I’m Only Human

“I’m only human” works well as an 80’s pop song (Watch this if you don’t believe me). It also works as the explanation for why I am unable to step off my roof and take flight, or why I can’t outrun, say, a cheetah.

It just doesn’t work the way we normally use it.

Why did you cheat on her?

Hey, man. I’m only human.

Ah yes, it’s the humanity factor. Aliens have no idea what it’s like to deal with these pesky human hormones. Must be nice.

Unfortunately, this argument isn’t sustainable. While human beings lack the capacity to leap tall buildings in a single bound, we are fully capable of keeping pants zipped and buttoned. The problem isn’t physical ability; something else contributes to our moral missteps.

Even from a purely humanist perspective, the “I’m only human” plea is limited. The popular politician may apply this defense to infidelity, and with time and “good” behavior, the people will probably forgive him. But if this politician molests a child the excuse is removed from the table, and rightfully so.

But why is that? Violation of rights aside, the same sex drive that led him to his assistant’s hotel room also put him in the presence of a vulnerable child. Give the guy a break. Right?

If that was as hard to read as it was for me to write, you will agree that something much darker than impulse is at play.

Something evil.

But if evil exists, where does it come from? In a godless reality, we are simply the product of genetics and environment. We are subject to the firing of synapses, reactionary beings. No more. No less.

Why then do we build prisons? How cruel is that? Locked in cages, thousands of men and women endure bondage for merely responding to their genetic hardwiring or environment. If they grew up in poverty, why punish them for stealing? If they were abused, why judge them for abusing others? That’s not fair.

If there is no ultimate morality, who decides what is normal and what is criminal? What gives one group of people the right to judge another? Majority?

We have prisons and law enforcement because they are necessary. A murderer should not be allowed in the general population any more than a lion should be released at a family reunion. Someone is going to get hurt.

But that’s an extreme example. What about the average, law abiding citizen? Most of us obey the big rules. We pay taxes and fasten our seat belts. But we still have a surprising capacity for wrong doing.

We lie. Get jealous. We are inconsiderate at times. We take advantage of others. And, truth be told, many of us have experienced outbursts of anger we didn’t realize we were capable of.

What is that about? Being human, consisting of flesh and fragile organs, doesn’t offer a sufficient answer. The Bible calls the problem sin, that we were made by God to be human, but chaos was born when we tried to become something more. Now we are shouldered with a reckless proclivity towards self-pleasure.

I think even the skeptic, being honest, would agree that there is something broken deep within us.

Yes, we are finite creatures limited by time and space and natural ability. So, the next time someone expects you to be at two places at once, pull out the “I’m only human” card. It plays. But when you fail to keep your word or renege on a commitment, don’t bother.

Human limitations are no excuse for misbehavior. Unless, of course, morality doesn’t exist. In which case, why do we need to make an excuse at all?

Have you ever found yourself using the “I’m only human” excuse? Join the discussion below.

Photo Credit: purplemattfish (Creative Commons)

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