"Compassion upon the Earth": Man, Prophets, and Nature


church history, prophets, nature, environment


“How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!” cries Shakespeare’s Hamlet, depressed about his father’s recent death and his mother’s hasty re- marriage. “Fie on ’t, ah, fie ’tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely.” Hamlet admits he’s in a bad mood, but his assessment of the earth’s overall value, and the relative quality of its creature inhabitants, provides an interesting perspective—by no means unique to disturbed Danish princes—on the question of humankind’s relationship with the natural world. The bumper sticker on my neighbor’s truck provides another. “Earth First!” it declares. “We’ll mine other planets later.” Both views are short-sighted, though in different ways; where Hamlet can’t see anything valuable, my neighbor apparently can’t see anything that’s not valuable—monetarily valuable, that is. They are similar, too, in that neither seems open to the idea that something earthly might possess an inherent worth over and above any value it may or may not hold for them personally. Even Hamlet, who wants to concede a certain goodness and majesty to earth and sky, ultimately condemns them as a “sterile promontory” and “a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors,” worthless to his purposes and so worthless altogether. Other ways of looking at man’s relationship with the earth exist, of course, but none, if the growing bibliography of environmental history tells us anything, have been more influential in the history of civilization than this self-centered myopia, so aptly portrayed by bumpers and bards alike, and so effective at justifying the exploitation of everything that can be converted into cash to the detriment of everything that can’t.

Original Publication Citation

Andrew H. Hedges, “‘Compassion upon the Earth:’ Man, Prophets, and Nature,” George B. Handley, Terry B. Ball, Steven L. Peck, ed., Stewardship and the Creation: LDS Perspectives on the Environment (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2006), 81-88.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL



Stewardship and the Creation: LDS Perspectives on the Environment




Religious Education


Church History and Doctrine

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor