Hugh W. Nibley, one of Mormonism’s most prominent social critics, was a wonderful model for how to walk the fine line of openly challenging attitudes and practices in LDS culture while still being influential among most segments of the community. He accomplished this through clear demonstrations of his own personal loyalty to the gospel and Mormon people, but also through grounding his critiques in scripture and ancient teachings. One of Nibley’s main critiques was the frequent failure of the LDS people to take care of the natural environment, including the honoring of all life and its right to flourish. The following excerpt was printed and reprinted in several magazines and volumes, with its final presentation under the title “Man’s Dominion, or Subduing the Earth,” in Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol. 13.
A favorite theme of Brigham Young was that the dominion God gives man is designed to test him, to enable him to show to himself, his fellows, and all the heavens just how he would act if entrusted with God’s own power; if he does not act in a godlike manner, he will never be entrusted with a creation of his own worlds without end. So there is risk involved: “The rule over the world is in the hands of God,” says Ben Sirach, “and at the right time He setteth over it one that is worthy”; but if that rule is ever exercised in an arbitrary or arrogant manner, it is quickly taken away and given to someone else. God tells Adam, “The beasts, over whom thou didst rule, shall rise up in rebellion against thee, for thou hast not kept my commandment”; all creatures are quick to recognize the hand of the oppressor and impostor.
Some of the profoundest human commentary is contained in the vast and ancient corpus literature of the animal fables, a protest literature in which the beasts bring accusation against the human race for their shabby performance in the days of their probation. They are, moreover, responsible for more than their own survival, for by God’s rule for the animals, “if humanity perishes, then all perish; but if man lives, then all may live.” What kills men destroys other forms of life as well, and having dragged them down with us in the Fall (“On account of thee,” they say, “our natures have been transformed”), we are answerable for them: “The Lord will not judge a single animal for its treatment of man, but He will adjudge the souls of men towards their beasts in this world, for men have a special place.” A familiar early Jewish and Christian teaching was that the animals will appear at the bar of God’s judgment to accuse those humans who have wronged them. “Happy is he who glorifies all the works of the Lord, but cursed is he who offends the creation of the Lord; for nothing will go unnoticed and unrecorded.” Jesus referred to God’s intimate concern for all when he said of the sparrows, “not one of them is forgotten before God” (Luke 12:6), and has declared in these last days: “I, the Lord . . . make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures” (D&C 104:13). . . .
“Always keep in view,” Brigham Young exhorts us, “that the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms—the earth and its fulness—will all, except the children of men, abide their creation—the law by which they were made, and will receive their exaltation.” We are all going to move together into the eternities, and even now look forward to “heaven, the paradise of God, the happiness of man, and of beasts, and of creeping things, and of the fowls of the air; that which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal. . . .” What an admonition to proceed with reverence and care! It is only because the Latter-day Saints are ignorant of these things, according to President Young, that God has not already cursed them for their brutal and callous treatment of God’s other creatures. . . .
Man’s dominion is a call to service, not a license to exterminate. It is precisely because men now prey upon each other and shed the blood and waste the flesh of other creatures without need that “the world lieth in sin” (D&C 49:19–21). Such, at least, is the teaching of the ancient Jews and of modern revelation.