In the late Sixties the well-respected historian, Lynn White jnr., wrote: ‘the victory of Christianity over paganism was the greatest psychic revolution in the history of our culture’ in an article called ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis’.
Today we have the first Pope to be named after St Francis of Assisi, an event which would have pleased White, a practising – though troubled – Christian, who had informally suggested that St Francis should be made the patron saint of ecologists.
The broader point made by White, a Medieval specialist, was that the march of technology and its capture of Nature had been abetted by Christianity through an interpretation that the Bible endorsed the domination of Nature by Man.
Predictably White’s remarks caused a storm of debate on a subject that has been ongoing throughout history, but it is no coincidence that the Western hunters and explorers who decimated the wildlife in southern Africa during the nineteenth century in a blink of an eye saw nothing wrong in their actions. The fact that Christian missionaries followed closely behind merely added a higher purpose to the killing: they were ‘civilising’ Africa and wildlife was a major resource which to the Biblically-minded had been provided to support this process.
If the land was opened up for Western settlement by brushing aside indigenous people, that historic use of violence reverberates through today’s South Africa as a dynamic that is socially rooted and shaped by the country’s history of conquest and segregation. The country has a wide diversity of culture, and just as the historic interrelationship of these cultures has been volatile and violent so too has the relationship between human elements within the country and wildlife.
Indeed there is nowhere else in the world where such a brutal political trajectory has worked in conjunction with such deeply held attitudes to flora and fauna to forge such a potent environmental narrative; this is giving rise to some recent radical multidimensional revisions, such as Malcom Draper’s appraisal of the white male’s role as a game ranger. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre.