Bad Questions

Contrary to what your well-meaning teachers told you, there is such a thing as a bad question.

A good example of a bad question is last week’s topic for the Dallas Morning News’ “Texas Faith” interfaith panel of clergy and other spiritual leaders. Inspired by anti-environmental comments by Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, the Texas Faith panel was asked “Is man here to serve the Earth? Or is the Earth here to serve man?”

For full context, here are the statements by Santorum that the question referenced:

Man is here … to care for the Earth, to be a steward of the Earth. But we’re not here to serve the Earth. The Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective. And – I think a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside down.


We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit.

Like many bad questions, “is man here to serve the Earth or is the Earth here to serve man?” is a bad question because of its unstated assumptions, which are rooted in dualism, dominionism and hierarchy.

It’s a bad question because it assumes there are only two options. Or as panelist Amy Martin, a Taoist and chief cat herder for the North Texas spiritual-but-not-religious community, said “That’s our choice? Dominator Model A or Dominator Model B?” It ignores many other options, in particular the idea that humanity and the Earth can be mutually supporting.

It’s a bad question because it’s rooted in hierarchy – it assumes if we are not masters then we must be servants. It ignores the reality that true leadership is about developing mutually beneficial relationships based on shared respect. It assumes that Life is all about us, when a casual look at the size and age of the Universe, the wide diversity of species, and the power of earthquakes, tornadoes and other natural forces clearly shows our place in the grand order of things – and it ain’t at the top.

It’s a bad question because it’s rooted in dominionism. It comes out of a theology that says those in charge should rule absolutely and everyone else should obey unquestioningly. It ignores the concept that says every living thing has dignity and value of its own and therefore has rights that must be respected.

The question for the panelists would be better phrased “what should be our relationship with the Earth?”

Science tells us we quite literally grew out of the Earth. The Earth is more than our home, it is our Mother, and our relationship with the Earth should mirror our relationships with our human mothers – one of love and concern and above all, respect. The Earth is a living entity, and as such it has intrinsic value of its own, not merely the value humans place on its resources. The Earth is due our reverent care.

As a Pagan I honor the Earth as the body of the Mother Goddess. But in the end, I don’t care if you behave responsibly and sustainably because you believe the Earth is God’s creation or because you believe the Earth is the body of the Goddess or because you believe this is the only planet we’ve got so we have to take care of it.

I just want you to behave responsibly and sustainably.

And to watch out for questions based on unhelpful assumptions.

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