Eye of the Beholder in U. S. Catholic Magazine


Originally published with image: Auguste Rodin, The Thinker, 1880-1881; Cleveland Museum of Art

Rodin supervised fewer than 10 casts of the large version of his work The Thinker during his lifetime.  In 1970 the copy owned by the Cleveland Museum of Art was damaged by a bomb.  Both motivation and perpetrator remain unknown, but for a variety of reasons the museum decided not to repair the damage.  Paradoxically a sculpture that depicts the human capacity to consider our actions and reflect upon our lives now also stands as a monument to the human penchant for destruction.

According to the Book of Genesis (4: 1-16), the primordial act of human violence--Cain killing his brother Abel--sprang from the resentment Cain felt because God “looked with favor on” Abel’s offering.  My grade school textbooks justified God’s reaction by describing Abel’s gift as the choicest animals from his flock and Cain’s as inferior produce from his fields, an explanation absent from the biblical text.

Our lives are populated by acts that lie somewhere between wise choices carefully considered and deeds fueled by emotions run amok (the rationale cited for Abel’s murder).  We can spend our time protesting our responsibility as Cain did--“Am I my brother’s keeper?”--or honestly acknowledging our own capacity for brutality.