Does dirt have the same value as a human? Some thoughts on Bolivian Mother Earthism

From FoxNews: U.N. Prepares to Debate Whether ‘Mother Earth’ Deserves Human Rights Status

United Nations diplomats on Wednesday will set aside pressing issues of international peace and security to devote an entire day debating the rights of “Mother Earth.”

A bloc of mostly socialist governments lead by Bolivia have put the issue on the General Assembly agenda to discuss the creation of a U.N. treaty that would grant the same rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to Mother Nature.

Treaty supporters want the establishment of legal systems to maintain balance between human rights and what they perceive as the inalienable rights of other members of the Earth community — plants, animals, and terrain.

Communities and environmental activists would be given more legal power to monitor and control industries and development to ensure harmony between humans and nature. Though the United States and other Western governments are supportive of sustainable development, some see the upcoming event, “Harmony with Nature,” as political grandstanding — an attempt to blame environmental degradation and climate change on capitalism.

Being a conciliatory person by nature, I like to start with the positive.  What the Bolivians and animal rights people get correct is the recognition that all is not right in the relationship between humans and nature. This is seen in Genesis 3 where it is clear that Adam and Eve’s fall into sin led to broken relationships between man and God, between man and man, and between man and creation. This broken relationship with the creation continues to this day, and is certainly part of the reason why the New Testament says that the whole creation is groaning as it waits for humans to be made right again (Romans 8:19-23).

Perhaps there are many in the “Mother Earth rights” crowd who are well-intentioned—I won’t question their motives here—but I see several serious problems with this movement:

  • I believe a Biblical view of the creation is the correct one, and the one that will lead to the best care of the environment: land, water, air, plants, and animals. The Biblical view starts with God as the creator and owner of everything. In this Biblical view of creation, humans are embedded in nature, being created on the same day as the land animals and being made of the same material. But they are also over the creation, not as exploiters, but as gardeners who are charged with tending the earth only in ways that do not degrade it. When we wander from our role as stewards of the creation (and this wandering can be done by both capitalists and socialists) then the earth suffers along with humanity.
  • The attempt to elevate the “rights” of the earth (where do rights come from anyway if not from God?) can easily lead not to greater protection for plants and animals, but to a degraded status for humans in the environment. If a dog has the same value as a human, then doesn’t a human have the same value as a dog?
  • Socialism (pushed by the Bolivian Mother Earthers) has a horrendous environmental record. While the capitalist West was making great progress in pollution reduction in the 1960s through 1980s (aided by strong environmental activism and regulation), the socialist economies of the Soviet Union and its satellites poisoned their land, air, and water with reckless abandon. Socialism fails because of a failure to recognize both the individual and collective sinfulness of humans, and therefore cannot provide a solid foundation for environmental stewardship.

What further thoughts do you have about Bolivian Mother Earthism?

Grace and Peace

P.S. Or perhaps I should have said, “If a cockroach has the same value as a human, then doesn’t a human have the same value as a cockroach?”

5 thoughts on “Does dirt have the same value as a human? Some thoughts on Bolivian Mother Earthism

  1. The Singular Observer

    Well, I read about it and tried to frame it within a “First Peoples” cultural and ethnolinguistic framework. Seen thus, it is slightly less troublesome. I am not convinced that we should force the flowery language, as seen from our rationalistic Western eyes, into a Western mold.

    That elements wiithin the Bolivian establishment use such language to advance a completely different agenda is possible, however I know too little about Bolivian politics to be able to comment on that.


  2. Sapphire

    I’d like to make a couple of points here because I see this post as teetering on the edge of the sort of language used by the likes of Ken Ham and Dr Dino
    First there is no one biblical view on creation. There are numerous interpretations ranging from careful stewardship to the kind of dominionism that says humans run the planet and can do what they like because God says so.
    Secondly there is the subtle hint that pollution is only pollution where it makes the local environment uncomfortable for humans. Ken Ham says that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant because it occurs naturally. Plants are not important for the regulation of the atmosphere because the Bible specifically states they put here for food for animals.
    The rights of the earth rhetoric is over the top but it does draw attention to the fact that maintaining the biosphere is not just about keeping the trout streams of wealthy clean and preserving tracts of wilderness for the weekend hunters to play in while stripping forests bare to make palm oil for biscuits and the faces of decaying movie stars.
    Finally I thought you better than the quip about the cockroaches. Saying that a dog has the right to live free of pain and suffering is not the same saying that a human should be put on a leash and live in a kennel. That sort of A=B so B=A pseudo logic is fit only for the worst kind of fundamentalist crackpot.


  3. WebMonk

    Actually, Sapphire, if A=B then it really is true that B=A. There’s nothing “pseudo” about that logic. :-D

    I think I get your point, though. Just yanking your chain. I think your “pseudo” analogy would be something more like if A>B then B>QWERTY.


  4. geochristian

    Singular Observer:

    Thanks for the reminder to try to see such issues through different cultural eyes. That was in the back of my mind, but I am sure I have more exploring to do on the topic.


  5. geochristian


    I am sorry that I came across to you as slipping beneath what is proper in my post.

    I agree with most of what you wrote. Christians do have quite a range of views on the environment, ranging from those who feel comfortable with the human-rights-for-animals language of the Bolivian Mother Earth activists to those who believe factories glorify God more than flowers. I believe that neither extreme has a good Biblical foundation, and desire to communicate that “in a way that treats all readers with respect,” as it says in the upper right corner of my blog.

    I’m not sure how to respond to your objection to what I said about cockroaches. Human rights activists have been known to vigorously defend cockroaches while at the same time viewing humans as a cancer on the earth. This is where my concern expressed as “If a cockroach has the same value as a human, then doesn’t a human have the same value as a cockroach?” comes from.

    It is not that plants, animals, and the earth itself don’t have value; the opposite is true. In Genesis 1, God created all of these things before he created humans, and exclaimed that it all was “good” even before he created Adam and Eve. God could have stopped right there, and the creation still would have been good and would have brought him glory. This is one reason why I believe that Christianity provides a firm—or even the best—basis for how humans should live in and with nature (even if Christians have all too often fallen short of that vision).

    Would it have been better for me to leave my statement at the “dog” stage rather than changing it to “cockroaches?”

    Did my quote cross the line of not “speaking the truth in love?” (Eph 4:15).

    I’m not asking these as rhetorical questions. I am open to growth in this area.



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