Monday, June 7, 2010

Raising Cain

It's an old story.

On one side we have Cain. Cain the farmer. Cain the woodsman. Cain the cultivator, giving his sweat to the earth in return for his crops.

On the other side there's Abel, the shepherd. He drives his herds to pasture, then strums his lute or whatever it is herdsmen do while alone with their flocks.

Then comes the harvest festival. Cain brings his first fruits, the best of his labors. Abel culls one of his many lambs for a sacrifice. The two present their offerings to the local storm god, Yahweh, presumably as thanks for good weather and a plentiful harvest. Yahweh accepts Abel's offering but rejects Cain's. In his fury at being spurned, Cain kills Abel and become history's first recorded murderer. He is sent into exile, forever marked as an enemy of Yahweh.

Sibling rivalry gone too far? A lesson that hard work never pays? Or proof that vegetarians are outside Yahweh's grace? Whatever the meaning of the tale, it merits further investigation.

Cain and Abel are the archetypes of two branches of humanity: Those who accept what has been given, and those who find in the world around them a springboard to what does not yet exist.

Abel was the shepherd, his primary role to protect his flocks from predators. Beyond that, his ovine charges followed their instincts to tend to their own needs. If grass was abundant, they ate. A stream nearby, they drank. A ewe in estrus…. You get the idea.

Contrast with Cain. The farmer, of course, relies on natural processes to the same degree as the herdsman. Without proper soil, without a suitable balance between sun and rain, growth cannot occur. And like the herds, the crops must be protected, though from the predations of roving herbivores with nasty-big-pointy-teeth.

Unlike Abel, Cain took the opportunity to pick up where Yahweh left off. Not satisfied to stake out a field where seeds just happened to fall, he gathered seeds of like kind and planted them together. Rather than the random sprinklings of wind and spoor, he created patterns of his own, straight lines and right angles not typically found in Nature. With audacity unparalleled since his mother chose to exercise free will for the first time, Cain stepped onto the Hell-ward path of creativity and self-reliance.

Despite what They would have Us believe, the murder of Abel by his brother is not simply a tale of outrageous jealousy , nor the unwarranted hatred of the profane (despised by Yahweh) for the holy (beloved of Yahweh). It represents the supplanting of the servants of revelation—those who take only what is provided through faith and the word of god—by those who build upon the foundations of Creation, to become finishers of the work of nature.

The result? Cain is exiled. Exiled by the father who still resented the expulsion from Eden, the awakening from somnolent communion with the divine to the active, volitional pursuit of achieving divinity for oneself.

But exile came with a catch.

Cain was marked "so that no one who found him would kill him." However grievous his actions, however heinous his apostasy, it would seem that his sins were not without value to rest of humanity, to those still in favor with Yahweh.

Genesis records the progeny of Cain. Noteworthy among them are Enoch, the first astronomer, geometrician and cartographer; Jubal, inventor of music; and Tubal-Cain, father of metallurgy and smithing. The great practical arts of mathematics, geometry, music and astronomy have their roots in soil stained by Abel's blood, shed by Cain's hand.

To those who see in Yahweh's creation, in divine revelation, the summit of human potential, Cain's sin is the second great abomination to poison man's existence. The arrogance, the presumption to attempt improvement upon perfection is tantamount to spitting in the face of god.

But for those who view Creation as an unfinished masterpiece, who recognize Nature's unlimited potential—for these, Cain's legacy is the fulfillment of human potential. He is the father of inspiration, the progenitor of ingenuity.

For through Cain, humanity found its potential as co-creator with the Divine.