Editor’s note: Bill Sieck’s One View [What will we write on Page 6? Viewpoints, June 15] contained a factual error — 58,281 Americans died in the Vietnam War, in which a total of 3.4 million people died. Thanks to the alert reader who flagged this. We regret the error.
‘Now Abel became a shepherd and kept flocks, while Cain tilled the soil. Time passed and Cain brought some of the produce of the soil as an offering for Yahweh, while Abel for his part brought the first-born of his flock and some of their fat as well. Yahweh looked with favor on Abel and his offering. But he did not look with favor on Cain and his offering, and Cain was very angry and downcast. Yahweh asked Cain, ‘Why are you angry and downcast? If you are well disposed, ought you not to lift up your head? But if you are ill disposed, is not sin at the door like a crouching beast hungering for you, which you must master?’ Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out;’ and while they were in the open country, Cain set on his brother Abel and killed him.” (Genesis, Ch. 4)
Page 5: 1,542 more pages to go in the Old Testament, and the die is already cast. Page five. This is who we are. This is our Judeo-Christian, western civilization origin story. But it does not stand alone. In Egyptian mythology, Seth murders his brother Osiris. In Rome’s origin story, Romulus kills his twin brother Remus over a dispute over which hill Rome should be built on. In the Indian Mahabarata, the Pandavas, five brothers, kill their half-brother Karna in a civil war.
Our daily newscasts and newspapers are filled with headlines of carnage and killings, duplicity and disasters, failures and finger-pointing. If it bleeds, it leads. And yet, often buried on page 17 or 23 of the papers, or briefly presented on screen as “a life worth living” are great acts of kindness and caring, heroism and altruism. This is who we are. Cain and Abel.
While the whole notion of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel makes no biological or evolutionary sense, that’s not the point of the story, which is that human beings are both Cain and Abel, capable of both good and evil.
The U.S. military budget for 2021 was $800 billion; the budget for Doctors Without Borders was $1.7 billion.
In the Vietnam War, 58,281 Americans died; Habitat for Humanity has built 800,000 homes worldwide.
Last year there were 26,000 homicides in the U.S. and 36,000 organ donations.
There are 53,000 gun retailers in the U.S. — and 60,000 food pantries.
Russia develops a hypersonic missile to terrorize its enemies. NASA launches the James Webb Telescope to expand our knowledge of the universe.
Multiple countries (and some U.S. senators) resist any effort to curb the burning of coal or oil which are destructive to our planet but enriching to them, while multiple others race to replace fossil fuels with wind and solar power to enrich the lives of future generations.
While the Adam/Eve and Cain /Abel story makes no biological or evolutionary sense, it absolutely nails our DNA.
Sometimes I wonder if things would have been different if Cain and Abel were, instead, Carol and Agnes. Or if Adam and Eve had not eaten the apple but instead filled the 1,547 pages of the Old Testament with detailed descriptions of all the wondrous trees, shrubs, flowers, birds, mammals, and fish they were given to enjoy. Could have saved Linnaeus a lot of trouble — and us a lot of grief. How terrible would it have been to describe all that existed except for one lousy tree? Not to fault “god,” but his command not to eat from the tree of good and evil was arguably the first example of “reverse psychology.” Surely he knew that that’s exactly what they would do. And that would make us “human.”
Multiple news reports over the past few years document our Navy fighter pilots tracking structured craft that move in ways we earthlings have not yet discovered how to do. Is it possible that maybe, just maybe, on a distant planet somewhere “out there,” another intelligent species wrote its own origin story, its “Page 5,” without a Cain, only Abels? And maybe, being therefore “well disposed,” they were able not only to “lift up their heads” — but the future of their entire species by spending all their resources on improving their lives rather than constantly destroying and rebuilding.
Back here on earth, human beings spend almost 2 trillion (with a “T”) dollars a year on military equipment — tools to kill and destroy. If we add in all the money spent on police, prisons, locks and guns, home security services, and lawyers who will extract “justice” from those who have wronged us, we’re talking serious money. Imagine where the human race would be if all that money had been spent on building and none of it on destroying. But I know that would be “alien,” not “human.” We are Cain.
In the last two years, Jose Andres and his World Central Kitchen has served more than 25 million meals worldwide to those in need. In 2020, we Americans donated a record-breaking $471 billion to charitable causes. We are also Abel.
To be surprised at man’s inhumanity to man is to deny the basic message. Equally, to be surprised at mankind’s incredible acts kindness, love, and heroism is also to deny the basic message. We were conceived on Page 5. We, Homo Sapiens on planet Earth, will always be both Cain and Abel. The answerable question is not why, but rather what will we each, individually, write on Page 6?
It’s that ability to choose what to write on our own page that makes us human. And gives us hope.
Bill Sieck is a resident of Berwyn who frequently works in Oak Park.