President Obama was campaigning in Vermont on Friday. While there, the he took a shot at what he terms as his opponents’ “you’re on your own economics”:
“I hear a lot about that. Let me tell you about values. Hard work, personal responsibility--those are values. But looking out for one another. That’s a value. The idea that we’re all in this together. I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper. That’s a value.”
I am my brother’s keeper is, of course, a reference to the biblical story of Cain and Abel. After killing his brother, God asks Cain where he is, to which he responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Progressives are outraged that the president would be so presumptuous as to use the bible to justify policy, and have begun viciously attacking the president’s theocratic tendencies.
Nah, I’m just kidding. Quoting bible is only dangerous when conservatives do it.
But the president’s focus on that particular episode in the book of Genesis is instructive. This use of the Cain and Abel story is classic liberation theology, the tasty slurry of Christian teachings and Marxist class struggle that was characteristic of the Church the Obama family attended in Chicago for 20 years. The story of Cain and Abel has a special meaning to liberation theology that sets it apart from most mainstream Christian denominations. In most Christian churches, the idea of original sin is usually associated with the narrative of Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God when they fell to temptation and ate the forbidden fruit. In Liberation theology, on the other hand, Adam and Eve’s original sin is largely abandoned and replaced by an increased significance on Cain’s betrayal of his brother.
Further explanation of this significance comes from Christopher Rowland and Mark Corner’s 1989 book Liberating Exegesis: The Challenge of Liberation Theology to Biblical Studies:
The story of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4) is read as an example of the kind of struggle which goes on in society between the landed and the landless, the farmers and the shepherds…The cause of Abel’s death is the division of labour, which creates social classes and the ensuing struggle for land.
As a central theme of the class-struggle preached at church the President attended, he’s clearly drawing from a familiar well.
Of course, this is all assuming that the president doesn’t just use faith cynically, something I for one refuse to even consider.