Chaos, Dominion, Nature…and King Kong

A great ape teeters atop the tallest building in the world, raging against the world of humans. When the latter finally overcome him, they once again prove that they rule over brutish, out-of-control nature, and that King Kong isn’t really king after all.

That’s the old version. There’s a new Kong in town, and he offers us an alternative view of nature and dominion.

The King Kongs

In my view the old and newest versions of the story deal with alternative visions of nature, chaos and control. In previous versions explorers encounter King Kong in unexplored territory where he terrorized the region. After being captured and taken to New York he breaks loose. The dark force that terrorized Skull Island now brings chaos to civilization only to be suppressed once more by human ingenuity and force. Humans keep chaos at bay by keeping nature under control.

In the newest version the entire story takes place in uncharted territory just after the Vietnam War. When an expedition of soldiers and scientists first encounter Kong, they unhesitatingly attack him. The few survivors of this encounter now find themselves, as opposed to Kong, strangers in a land they do not understand.

Over time the humans split into two camps, one led by the commander and another that has come to see Kong for who he really is. The expedition’s commander rages against the brute who has stranded them there, vowing to avenge his fallen men and show Kong who’s top dog. When the expedition’s commander weakens Kong, a voracious reptile who Kong had forced into caverns beneath the earth comes to the surface, attacks both groups, and kills the commander.

The second group coalesces around the woman. In this reconceptualized fable she no longer dangles in Kong’s savage grip, but rather touches his face when Kong, curious and open, approaches and considers her. Seeing she is not like the humans who attacked him, he returns to patrol his realm. At one point Kong even rescues a gigantic ox trapped by a wrecked helicopter, an animal the woman vainly attempted to help. She and her companions ultimately come to his aid as he ends up battling first, the commander, and then the “mother of all reptiles” that the commander unwittingly set loose on the island. At great cost to himself Kong ultimately defends the hapless humans who first had attacked him and vanquishes the reptile, saving his world from chaos. Kong, with all his prodigious strength, showed compassion and a willingness to defend at all costs those who depended on him.

Chaos and Kingship

The first chapter of the Book of Genesis in the Bible says that God gave humans dominion over all creatures. In the beginning of this creation account the Hebrew god brought order out of primeval chaos and magisterially brought all things into existence, finally giving humans the mandate to have dominion over all things and to subdue the earth. Scholars say that this creation account was written when the Hebrews lived in exile in Babylon and that its authors wrote it to assure them that despite appearances the Babylonian gods had not conquered the God of Israel. The Hebrew god tramples the Babylonian gods through regents on earth, the humans. Peace, however, marks the regent’s relationship to the rest of creation – humans eat only seed-bearing plants and fruits. Humans keep chaos at bay by living as God’s regents, by acting as God would act.[1] If humans don’t act this way, the biblical prophets warn that chaos will return, bringing destruction.[2]

And what is the source of chaos that God urges us to dominate? The original King Kong movies tell us that uncontrolled nature brings chaos and that only through force can we keep it at bay. The newest version asserts that humans bring chaos into nature and that only by cooperating with nature, personified by King Kong, can order be restored. Compassionate Kong protects and serves, whereas the humans have to learn to dominate the chaos that enters the world from the caverns deep within themselves. Which vision of reality these two versions offer most reflects the biblical vision, one shared by most world religions? Which version of King Kong offers humans the best road map in an increasingly unstable world and environment? I know which I’ll vote for.

[1] Brueggemann, Walter. 1977. The Land, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, p. 144; Brueggemann. 1983. Interpretation: Genesis. Atlanta: John Knox, pp. 22-27; Fretheim, Terence E. 2005. God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, pp. 32, 43-53.

[2] See, e.g., Hosea 4: 1-3.

The Center for Religion and Environment at The University of the South

Contemplation and Care for Creation

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Author: Robert "Robin" Gottfried

Director, Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South, and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Sewanee. Contemplative Christian, musician, blogger for the Huffington Post on religion and environment, and hiker living on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee.

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