Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cain, Abel, and Ketchup

We've all probably heard - and said - something like "see what you made me do," or "it's not my fault." (June 27, 2012)

Sometimes it really isn't my fault, sort of.

Unintentional Ignorance, Imputability, and Ketchup

Back in my teens, I broke a bottle of ketchup: and learned why it's a good idea to hold a paper bag by the bottom, not the sides. I hadn't intended to break the bottle: but my decisions led to the accident.

Breaking the bottle was a destructive act. I was responsible for getting that load of groceries home. But I don't think wasting a pint or so of ketchup is a serious sin. First, the value of that item was small compared to my parents' food budget. Second, I hadn't planned to break the bottle.

Losing part of that day's groceries happened because of the sort of "unintentional ignorance" that can "can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1860) Not that wasting a bottle of ketchup is a "grave offense."


"Imputable" means "capable of being assigned or credited to." (Princeton's WordNet)

'I Know Too Much'

"Unintentional ignorance," honestly not knowing the consequences of some action, can be an excuse. Within reason. (Catechism, 1860)

In a sense, 'I know too much' to get away with claiming ignorance as an excuse for sins. "Feigned ignorance," trying to bluff God into believing that I didn't know what I do? Bad idea. Very bad idea. It'll just make things worse. (Catechism, 1859)

God's not stupid: and likes being lied to about as much as any other person. That doesn't mean that I think ignorance is a good idea.

The point is that God's God, we're not, life is a very high-stakes game: and I've been over that sort of thing before. (August 27, 2011)

How could a loving God let people be responsible for their own actions?

'It has something to do with free will.' (May 23, 2012)

Cain, Able, and Resentment

Genesis 4 Starts with Adam and Eve's first child, Cain, and Cain's younger brother Abel. You probably know the story: Caine was a farmer, Abel tended sheep. Both of them brought an offering to the Lord:
  • Cain
    • "From the fruit of the soil"
  • Able
    • "One of the best firstlings of his flock"
    (Genesis 4:4)
The Lord "looked with favor" on Abel's offering, but not Cain's. Cain didn't like that:
"So the LORD said to Cain: 'Why are you so resentful and crestfallen?

"2 If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.'

"Cain said to his brother Abel, 'Let us go out in the field.' When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. "
(Genesis 4:6-)
I think the Lord gave Cain good advice: when you don't do well, "sin is a demon lurking at the door." But we don't have to let the demon win.

Cain decided to ignore the Lord's advice - never a good idea, in my opinion - and became the world's first murderer.

The Mark of Cain

Harsh as this may seem: murder can be forgiven; but is a very serious offense. (Catechism, 1447, 1756)

Getting back to Cain: After a serious discussion with God, Cain was banished. He became " 'a restless wanderer on the earth.' "(Genesis 4:12)

God also put a mark on Cain. Seeing the mark would be a reminder that killing Cain would result in severely negative consequences:
" 'If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged sevenfold.' "
(Genesis 4:15))
I suppose having 'the mark of Cain' wasn't a pleasant experience: but at least Cain had protection in his wanderings. I don't see it as a 'mark of shame:' more like a compassionate gesture, and an opportunity for Cain to survive and turn his life around.

"Virtually Inundated by Sin"

Like I've said before, this world is basically good: but it's been seriously messed up.
"After that first sin, the world is virtually inundated by sin. There is Cain's murder of his brother Abel and the universal corruption which follows in the wake of sin...."
(Catechism, 401)
It's not all bad news, and I'm getting to that.

Wallowing in guilt doesn't look like a good idea: but neither does trying to blame God when I make bad choices, or pretending that ickyness would go away if there weren't any rules. And that's another topic. Topics.

A pretty good place to start looking at the Catholic view of sin is Catechism, 1846-1869.

Human Nature: Wounded, not Totally Corrupted

Original sin started long before I was born: I'm not personally responsible for starting out with a wounded nature.

But I'm human: designed as a good creature, and still called to be what God intended. Like the Catechism says, we're 'summoned to a spiritual battle:'
"Although it is proper to each individual,295 original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called 'concupiscence.' Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle."
(Catechism, 405) [emphasis mine]


Jesus made a wild claim:
"So the Jews said to him, 'You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?' 23

"24 Jesus said to them, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.' "
(John 8:57-58)
Any lunatic or charlatan can claim to be God. Jesus made the claim stick by getting killed in a public execution, but not staying dead.

Then, after a series of meetings, Jesus gave the remaining 11 disciples a mission:
"8 The eleven9 disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.

"10 When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.

"11 Then Jesus approached and said to them, 'All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

"Go, therefore,12 and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,

"teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.13 And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.' "
(Matthew 28:16-20)
About two millennia later, the orders haven't changed, and we're still spreading the word: There is hope.

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