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Center for Action and Contemplation
The Seven Stories: Part One
The Seven Stories: Part One

The Story of Domination

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

In the podcast Learning How to See, Brian McLaren shares how he learned the story of domination:

Looking back at my schooling, our whole introduction to history was told in terms of domination. The mighty empires that dominated, the explorers sent out by their home countries to dominate the world. Even my religious background was deeply rooted in the domination story because we Christians believed that our religion should dominate…. Theologically, my understanding of God was that God was the ultimate and universal dominating force. I remember from my youngest age hearing a Bible verse from the New Testament, “Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord” (Philippians 2:10–11). What I pictured is this powerful omnipotent God with sword drawn … demanding you bow your knee. It was this dominating vision of God. In that way, domination was the way the universe was supposed to run. [1]

Episcopal priest Stephanie Spellers describes the story of domination emerging from our collective self-centeredness:

When you see cultures based on White supremacy, misogyny, environmental exploitation, consumerism, oppression, and domination, you are actually seeing the fallout from self-centrism. Entire systems, institutions, and societies are fully capable of this sin, as when a group places itself at the center and expects the rest of humanity and creation to support its singular prosperity.

There is no possibility for right relationship if one powerful group protects and sustains itself over and against all others. From there, it’s just too easy to construct binaries and hierarchies of human existence. Our group is good; all of you are bad. Our group belongs on top; we have to keep you low. Our group owns these resources and knows the best way to use them; you will only receive what we give you. Other members of the human family become objects and tools to be acquired, controlled, used, and discarded. [2]

McLaren points to the difference between domination and dominion in the Bible:

The book of Genesis is often blamed for the domination story because, in the Garden of Eden story, human beings are given dominion over the rest of creation (Genesis 1:28). People assume dominion means domination, but I don’t think you have to read the story that way. The nature of God in the first creation story isn’t God dominating and forcing the world into a certain mold. It is “Let there be light.” It’s a permission-giving power.

It’s such a fascinating phrase: “Let there be light.” And also “Let there be land, let there be sea, let there be crawling creatures, let there be fish, let there be humans.” It’s a permission-giving rather than a domination. Then when human beings are made in the image of God, and God says, “You can have dominion,” we would expect it should be the same kind of gentle presence rather than a dominating, controlling, exploiting presence. It’s not “Let there be exploitation.” It’s very, very different. [3]

[1] Adapted from Brian McLaren and Gareth Higgins,Domination Stories,” Learning How to See, season 5, ep. 2 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2023), podcast. Available as MP3 audio and pdf transcript. For further resources, see The Seventh Story and The Porch Community.

[2] Stephanie Spellers, The Church Cracked Open: Disruption, Decline, and New Hope for Beloved Community (New York: Church Publishing, 2021), 39.

[3] McLaren and Higgins, “Domination Stories.”

Image credit and inspiration:  Kevin Erdvig, Untitled (detail), United States, 2018, photograph, public domain. Click here to enlarge image.

So much depends on the stories we tell. What stories will we choose to pass on?

Story from Our Community:  

The CAC’s Daily Meditations are part of my daily spiritual practice. They sustain me as my husband and I, both 76 years old, work towards regenerating our 115 acres of farmland in Minnesota. When I read the meditation from January 16, “Paradox Holds Us” [quoting author Debie Thomas] I was inspired by the idea that even weeds have a valuable role in maintaining the field. Weeds hold soil in place, provide nutrients, and draw water deep into the ground. Weeds might not be part of a productive harvest, but in the larger scheme of things, they also play a sacred role. —Meg N.

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