Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 10: The First Murder Victim
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 10: The First Murder Victim

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

According to Girardian theory, sacred texts are stories composed by those responsible for collective murder. The killers believe their actions were fully justified, and their accounts of the killing do not take the victim’s perspective. Indeed, the killers don’t even recognize that the murdered individual was a victim—they see the murdered individual as an embodiment of evil who deserved to die. The Hebrew scriptures are distinctive among sacred texts in that they repeatedly take the point-of-view of the victim.

The first murder illustrates this well. The story begins noting that God “has regard” for Abel’s animal sacrifice, unlike Cain’s sacrifice of plants. Before I continue with the story of the first murder, I want to address whether or not this passage indicates that God wanted animal sacrifice. The story does not explain why God found Abel’s sacrifice acceptable. Perhaps, Abel’s sacrificing the valued firstlings from his flock showed respect for God. In other words, God appreciated Abel’s humility rather than the sacrifice itself. Another possibility is that this story illustrates the ancient Hebrews’ conviction that God prefers animal sacrifice to the human sacrifice that was so prevalent among other ancient people. Animal sacrifices, then, would be preferable to human sacrifices, but not necessarily desirable.

Meanwhile, Cain’s countenance fell, because he experienced mimetic rivalry with Abel for God’s “regard.” Interestingly, God says to Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” In other words, God is telling Cain that Cain will be judged on his own merit, not on how he compares to Abel. God’s attempt to quell mimetic rivalry fails—Cain kills Abel. Cain denies knowledge of Abel’s disappearance, and God says, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” God hears the victim’s cry, the first of many times in the Bible that we are told to empathize with the victim rather than the murderer.

Cain fears reciprocal (mimetic) violence against himself: “whoever finds me will slay me.” God prevents escalation of violence by putting an identifying mark on Cain and declaring, “If anyone slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” People were unable, at this point, to resist mimetic violence, so only fear of far greater violence could prevent escalating violence and death.

Interestingly, Cain builds the first city, indicating that the scapegoating mechanism (in this case the death of Abel) forms the foundation for human culture.

Next week, we’ll explore the Flood and its aftermath.

Go on to: Part 11: The Flood
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