I am not a religious person, but I believe in the life of spirit. I also believe that together as living beings, we imagine and create the world we live in. It is a collective work of spirit and art. That is why I particularly enjoy folk tales and creation stories. The story of Cain and Abel is, in my mind, a very revealing and important story about the direction that humanity has collectively chosen as its foundation stone.
I mentioned in one of my earliest posts to this blog a book called Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, by Daniel Quinn. In this book, a very wise philosopher who also happens to be a gorilla, seeks out a student to share his wisdom with humanity to prevent the downfall of not only the human race but of all life on earth. The gorilla is able to transmit his thoughts telepathically. His theory includes the concept that humanity, when adopting the sedentary lifestyle as agriculturalists, viciously and intentionally destroyed the nomadic hunter-gatherer peoples and adopted and adapted their creation stories, including that of Adam and Eve, as their own. From this point of view, which is very thought-provoking, the garden of Eden would represent the peaceful and intentional harmony of human beings living in nature as part of nature, in the spirit of Abel, who was murdered at the hand of his brother Cain. Apparently, Cain had other ambitions. The “Fall”, attributed by the women-hating dissidents of the new world, to Eve, was, in my opinion, actually the creation of Cain. Cain decided, perhaps only half-consciously, to deny the feminine within himself, because it reminded him of the brother he despised, and of the guilt he carried. Cain was a man who needed to be right, who needed to be vindicated. In a sense, he was insecure, and he could not accept being rejected by God. He could not be second-best. And so he censored the feminine principle within himself and ventured out into the world to create with an angry and wounded heart.
Cain left his murdered brother and his family, his people, as an outcast. He was angry, jealous, vindictive. He used his creative energy, fueled by anger, to found civilizations. To build cities, to conquer other peoples. Cain is the true father of every “ism” that has ever existed in human societies, whether it be Capitalism or Communism, Terrorism or Buddhism. To trust your life and direction to something outside of your own wisdom, to your own connection to the nature within you, is to be a son or daughter of Cain. Buddha himself taught that we should follow our own heart, and find our own way. I believe that Jesus felt the same way. Few, however, have the courage or understanding to see that our own unique path is already carved into our DNA, waiting for us to each awaken to our own nature and to unfold our lives as intended by Nature herself.
Living the life of Cain creates endless strife and spawns the struggles of fundamentalism, dictatorships, of masses of refugees fleeing their own homelands in search of freedom, tolerance, and a place where they can safely raise their families. The legacy of Cain provides an outlet for those who hunger for power and who can never be satisfied. The creative energies of Cain have provided us with amazing art, architecture, and human ingenuity in the areas of mathematics, science, music, and so many other areas of culture. Yet this creative energy denies itself the fundamental softness and joy of the feminine. It is a raging torrent which refuses its other half, which could temper and mature, slow down and open new doors to a more peaceful and inclusive form of creativity.
The Earth is our home, and the language of the cells and atoms of the universe run in our own flesh and veins. If we choose to listen to the full heritage of our human nature, we can live peacefully and creatively, as children of both Cain and Abel. In the Bible, it says that God was pleased by Abel and the gifts that he offered. Abel was living in harmony with nature, showing gratitude for what he received, and showing generosity by sharing those gifts. He did not take more than he needed. He did not have the insatiable appetite of his hawkish brother. But Cain was born with his own nature, and his needs and desires were different from those of his brother. I wonder why God would create a child and not teach him to see how he could use in own talents and temperament to bring good into the world?
Of course, as the novel Ishmael suggests, these tales transmitted from generation to generation are an amalgam of various cultures and view-points. It is possible that Cain represents the enemy to the nomadic hunter-gatherers, a threat to their way of life and peaceful interactions with nature. As the Native American cultures were decimated by the Europeans in the conquest of the New World, hunter-gatherers and nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples do not stand a chance against the sons of Cain.
I think about the people of Palestine and the Jewish people in this light. The Palestinians have lived in a low technology society as farmers and sheep-herders for many centuries, until now evolving little since Biblical times. On the other hand, you have the Jewish people, living as outcasts from their homeland for centuries, against all odds surviving on the fringes of so many societies around the world, adapting to hostile climates, never having a place of their own in which to belong. The story of Israel is a troubling story, and it seems that the tale of Cain and Abel is also relevant here. And perhaps sometimes Abel behaves as Cain, and Cain as Abel. The point being our own struggle as human beings with our own dual nature. I see Cain as representing the masculine principle, and Cain as the feminine. Both of these traits compose our fundamental human heritage, and we cannot deny one or the other without creating tragedy and suffering. If we are to create a world together in which Jews and Arabs can live together in harmony, we must also look inside our own hearts and our own collective history to see that we all have a piece of both Cain and Abel in our DNA.
There are no easy answers or solutions to world peace that we can apply from without. Change comes from inside, and when we choose to mature and to embrace the full complexity of our nature as human beings, with its shadows, its masculine need for action, to create and mold the world, and the contrasting feminine need for empathy, for nurturing, gratitude, generosity, and acceptance, then we will slow down, create more intentionally and collectively. Today, we live in a world where greed and fundamentalism cause extreme suffering around the world, and where only a very few benefit, living entitled lives of luxury atop the bleeding, tear-streaked multitudes whose voices are never heard. We live in a world where Cain has gone amok, and yet where the voice of Abel is beginning to speak louder. I hear Abel in the voice of Bernie Sanders, in the tiny house and local food movements, in the work of people seeking to promote tolerance and to end racism, in the hearts of the millions of refugees around the world fleeing terrorist states.
We have the instructions built into our own hearts to build a peaceful world, a world based on love, generosity, creativity, and empathy. We can do it, if we choose to. And we each can start with ourselves.