The God-Seeking Animal by Eric Cohen

Eric Cohen, First Things, April, 2010.


On the cover of Being Human, the anthology of writings collected by the President’s Council on Bioethics under Leon Kass’s stewardship, there is a picture of a ballerina leaping into the air, body extended, gazing and reaching and soaring toward the heavens, looking at once perfectly natural and unnaturally perfect. Of all possible snapshots, Kass deliberately chose the ballerina to represent the living human—an image that celebrates our embodiment and not our rationality alone, our yearning for the beautiful and not our ordinariness alone. The ballerina is the graceful human animal at her best—one of us, to be sure, yet also separated from us by the heights to which she can reach, by the elevated posture she assumes, and by the pleasure that she brings to those who behold her. And while we fellow humans may watch her in awe, her perfection-seeking performance seems more like an offering to the divine, which her body seeks at the very peak of her movement.

First Things