Guilt, prayer, love and worship

Continuing our What Makes Us Human series, the Right Reverend James Jones, Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, explores our moral and spiritual instincts, our need to love and our spontaneous expressions of reverence.

What makes us human? Well, we’re different from other animals in the way we handle fire, write, draw, laugh, make faces and wear jewellery. But there’s another experience that marks us out – guilt. That might jar with some. But if a convicted rapist showed no remorse we’d think him less than human. Guilt proves we are responsible for our actions. Some people feel guilt unnecessarily and for that they need therapy. But when we’ve done wrong it’s good that we feel bad about it. Like the rest of the animal world we are driven by instincts. But being human involves other impulses that override those animal passions. There is a moral instinct in human beings.

Some of the first words a child says are: “That’s not fair!” Sharing sweets or playing a game, kids have an innate sense of fairness. Is that taught, caught, or part of our human make-up? When we say something is unjust we are behaving as if there is some law over us all that ought to be obeyed. The longing for justice is marbled into the human heart.

The survival instinct, so evident in the animal kingdom, is there in humanity, too, but with a twist. Human beings struggle not only to survive but to be free. The story of the human family told in the Bible is a saga that begins with enslavement and ends in liberation.

There is also a spiritual instinct. There are very few people who haven’t at some stage in their life prayed. Usually it’s when the bottom falls out of our world that we cry out to God. That said, I once met a man who was seeking God because, as he told me, “I’m getting married soon to a beautiful woman and think life’s wonderful and I just want to know if there’s anyone I’ve got to thank for all this!”

This spiritual side to being human has us wondering about our place in the universe. Sometimes you can hear a piece of music and you become aware of another dimension to life. These mystical moments take you by surprise. Maybe, on a walk or looking up into the night sky, you want to reach out and be at one with the rest of creation.

This spiritual intuition connects with that other basic instinct to find love. What we value most about our humanity is our ability to love and be loved. The Beatles rocked the world with “All You Need Is Love”. The fact there’s such a deficit of love doesn’t dull our impulse to go on looking for it.

And the search for love is coupled with the search for truth. John Lennon wrote a song about it – “Just Gimme Some Truth”. He was pretty cynical.

I’m sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth . . .

I’ve had enough of watching scenes
Of schizophrenic, egocentric, paranoiac, prima donnas
All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth.

Lennon, like other songwriters, poets and philosophers down the ages, called out for some answers to the ancient quest for the truth about being human.

If God was listening (and I think He was) He gave His own unique answer to the question about what makes us human. Instead of giving us a set of statements He gave us a true human being, a perfect person, Jesus. He was passionate about justice, stood by the sick and up for the poor. He was so fuelled with love that when His enemies drove nails through His hands He found the power to forgive. He knew it was the only way to break the vicious cycle of hatred that has torn the world apart since Cain murdered Abel.

When our children were small, I would sometimes idle away the time by taking a coin and placing it under a piece of paper then shade over it with a pencil until the image of the invisible coin came through on to the page. So the image of true humanity comes through to us in the flesh and blood of Jesus of Nazareth. He was so perfectly human that His followers deemed Him divine.

Jesus urged the human family to see ourselves on a journey where God is both our origin and our destiny. Finding a purpose to our life brings fulfilment to our humanity.

There’s a story of a little boy splashing about in the mud. His mum was about to shout when he looked up innocently and asked, “Mum, what’s mud for?” “Making bricks,” she retorted. “What are bricks for?” “Houses.” “What are houses for?” “People.” “And what are people for?”

Finally, to be human is to worship. There’s something deep down that forces us to shout out when we see something truly amazing. Imagine a football Cup final or a Wimbledon final, if at the winning shot all the people in the stands stood motionless and silent. It would be weird and unnatural.

When we see something extraordinary we have to acknowledge its worth. That’s worship. It’s natural. It’s human. When we see something good or noble or beautiful we have to worship it. And that’s the human response whenever we come face to face with the Divine. We’re bound to worship. And we do it with music. It’s only human.

James Jones is the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool This is the seventh article in our “What Makes Us Human?” series, in association with BBC Radio 2 and the Jeremy Vine show

A place in the universe: the beauty of creation can strike us suddenly. Photograph: Mikael Kennedy Title 'Kalen' South Rim, Big Bend National Park, 2012
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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.