Ethos Education

Whatever Works: What are human beings like?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understand Christian teaching about the concept of sin.
  • Understand what Christians believe about the consequences of sin in people’s lives today.
  • Understand what Christians believe about the eternal consequences of sin.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the nature of humanity.
  • Evaluate the assessment of Christianity presented by a scene from the film Whatever Works.
  • Analyse Bible passages and interpret Christian teaching about the sinful condition of human nature.
  • Analyse a Bible passage to determine Christian understanding of God’s response to human sinfulness.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a continuation of the scene from Whatever Works.


You can either do this activity as a whole class, or in smaller groups. Ask the students to take it in turns to say one word which they think accurately describes human beings. Make sure that the students understand that no one is allowed to argue or comment on any suggestions at this point (that will come later). If you have broken into small groups, take some feedback and ask for a sample of the words they came up with. Whichever way you carry out the exercise, make sure that at some point you generate a list of suggested words on the board for everyone to see. Keep going long enough to generate a lengthy list.

Ask the students whether they think that the list, taken as a whole, is a fair and accurate description of what humans are like. Is there anything on the list that anyone wants to take issue with? Is there anything important that is missing from the list?

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about the human condition, and in particular thinking about Christian belief about the biggest problem facing humans and the world.


Introduce the clip from the film Whatever Works (Warner Bros, 2010, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that in this clip we are introduced to Boris (Larry David), a New York man with strongly held opinions about life. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what he has to say about humans and humanity.

  • Start time: 0.00.59 (in chapter 1 of the DVD)
  • End time: 0.02.03
  • Clip length: 1 minute and 4 seconds

The clip starts at the beginning of the film, after the opening music and credits. The first line is Boris saying, ‘That’s not what I’m saying, imbecile.’ The clip ends after Boris says, ‘…we are a failed species.’

Ask the students what Boris says is the problem with Christianity (and for that matter, communism and the founding principles of the United States of America, among others). Draw out his assertion that they are all founded on ‘the fallacious notion that people are basically decent.’ Do the students agree that such a notion is wrong? Do they agree that Christianity is based upon such a notion?

Point out that while students may or may not agree with Boris’ assessment of human nature, it is possible to take a more objective look at the notion of humanity that Christianity is based upon.

Give out Bibles to each student. Ask them to look at Genesis 3:1-24; Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:9-18 and to make notes on what each passage says about what humans are like. They could do this activity in small groups or individually. With less able students, it may be best to focus on just one passage (possibly Genesis 3 or Romans 3), while more able students ought to be able to synthesise information from all the passages.

Get some feedback on what the students have discovered about what the Bible has to say about humanity. Is Boris right, on the basis of these passages, to say that Christianity is based on the notion that people are basically decent? Draw out the Christian belief that although humans are made in God’s image, they have rebelled against God and spoiled that image. If you were looking for a single word to sum up the Christian assessment of people, ‘rebellious’ would probably be a better choice than ‘decent’.

Explain that this rebelliousness against God is what Christians understand by the word ‘sin’. As the Bible passages earlier showed, Christians regard sin as the defining problem faced by humans, a problem so serious that without a solution it will cut people off from God for eternity. Fortunately, Christians believe that God has provided the solution to this problem.

Put the students into small groups, and ask the students to work together to summarise Romans 3:21-26 verse by verse. Once they have had a go at this, give out the Romans 3 worksheets, and ask the groups to decide which summary matches each of the verses. Working on their own summaries first will help the students to understand and recognise the right summaries. For less able groups, you may prefer to give out the worksheets in the first instance. In either case, make sure that they are aware that there are more summaries than verses, and that some summaries are red herrings. Here are the summaries:

A: Everybody has done things wrong, and aren’t good enough for God.
B: God changed his mind, and has come up with a new plan.
C: God shows everyone that he is just, by punishing wrongdoing but also providing a way out, if people put their trust in Jesus.
D: If someone tries hard enough, they can be seen to be good enough for God and earn his goodwill.
E: The basis of being considered good enough is whether or not someone believes in Jesus.
F: People don’t deserve to be put right with God, but because of Jesus they can be.
G: Now there is a new way of measuring goodness, and God had it planned all along.
H: Jesus’ death pays the price for all the wrong things everybody else has done, and God had held off punishing these things so that this could happen.

The correct sequence of summaries is G, E, A, F, H, C, and the red herrings are B and D.

Take feedback from the previous exercise, and make sure that the students have understood the Bible passage. Explain or draw out from them that Christians believe that because Jesus was perfect, and died to take the punishment that everyone else deserved, so God looks at people who have put their faith in Jesus and sees them as having his righteousness (you might want to explain that in this context, righteousness means goodness – being right with God, not having any wrongdoing that comes between somebody and God). The Christian standard for measuring goodness is Jesus’ perfect goodness.


Ask the students to write a continuation of Boris’ rant with his friends at the cafe. This time, one of the friends explains how Boris has misinterpreted Christianity’s assessment of humanity, and how this might change Boris’ perspective on life. It is up to the students whether or not Boris agrees with his friend, but they will be assessed on the understanding of Christian belief about sin and the human condition that they demonstrate, rather than on their agreement or disagreement with it.


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