3.4.1 Anthropocentrism
In 1967 the American historian Lynn White Jr described Christianity, especially in its Western form, as 'the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen'; and his brief article blaming the medieval Church for the horrors of modern pollution became almost a sacred text for modern ecologists.
White was not the first to attribute the Western exploitation of nature to Europe's distinctive religious inheritance. But, like his predecessors, he almost certainly overrated the extent to which human actions have been determined by official religion alone. In the 1680s Thomas Tryon had also contrasted the moderate demands made on nature by the North American Indians with the ruthlessly manipulative approach of the European invaders. But he recognized that it was new commercial incentives that had made the difference: it was less the replacement of pagan animism by Christianity, than the pressure of the international fur trade which led to overhunting and the unprecedented onslaught on Canadian wild life. Commenting on this aspect of European economic development, Karl Marx noted that it was not their religion, but the coming of private property and a money economy, which led Christians to exploit the natural world in a way the Jews had never done; it was what he called the 'great civilising influence of capital' which finally ended the 'deification of nature'.
Ecological problems are not peculiar to the West, for soil erosion, deforestation and the extinction of species have occurred in parts of the world where the Judaeo-Christian tradition has had no influence. More recent critics of White's thesis have observed that the ancient Romans exploited natural resources in the pre-Christian world more effectively than did their Christian medieval successors; and that in modern times the Japanese worship of nature has not prevented the industrial pollution of Japan. 
The Maya, the Chinese and the people of the Near East were all capable of destroying their environment without the aid of Christianity. Indeed, Christian teaching was less idiosyncratic than Professor White suggested, for there were other, non-Christian religions which also had their myths about man's God-given authority to dominate the natural world. It was reported in 1632. of the American Indians, for example, that 'they have it amongst them by tradition that God made one man and one woman and bade them live together, and get children, kill deer, beasts, birds, fish and fowl and what they would at their pleasure.' Anthropocentrism was not peculiar to Western Europe.
Besides, the Judaeo-Christian inheritance was deeply ambivalent. Side by side with the emphasis on man's right to exploit the inferior species went a distinctive doctrine of human stewardship and responsibility for God's creatures. The English theologians who have been quoted so far tended to disregard those sections of the Old Testament which suggest that man has a duty to act responsibly towards God's creation. They passed quickly over the embarrassing passage in Proverbs (xii. 10) which taught that a good man regarded the life of his beast, and the section in Hosea (ii. 18) which implied that animals were members of God's covenant. 'That this expression is figurative,' said an Oxford professor in 1685 in his commentary on Hosea, 'cannot be doubted, seeing the things here named are not fit parties for making a covenant.' 'Many learned men of great judgement', therefore, took the passage to be a mere renewal of the league by which animals were subjected to Adam. 
As for Proverbs, the commentators gratefully quoted St Paul's question in his first Epistle to the Corinthians (ix. 9.): 'Doth God take care for oxen?' - which they took to mean, perhaps wrongly, that he didn't.
It can indeed be argued that Greek and Stoic influence distorted the Jewish legacy so as to make the religion of the New Testament much more man-centred than that of the Old; Christianity, it can be said, teaches, in a way that Judaism has never done, that the whole world is subordinate to man's purposes. At the dawn of the industrial revolution exploitation, not stewardship, was the dominant theme. A reader who came fresh to the moral and theological writings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries could be forgiven for inferring that their main purpose was to define the special status of man and to justify his rule over other creatures.