In die Skriflig (Aug 2016)

Humanity’s perceived right to life and the impact thereof on the environment: A perspective from Deuteronomy 20:19–20

  • Chris Van der Walt

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 50, no. 4
pp. e1 – e8


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Humanity’s day to day activities are currently impacting on the natural environment in a way unknown before. Although the destruction of natural resources in times of war is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions, it is currently also happening during periods of peace. The reason for this is the undisputed right to life that humans appropriate themselves regardless of the impact of their acts on the environment. According to Deuteronomy 20 all human life is not of equal value and not necessarily superior to life in nature. Deuteronomy 20 challenges conventional thinking on the subject of human-nature relationships. It is also challenged in Jewish Halachic thinking, the practicality of primitive Eskimo’s attitude towards life and nature, as well as Assyrian acts during war. In these societies the dependence of humans on nature in order to ensure survival, was acknowledged. Currently a paradigm shift away from the anthropocentric attitude towards nature is needed to accommodate the conviction that functionality and potentiality should form part of our philosophy concerning the right to life. A new set of moral rules should be established, taking into account the fact that an endeavour to prolong human life indefinitely should not be desirable because it is to the detriment of nature and thus to humanity itself.