Adam's hands for his use; but other traditions have viewed God's purposes differently. At any rate, the continued exploitation of nature by those who have ceased to believe in God or in the Book of Genesis reveals the real basis for this human "right." It is might, sheer might and might alone. Because we have the power to exploit other beings to slake our greed, we do it, and until very recently we have done it without thought or consideration.

(Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity [Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1977], 24-5)