On mind and body

Sarah Coakley broaches the infinitely mysterious idea that we are made in the image of God.



Sarah Coakley broaches the infinitely mysterious idea that we are made in the image of God.


The idea that is in, of course, the Hebrew Bible, in Genesis, that God made male and female in God’s image, is an actually infinitely mysterious idea because it’s not at all clear what it means. What aspect of the divinity is it that is given to the human? Is it the mental acuity, is it the capacity for freedom, is it the capacity for having dominion over the animals? Or is it, as Christians often say, a kind of indication of a promise that, fundamentally, humanity later will be reconstituted in the image of Christ? Which itself, of course, opens up another mystery.

But the first thing that needs to be said here, therefore, when thinking about the human made in the image is that it’s not at all clear what that means. And the human is almost certainly at least as mysterious as the divine – although, of course, at a completely different level of ontological being, as created. However, if we don’t think in this way, if we don’t think about the depths of mystery in the human and the capacity for transcendent transformation in the human, then it’s all too easy to start to succumb to the idea that there is nothing but the natural in the human, and that humans simply operate according to mechanisms or are subject to deterministic natural forces.

And that, of course, has been a philosophy that has been extraordinarily dominant in the philosophical world in the later part of the 20th century. I think we’re going to look back and see that as a rather interesting moment; I think there are signs that this is cracking up. It’s never actually been signed on to by the general public though. And if you want to see why, just pick up a slimming magazine, where you will discover that people still believe strongly that there is a site of human control above and beyond the body, and that there’s this that is being applied to when people are being asked to exercise control over what they eat or how they perform in the gym and so on and so forth.

So we live in a period of enormous cultural contradiction about what exactly the human consists in and what is the relationship between mind and body.