Some strands of human nature stretch from the opening scenes of the Bible to tomorrow’s headlines.
The actions, rationale and justification of Cain make up one of these strands.
Cain, in an act of jealous, impulsive rage, kills his brother (Genesis 4:8).
This, by itself, the first human killing in the Bible, is terrible enough.
When confronted by God, Cain expresses no remorse for killing his own brother, no grief for the pain he has caused his parents, no sense of shame or even fear of abandonment due to his ostracism from his family.
His only concern is his fear for his own personal safety (Genesis 4:13-14).
He knows, like some modern-day fugitive from justice, that he carries ‘the look’ of a murderer, and wherever he goes, even in his limited and relatively innocent world of his time, others, men like himself, could be potential murderers and will recognize (and respond to) ‘the look’ and feel justified, if not compelled, to murder him.
I’m not enough of a criminologist to know if this is objectively true or if this is just a further, and more paranoid, expression of Cain’s continuing self-absorption, but it certainly rings true with my experience and observation of human nature.
We see this relentless self-justifying human self-destructiveness in seemingly every arena of life; from relationships, crimes of passion, politics, work and individual activities, we see death and destruction in the wake of lazy, almost infantile, justification.
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In October of 2013, for example, in the USA, we have seen a tiny band from Congress willing, even eager, to shut down our government, collapse our economy, throw hundreds of thousands out of work, and draw the world’s largest economy to the brink of default, and for what?
And, like Cain, some are so unrepentant for the pain and dislocation they have caused, that they cheerfully assure us that they are willing – if not eager – to do it again.
And they actually seem proud of how history will certainly remember them; how many people, after all, by sheer will, could bring an established, dominant world economy to its knees and make the whole world stare in awe of their unrivalled, if disproportionate, power?
This is the impulse and logic of the saboteur, the assassin, or the vigilante who has, in the intoxication of ‘the cause’ has lost all human bearings, and has become an ever-justifying law unto himself.
We saw this, on a much smaller scale, about the same time as our government shutdown crisis debacle, a few grown men, Boy Scout leaders, took it upon themselves to demolish an ancient, unique, irreplaceable landmark in a park in the Utah desert.
They, like our renegade members of Congress, were so proud of their actions that they took a video of themselves and posted in on YouTube.
Their rationale is as shallow as it is absurd; concern for ‘safety’ – especially of any children.
Their lack of authorization, safety equipment and their gleeful and giddy celebration of their destruction belie any sense of professionalism and demonstrate nothing more than the adolescent thrill of destructiveness.
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But they do embody what might be called the spirit of our times; erratic, impulsive violence in the name of some higher cause or belief.
Concepts like cooperation, civility, common sense and the common good have been forgotten – or even suspect.
And like the ‘ugly Americans’ of a previous generation, we have become caricatures of ourselves; reckless buffoons with no comprehension or regard for the fragile and sometimes sacred nuances in front of us.
We can only hope that these are the final thrashing death throes of some bestial philosophy soon to be replaced by a vastly more mature and reflective, if not compassionate, humanity.
Perhaps there is something like a natural law, not unlike gravity, which posits that we will only learn from innocent blood and unbridled foolishness and tells us that our swing on this particular pendulum must return to a saner time.
We can only hope that this deliberate demolition of our governmental processes and monuments will not gather momentum, and that we, and our politicians, will be shamed into taking our rightful place in creation and history.
The Bible tells us that the age of the Messiah will be an era of peace, wisdom and compassion; may it come soon, for we, like toddlers, are exhausting ourselves in our own tantrums.