Saturday, March 6, 2010

Am I my brother's keeper?

And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" Genesis 4:8b-9.
How I came across this was while reading "Rules for Radicals" by Saul Alinsky. On page 46, Alinsky writes:
The kind of personal safety and security sought by the advocates of the sanctity of means and ends lies only in the womb of Yogism or the monastery, and even there it is darkened by the repudiation of that moral principle that they are their brothers' keepers.
Emphasis mine.

What does he mean here? What he is talking about in this despicable chapter, titled "Of Means and Ends", is his dismantling of anyone that claims the sanctity of the concept that the ends never justify certain means. Alinsky argues, with blatantly false factual references and misinformation, that morality is defined and history written by the victors and if your cause is important enough, you can justify any means at your disposal. The world is split between the observers and actors, and observers can have the luxury of having high moral principles and can justify their losses with proud posturing that they never compromised their principles. Alinsky wrote this book for the actors. Those that won't let moral principles get in the say of their goals.

I will write more about Alinsky later, but for this post I want to focus upon his use of the highlighted phrase above: "brother's keeper".

Alinsky states, as certain fact, that there is a universally understood "moral principle" that we are our brother's keepers. All of us.

I am puzzled by his wording here about the "repudiation of that moral principle that they are their brothers' keepers" I am not so sure that there is a moral principle. In fact I am pretty sure there is NOT a moral principle to be your brother's keeper. Why else would Cain say such a thing, unless he was pretty sure that the answer was "no".

Cain was deflecting God's question so that he would avoid taking responsibility for killing his brother. God's answer to Cain's question is to avoid the question as a deflection and return a question of "What have you done?" Does God really need to ask? Of course not. God is omnipotent and omniscient and omnipresent. God already knows the answers to the questions. Answering questions is sometimes about the person answering more than the person questioning.

Anyone with children knows this. When a child steals a piece of chocolate and their face is smeared with the evidence, you ask if they stole any chocolate. Not to learn about the chocolate, as the evidence of guilt is readily apparent. But rather to reach into the heart of the child and teach them about telling the truth, honesty and theft.

As Christians, are we our brothers' keepers? The Hebrew word used here is "shamar", which means to hedge about (as with thorns) i.e. guard; to protect, attend to. Cain uses the same word that is used many other times in the Old Testament to indicate a strong, active "keeping", such as guarding a door or something. It was a rhetorical question where the expected answer was a definitive "no".

I think we are to offer our help to those in need, but we are not to place a thorned hedge around our brothers to protect them. That is not our job.

In our most explicit example of Christian charity, the Good Samaritan, this hedge was not constructed. No one protected the man from attack. The lesson was what to do about someone you find in need. There is a huge difference between helping someone in need and making sure no one ever has a need.

To me, it seems that interpreting this phrase to mean that I am responsible to care after and make sure nothing bad happens to my "brother", is like interpreting "thou shalt not covet" as a treatise against the existence of private property.

This is typical of the radical manipulators like Alinsky and it has caused confusion and damage amongst the Christian faithful. There are entire ministries set up around the principle of being their "brothers' keepers". I believe they are scripturally misguided, even though they probably do some wonderful things. There are plenty of justifications for helping those in the community around us, without using this passage.

When I read the phrase "my brother's keeper", I think of a disrespectful, sarcastic response to a direct question from God Himself as an attempt to divert attention away from a heinous sin. The lesson to be pulled from this is not that we should be doing what Cain clearly stated in sarcasm, but rather focus on the sinful heart of Cain and recognize in ourselves that same effort at deflection when confronted with our own sin.

On a political level, this premise, derived from a misreading of scripture, suggests that we all are responsible for each other in a very direct and active sense, which means that no one is responsible for themselves. We should all have the expectation of sustenance from our fellow travellers, without effort or merit. Since this is impossible, certain people have to be assigned the "keepers" of other kinds of people and some group of really smart "betters" gets to decide who is who. This is socialism. It doesn't work. It isn't biblical and twisting the words of scripture is dangerous and has a very ominous predecessor in previous chapter of Genesis:
And the serpent said to the woman, "You surely shall not die!" Genesis 3:4
Alinsky uses phrases and concepts born of a religion he does not profess or even understand to promote an agenda that is morally despicable.

I am not my brother's keeper, but I am bound to him by love, and committed to helping him, were he in need of it. To be my brother's keeper, I would have to have control over him, would I not? Isn't that the real goal of these socialists? Isn't that the unwitting goal of the Social Gospel movement? Isn't that the underlying theme of progressive and collectivist thought from any source? Control? Power?

I don't want that control, nor that power, nor do I want anyone else to have it, other than God Himself. That, my friends, is liberty, which happens to be a very biblical concept after all.

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