God’s Expectation of our Stewardship as Discussed by John Locke

HUMN 221-09 Group 6:

Two Treatises of Government, John Locke (Passage 32)

“But the chief matter of property being now not the fruits of the earth, and the beasts that subsist on it, but the earth itself; as that which takes in and carries with it all the rest; I think it is plain, that property in that too is acquired as the former. As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were, inclose it from the common. Nor will it invalidate his right, to say every body else has an equal title to it; and therefore he cannot appropriate, he cannot inclose, without the consent of all his fellow-commoners, all mankind. God, when he gave the world in common to all mankind, commanded man also to labour, and the penury of his condition required it of him. God and his reason commanded him to subdue the earth, i.e. improve it for the benefit of life, and therein lay out something upon it that was his own, his labour. He that in obedience to this command of God, subdued, tilled and sowed any part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was his property, which another had no title to, nor could without injury take from him.”

In passage 32 of Two Treatises of Government, Locke stated, “God and his reason commanded him to subdue the earth, i.e. improve it for the benefit of life, and therein lay out something upon it that was his own, his labour.” We interpret this statement as God placing onto man the responsibility to till the earth for the betterment of humankind and that he (man) is entitled to the fruits of his labor in the process. The ownership of land however, is for everyone as God has given the whole of mankind the earth to till. In today’s throwaway culture, we have failed to meet the expectation quoted, “improve it for the benefit of life” because we haven’t kept resources bountiful for our future generations.


“These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants. But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been made in this regard.”

Pope Francis shared this belief in passage 22 of his encyclical because he stated that our culture is one of throwaway by which we’re prone to excess waste as opposed to recycling. This attitude is responsible for destroying our environment through waste pollution, resource depletion, and interrupting the ecosystem of the world. Life, in all its forms whether it be plants or animals, are thus a part of our stewardship. This correlates with John Locke’s belief that we are to till the earth for the improvement of life due to our failure to do so.

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