Am I my brother’s keeper?
by Ben Stone
Caution, Bad Quaker Theology Class is in session!
Please note: Atheists, pagans, non-Christian theists and agnostics are welcome to sit in and ring in with your opinions and observations.
Genesis Chapter 4
And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.
And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof.
And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.
And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door: and unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?
And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
Am I my brother’s keeper?
Am I my brother’s keeper?
According to Christian tradition, these are the words Cain threw in the face of God when God asked Cain what happened to his brother. Of course, in the context of the story, God knew what happened to Cain’s brother, but Cain’s defense was a legitimate one nonetheless.
Lets stop before we go to far.
What I’m asking the reader to do is consider the Cain/Able case as a lesson in morality, to look at the facts provided in the story and draw a conclusion. Not a conclusion of guilt or innocence, but a conclusion as to one possible moral of this story.
The undisputed facts:
Two brothers, Cain the elder, and Able the younger.
Cain is a farmer while Able is a shepherd.
Cain is jealous of Able and kills him.
God knows of the deed and confronts Cain by asking a leading question.
Cain does not bite the bait, utilizes a legitimate defense and demands God show his hand.
God concedes to Cain’s valid point and presents his case directly.
Cain admits guilt, asks for mercy and is punished for murder by banishment and shunning.
Like any good investigator, God confronted Cain by asking a question he already knew the answer to, “Where is Abel thy brother?”
Cain wisely responded, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and God is forced to present his whole case to Cain. God shows that he knows where the body is and the method and the motive for the crime. Cain confesses and God pronounces punishment.
So now that the facts are out of the way, let’s consider one moral of the story. As a child, Sunday school teachers and pulpit preachers told me that the moral of the story was that we are our brother’s keeper. We are responsible for our brother’s actions. It’s up to us to protect, convert, and redeem our brothers. It’s up to us to see to it that our brother is not ensnared by sin. The inference was that our own salvation was in part dependent on how hard we worked to see to it that our brother was kept from sinning. Yet this twisted Puritan distortion of the story could not be more wrong.
We are not our brother’s keeper! Our brother is his own keeper! We do not own our brother nether does he own us, therefore he is responsible for his actions and we are responsible for our own actions. If it were otherwise God would have countered Cain’s rebuke by saying that he was indeed his brother’s keeper, but he made no such remark! Cain’s point was valid and God moved on to other evidence! If Cain were Abel’s keeper and therefore responsible for him, it would follow that Able was responsible for Cain and therefore Able would be at least partly responsible for his own murder. That sounds just like Puritan thinking; blame the victim of a crime for the crime. Shift the blame anywhere except to the guilty party! What next, blame an inanimate object like the murder weapon? There’s a theology the Puritan/Progressive would love, blame the assault-rock Cain used to crush Abel’s head! So all we have to do is assure no assault-rocks are available to commit crimes and no one will sin and we can all go to Heaven!
So the moral as I see it is that each and every one of us is responsible for our self and our own actions. And no one is responsible for anyone but himself or herself. But to take this one step further let’s think about the murder. Cain killed out of envy. Cain envied what Able had to the point he would rather kill Able than allow him to live with something that Cain could not have. Clearly envy taken to its logical end is about more than possessing something someone else has, it also has to do with deigning to someone what we can’t possess.
So an example of this would be the evil schoolteacher who sees that one child in his class has gum. He singles out the child and demands to know if she has enough gum for the whole class. When she admits that she does not he demands she spit out her gum. He is teaching envy to the other children in the class. Better to punish the one little girl than allow her to enjoy her property in the presence of those who lack the item.
The logical conclusion I draw from this is that the desire to control, manipulate, dominate, prohibit, regulate, and manage the affairs of others is in its essence an aspect of envy. Envy, along with greed, is a driving force of the State. Bertrand Russell made a similar case in defining envy in his book The Conquest of Happiness, but he saw this aspect of envy as a positive trait and said that democracy itself cannot function without it. He went so far as to say that this aspect of envy is the driving force of democracy. I would agree with his conclusion except that I see absolutely nothing but evil in the existence of democracy. Democracy is an aspect of socialism and socialism is the economic system that all States exist by.
So, am I my brother’s keeper?
The moment I become my brother’s keeper, my brother becomes my slave.
I am morally against slavery.
Therefore I am an enemy of the State.