Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cain & Abel At The Christmas Table

I. What I Want For Christmas

Almost every time I start one of these stories, I feel like saying to the reader, this is hard, I expect you to appreciate it!

The first person in history I know of who said this was Cain talking to God. God didn't appreciate Cain's efforts, which were agricultural, compared to those of his brother Abel, a shepherd to his flock. God says to a very upset Cain: do right, and you will get my attention. Don't do right, and you'll make a serious mistake and get yourself into trouble.

Cain and Abel is a very short story, like others in Genesis, and every word and incident counts. God sets rules, but the reward and punishment are our staying in the game or being thrown out. You can live happy in the Garden of Eden if you don't want to know the wrong things, eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge, but if you break the rules, you're out. Obey the rules, you have life: you can eat the fruit from the tree of life, that's not forbidden. Don't talk to me about rewards and punishments, God says, don't discuss it. There is only one bargain with me you can be sure of, and that is, expect something from me more than paradise, or losing that, the temporary paradise of my love, and you won't get it.

Cain is downcast. He doesn't understand. He expects God to respond to his efforts, and because he expects it God doesn't.

So Cain, son of fallible man and woman, makes the mistake. If following the rules doesn't work, why follow them? Why be his brother's keeper, if that is not his job? His job pays for itself with produce, whereas God doesn't pay. He sends a message to God: I'm on strike, I'll break your machine. Henceforth, I'll obey the rules that pay in this world, and in this world I am not a shepherd and not a shepherd to my brother. Who needs him?

God gets the message and responds perfectly, as of course God should. He takes away Cain's job, or rather makes sure it will not pay, and makes Cain a wanderer always distant from his presence. Cain complains that anyone can kill him now. And God again responds perfectly, making a rule of the kind Cain wanted: anyone who takes revenge on Cain will be avenged 7 times more.

Cain's punishment is to be kept alive with a rule made to order just for him, but to be permanently removed from what rule following was for, to return to God's love. Cain is punished with never being able to profit by rules.

This took a lot more words than Genesis used to say the same thing, but this is Christmas day and it seemed a good way to explain what I wanted for Christmas.


II. Cain & Abel At The Christmas Table

1.

A story gives the rules of a game. The greatest game requires the greatest stories, and the greatest story teller we by convention call god.

A game is a part of the world, not the whole world. This is cause of confusion. If we look at god's game, there are rules, there is the territory where they apply, and there also is the world outside the game. There is Eden, and everywhere else. But if god is in charge of all, where are the rules for outside the game?

If we are going to be reasonable, and we look at the situation god has placed us in, what are we to make of it? It sure looks evil, to put us in a situation that tempts us to fall and is just about certain to lead to our punishment and destruction. We are given rules, and we are not supposed to break them? Why give us rules if we are not going to play? Why a game at all, Mr. God?

As game players, let's be reasonable about this. God is love, truth, beauty, home, wholeness. An idea of god like this is inconsistent with setting up a game and not expecting us to play. Inconsistency is against the rules, and it is not godlike, is inconsistent with love, beauty, truth, wholeness, therefore it is not what god wants. That is the logic of a game. If you are going to be reasonable about it.

We knew then that god wants us to play. The rules tell us also that outside the game there are no rules, which means there is no set game. We still play, but we make up the rules as we go along. We are made in god's image, and god is a gamemaster, so we can do this too and know that god wants us to.

It's good to know we can explain everything if we try. There is the game, it is against us, but it is made for us to play in, and we are made to play outside the game too. The whole world is the game (it is god's game, how could it be less?), so what is not the game is not any other person's story, but it is someone else's game: our own. There is only one god, and this one is it. So again, what goes on outside the game we make up as we go along.

That all is in the logic of the game. And the logic of the game tells us we were made to figure it out.

2.

My Chinese student, accountant for the Federal Government, said to me:

- You can't accuse the speculators of any crime, they are allowed "human error".
- Sell stocks to their customers while making bets themselves the stocks will lose value? Bribe the government to change the laws to let them do it? That is human error?
- Yes, they can't know what will happen.
- But they are betting against the advice they give their customers being true.
- They don't know if their own bets are right, it could still be human error.

That is the game played by people who don't understand there is anything outside the game. It is not beyond our understanding. We've just explained it. They are Cain. They broke the rules, as the game allowed, but -

- But what? What's the difference, breaking one rule or breaking another?
- What does god say in the story? Have you forgotten?
- Remind me.
- God says to Cain, you want my approval, do right.
- But you just got through saying we are not expected to do right.
- No, I said we are expected to break some of the rules. We are also expected to make our own rules for somehow getting in good with god, doing right.
- Which is not the same as obeying the rules?
- No, it is not. Doing right we decide for ourselves.
- So what did Cain do wrong?
- What happens in the story? Cain says to god, am I my brother's keeper? He lies to god and runs away from man, he knows everyone is going to want to kill him.
- Why will people want to kill him, if we are all expected to break the rules?
- Because Cain, as he says to god, has decided he is not his brother's keeper.
- But why should he be?
- Because that is what goes on outside the game, out of Eden. There are no rules there, except that we have to get back to god, to wholeness. That is expressed by the idea of being our brother's keeper.
- Which is what you called "irrational solidarity and kindness".
- Cain gives up on the job. He doesn't do right. Call it evil, call it ignorance, call it stupidity or greed, call it politics. We know what it is. What we are going to do about it is a different story.