All Commentary
Sunday, November 1, 1992

My Brother’s Keeper

Cain’s misuse of a true principle in a futile attempt to justify murder has caused millions to err.

The first murder in history was a fratricide. In malice and jealousy, the first son of Adam and Eve lured his younger brother into a field and slaughtered him there. The crime was heinous, but Cain’s defense has done more lasting damage. When God, knowing the answer quite well, asked Cain, “Where is Abel, your brother?” Cain lied, “I do not know.” Then Cain asked a question that has been both misunderstood and misused by religious socialists for centuries: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Religious socialists believe that every man is his brother’s keeper, and that governments are instituted among men to guarantee them living wages, adequate housing, health care, education, recreation, and a comfortable retirement. Furthermore, say the religious socialists, only the moral equivalent of a murderer—the moral equivalent of Cain—would question these axioms.

But the religious socialists have misunderstood both Cain’s defense and God’s response. After he lied, Cain, not liking the direction in which the conversation was likely to go, tried to forestall further embarrassing questions by steering the conversation away from the matter of Abel’s disappearance to Cain’s lack of obligation to supervise his adult brother. God asked where Abel was. Cain denied that he knew and implied that he had no obligation to know: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It was not Cain’s job to keep track of his adult brother. Cain wanted God to think that he was quite properly minding his own business.

The religious socialists fail to realize the shrewdness of Cain’s defense: Cain, like any man accused by a policeman or judge, put forth a defense that he believed the judge would accept. (Defendants do not put forth arguments they believe the judge will reject.) He asked the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” because he believed God would accept that defense. God, in fact, did not say Cain was Abel’s keeper. He does not respond to the impertinent question at all.

But Cain’s clever defense, however greatly it has befuddled generations of socialists, was wholly wasted on God. God knew that Cain had not been minding his own business, nor had Cain allowed Abel to mind his. Cain had murdered his brother, and now he sought to defend that murder by appealing to a principle—minding one’s own business—that was both true and irrelevant. Cain was not his brother’s keeper; he had no obligation to supervise Abel, but he did have an obligation not to murder him. God accused Cain directly of violating that obligation not to murder, and cursed him.

Cain’s deceptive and clever defense has done enormous harm to mankind; its effect on morals and politics has been continuing. Cain was both a murderer and a liar, but his misuse of a true principle in a futile attempt to justify murder has caused millions to err.

—John W. Robbins


Readers’ Forum


Dear Editor:

In your August 1992 edition of The Freeman, James Payne states that Habitat for Humanity accepts no government funds and relies on donations.

I have always admired the group for that reason, so you can imagine my disappointment when I found that Habitat for Humanity does accept state government funds in Michigan and Community Block grants from the federal government.

Every year I put out a booklet of wasteful spending in the state of Michigan. In 1990-91 the following grants were awarded:

Genessee County Habitat for Humanity/Flint       $ 4,400

      Purchase of property for 2 homes

Habitat for Humanity of Isabella County/

      Mt. Pleasant       11,000

Purchase a lot for construction of a home for low-income family

Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity, Inc.       16,000

      Purchase and renovate two homes for low-income families

Habitat for Humnanity of isabella County/Mt. Pleasant

      Purchase a lot to relocate a two-story house       28.000

Habitat for Humanity of Grand Rapids       6,000

      Partial funding for construction of six housing units for low-income families

Lake County Habitat for Humanity       44,000

      Construction of 10 homes

Roscommon County Habitat for Humanity       99,000

      Housing acquisition and rehabilitation of five vacant single-family homes to be resold to low-income families at low cost

South Haven Area Habitat for Humanity       11,000

      House demolition/home construction

     Total for 1990-91       $219,400

I have enclosed my Pork Barrel Awards for 1990-91. I think you will be surprised to find that many “private” charitable groups take taxpayers’ money.

—Margaret O’Connor

State Representative, 52nd District, Michigan

(The Freeman thanks Representative O’Connor for her diligence in researching this issue; we intend to publish a study of the government takeover of the non-profit sector in an upcoming issue of The Freeman.—Editor)


James L. Payne replies:

Mrs. O’Connor is to be commended for spotting how the Habitat for Humanity chapters in Michigan have departed from the organization’s ideal. Each Habitat chapter signs a “Basic Covenant” with Habitat for Humanity International to become an approved affiliate. Clause #8 of this covenant runs as follows:

“Habitat is a Christian ministry that appeals to the stewardship of Christians and others of good will in the sharing of their resources with the economically poor. Government funds will not be used. However, streets, utilities, land, or old houses needing rehabilitation may be acquired from government agencies if no strings are attached that violate Habitat principles.”

The chapters therefore seem to have violated their covenants. They certainly have violated the spirit of the covenant, since the money from the Michigan state department of commerce is taken involuntarily and is therefore no reflection of “stewardship.”

Another point: The Covenant’s clause #2 declares that Habitat is “avowedly Christian, seeking to exalt Jesus Christ as Lord by demonstrating His love to all people.” So somebody is engaging in deception. Either Habitat fund-seekers denied their Christian commitment, or Michigan officials are covering up giving taxpayer funds to “avowedly Christian” organizations. It sounds like the lawsuits are just around the corner. Hello, strings!