Emerging Perspectives: Student Chapters

Manifest Destiny: The American Dream or an Ecological Crisis?

Georgia McLachlan

A quintessential part of the “American dream” is freedom. Whether it be freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or simply freedom to pursue one’s own dreams, Americans have always idolized the United States as a sort of utopia for individual freedom. “Manifest destiny” is a mindset that embodies this belief. A staple term in every elementary, middle, and high school student’s American history textbook, it might be considered the epitome of what it meant to be American at the start of American imperialism. The idea of manifest destiny gained popularity in the mid-19th century and was built upon the notion of freedom. Advocates for manifest destiny believed that Americans were free, even bound by fate, to conquer the North American continent and expand the realm of democratic republicanism and Christianity. Under the guise of religious, political, and economic motivations, manifest destiny allowed Americans to pursue the “American dream” and subdue the “wild west.” The environmental and humanitarian implications of manifest destiny were frequently overlooked or not considered, resulting in ideology that still today seeps into our behaviors and perceptions regarding domination and superiority…

…In reality, Christian religion (or any religion) does not condone this sort of dominionistic, condescending attitude toward the natural environment. This way of thinking cannot be considered a “Christian” perspective; it is motivated by entirely other reasons. As Theodore Hiebert (1996) explains, isolating this one verse of Genesis ignores the rest of the Creation story – that God has entrusted humans to take care of the earth and its living creatures. “Dominion” in this sense is God giving humans a responsibility to act justly and righteously, not to destroy what He has created. Humans are at the top of the hierarchy in terms of intelligence and morality, so we are given the task of exercising stewardship of the earth through God’s instruction (Hiebert, 1996). The actions of individual settlers – cutting down trees, relying on railroad development, countless growing settlements – culminated in a dominion- and development-inspired movement that resulted in far more significant consequences than anyone likely envisioned. However, the notion of taking unrestrained control of the land (especially taking it out of the control of indigenous people who had lived there for centuries) contradicts the whole premise of stewardship that is an essential tenet of Christianity and many other world religions…


Find the rest of this chapter in Emerging Perspectives on Religion and Environmental Values in America HERE.


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Religion and Environmental Values in America Copyright © 2019 by Georgia McLachlan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.