Humane Religion Magazine
March - April 1996 Issue
CAIN AND ABEL:
The story of Cain and Abel gives ancient validity to the modern understanding that the violence done to animals cannot be separated from the violence men inflict on each other. The bible juxtaposes the slaughter of a lamb with the killing of a man. These two murders are inextricably linked at the beginning of human history, and have continued to be linked throughout the ages.
But in spite of the biblical correlation between the death of an animal and the death of a man, human beings have paid little attention to this revelation. Because Cain, the oldest son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother, he is referred to as the world's first murderer. But this designation is the result of human chauvinism, not scriptural fidelity. It was Abel who first killed one of God's creatures. It was only after this violent act had taken place that Cain killed his brother.
Just as the fourth chapter of Genesis links together animals and man in the story of Cain and Abel, so the first chapter links them together at their birth. It tells how the animals were created, and after that human beings were brought into existence. These humans were told to be caretakers--responsible for the well-being of God's other creatures. And because humans and nonhumans were created to be nonviolent, both were given the same instructions: only fruits and green plants were given them for food.
But Abel ended this peaceful existence when he slaughtered his lamb. The scripture does not say that God told him to do this. According to the bible, animal sacrifice did not make its appearance until centuries later. And the command to eat only the fruits of the earth was acknowledged (if not observed) until the time of Noah.
The violence done to animals cannot be separated from the violence men inflict on each other.
Because of this, most scholars agree that the passage saying God approved of what Abel had done is an interpolation. It was added to the text long after the story of Cain and Abel had become part of the Hebrew tradition. And this interpolation is part of an ongoing attempt to ignore the fact that you cannot separate the abuse and murder of any of God's creatures from the abuse and murder of human beings.
The dominion man was given over animals was given before the Fall in Eden. It was entrusted to men and women who still reflected the unadulterated love and goodness of the God in whose image they had been created.
Human beings were given a sacred trust, not a license to abuse, kill, or consume their fellow creatures. When Abel slaughtered his lamb he broke that trust, and he broke God's express command to take care of the animals.
But no such command had been given regarding the treatment of other human beings. So when Cain killed his brother and God asked what had happened, he self-righteously asked: "Am I my brother's keeper"? It was a rhetorical question. For Cain, the answer was an obvious "no". He had not broken God's explicit directive--but Abel had. Cain was excusing his own violence because he thought his brother had done something worse: he had killed the creature for whose well-being God had made him responsible. There was no excuse for him. But Cain felt there was an excuse for his own violence: no one had expressly told him that he was to be his brother's keeper.
It was man, not God, who introduced death into the world. And now, as in biblical times, men continue to kill both human and nonhuman beings. But there has been a significant change of attitude since earliest times. Until the Lord appeared to Cain and said he would suffer banishment and hardship for what he had done, he recognized the sinfulness of killing an animal, but not the evil of killing a human.
That order of understanding has been reversed. To kill a man or woman is considered a serious offense and is allowed only within strictly ordered cultural parameters. But killing animals does not recognize limits. They can be tortured and killed for fun, for sport, out of boredom, or for "educational" purposes. They can be slaughtered because men covet their fur, their feathers, their teeth or their flesh.
But although human beings continue this abuse in the name of dominion over the animals, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that also shall he reap” And the story of Cain and Abel makes it clear that the treatment of animals and the treatment of humans is inextricably linked. The compassionate treatment of all God's creatures must become a fact of existence. Until it does, there will be no peace for either human or nonhuman beings. #