The Dominion Factor

Humanity does not gradually progress from combat to combat until it arrives at universal reciprocity, where the rules of law finally replaces warfare; humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and proceeds from domination to domination – Foucault, 1977

“Why can’t we all just get along?” - Rodney King L.A. riots

“Make sure you never say no.”  Fantasticks

“Try to see it my way…” The Beatles

“Kids rule.” Commercial for a hotel chain.

Every day, we hear phrases like this:  Someone always has to have the “upper hand.”  She’ll come out on top.”  “Don’t tell me what to do!”  People are in conflict.  We see it everywhere from small to grand scale.  Little children fight with each other, and play games like “King of the Hill.”   Children fight with parents.  Spouses argue and abuse one another.  Employees go crazy when they hear “corporate is going to ram something down your throat.” Counties struggle for land rights.  Nations insult other nations and wars escalate.  Even religions fight over “turf.” Some might say it is simply competition, or the survival of the fittest.  Whatever causes this problem has been going on for a long time. What is the nature of this pathology? Something has infiltrated the human race, and causes it to remain in conflict.  So what causes this constant turmoil?  What causes what we call “power struggles”?

In 1974, I spoke with a man who thought I was a bit naïve about my faith.  He said people didn’t need religion, since knowledge would surely claim the day and solve the problems of humankind, and that some day we would all would be well.  He assured me that “with more knowledge, people will live in peace.”  That was long before the INTERNET.  We have more knowledge today than ever, yet our struggles with each other remain.  People simply don’t get along.  There always seems to be something that gets in the way.  Why might that be?

As a practitioner~researcher, I often conduct simple, small scale studies to gain insight into human nature.  One study I conducted a while back was on the issue of advice giving.  I had a small group answer a simple questionnaire.  How many people like to give advice?  How many like to take advice?  How many people want to act on advice?  How many actually act on advice?  The differences were striking.  The class had medical people, social workers, law enforcement officials, factory workers, essentially people from all walks of life, both male and female.  When asked whether people liked to give advice, the group averaged 8.9 on a scale of 10, with 10 being strongly agree and 1 being strongly disagree.  Conversely, the group essentially said that few people wanted to receive advice. Why should there be such a difference in giving and taking advice?  Could it be that we believe we have the answers, but we don’t want to reciprocate: we’re glad to advise, but we’re really not interested in someone else telling us what to do.

The question I pose is this: why do people continue to be in conflict, when it seems most people want to have peace.  I suggest it is an ancient problem deep within human nature I call “the Dominion Factor,” which is an aberration of a Biblical mandate occasioned by the Fall. 

The Biblical perspective

 “Rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, and over every living creature that moves on the face of the ground”[1]

This was the command given to our ancient parents so long ago, to rule, or have dominion, over all the earth.  It was a good thing in God’s sight, and a command that was to be obeyed.  As creatures we were to master and subdue the earth, to make it our own, and to enjoy it.

The evidence is clear: Humans have accomplished this feat.  “Man is possibly the toughest and most adaptable species in the world, one who has dominated the globe…”[2]  “[Man’s] physique is so unspecialized that he can adapt himself to life in a range of habitat far wider than any form of life.”[3]  Humans have crossed the oceans, descended to the depths of the Marinas Trench, scaled Everest, lived in desserts, jungles, polar caps, scalding climates, islands, land masses, virtually any given type of topography and geography, including space.  No other creature on earth can make that claim.  We have indeed dominated the earth.

Effaced Dominion

Along the way, the command to subdue the earth, to rule over the earth, and to have dominion over it, has been perverted.  Instead of ruling over the earth, we have now chosen to rule each other, or resist being ruled. Before you think this is a leap of logic, consider the Biblical evidence. The word dominion is a strong word used for domination of nations over nations (Isaiah 14:2, 6); rich people over poor (Proverbs 22:7); one people over another (Judges 14:4-15:11).

The history of the world is the history of people subjugated, regaining their freedom, then oppressing other peoples for lands, resources, and sheer ego.  And this starts at the individual level.  A familiar dictum: If you push, people shove.

I submit the following rubric for consideration, since it clearly shows how   effaced dominion has influenced the behaviors of human beings through the centuries.


People are either

dominating others

or being dominated by others

or desiring to dominate others

or resisting domination by others.


Consider any human relationship ranging from the two year old saying “no” to her mother, to a group of employees kvetching over a new rule imposed by management, to people on the freeway jockeying for position.  Consider two toddlers with one toy.  Consider adolescents strving against authority, just because it is authority!  Or make it even easier and think about people trying to choose a program to watch on the only T.V. in the house!  At the heart of the conflict is the issue of who will win, who will rule, who will dominate, who will “come out on top.”  The issue is very straightforward: people do not like anyone to impose their will on them. 

The word for dominion comes from the Latin Dominus, which means “lord.” 

The lord of a manor or house was the ultimate unquestioned authority, a person whose decisions were final and ultimate.  A lord ruled a manor, and was entitled to do what he pleased without challenge from those below him.  Though we in democratic societies fancy ourselves to be more enlightened, in our own smaller worlds, we are often guilty of the same world view. 

When we think of how we would like things to be, we are sometimes reminded of the song, “Everybody wants to rule the world.”  What seems to be a bit of 80’s angst is really an insight into the human condition.  When we hear Frank Sinatra sing “My way,” we hear the words of someone singing our deepest desires.  To do my own thing, to be my own person, is all about doing things my way without impediment, in other words, to have the world the way I want it to be.

This is not evolution. It is the broken image of God. An alternative to “survival of the fittest” is “domination of the most.”

There are those who would argue that this is evidence of evolution, the evidence of our survival of the fittest ancestors who are still struggling with each other…most of the evolutionary psychology out today leans heavily on the idea that we are all still struggling for the “upper hand” so we can mate and extend our genes. But even the most dye-in-the-wool evolutionary psychologists, like Robert Wright,  admit that there is “… the deeply human hunger for status and seemingly universal presence of hierarchy.”[4]  In other words, all around the world, people are jockeying for position to see “who will come out on top.” While Wright makes a case that this is part of the evolutionary cycle, I would argue it is rooted in the dominion factor. Donald Brown, for example, in his book on Human Universals, argued that “…all societies are structured by statuses and roles…[5]  Even prisoners and slaves have had hierarchies, meaning no matter how desperate the conditions one may be in, people continue to sort out who has the dominion, who has the power. Hierarchy of competition for power is a prime ingredient in the human drama.  Even children play simple games like “king of the hill,” and they do so without having been taught in school.

The more people dominate situations, the more control they have, which means they can more carefully determine the outcomes, which means the outcomes most likely will be what they want to satisfy their needs and desires.  One of the harshest realities of the world we live in is that there is enough to go around for everyone, but because some in power use things to their advantage, those with less power often suffer.  Eventually they rise up, as people have through the centuries, in 1776 in America, in 1789 in France, in 1917 in Russia.  People grow tired of others dominating them, so they act, and they take charge, and they rule, and eventually someone comes to overthrow  them.  It is the cycle of human history, and it continues to this very moment.  The seeds of empire are sown in the individual desire to dominate others.

Domination is a driving force in world history.  Typically it is a desire to have something someone else has. 

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You want something but don’t get it.  You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.  You quarrel and fight.  You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” [6]

What is most interesting about this passage is that it was written to people who were Christians!  When we seek the goods of another at all costs, we seek to dominate them, we seek to have power over them, and if we cannot win it, we will have the struggle. 

Domination is a driving force in all human relationships.

            Until one sits down to take stock of the idea, domination is not something most people would consider to be part and parcel of everyday life.  Most people want to believe in the inherent good of others, simply because the alternative is very difficult to accept. When people hear about sin, they laugh and consider it some old style Puritanical or Victorian concept, until they are affected by its outcomes.  For example, Susan Brownmiller wrote a book, Against our Will (1975), that described rape as an act of domination. The following chart shows multiple day-to-day situations where people are trying to gain the “upper hand.”  While some are mundane, others are quite serious.

Practical examples of human relations damaged through domination

The workplace                                                               Crime

Urban gang violence                                                                   Neighborhood

Rape                                                                                         Family struggles

Incest                                                                                       Church struggles

Child/spousal abuse                                                                   Gender tensions

            And what of sports?

Then we move on to other examples of dominion, which are of a far wider scale.

Social and Historical examples where domination is a key component of a struggle:



Ethnic cleansing

Battles over territory

Political races


Religious domination (!)

We can extend this exercise to include broader ways of thinking as expressions of the Dominion Factor.  All of the following major thinkers expressed awareness of humanities’ struggle with power and domination. Darwin and Herbert Spencer focused their energies on the concept of  Survival of the Fittest.  Nietszche dedicated an entire work to a concept called the will to power. Freud struggled and analyzed the so called “id,” the passions and drives are the root of power. Konrad Lorenz once wrote “It takes very little intuition to see that the greatest part of humanity is neurotic, and the neurosis can be seen as a striving for power, position, or money.[7]  And then there is Postmodernism which asserts that even languages are essentially power structures which imprison people.  Postmodernism is the sharpest reaction to dominion – and it is the ultimate act of anarchy – raised to a sophisticated, philosophical level, as a reaction to perceived or actual oppression.  Nonetheless, it is an insight into power that we cannot ignore.  What these theorists are saying is they have discovered something nasty at the core of human nature, and it is an obsession with power.  The very act of slavery, which has been a component of virtually every culture across the globe, attests to this insanity within human nature to bind others captive as servants to the power of others.

Everybody wants the world to function as they see fit, according to how they believe the world “should be.”  It is a struggle for “the upper hand”.

As a result of the Dominion Factor, many of our struggles as human beings are really struggles about power.  Who will have power?  Who will use power?   How will power be exercised?  And if it is exercised, will there be room for a voice of those who are not in the majority?  Politically, the following continuum shows how power can be used across a broad spectrum.  At one end of the spectrum, we have governments that completely spell out what people will and will not do (the Taliban for example) and at the other end we find a completely different kind of power wielding, where anything goes and control is gone, and disorder is the rule of the day, though the anarchists themselves once in power often become the victims of those things they sought so desperately to destroy. 

Continuum of power

The mere utterance of the word power evokes a reaction, about which people are not ambivalent.  People often  have negative feelings about power because abuses of power are familiar to everyone with even a cursory knowledge of history.  Negative images of power are forged by black and white videos of  jack booted soldiers marching across Europe or histories of  Papal edicts of infallibility.  The history of humankind has been the history of domination and resistance to domination.  Far more grievous is that the history of the church is a history of domination and crisis.  While we all see the need to sustain a fight for truth, it has often been done at the cost of peace and freedom, many times at the expense of human dignity and lives[8]. Instances such as the Spanish Inquisition, with all its’ attendant horrors and injustices[9] cause all of us to look askance at those who wield unbridled authority. In the day-to-day world, negative power is seen and often experienced in orders shouted across rooms, outbursts of anger and similar destructive behavior, sometimes in the very homes people were raised in. 

Fear of domination is at the root of the negative fear of power, including fear of oppression and suppression, fear of control, fear of pressure to conform, fear of shame and dishonor at the hands of capricious, knee-jerk despots. So much of what we struggle with as human beings is all about power.  Much has been written in the past 30 years about empowering people to give them a voice where they’ve had none.  Entire management seminars and books have been written on the need to secure a more democratic workplace, largely because this does not come naturally to people in positions of power!

Dominion and power go hand in hand.  Not all power is a bad thing, but knowing that it is a key driver of human behavior[10] makes us alert that it is something to be aware of.  In fact, the reason for democracy is to balance power and allow people to have a voice.  Power theory[11] (taught in business schools) teaches us that we must be keenly aware of how to wield power, but organizational theorists acknowledge that power is something that will not go away.

The Real Power Struggle: Essence of sin is doing things my way instead of God’s way.

We appear to have an inbred desire to influence the earth[12], but it has been damaged.  “Let them have dominion over the earth”…became “I will have dominion over the other.”  Domination is lordship, the right to exercise power as one sees fit. The result of this is often a lack of harmony when people should work together to solve problems.  In point of fact, people today are pushing harder and harder for “collaboration” as the solution to making things work.  It seems collaboration and “synergy” doesn’t come naturally.

So where did the change happen?

The transgression occurred to wreak havoc was the ultimate expression of domination, murder, was exhibited by Cain, in a jealous rage. To dominate another so much as to take their life is the ultimate power.

Here is where dominion over the earth transgressed the boundary into dominion over another human being.  Strangely enough, it was family murder, domestic violence, that which is still one of the most prevalent forms of violence to this day[13].  Domestic violence started in the most ancient of families and has left a horrific legacy.  As history demonstrates, families of the powerful are even MORE inclined to conduct murder of siblings and rivals, because it eliminates any and all takers from standing in the way of  power.  Murder, then, is the ultimate expression of domination, since it extends beyond possessions and even inflicting pain, it uses power to remove life.  Perhaps abortion is the saddest example of all.  A mother takes the life of her own child who threatens her autonomy and the domination of her own world.

Violence is the ultimate expression of dominion (domination).

It has been one of the efforts of  “ … Western society to abolish violence and install peace as a stable and permanent condition of everyday life. To be sure, the history of this aspiration is by and large a history of its failures and those who count only results may judge the avowals of nonviolence as a massive display of hypocrisy.[14]   People want desperately to believe that things will get better, but we continue to find the same issues coming up again and again. “Modern criminology has by and large taken one of two views of human nature. The first is that man is a self-seeking rational calculator who responds to the rewards and punishments he encounters in his dealings with others. The second is that man is naturally good; his goodness will be realized if social arrangements are decent; corrupted if they are defective.[15]                               

The authors go on to say, “Some modern criminologists have re-examined these views (man is good). There is for example less support today for the feasibility of rehabilitation … And for almost all of modern criminology there is less optimism than there used to be about the perfectibility of human nature.[16]   In the wake of September 11th, we are more realistic than ever about the perfectibility of human nature.        

The greatest examples of effaced dominion are occasionally demonstrated in the hands of some despot, or tyrant who will have nothing stand in his or her way dominating other people.  Stalin, Hitler come to mind, but there have been myriad others throughout the centuries who have taken the cause of dominion to extreme and irrational levels.

Every human being has their own empire – it is the Self.  And it is the desire of the Self to be God that energizes the Dominion Factor.

A popular song once said “Everybody wants to rule the world.[17]  What is it that energizes this immense force, this drive to power, this ultimate belief that I have the right to rule?  Is it possible that  at the heart of people is a belief that they have the attributes of God?  Maybe people believe (1) they are self-created (as if they just appeared with no help from anyone), (2) their knowledge and importance are greater than anyone else's, (3) their way is the right way, (4) that justice is measured according to what is best for them (5) that the world exists for them, (6) that their importance is greater than others, (7) that their punishment of others is just, and (8) that their rights are inviolable.  In other words, perhaps it is through the perceived self-importance, this worship due only to God that energizes this titanic power, that  we become our own idols.  Hell should not surprise us if this is the case, since that intensity of self-idolatry must merit something greater than simple destruction.  If we worship ourselves rather than God, we have put ourselves in His rightful place, and that is unpardonable.  It is a great act of disrespect and dishonor, with an ancient origin.

“How you have fallen from heaven, O morning start, son of the dawn!  You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!  You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God.”[18]

In its truest essence, even the issue of power itself is not the core problem.  The core issue is to BECOME the Dominus, to become God himself, to literally have sovereignty and true freedom to do as I please… that is the real issue behind the quest for power and dominion. 

The hard work which is always before us, is the answer to the problem of Dominion

In Christianity, I lay my life down to obey someone else Who is far greater than my petty empire.  I learn to obey Him Who is perfect, no matter what He asks, since He alone has the right to demand, and because of Who He is, I am first compelled by respect and duty, (and ultimately find it my joy) to obey.  Our challenge as Christians is the legitimate use of power and authority, in our relationships with each other, as wives, husbands, parents, children, workers, managers and all the other areas of life.  It is especially an issue in the church, where power can be misused and abused to horrific ends, as evidenced in the recent scandal of pedophilia in the priesthood.  The challenge is to exercise dominion legitimately, in love, like our Great Creator, with the true good of the “other” in mind.  The concept of “servant leadership” is so accurate since it shows the proper way to use power is to serve.  The challenge to commit even our anger to God so it may be rightly used is an effort which must be performed again and again. 

One day, the rightful King will rule again

Not in vain does the Scripture tell us the world will only be well when it is ruled by Someone who will wield a “rod of iron.”[19]  The day will come when Dominion will be given to the rightful Judge and ruler, the Son.   Someday, the Son will be given the ultimate rule, which cannot and will not be challenged. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he will reign forever and ever.”[20]

[1] Genesis 1:28b, NIV

[2] Hall, E. Beyond Culture, p. 205.

[3] Crump, T. Man and His Kind, p. 3.

[4] Robert Wright, The Moral Animal: Why we are the way we are.  The new science of evolutionary psychology.  p. 237

[5] Donald E. Brown (1991).  Human Universals (p. 39).

[6] James 4:1-3, NIV

[7] Konrad Lorenz.  OMNI Magazine, April 1987, p. 89.

[8] Rubenstein, 1999.  When Jesus became God.

[9] Netanyahu, 1995

[10] McClelland

[11] Pfeffer

[12] Some would say, like White, in his work on effectance motivation (1959), that human beings have a deep need and desire to control their environment through power and make an impact on it.

[13] What Fulton J. Sheen once called “the Club of Cain.”

[14] The Functions of the Police in Modern Society Center for the Studies of Crime and Delinquency

National Institute of Mental Health,  Egon Bittner, Ph.D. Brandeis University

[15] Crime and Human Nature, p.514

[16] Ibid, p. 519 (italics mine)

[17] Tears for Fears

[18] Isaiah 14:12-13.

[19] Revelation 19:15 NIV

[20] Revelation 11:15


Brown, D. (1991). Human Universals. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against our will: Men, Women and Rape. Toronto: Fawcett-Ballantine.

Crump, T. (1973). Man and his kind. Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd.

Hall, E. (1992). Beyond Culture. P. Smith Publishing.

Lawrence, P., and Nohria, N. (2002). Driven: How human nature shapes our choices. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Netanyahu, B. (1995). The origins of the Inquisition in fifteenth century Spain. New York: Random House.

Pfeffer, J. (1992). Managing with power in organizations. Harvard Business School Press.

Rubenstein, R. (1999). When Jesus became God: The struggle to define Christianity during the last days of Rome. Florida: Harcourt.

McClelland, D. (2003, original 1976). Power is the great motivator. Harvard Business Review.

Wilson, J. Q., and Herrnstein, R.J. (1985). Crime and Human Nature: The definitive study of the causes of crime. New York: Free Press.

White, R. (1959). Motivation reconsidered: The concept of competence. Psychological Review, 66, 297333.

Wright, R. (1994). The Moral Animal: Evolutionary psychology and everyday life. New York: Random House.

Emerging Church Economics

There are too many errors in this book for unsophisticated readers. McLaren’s book has value only to readers who recognize the mistakes but are willing to learn about a position that springs from ideology and a theological framework. For me, the emerging church movement is enough to consider by itself without flawed economics intertwined

Mordecai Kaplan: Rethinking Judaism for the New World

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