Firstly we need to examine the word cruel. What is cruelty? Is there cruelty in the world? Who created the cruelty if it exists?
Let us look at what constitutes cruelty first. Is childbirth an act of cruelty? Is a heart transplant an act of cruelty? Is refusing a child something he or she desires, knowing that it may harm the child, an act of cruelty? Is toil and labour for the sake of achieving one’s goal cruel? As you would have come to realise, none of the above depictions constitutes cruelty. The common thread through all of them is that they all include pain, fatigue or emotional distress. So cruelty cannot simply be defined as pain or emotional distress.
So what does constitute cruelty? Let’s look at some obvious examples: causing injury to somebody, for no reason except to inflict pain and suffering on the victim would definitely constitute one form of cruelty. Denying and child access to something that has no potential to harm the child, and that will in fact benefit the child, can also be seen as an act of cruelty. Putting a person through hard labour, without any reward, or without a fair reward, I think you will agree, also constitutes cruelty. What is the inference that we can make from the above? My humble suggestion is that cruelty is where there is pain and suffering, emotional distress or toil and labour without any justifiable moral cause, growth or justification.
Now somebody might argue that the serial killer can justify his acts of cruelty, through deriving psychological satisfaction, even at a psychopathic level. Again somebody might argue that slavery is regarded as cruel, although the slave driver derives a benefit from the labour of the slave. Also war can be cruel, but the victorious in war will derive the benefit associated with victory. I will concede this point, and use it to expand on my definition of what it means to be cruel: a cruel person inflicts unnecessary pain for no moral reason or for purely self-serving reasons. Okay, so I have included the word moral here a few times, without really explaining what we mean by it. Let us at this stage only accept the word moral as what is commonly accepted as being good and acceptable human behaviour.
We come to the second question then namely, if there is cruelty in the natural world. Is a lion hunting its prey being cruel? Is a tsunami that takes the lives of hundreds of thousands of people cruel? Is the staying away of the rains, which causes a severe drought and the loss of thousands and even millions of lives, cruel? Is contagious disease which takes millions of lives cruel? My humble opinion is that these natural phenomena only appear cruel in the eyes of one that does not understand the workings of nature. Tsunamis are often caused by underwater earthquakes. Earthquakes are the result of plate tectonics of the land masses of the Earth. If you investigate this carefully, you will find that earthquakes are integrally connected with the growth and the survival of our planet, and therefore the human species. Unfortunately the Earth, which gives life to billions and billions of people, has to exact a cost for its own long-term survival which is perceived as the destruction in the simple mind of man. Pretty much like a child growing up, and experiencing childhood sicknesses and ailments, which might seem debilitating at the time, but in fact prepares the child to be more resilient and resistant to all sorts of threats later on in life. If you look carefully at all the other examples above listed in nature, you are bound to find an element of transformative growth, or the maintenance of an equilibrium at root of what seems to be nature being cruel to us. My answer to the question of whether nature is cruel is that nature only appears cruel, but is in fact benevolent, and natural disasters always result in a greater good for the planet and for mankind.
From the above few paragraphs it becomes clear that, although pain is a natural phenomenon, cruelty really is a phenomenon to be found exclusively within human society. Some people have argued that a cat is cruel to play with its prey, as it does not benefit from inflicting this unnecessary additional pain. This is incorrect. I found the answer on a website [http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/why-cats-play-with-prey] which states:
“It turns out that, while cats may seem cruel, capricious or malicious as they toy with a catch, their behavior isn’t indicative of an evil mind lurking within the cute, furry exterior. Cats, rather, wear down prey to avoid sustaining injuries. They’re motivated by self-preservation, just like most other animals, and they know what could happen if they aren’t careful. Mice and rats, for example, can deliver nasty bites that can cause injury or spread disease. Birds, for their part, are able to scratch and peck. So, what’s a cat to do? Rather than playing with their prey for amusement, cats tire out their victims to the point where they’re too worn down to fight back.”
It is humans that are cruel, not nature. Nature always intends well when it acts in an apparently cruel way, the same of which cannot be said for human beings. When nature is apparently cruel, it is restoring the balance or supporting transformative growth. When human beings are cruel, it is to distort a balance and to stunt transformative growth. Let me put forward a few examples of the greatest forms of cruelty inflicted by human beings:
Example 1: Inflicting pain for no reason or for personal satisfaction. The Holocaust was cruel because it inflicted severe pain and suffering on many without just cause. The apartheid system was cruel, because it inflicted pain and suffering and denial to millions without a just cause. The Rwandan genocide was cruel because it to result the team severe pain and suffering without a valid cause. Serious killers or war criminals are cruel because they inflict cruelty for narrow self-benefit and to the detriment of the greater society or environment.
Example 2: Dangerous and unusually hard labour, without any reasonable reward is cruelty because it results in no growth or improvement in the condition of the sufferer. That means the miners that are working in a South African mines and are unable to feed and clothe the families on their salaries, while they face the risk of death every day at work, is in a cruel relationship with the mining bosses.
Example 3: Imposing a paper currency, and enforced banking on ordinary people, and then gradually reducing the purchasing power of that paper notes through printing more and more of it, is an act of cruelty. The result of this is slow creeping poverty over the individuals within that society, which is sometimes referred to as inflation. The effect of paper currency on society, is almost exactly the same as the effect of the strangulation of a Python. It slow, insidious and barely noticeable but over the years it leads to much suffering and loss. (The Book “Our Godly Struggle”, available for download on this site, goes deeper into explaining the cruelty of the present day monitory regime in the world.)
Example 4: creating desperation through removing the means by which people can subsist, and then creating derogatory and humiliating work situations for those in desperation. By replacing nature with concrete jungles in the form of cities, the means by which ordinary human beings can subsist through simple agriculture or husbandry, is taken away from them. Cities are a result of industrialisation, and industrialisation is the result of mass production and consumption, and mass production and mass consumption are the results of the need for economic growth, and economic growth is driven by greed. When you remove all the natural opportunities for ordinary people, it is an act of cruelty then to create only derogatory and humiliating opportunities such as prostitution or mercenary activity. Let me explain in somewhat more detail: prostitution comes in many forms, most common of which is the selling of one’s most intimate self to strangers for compensation. Mercenary activity refers to people engaging in murder and pillage for compensation. The present day prostitution industry, and the military industry engaged in an unjust wars are sad results of people being desperate to make a living.
I come back to the original question of this article namely is God cruel? People often refer to the scriptures to show how cruel God is. Some passages are taken from the Old Testament where the people of Israel conquered other nations and slayed the innocent in the process of doing that. They will also point to the holy Quran and cite passages that speak about fighting and slaying the enemy. Furthermore they will cite God’s depiction of hell as a cruel place, to show that God is indeed cruel. So is God cruel?
Is the pain and suffering which God inflicts devoid of any justification, transformative growth or the general improvement of the human condition? Let us take hell as an example: Hell is a cruel and unfathomably painful place, and is depicted as such within the Holy Scriptures. But is hell not also a deterrent? And is the purpose of a deterrent not to deter? And will the one that is deterring, not make the deterrent as effective as possible? It is obviously still left up to God whether He will or will not impose his punishment. And we must remember that hell as a deterrent is meant for those who have committed unspeakable initial acts of cruelty. Those who caused unnecessary pain and suffering to countless millions and millions of people on the earth, through preventing them from pursuing a livelihood; through making them toil and struggle for an insufficient reward; through barring millions and millions of people from transformative growth by keeping them in bondage; through taking possession of the natural resources of the world and denying them to the rest of mankind; through fermenting and prosecuting unjust wars of dispossession and plunder. Is the severe pain of hell described in the holy books not a fitting punishment for those who caused such immense pain and loss to so many millions and millions of people over so many thousands and thousands of years?
The religious people miss the point completely by identifying hell as an abode for those who committed petty offences. In fact the religious impostor priests, imams and rabbis have usurped the concept of hell, to impose their own narrow ideas on society. Hell is no place for a person who acts in desperation to secure himself or his loved ones. A person stealing a bread, cannot be seen as a future inhabitant of hell. It is the person that denies bread to millions, through artificially inflating the price of grain after taking control of all the grain stocks that is meant for hell. The young lady forced into prostitution is not intended for hell, but rather the evil ones that caused poverty through unfettered greed by the rich and predatory exploitation of the poor are meant for hell. The only way that the poor and powerless become culpable, is when they become complicit in their own oppression and exploitation or in the oppression of others. When they are able to kick out their enemies, and refuse to do so out of force of habit, or out of fear, they become partners in oppression. When they accept the pain inflicted by man as the natural state of things, they become partners in the act of cruelty and oppression perpetrated by man. In this case they do not even need to go to hell one-day, they will experience hell every day of their lives.
Okay so let us look beyond the concept of hell as we investigate the question of whether God is cruel. God also speaks about war and fighting against those who are evil. The holy Quran has quite a few such verses of fighting and neutralising the enemy. Once again I want to refer you back to the initial cruelty perpetrated by evil human beings in creating poverty, misery and dispossession. Nothing can explain this apparent cruelty prescribed by God than the following verse:
“Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory.” Quran 22:39
So once again this so-called cruelty ascribed to God, is none other than a restorative process that is sanctioned by God for those who believe in justice and abhor pain and suffering, to end the reign of those who want to inflict cruelty and pain on society. We must therefore not conflate the act of cruelty with the act of stopping cruelty. Both instances may involve pain and suffering, but on the side of those who are stopping cruelty there is no personal interest but rather the greater good of mankind.
In summary, God has created pain and discomfort, for transformative and restorative reasons, but man has created cruelty, as unjustifiable pain, for selfish and oppressive reasons.