For over 100 years, theological liberals, who in most cases are also political liberals, have used this famous passage in the fourth chapter of the book of Genesis to justify the idea that individuals are responsible for the health and welfare of other individuals, and then, taking it a step further, they conclude that the state is responsible for the health and welfare of people in need.
On the surface of it, the text offers not the slightest hint of any such interpretation. Let us consider the setting. Cain has killed Abel. God then cross-examines him, knowing full well exactly what he has done. Cain, being an incomparable fool, thinks he can fool God. So, he asked a rhetorical question in response to God’s very specific question, namely, “Where is your brother?” Cain answered rhetorically: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The issue here was not economic welfare; the issue here was the location of Abel’s body.
Cain knew exactly where that body was. So did God. God was simply making a point: He cross-examines individuals before He condemns them. He investigates the facts before He renders judgment. In this case, Cain was about to come under historical judgment. But he thought that he might deflect this, at least for a time, by playing the fool. After all, he implicitly argued, there was no good reason why he should know where Abel was. He was not in charge of Abel. He was not, in other words, Abel’s keeper.
The implication of this rhetorical response is this: people who are legally responsible for the affairs of other people are the equivalent of caretakers in an asylum for the mentally disabled. They have control over the inmates, because the inmates are incapable of taking care of themselves. The caretakers supervise the daily activities of the inmates. They make certain that the inmates do not stray far from their cells. In other words, they exercise physical and emotional control over those people whose relatives are no longer willing to exercise responsibility, and who have transferred this legal responsibility to professionals.
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