Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Right, two extraneous-to-the-post things first:

1. I've lost a total of 20 lbs as of last night. Yay!

2. We're running an obituary tomorrow of a man that had two wives. He was married to one of them for 34 years, the second for 23 years. The women were best friends and each knew he was married to the other. Obviously, he never 'legally' married the second wife. 8-0

And now, on to the post!

So, continuing to work on the death penalty post, and I was thinking about Cain.

Cain is often referred to as the 'first murderer' for killing Abel. But...was it really murder?

Okay, bear with me.

At the point in time when Cain killed Abel, there were what, three, four people on the planet? Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and maybe some sisters. It's a fair bet that no one had ever died. So, when Cain lost his temper and killed Abel, did he really understand what he was doing? Did he understand the concept of death?

It was clearly a 'crime of passion'. His sacrifice had been rejected, for no reason that we're given, and he was pissed. He lashed out - not a good thing, of course, especially given what must have been the violence of his temper since he did wind up killing Abel. But I don't know that he really *understood* what he was doing.

It's as though a person of diminished capacity picked up a rock and hit someone with it. They kill the person, but we don't hold them as responsible as we would someone in full possession of their faculties who picks up the same rock and hits a person with it, killing them. On the one side, we understand that if we hit that person hard enough, or often enough, we will kill them. And the assumption must be that we intend for that consequence. But if a person doesn't understand the ultimate consequences of their action, can they be held to the same standard?

Is that why, perhaps, rather than demanding Cain's death, God exiled him? Because while he had done a terrible evil, he had lacked the capacity to comprehend what he was doing?


  1. 1st - yippee for losing twenty pounds!!! :-) That's awesome!

    2nd - So does the obit actually name them both as wives? I guess that's legal since the second wasn't legally a wife. Interesting!

    Cain -- I thought at first maybe Cain's sentence was a crime of passion and even here those are not typically called first degree murder which is reserved for premeditated killings. So I reread the first part of Genesis 4 and this part made me think it was premeditated.

    So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

    6 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

    ***8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." *** And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

    Did he want to go out into the field in order to attack Abel? Or did it just happen because he got angry and hit his brother while having a temper tantrum?

    It's like God warned him that if Cain didn't master sin then he would do something bad. But as you said maybe Cain didn't understand death. But then again Abel sacrificed an animal which entailed death. Did Cain think humans were above animals and wouldn't die?

    Surely Adam and Eve would have taught their children that death was a result of their sin. Maybe not. Interesting topic here though.

    Definitely a "thinkie."

  2. Congrats on the weight loss! Great progress!!

    About Cain and Abel, I don't really know the story, not the Christian or the Muslim ideas on it, but in the way I understand life we were all addressed at the time of our creation and made completely aware of right and wrong. So I can't imagine that he didn't know. I think the ultimate right and wrong are not things we learn from being taught but are universal, and I feel that's for us now, and way back, and was always so.

  3. 1.) WOW! awesome work...proud of ya for staying with it.

    2.) Dear God in Heaven, have mercy!

  4. 1 - Congrats!

    Cain - I agree. My youth pastor actually told me the same thing back in high school, it really made an impression on me, I guess. It's actually hard for me to see it the other way now. On Susanne's comment, I agree that the attack was premeditated, but can't see it as him intending to kill his brother, for the reasons you said in your post. I think he just wanted to be somewhere that people wouldn't intervene because he knew he was going to get violent. But I don't think he could have fully recognized the consequences.

  5. Susanne,

    1 - Thanks!

    2 - Both are listed as his wife. It's what made us call the funeral home and ask.

    Cain - Hmmm. Good points. I was just going off of my memory. I'm going to have to look up the passage when I get home and get back to you on that.

  6. Candice,


    I don't know about this, 'we were all addressed at the time of our creation and made completely aware of right and wrong.'

    We clearly *don't* know right from wrong as kids. It has to be taught to us. So, if that is the 'system' in place, then it's a failure.

  7. Anna,

    1 - Thanks! It's not been easy, but it's worth it.

    2 - I know! The mind boggles.

  8. Sanil,

    1 - Thanks!

    Cain - I'm going to go back and reread the passage tonight, but I still feel like, as you said, even if Cain intended to go out and have a fight with Abel (and I'm sure it wasn't the first fight they'd ever had.), I don't know if he *meant* to kill him, or even if he could have understood the concept of killing him like we do today. Which would remove a level of culpability.

  9. Congrats from me too on the weight loss!

    I agree with what Candice said. I see that as a myth (in the positive sense) and not to be taken literally, but it expresses the idea that knowledge of right and wrong is innate to us, which I believe.

    I think this idea is also represented in the myth of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of "the knowledge of good and evil" in the Biblical creation story.

    And since I think the creation story is a myth, I can't think that there was ever actually, literally, a person who didn't know that we could die. I can't tell whether you think that or not, perhaps we have a different POV there.

    Interesting stuff... I'm looking forward to your death penalty post - I don't have any strong opinions about that myself.

  10. Sarah,


    'expresses the idea that knowledge of right and wrong is innate to us'

    But it's kind of not. We have to learn/be taught right from wrong as we grow.

    Even in the story of Adam and Eve, they weren't created knowing right from wrong. They were supposed to gain that knowledge, slowly, as they matured, but attempted to circumvent God's timeline and gained the knowledge all at once. But the understand of right and wrong was not innate in them.

    Actually, I view the beginning of Genesis, up until about, probably, Abraham as allegory, metaphor, what have you - myth. I don't view it as literal. Still, we're meant to *get* something from the stories, so on a certain level we have to look at them as though they were literal and learn from them at that level.

  11. I think there are basic moral values that are innate, in that if you look at all cultures, even remote communities, there will be some common moral concepts. I think we all cotton onto morals because they work for us in some practical way. And I think they work because they're wired into us... or they're wired into us because they work... or maybe both! Wasn't there something written by Paul about the law being written on all our hearts?

    Maybe you agree with that but are saying we all have to learn individually what is right, and that it perhaps doesn't come instinctively?

  12. Sarah,

    I think my issue with the idea of innate moral values is that I don't see them.

    If we have an innate sense that, for instance, the killing of another human being is wrong, why did human sacrifice start? It was an *honor* in many of those societies to be chosen to be killed for the gods.

    What about people who lack a sense of right and wrong at all? Those who understand what society declares to be the 'right' and 'wrong', but lack the ability to internalise and/or *feel* these things.

    Though, I suppose all of this could be a consequence of the fall. That, since we 'skipped ahead', our innate sense of right and wrong is muted or distorted, so that we *don't* naturally understand these things, and have to be taught.

    I just don't see how it can be instinctive in humans. Though, as you said, certain things have become hard wired into us, to a certain extent. But I tend to view that more as a function of society working on us from the youngest age, rather than us being born with a natural understanding of certain things.

  13. Interesting!

    So how do we learn right and wrong then, in your view? And what makes something right - is it just right because God says it's right, or does it also match what is most beneficial to us? Is it possible for us to work out what is right by our own reasoning?

    I must admit there seems to be quite a variety of moral codes throughout history, and I do find that hard to understand.

    But some of them are just wrong... people do get it wrong, I acknowledge that!

  14. Sarah,

    I think we're taught by the family and larger social structure that we're born into. As for where the lines of right and wrong come from, that all depends on what you believe.

    'And what makes something right - is it just right because God says it's right, or does it also match what is most beneficial to us?'

    For me, it's right because God says it is, and, because God says 'this' is right, it's also most beneficial to us. Does that make sense?

    'Is it possible for us to work out what is right by our own reasoning?'

    I don't know. Maybe, to a certain extent, but I think at some point it'd just be easier to do the 'wrong' thing, and we'd lose our way.

  15. OK, I think I follow that. My next question would be - how do you know what God says? Who speaks for God, and how do we know?

  16. Sarah,

    Well, we'd say we know what God says through revelation to the prophets. But then, like you said, 'who speaks for God, and how do we know?'

    And that's the 64 million dollar question, isn't it?

    How do we know who speaks for God?

    For myself, I think there must be a consistency with previous revelation. Historicity. Prophets come with miracles, to prove that they are prophets and not charlatans. And I think it has to make a certain amount of logical sense with what we know about the world and history itself.

  17. I can definitely see that there's a lot of influence coming from what we're taught, and it's obvious that children are not at the same place as an adult when it comes to morals.

    I understand it can be seen in different ways and can't really be proven... Either children develop their morals based on what they are taught only... Or that the children develop or are deviated from their innate sense of right and wrong based on what they are taught.

  18. Candice,

    'Either children develop their morals based on what they are taught only... Or that the children develop or are deviated from their innate sense of right and wrong based on what they are taught.'

    A variation of the question of nature vs. nurture?

  19. Pretty much! The way I see it, our moral base is from "nature" but can be very much influenced by "nurture".

  20. Candice,

    In that case, the answer is neither 'a' nor 'b', but a mix of the two. :)


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