According to a literal interpretation of the Bible, we are to believe that the first murder was Cain killing his brother Abel and then when confronted by God, infamously responding, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Literal or not, the message is that we humans are Cain. Look to any tragedy and you’ll see a million Cains, asking if they are their brother’s keepers, if they have a responsibility to others. At the moment in this country (the United States) we are facing many Cain and Abel moments and are choosing to be Cain.
Currently, 7,000 or more Latin Americans, mostly Hondurans, are marching up through Mexico to cross the border into the US. They aren’t doing it for any nefarious reason, they aren’t going to vote in our elections (you can’t walk, hell, you can barely drive from the south of Mexico to the US border in less than three weeks), they aren’t coming here to commit crimes or steal jobs. They’re coming up here because Honduras has slipped into chaos and de facto anarchy, mostly as a result of a US-backed coup in 2009. We helped create this mess. The crime and poverty are rampant, and the people have no other choice, so they’re hiking all the way up to the US to try and find better opportunities. That, of course, has people panicked.
Am I my brother’s keeper? Our nation helped create this mess, we are the Cains that slew our brother Abel, and when confronted with the consequences we, like Cain, rhetorically deny all responsibility. We act as though we have no moral obligation to these people by virtue of being neighbors and of the same nature. We act as though their otherness, their strangeness to us somehow absolves us of the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We, guided by our President, see no goodness, no dignity in these people marching up and over our borders and see them as invaders, as something other than human. They are so vicious, so vile, that only the US military on the border could stop these foul creatures.
Am I my brother’s keeper? On a fairly consistent basis, we see a news story about an unarmed black man being shot, or harassed, or accused for no legitimate reason. We all know this happens and we all know black people are targeted unfairly. This isn’t a big secret, it’s known, it’s a system that we all (white people) have benefited from in some way. We helped create a system that has oppressed minorities for centuries and so we are Cain, killing our brothers and sisters. And when confronted we deny it all and ask why it’s up to us to help someone else, the victim of a system from which we benefit. We deny our responsibility in it all.
Am I my brother’s keeper? We find it so easy to believe that a woman who “slutted it up” was asking for it but refuse to believe her when she was assaulted. We create a system of machoism, of a masculinity dependent upon being more animal than man, a masculinity that preaches that conquest and force are good things, and then deny believing the words of those victimized by this false masculinity.
Am I my brother’s keeper? The list goes on and on listing those who have been harmed, who have been victimized, who have experienced loss, but no one has stopped to care for them. I find it interesting that the first murder is countered by the second greatest commandment, to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If Christ was the response to the fall in the Garden, then it would follow that his “love your neighbor as yourself” is meant to counter “am I my brother’s keeper?” What if we are to treat the stranger as a neighbor? What if we are to treat those who are different as though they are family?
Or, what if in a simpler way, we merely loved our neighbors as we love ourselves in that we learned to have empathy towards the other? What if when we saw a picture of a mother in the Honduran Caravan we didn’t see an enemy or a threat, but we saw ourselves in her situation? What would we think if we imagined ourselves in her shoes, would we understand? How would we want to be treated if we were her? What if we tried to imagine what our black friends go through when they see the cops? What if we tried to think about how it’d feel to have something horrible happen to you, but then to have no one believe you or defend you?
What if the way we loved our neighbor was to try and see the world the way our neighbor sees the world? I contend that this would lead to a far more peaceful existence. There’d still be disagreements, there’d still be violence, but at least at the end of the day, we’d have some common ground to which we could return. But for now, we seem cursed to take up our stones and to kill our brothers, we seem cursed to live in perpetuity as Cain, but let us hope that one day we will awake and realize that it is far better to live in love than to live in fear.