We are risen

“But we were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles, and our irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties whatever they may be worth; our symphonies however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams however rarely they may be accomplished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses.”

Robert Ardrey, African Genesis: A Personal Investigation Into the Animal Origins and nature of Man

[quoted in https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1158-but-we-were-born-of-risen-apes-not-fallen-angels]

I am one who is easily disappointed in humanity. I want humans to be honest, compassionate, peaceful and law-abiding. I want us to take care of our planet, create a just society, eschew killing each other by the millions, and ensure our fellow humans enjoy a basic standard of living with food, shelter, and healthcare. 

If you’ve watched the news. . .ever. . .you’ll know that my expectations are not being met. Worse yet, it’s not just other people who fall short of these expectations: So do I and my loved ones.

God in the Bible is also disappointed in humanity. And why not: He creates two people molded in the image of a perfect deity, and they turn out to be Hunter Biden. Despite God’s efforts to rectify things by sending prophets, flood and savior, it’s Hunter Bidens all the way down. And I must say, the rivers of blood promised in Revelation don’t portend any better outcome than God’s previous attempts. Unless, that is, you think Armageddon will send us back into hunter-gatherer territory and you think that’s an improvement. That, at least, is a plausible scenario.

And so, with endless wars and genocides, cocaine and hookers, it’s easy to be disappointed in humanity, whether you’re an all-powerful deity or lowly me. 

But disappointment can result as much from faulty expectations as from faulty outcomes. And this is where Mr. Ardrey’s narrative can provide a glorious corrective. It was never appropriate to expect humanity to be all the things we want it to be. We were not built to be perfect deity-like. We were built to survive and make grandchildren. Some of the proclivities that have made us successful at that feat have also made us successful at atrocities and petty misdeeds. The miracle, maybe, is that we are capable–sometimes–of rising above all that. This attitude–this understanding–helps me be more forgiving of both myself and my fellow humans.

My hope is we get better and better at it. That our stretches of peaceful acre grow, and our battlefields shrink. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that the world is getting better. That doesn’t mean we won’t destroy ourselves–we just might. On the other hand, maybe our rise from heavily armed apes will continue. Maybe that peaceful garden is out there, not yet fully in view, but close enough to be glimpsed through poetry today.  


  1. Is it fair to characterize Genesis 1 and 2 as early poetry by our fellow risen apes?
  2. Some folks feel not having a God can only lead to hopelessness and dissolution. Does the Ardrey quote help dispel that myth?
  3. Has anyone here read the whole book? Is it good?