I know not; am I my brother's keeper?
In the Old Testament story of Cain and Abel, this was Cain's answer to God when God asked where his brother was. The true answer, of course, was that Abel was dead, because Cain had just killed him.
The answer itself, however, has resonated down the years not as an alibi to murder, but as a reproof against those who refuse all responsibility for the good of humanity.
Or, as many modern-day conservatives would put it, why should healthy, provident me have to pay for unhealthy, improvident others?
Which is odd, because today's conservatives claim a closer relationship to the God of that old story than most liberals do. I like to think it is because we are more modest, but that's probably beside the point.
I was confused, because it seems that this time-honored interpretation - that we do indeed have a responsibility to care for our fellow humans - and that interpretation was rather nailed down in the New Testament - something about loving your neighbor as your self, I believe - was being left in the dust. And I wondered why.
So I did a little digging, and here is what I found.
Seems the right has clamped onto the word "keeper," and insists that God's answer was, "No. All I'm worried about is did you kill the guy or not?" It's a police procedural, not a social philosophy.
OK. Point taken. But they go further than that. "Keeper," they insist, is what liberals want to be. We want to be everybody's keeper. The world is our zoo. And I'm here to tell you that they are wrong.
I'm kinda happy I don't even have a cat anymore. My daughter moved back in, and I love her and all and support her in every endeavor, but I can't say I was thrilled about it.
I do hope that she gets some kind of insurance, because if anything happens to her, it's gonna be on me. I also hope that the less fortunate among my friends are able to get some kind of insurance - and I'm happy to supply a pittance or two to ensure that they can - because if they get sick, I'm gonna have to step up in some way I'm not currently prepared to do. I want people I never even met to get well and stay well, because if they aren't, they'll lose their jobs and won't be able to afford my reasonably priced novel. Or buy my daughter's wonderful jams, make her rich and able to support me in my old age.
I want everyone to have a chance to be well and healthy and taken care of when they aren't, because, well, just because - ok, I'll admit it - I'll just feel better about the world.
I'm not the boss of them and they aren't the boss of me. But I still believe that the moral of the story, the metaphor, if you will, was actually that yes, Cain was his brother's keeper. And he blew it.