On being human

Francis Spufford considers what sets us apart from other animals.



Francis Spufford considers what sets us apart from other animals.


Christianity has simultaneously a very low opinion of human beings and a view of them so high that it has no ceiling to it. The low opinion, because it does straightforward justice to our kind of … to our animal nature and to the way that, like our cousins, the other apes, we’re big into kind of dominance games and violence and all of the things which go with us evolving up out of East Africa.

But at the same time, Christianity asserts that we’re made in the image of God. And if you’re feeling doubtful about that phrase you can shelve, table for now the question about how exactly we’d be made, but what’s been said there is that there is something in our sentience, something in our consciousness of ourselves as moral beings, which is like the creator of the universe. Fairly astonishing, just in terms of scale if you think about it. But it makes intuitively direct sense as well. We too are makers, we too are people who know right from wrong – it’s what divides us from other animals. And so we uniquely are animals who struggle between the different potentials that are within us.

Christianity says that we can doom ourselves, that we can be lost in cruelty and hatred and confusion and greed. But it also says that we have – with a little bit of help and a following wind – we have the chance to be astonishing as well. I think if you look at human history, you can find easy confirmation of both parts of that proposition.