“Whatever Happened to Sin?” Dr. Paul Menninger asked some years ago and wrote a book by the same title, suggesting that, truth be told, “Sin” still abounds! The “Us” verses “Them” mentality dominates our society at the moment. This has been going on since the beginning of time. It is nothing new, even Cain and Abel couldn’t talk to each other. The only way Cain (Us) knew to solve the problem was to get rid of Abel (Them). Dialogue is impossible if we only see “Us vs. Them,” “GOP vs. DEMS,” and all the other separations now made so apparent in our society. Like Cain, we seem to have only one solution to the problem and that is to “do in” the other by whatever means we can. The “Elephant” must trample the “Donkey,” or the Donkey trample the Elephant!
The very names Cain and Abel have meanings which are revealing. Cain means “I have gotten a man.” Eve, a proud mother, suggests that this son will bear the dignity of being the first-born and that for her he is the quintessence of power and strength.
Abel on the other hand means something like “nothingness, frailty.” Abel is overshadowed by his elder brother from the very beginning. He seems destined to always play second fiddle. He represents all those who get the short end of the stick.
The catastrophe of fratricide (Us vs. Them, Cain vs. Abel) derives from this inequality of the roles Cain and Abel and all others find themselves (winners/losers, white/black, Christian/Muslim): the fact that some have favorable chances to begin with and like Cain are provided with the privileges of the first-born, whereas others grow up in the shadows and are seen as nobodies (losers).
The story of Cain and Abel, writes Helmut Thielicke, is the beginning of world history, the “space into which we are ‘thrown;’ the space in which Cain lifts his ax and Abel falls lifeless to the ground; the space in which creatures fight to the death for a place in the sun, in which the stronger triumph and right is threatened by power…” That world history has been dominated by fratricide is a matter of fact and we haven’t grown out of it yet. We have work to do with the Cain and the Abel within us if we want to survive.