Am I my brother’s keeper? No, I am not.

A commenter on an earlier post made an argument criticizing my individual choice in entertainment with the question “At what point do we become our brother’s keeper?”  Back during the presidential campaign, then candidate Obama used this familiar biblical phrase in his famous speach on race, and he’s also been using it to push his version of healthcare reform and all measure of social welfare ideology.  It’s a phrase that is well known to the president, and it is certainly familiar to us all.  But what does it really mean? 

Surely most Americans have at least a passing familiarity with the story of Cain and Abel, children of God’s first human creations, and surely most Americans identify that phrase as having originated with their story.  As per the story, Cain, a “tiller of the ground,” brought an offering of fruit to the Lord, but brother Abel, “a keeper of flocks,” outshined him by bringing firstlings from his flock.  Envious of the favor bestowed on Abel, Cain killed him.  Hold on, here comes the good part:

 9Then the LORD said to Cain, “(L)Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

 10He said, “What have you done? (M)The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.

 11“Now (N)you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.

That’s it.  As far as I can tell and as far as I can remember from all my years of Christianity, that is the extent of the biblical basis for that phrase that is so often used to chide us for failing to march to the beat of the nanny-state.  A man killed his brother, and he made a smart-ass remark about it when caught. 

Did God curse Cain because he failed to watch over his brother?  No.  Did He curse Cain because Abel was hungry and Cain failed to feed him, or because Abel was sick and Cain failed to provide him with government-mandated health coverage?  No.  There is simply no possible interpretation of this story that supports an idea that God was upset at Cain for doing any more than failing to refrain from killing his brother (and possibly for being a smartass about it). 

Jesus never instructed us to be our brother’s keeper.  God never instructed us to “keep” anybody, and we are not a species that thrives on being kept.  Jesus may have had a lot of other things to say, and show us, about helping others, but He never told us to keep anyone. 

Collectivists, socialists, and nanny-staters:  please stop abusing this quote.

2 Responses

  1. very nice! It’s wonderful when people stop and actually think about what is being said. That is so rare in popular-media analysis of rhetoric (likely by design) that phrases like these almost become like idioms, barely reflecting the meaning of the words being strung together.

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