Transcending Cain and Abel: Revolutionary and Reactionary Consciousness


By Gordon L. Anderson

GordonIn the Divine Principle, the biblical story of Cain and Abel is seen as two brothers in a fallen family. Abel’s offering was accepted by God and Cain’s was not; Cain got angry and killed Abel and then fled his parents to start a new life. Abel is described as “closer to God,” but his consciousness is still that of an immature son and not a mature parent.

I often think of Cain and Abel as representing reactionary and revolutionary consciousness in the wider political spheres we see around us today. By “revolutionary” I mean the idea of “revolt” like Cain’s, and not peaceful revolution. These two different approaches to politics each claim to be right and when they compete with one another for political power, often end up repeating the “Fall” on a national scale.

Human society is always evolving as changes in science, technology and population lead to changes in human life. The reactionary refuses to adapt and looks for refuge in the past. The revolutionary recognizes the need for change but wants to violently jettison the past. The French Revolution and Communist Revolution in Russia are examples of “Cain-type” revolutions that led to violence and murder on a massive scale. By wiping out the traditional “reactionary” rulers, the Ancien Regime in France or the Czarist feudal system in Russia, and starting over, creating a new society, they ended up re-inventing many wheels and causing much evil, death and human suffering.

In developmental psychology, Cain and Abel attitudes represent typical responses of children who begin to compare and question at age 12 or 13. Children are born like sponges and soak up the environment of their parents and nurturers; they initially know no other way of life than the traditions they are given. However, as they begin to individuate, particularly in middle school, they begin to compare their lives to those of other schoolmates who came from different homes, with differences in wealth, discipline, religion, family integrity, etc.

This is a dangerous period of growth. Rather than constructively going through this stage, forming new peer groups and learning to live together, some — particularly those that loved their childhood — are reactionary and dare not step outside the worldview of their parents. Others, particularly those who had unsatisfactory childhoods, experience such cognitive dissonance that they revolt against their parents. But maturity comes to the persons who transcend these two temptations and are able to transform themselves by retaining what was inherited that is valuable and improving and adapting in areas where new knowledge and better ways are presented. This is an integral approach.

The reactionary, while initially in the “Abel position” closer to “God,” through parents and a life-sustaining tradition, can turn into a hateful fundamentalist. The revolutionary “Cain,” on the other hand, can become cut off from who he or she essentially is and become rudderless, devoid of meaning, and often act out in destructive violence or succumb to physical addictions.

The historical debates between science and religion reflect these Cain and Abel views. In the West, the Christian religion was the cradle of truth for people. It contained many truths, such as the Ten Commandments and Sermon on the Mount, that enabled people to live together peacefully. These truths had evolved over thousands of years of human experience. The people who practiced them flourished. But scientific discoveries challenged many traditional teachings that were proven wrong or inadequate.

The reaction of the Church to, say, Copernicus, was an “Abel-type” reactionary approach. It was Abel-type” because the immature child who clings to tradition is in a situation closer to God than the revolutionary who rejects the Church entirely. On the other hand, some Social Darwinists and Freudians who reject tradition, attempt to construct a new social system based on their insights in one field of science and often end up causing violence to every other area of human life. Thus, they are incapable of creating a society of human flourishing such as one that adopts functioning cultural traditions. The mature approach to the religion/science debate in the face of discoveries in biological evolution would be to reject the naïve creationism of the Church, but not its other teachings. It is childish to reject an entire book because the grammar is wrong in one sentence or one fact is wrong.

A symptom of society being at a childhood level, at the top of the growth stage where the “Fall” can occur, is the factional division of “sides.” Thus, when you hear in the media “pro-government” and “anti-government” positions, what you are actually hearing is that both groups have childish attitudes, with the pro-government positions being naïvely reactionary, and the anti-government being naïvely revolutionary. Revolutionaries have discovered enough to know that all is not well, yet their self-centered and arrogant nature is unable to see the entire picture. Revolutionaries typically want to “throw out the baby with the bathwater.” This is one explanation of why Divine Principle says “the false precedes the true,” because a revolutionary approach is often a kneejerk “anti” approach to a needed change (the false) rather than an integral response to a needed change (the true).

Parental consciousness, or “God’s point of view” in Divine Principle, is integral. It is able to love everyone, regardless of whether they have the reactionary or revolutionary consciousness of children, or a mature parental consciousness. Good parents might side with certain behaviors exhibited by one child and side with other behaviors of another child, but they do not side with one child against the other.

Choosing to side with “Abel” is a form of protection for those unable to transcend their inherited situation. It is better to side with “Abel” and preserve a system that is still working than revolt with “Cain” and destroy everything that doesn’t conform to his insight. Ultimately the mature person must transcend the narrowness, pettiness, vagueness, and one-sidedness of both brothers that can result from failing to grapple integrally with the anxiety, dissonance, pain, and disruption that new discoveries create. Siding with “Cain” is tempting because Cain has glimpsed something false, limiting, or unjust in the inherited worldview, but revolt is rooted in childish or evil attitudes of revenge, jealousy and hatred that bring society backward and cause untold suffering. “Cain” lacks a mature consciousness when he abuses or denigrates others to achieve his own ends.

A current example of these attitudes can be seen in the different approaches taken towards political reform in Tunisia and Syria. Tunisia was changed when a desperate man publicly immolated himself in protest of unbearable conditions. This enabled people to realize that things needed to change, and the National Dialogue Quartet Group that won the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize was able to bring about non-violent reforms of the Tunisian government.

However, in Syria, people have been choosing sides and fighting. People are being killed and displaced, innumerable buildings and the entire economy have been destroyed, and Syria has become lawless in most places creating a vacuum filled by groups like ISIS. Unfortunately, the United States “chose sides” in Syria by arming moderate rebels, indicating its own lack of maturity in foreign policy. Good parents might use force to restrain one child from killing another, but they do not pick up a gun and join one child and try to kill another.

Our world is at a dangerous point today because it is dominated by Cain and Abel views —childish views. Reactionary and revolutionary approaches are witnessed everywhere and, unfortunately, often championed by reporters in the media, military strategists, and leaders of powerful countries. Globalization has brought the world to the top of the growth stage and the chaos we witness is a result of the revolutionary and reactionary attitudes of children in leadership positions of power, but such leaders are not yet capable of genuine leadership.

In the U.S. presidential race, we witness the widely-recognized need to transcend the corrupt and inadequate government in Washington, D.C., but naïve reactionary views are being promoted on the right and naïve revolutionary views on the left. These views have appeal to voters who are also in the growth stage and reflect a general lack of development of parental consciousness in the American people as a whole. Integral presidential candidates will not appear on ballots if the candidate selection process is based on reactionary and revolutionary consciousness.

This understanding of Cain and Abel consciousness can also help people to understand the divisions among the children of True Parents in the Unification Movement, some of whom have been, for the most part, behaving as children. According to Divine Principle, if Adam and Eve had not fallen, if they had been True Parents, Cain and Abel would not have exhibited behaviors that led to the murder of Abel by Cain, for both would have been capable of transcending reactionary and revolutionary attitudes and gained parental consciousness.

Whatever problems might exist in the movement’s leadership level, neither reactionary nor revolutionary approaches will advance God’s providence. Only when each person can transcend the naïve and childish attitudes of reaction and revolt can he or she begin to engage in the constructive transformation of the church or the world that is desperately needed. The world needs True Parents, and constructive transformers, not reactionaries or revolutionaries, leading it forward.♦

Dr. Gordon L. Anderson (UTS Class of 1978) is the President of Paragon House, Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal on World Peace, and Adjunct Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He earned an M.Div. in Christian Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion from Claremont Graduate University.

Graphic at top: “Cain Slaying Abel” by Jacopo Palma, circa 1590.

13 thoughts on “Transcending Cain and Abel: Revolutionary and Reactionary Consciousness

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  1. Well done — an impressive reading and application of the Cain/Abel narrative. There is a section in the Principle that states, “Social revolution is unavoidable when the circumstances of the age cannot satisfy the desires of people belonging to the age … Revolution will continue until the freedom of the original nature of creation is restored completely.”

    That is not to say that the Unification methodology of social change conforms to the revolutionary model. Nor should the Unification movement adopt a “reactionary” position, seeking to preserve the status quo. Gordon hits the right note in calling for “constructive transformation” of the church and world.

  2. A thought-out article, Gordon, but I think the idea that reactionary and revolutionary is Abel- or Cain-type, or even initially Abel- or Cain-type, is an incorrect premise and conclusion. Both reactionary and revolutionary responses to situations are neither Abel nor Cain in and of themselves. There are times when a reactionary response is Abel-type because it aligns with the Abel-type providence of the time; and other times a revolutionary response is Abel-type for the same reason. We well know that a reactionary response can be both Abel- or Cain-type in nature; the same with a revolutionary response.

    DP teaches us that when it’s time for God’s providence to advance to the next level, those doing so are persecuted by those who don’t see God’s will in that respect. Hence, Jesus, the ultimate Abel of his time, was persecuted by reactionaries and embraced by revolutionaries. Same for Father. This reactionary response was plainly Cain-type in nature, and it was Cain-type providentially. Hence, hewing to Godly traditions is not initially or fundamentally closer to God.

    The fact is that Cain and Abel as ideas are conditions of heart, not behaviors. The behavior we consider Cain- or Abel-type is that which follows the heart. That’s why Father taught us that the value of an action is determined by its motivation and not its method or its result. Hence, even a violent action can be fundamentally Abel-type, as was Jesus’ action of clearing the temple of money-changers, or America’s actions clearing the world of fascism or communism.

    The parents’ view, which you call integrationist, is not really a parents’ view. Biblically, God, the penultimate parent, plainly takes (or guides humans to take) reactionary or revolutionary actions as His providence dictates. Not integrationist actions. Because there is a time and place for integration, just as there’s a time and place for reactionary or revolutionary actions.

    You’re correct, though, that our movement’s crisis is exacerbated by the reactionary/revolutionary mentality, and that an integrationist approach is needed. But I don’t think you’re really talking about integration as the solution so much as “proper” reactionary and revolutionary actions. Integration would mean to accept, understand and resolve both Mother’s and H2’s (and others’) foibles — which, among other things, fundamentally brought this crisis to a head. But you’re stating the world needs True Parents (objectively) which means (subjectively) the world needs Mother as she is, which is a fancy way of saying we need reactionaries. You also advocate that we must be constructive transformers…which is just a fancy name for a revolutionary. Neither is integrationist. Nor is calling for both at once.

    1. I agree with Christopher’s analysis of the misconstruing of Cain/Abel typology as well as reactionary and revolutionary distinctions. As in the case of Jesus, the established religious officials/Pharisees are not truly Abel just because of their position. Abel is best understood as aligning with God’s heart and wisdom, not necessarily the church officials in position. The followers of Jesus were in a reactionary and revolutionary position to the establishment, as we know. As both Christopher and Gordon point out, the methods are inadequate if they connote immaturity or irrational violence. However, I feel that Gordon’s analysis partly derived from his somewhat veiled attempt to deal with the present UC schisms without saying so.

      In an East Garden meeting with Father, he counseled a blessed husband who was considering divorce. Father once instructed the husband to “unite with his wife,” who he clearly said ” was the ‘Abel’ of the marriage” in their situation and that she was aligning with God’s heart in relationship and the providence more than the man (my paraphrase). Therefore, we need to avoid oversimplification in the misuse of terms. For example, a person who sees the need for change in an establishment practice, whether in society or church, is not a Cain person per se. The need for change may be what God would feel or think or choose. So, this is an oversimplification and abuse of the Cain/Abel typology. An unconstructive need for change may become Cain-like when violence or irrational and unconstructive methods are used. There is so much need for change in many forms and areas of society and church that it is really a sign of a narrow-minded and nonreciprocal officialdom to consider feedback as coming from Cain.

      The true Abel, as Christopher remarked, has the quality of heart, and doesn’t have that kind of self-righteous closed heart, but is responsive to all people. Father once said in another East Garden talk that the Kingdom of Heaven has leaders who respond to all people and does not just respond to those who are political insiders. He said there would be “no kissing up in the KOH; all would be valued brothers and sisters in God’s family.” He also gave an earlier talk in Japan entitled “Be True to Yourself” (1972) in which he said that most leaders and our church leaders as well were “tainted with the Archangel” and that the “True Abel” would not always need the approval of church leaders but would demonstrate the initiative of a “True Abel” by trusting his/her own original mind and acting accordingly when that person’s original mind informed him. This is similar to his instruction on the era of conscience. Now that is revolutionary….

  3. Christopher, there are a lot of distinctions to be made: One might refer to “good” Abel and “bad” Abel and good Cain and bad Cain. So that would be four conditions of heart. I agree with you that a lot has to do with motivation.

    I spoke of Abel as a disposition that is more sympathetic toward tradition (internal) and Cain as being more sympathetic towards material rejection of tradition. Integral means the unification of internal and external. Neither a revolt that kills the internal, nor a reactionary view that refuses to recognize external reality are appropriate — they would be the”bad” behaving of Cain and Abel respectively. However, an integral Abel-type person would see the need for change or, more likely, accept Cain’s observations that something needs to change. An integral Cain would recognize Abel’s demand that the change not be destructive.

    As for violence portrayed in the Bible, all I can say is that much of the Bible involves Old Testament and New Testament consciousness, and you cannot necessarily rely on it to describe Completed Testament Consciousness — it is a textbook of the truth expressed on the level of society that existed at those respective stages. True Father very much represented an integral approach by both being strongly guided by the Bible and recognizing a new expression of truth was necessary in our time. In that sense, he was a unification of good Cain and good Abel — which is a mature position, one that gave him a foundation for marriage.

  4. Astonishingly astute. I knew that Divine Principle and the Headwing approach had much to say about our current US church politics as well as our US presidential campaign, but it was foggy in my mind. This is wonderfully well thought out and a tribute to God and True Parents.

  5. Thanks, Gordon. I’m reminded of the axiom of going forth “in the shoes of a servant with the heart of the Father.” We’ve been taught that Abel is he/she who serves the most, “without esteem, without renown,” as the song goes.

    1. In this respect, David, I have to say that the many members who have served without pay, without position and have remained loyal to True Parents — some for many years, continuing to outreach and to witness, having suffered hardship and persecution for God and True Parents, and more — are the “true or unsung Abels” of the movement (without esteem, without renown, without remuneration.”

    2. David,

      A servant, in Father’s teaching, is below the level of son. There are several levels to go through to reach True Parentship. However, a person who serves so faithfully “without renown” is certainly a “good Abel-type consciousness,” insofar as servants reflect internal and external orientation. But ultimately neither being a loyal servant nor a faithful son is the same as a True Parent, which we are called to be in order to make the changes the world needs.

  6. Remarkably clear overview. Conscience/original mind leads one to take responsibility, which equals a mature attitude. The word “perfection” is surely only properly understood in the context of a personal relationship with God. When one acts and feels from this perspective, leadership/Abel/position, takes on a different meaning. The suggestions of Abel are not seen as impersonal Kafkaesque demands, but a call of conscience. Here, position is not a cause for resentment or rebellion, but a call to mature improvement. Political leaders fall short, probably, in the main due to the outline above, but also by failing to grasp that the development of society is a call to reach true human potential.

  7. Thank you, Gordon, for your insightful analysis. The current US presidential campaign is particularly discouraging to me as there seems to be no one who is promoting an integral perspective. Each side demonizes the other, even within the political parties. There is no headwing perspective that acknowledges the validity of certain positions on both sides.

    There is a lot of childishness and meanness on all sides. It has become common to talk about the need for “grownups” to be in the room. The American political primary system seems to encourage such behavior as candidates play mostly to their factional base rather that presenting an inclusive vision for all of America, not to mention the positive role America should play in the world. America is crying out for such a headwing leader, but under the current political atmosphere, I do not see any possibility of any such person emerging.

    1. Bob, it seems to me, your short analysis could be directly applied to our movement in its current stage: The current struggle for leadership in the UM is particularly discouraging to me as there seems to be no one who is promoting an integral perspective. Each side demonizes the other. There is no headwing perspective that acknowledges the validity of certain positions on both sides. There is a lot of childishness and meanness on all sides. It has become common to talk about the need for “grownups” to be in the room. The UM is crying out for such a headwing leader, but under the current political atmosphere, I do not see any possibility of any such person emerging.

      1. Peter,

        I put my faith in True Mother. I pray that she may be able to bring her children together. I believe she is working for that.

  8. Could we say that the terms Cain and Abel apply more for individuals or groups before they enter a new heavenly lineage? After all, Cain and Abel were born, and did what they did, after the fall of man took place. After the age of the coming of Heaven and restored lineages have come to appear, perhaps we ought to speak instead of persons who did, do (or could, can) not fulfill their specific roles as a Subject or Object. Korea is a good nation as people often naturally fulfill these roles in society, but they have no notion of Cain/Abel. Terminology is important, as words can put people off unintentionally. There are other examples, like absolute sex, which sounds rather crude/cold in Western languages, whereas absolute sexual morality/ethics would be more proper I believe… there are more examples, too.

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