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In destroying Abel, Cain also destroyed the possibility of wholesome society. The security of society would have to be based on the fear of revenge. Since it began with the shedding of innocent blood, humans may only know of themselves as social animals who are both guilty socially and insecure about their personal safety. Furthermore, since the shedding of innocent blood immediately impacted the soil, humans find themselves time and again destroying the natural world in an effort to stabilize their toppling societies.
Culture is equally skewed from the outset. Yoder points out that Cain was the first to cultivate, that is, to cooperate with the land by adjusting to the soils and the calendar in order to develop a fruitful field. But Cain was deemed an unfit cultivator since he defiled the soil with his brother’s blood. Having been driven further and further from truly natural cultivation, he had little recourse but to take refuge behind city walls. Cain traded relative harmony with God’s natural order for the urban center—which was the product of estrangement, not growth and prosperity. Yoder restates in contemporary categories what he believed these ancient stories assume: “Adam makes the transition from nature to culture; Cain from culture to war. Culture (whose root meaning, we remember, was agriculture), is already morally ambivalent. It is close to nature, but not natural. It scratches open the soil, wounds the breast of Mother Earth, in order to wrest sustenance from it. . . . It thus becomes the occasion for fresh sin and the multiplier of damages.”
After being banished from the soil, Yoder notes that Cain’s descendants quickly yielded the basic elements of fallen history and culture: the protective threat of revenge (the state), the city (civilization), the arts (Jubal’s music), technology (Tubal-Cain’s metallurgy), and Lamech’s escalating vengeance (war). All of these unfold from the first murder and all of them result from the estrangement with nature that began with Adam and multiplied with Cain and his descendants. Nothing to which humans apply themselves is free from sin’s taint. There is thus no sphere or realm of life that is fundamentally trustworthy, beyond suspicion, and immune to examination in light of Christ.