16 June 2006

Is anything cruel to a believer?

I am often struck by how difficult it is for a believer to identify cruelty. Take this verse from the Quran, for example.
The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom. -- Quran 5:33

Is it cruel? Read the verse in its context. Take your time. Think about it. Talk to your friends and fellow believers, and then let me know.

(I’m especially interested in what the Christians think about it. But Muslims can chime in as well.)

21 comments:

Mark said...

Steve,

As my recorded comments clearly show, I already had my say that I thought the text is a cruel act. However, in answer to that you comment "how difficult it is for a believer to identify cruelty." ??

Hey have it your way, it is your blog, but that's misleading.

Maybe you aren't satisfied yet b/c I told you that I have no opinion on whether the whole of the Quran is condoning cruelty for it's beleivers today, and of that I can't answer since I have never read the Quran, and hardly have the time to do so in the near future.

Anyways, I was optimistic for some decent open dialogue but I think it is obvious you're not going in that direction.

Take care,

Steve Wells said...

So you think Quran 5:33 is cruel. Is it reasonable to mark it that way in the SAQ?

What about Numbers 31:14-18? Do you think that is cruel as well?

Dennis said...

here's me chiming :)

Okay.. the author's asked for people to take time to think about it?

Is it really that difficult to understand?

God is the creator, the sustainer. In Islamis tradition there are approximatly 100 attributes that let Mankind understand who He is. I suggest having a quick Google for it.. forget all the propaganda from orientalist sites.. well if you want to go ahead.. but get a good mixture of views.. Now you've kinda understood who God is.. If you don't, He's the the One that commands every single sub-atomic particle.. etc etc..

okay back to my point.. Now the revealed verse speaks of:

"those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land"

so now the creation wants to wage war on the Creator, sustainer (and all the other attributes assigned to him), and His favourite Creation, the final Prophet to mankind..

don't you think, that He would wan't to express his appreciatiation?

Lets be sensible now..

Peace

Jason Leonard said...

It's pretty obvious to me where the violence is in this passage.

Someone has declared to make war on God and His "messenger". The creator of all life and his greatest creation. So God's just supposed to sit there and say "HI"?

No, he's passing judgement on people who would dare be so bold, and reminding them that they might not like where they end up in the afterlife. Language like that is typically understood to be symbolic and not literal anyway.

In context it's clearly more of a reference to judgement than an actual violent act against someone.

But Dennis basically had the right idea.

Anyway, it still wouldn't matter much to me, I don't believe in the Qran's authentic inspiration anyway...

Anonymous said...

Of course it's cruel. There's no real way you can justify it, and the same applies to the Bible and Book of Mormon.

The Abramic religions are all pretty deeply steeped in cruelty, xenophobia, fear and violence. Believers try and justify it, but let's be honest... what if a politician said those same words? Would we still try and cover for him? Of course not.

A typical apologist tactic is to use the age-old "context" excuse. Any verse which is agreeable is to be taken at face value, but any verse that is objectionable is "out of context" or "requires closer examination" or "must be taken figuratively" or some other such nonsense.

It takes integrity to admit errors and wrongs, but most believers don't have that. They just make excuses.

Anonymous said...

Simple shrieking bigots are almost less disturbing than reasonable-sounding people using politics-speak to snow over calls to genocide and rape with endless, empty claims of "out of context" and "poor translation": if your neighbour scrawled "kill everybody from New Jersey and take the virgin girls for yourselves" on his wall, you wouldn't deny the clear interpretation in favour of his personal context or subtleties of phrasing.

And hypothetically, if a bronze age tribe *did* throw together fantasies about invisible superheroes as excuses for reprehensible, self-serving behaviour: and the inherited gravitas thereof was then defended with selective interpretation, usually by people with a pregiven emotional attachment to it ... how would the result look any different?




And, incidentally, why record what time of day posts are made, without the date?

Anonymous said...

Analogies help:

If I say Zoltan rules the universe and will horribly kill/torture his enemies, what does it mean to defend this statement (i.e., dennis/jason and the like minded) by pointing out that he's said to be a very impressive/powerful/good being?

And saying a certain bit of religious language is "typically understood" to be symbolic is exactly the problem: unless the text was originally written in two colours or something, you're making excuses for it by picking and choosing which parts to take seriously.

Religion is like tribal glue made of b.s., or "skin colour for behaviour patterns": it's a way to keep people in genetic clumps defined by rituals and costumes: and since it's older and more primitive than rationality, it's developed a thick skin of half-baked excuses and prohibitions against thinking about it.

Steve said...

OF course it's cruel.

And it's VERY hard for a believer to understand cruelty. I can show a believer direct Bible passages of violence from the New Testament and they'll just turn it around to meet their goals.

Hell, even Jesus said "I did not come to bring peace to the Earth, but the sword."

It doesnt said...

You are Brilliant.

I'm a non-believer, and i've found I know far more about the bible and other religous books than most, if not all of my religous friends.

Thanks for Providing a wonderful website.

Po8 said...

I think the cruelty is quite obvious in this passage.

The more hideous issue of this quote is, that it certifies the right to go for people having another point of view and legalise this behaviour.

There is no evidence that any god did ever persecute an infidel to death, but there are thousands of proofs that the fanatics of his church did instead. This verse provides the charter to it

btw, great work, Steve, much appreciated :-)

Brucker said...

Food for thought. It fits in well with a post I'm finishing up right now.

Getting to the point, I'd have to vote cruel. While I expect statements like "...in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom." from most religious literature, it's precisely this sort of thing that makes punishing unbelievers in the here and now make no sense to me. If they're destined to suffer greatly in the Hereafter, then why add to that suffering in the present?

Brucker said...

Regarding your comment on Numbers 31, I think that passage may highlight some of the subtleties that are difficult in sorting out cruelty, violence and injustice as separate but closely-related issues.

While I may not decide to take that position on that passage when I cover it in my blog, I am going to assume at this point without delving deeply into it that killing the women was just. They've done something that deserves punishment, supposedly.

Is killing them cruel and/or violent? Depends on the definition of those words. Some people think of all killing as violent, and if you take that position, then this is a violent act. If you don't take that position, then you have to decide what would make an act violent and judge accordingly. The amount of blood shed? The amount of pain inflicted? Something else about the circumstances in which the women are killed? We aren't given any of these details here; I'm not sure if we ever get them.

But the question is the matter of cruelty. You have to ask yourself again what you will call cruelty. Is it determined by the amount of physical pain? Is killing cruel in itself or, if done quickly and painlessly, is it not cruel? Note that the women who were not killed were forced to marry; perhaps to some that would be a fate worse than death, so which is more cruel?

I think the problem with comaparing Numbers 31:15 with Quran 5:33 is that the latter is so specific and exacting. I don't think killing per se is cruel or violent, but I admit it often is. What happened in Numbers 31 certinaly was not pleasant for the women involved, but to go so far as saying it was cruel is speculation.

Now, I don't think one needs much speculation to see that the immediately preceeding war against these women's husbands, fathers and sons was violent, and they had to live through that, didn't they? And whether or not that was cruel, it surely felt like it.

Alexis said...

The fact that famous books like the Bible and the Quran portrait God as cruel, doesn't mean He is really cruel. People take those books too seriously; because they were violently imposed for centuries. If you really want to know God, just pray. Just ask Him who He is, what He (or She) is, etc. And be patient and have hopes; wait for a sign or a dream. Just in case, don't use names like Yaweh, Zeus or Jesus... God would act cruelly, because you'll expect Him to act like Yaweh. Just use the word "God" and be open-minded. Good revelations...

Azrael Drow said...

God is welcome to post himself last time I checked. It would lead to more productive discussions. By books do you mean the afore mentioned religious texts?

Hamza said...

Going back to the whole "Zoltan" analogy, it wouldn't really be fair to say that Zoltan in the ruler of the universe. Imagine if Zoltan had created the entire universe, the human race and provided them with everything they needed to live with? A day comes along where Zoltan looks down on the universe and sees humans divided amongst themselves, killing, fighting, and spreading injustice. Instead of just destroying the human race, Zoltan sends down messages to the humans on how to live peacefully and to show respect towards him so that they are all united and peaceful. The next day Zoltan looks down and sees that some humans are trying to hurt, stone, and taunt the humans who have followed Zoltan's advice. How would you feel if you were Zoltan?

How would you feel if your child was playing outside while you were sitting on your porch, only to see a complete stranger walking by with a candy. Imagine how hurt you would be if the child walked away from you, and followed the man so that he could have a candy, all the while knowing that he shouldn't be doing that.

You can cause your child to be born, but you create him/her out of thin air. Zoltan created us, as a human race, and I think it's fair to say that the hurt we cause to Zoltan by mocking him and not beliving his message deserves retribution. In court if someone commits a crime, they are punished. That is our modern day justice system, and we call it fair.

How can we turn around and say that justice does not apply to all situations?

Hamza said...

Sorry, typo there. The line in question is supposed to mean you CAN'T create a child from nothing.

Gabriel said...

The last (well, next to last) comment shows exactly the problem with this sort of debate. The non-believer is supposed to adopt the premises that the believer wishes. What we KNOW is that people wrote both of these texts. Those who believe in each one say that they're divinely inspired, but since any ONE of these monotheist texts being divinely inspired pretty much negates all the others, that seems like a pretty tough call to make. If you wanna stick with the Zoltan example, fine.

What you and I don't have is any evidence of Zoltan, given that the hypothetical authors of Zoltanism existed thousands of years ago. And even when it was new, no one saw Zoltan descend from the skies and offer these books. Instead they saw a bunch of scraggly hermits saying that Zoltan had talked to them and we should maim or horribly kill anyone who has a problem with their loving god.

But this brings us full circle. To the believer, the context isn't in what humans do to each other. I could crush someone's newborn baby with a tank and it wouldn't be cruel - if that person had the gall to hurt the feelings of a character from a 2,000 year old book first. The context is, as Hamza pointed out, in the very idea that there IS at least one big, invisible being that we owe obeisance to and that by coming to conclusions on our own, we're disappointing them and deserve to be punished.

It's difficult, if not impossible, to get a person who believes in a religious text's truth to debate whether or not EVERY SINGLE LINE is justified without first being willing to acknowledge that their god is actually real. Otherwise you'll never find common ground for a conversation.

"It was written by humans."
"But given to them by god."
"But it was written by humans then saying, 'God exists'. That's the only reference we have to their god - in this one book. You're trying to justify horrible murders based off of the writings of one small group of people who made their livings off of teaching about this."
"The Bible (or whatever) exists because God handed this information to his prophets. And we know God exists because the Bible (again, or whatever) tells us so."

You can't get them to abandon that, because that's their ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card. "It can't be immoral if the creator of the universe justifies it, but if it's just a bunch of people saying it, then of course it's immoral - therefore I can't let the divine origins of the text leave the conversation, that becomes a part of the context."

Bugalugs said...

@ Hamza: “Imagine if Zoltan had created the entire universe, the human race and provided them with everything they needed to live with?”

Bugalugs: Well, first I would ask “who created you Zoltan? What gives you the right to tell me what is good and what’s not? What’s to say you aren’t lying to me? As a parent I created my children and provide them everything they need (and more) and I don’t demand subservience, kneeling, praying and the prostration by them in my presence? If you are a loving creator why are you so jealous and mean?”

@ Hamza: ”… Zoltan looks down on the universe…. Instead of just destroying the human race, Zoltan sends down messages to the humans on how to live peacefully…”

Bugalugs: Well, you could have done that for Adam?!?! Nope, instead we get eternal suffering because of the actions of our ancestor.
And you are an absent parent, of course if you leave kids alone for a long time they will go at each other – I mean you are omnipotent and DIDN’T read the Lord of the Flies?!?!

“Instead of destroying everyone” – hello, didn’t you do the flood?!?!”

And the “instructions” you gave to desert dwelling bronze age idiots when you could have (a) given it to all people WW for consistency, (b) had the different instructions agree on something (REALLY not one for consistency), (c) actually provide a comprehensive document of morals and real world explanations rather than just tell us how to carve up cattle, rape, murder, commit genocide, infanticide, incest, slavery… and you wonder what happened??!?!? You REALLY are an idiot Zoltan!

@Hamza: “…Zoltan looks down and sees that some humans are trying to hurt… the humans who have followed Zoltan's advice. How would you feel if you were Zoltan?...”


Bugalugs: So this omnipotent being who is so kind and full of love is a social retard and bad parent? Why WOULD you follow this nut job if he existed?!?


@ Hamza: “You can cause your child to be born, but you create him/her out of thin air. Zoltan created us, as a human race, and I think it's fair to say that the hurt we cause to Zoltan by mocking him and not believing his message deserves retribution. In court if someone commits a crime, they are punished. That is our modern day justice system, and we call it fair.

How can we turn around and say that justice does not apply to all situations?”

Bugalugs: Yes you do – I mate with my wife (in my case I’m married) and voila! Le Baby! Where did that come from?!?! I could tell you in detail and no religious book can – because they didn’t know how it happened back then (although presumably an omnipotent being did so either Zoltan is hiding it from us or there is no Zoltan)

Justice is about the punishment that fits the crime – burning in eternal hell not because you HAVE a slave, but because he/she doesn’t get up after three days after a good beating (within 3 days and you’re all clear) is not justice. Burning in eternal hell forever because you THINK to yourself that your neighbours ox looks damn good and you wish you had it is not justice.

And we hope it applies in all situations, but of course it doesn’t in many situations…

@ Hamza – you don’t have an argument. You fall into the trap everyone who has written this or believes does which is you create this imaginary figure and try to define it in vague and unintellectual terms which just bares out the lack of knowledge on this topic. I’m not saying you aren’t intelligent, just not clued into how logic works.

Otherwise you could say something equally useless like “well, God is beyond us and we can’t know Him so I’m just talking to you in general terms, but God is actually eternally good and full of love”. Well then, how do you know all this? If God is beyond our understanding then we don’t understand Him and can’t make assumptions as to whether He is good or not, especially when He has asked for the murder of an entire community save the prepubescent virgin girls (today we would call it comfort women for paedophiles) – great Zoltan? I think not!

Bugalugs said...

@ Hamza: “Imagine if Zoltan had created the entire universe, the human race and provided them with everything they needed to live with?”

Bugalugs: Well, first I would ask “who created you Zoltan? What gives you the right to tell me what is good and what’s not? What’s to say you aren’t lying to me? As a parent I created my children and provide them everything they need (and more) and I don’t demand subservience, kneeling, praying and the prostration by them in my presence? If you are a loving creator why are you so jealous and mean?”

@ Hamza: ”… Zoltan looks down on the universe…. Instead of just destroying the human race, Zoltan sends down messages to the humans on how to live peacefully…”

Bugalugs: Well, you could have done that for Adam?!?! Nope, instead we get eternal suffering because of the actions of our ancestor.
And you are an absent parent, of course if you leave kids alone for a long time they will go at each other – I mean you are omnipotent and DIDN’T read the Lord of the Flies?!?!

“Instead of destroying everyone” – hello, didn’t you do the flood?!?!”

And the “instructions” you gave to desert dwelling bronze age idiots when you could have (a) given it to all people WW for consistency, (b) had the different instructions agree on something (REALLY not one for consistency), (c) actually provide a comprehensive document of morals and real world explanations rather than just tell us how to carve up cattle, rape, murder, commit genocide, infanticide, incest, slavery… and you wonder what happened??!?!? You REALLY are an idiot Zoltan!

@Hamza: “…Zoltan looks down and sees that some humans are trying to hurt… the humans who have followed Zoltan's advice. How would you feel if you were Zoltan?...”


Bugalugs: So this omnipotent being who is so kind and full of love is a social retard and bad parent? Why WOULD you follow this nut job if he existed?!?


@ Hamza: “You can cause your child to be born, but you create him/her out of thin air. Zoltan created us, as a human race, and I think it's fair to say that the hurt we cause to Zoltan by mocking him and not believing his message deserves retribution. In court if someone commits a crime, they are punished. That is our modern day justice system, and we call it fair.

How can we turn around and say that justice does not apply to all situations?”

Bugalugs: Yes you do – I mate with my wife (in my case I’m married) and voila! Le Baby! Where did that come from?!?! I could tell you in detail and no religious book can – because they didn’t know how it happened back then (although presumably an omnipotent being did so either Zoltan is hiding it from us or there is no Zoltan)

Justice is about the punishment that fits the crime – burning in eternal hell not because you HAVE a slave, but because he/she doesn’t get up after three days after a good beating (within 3 days and you’re all clear) is not justice. Burning in eternal hell forever because you THINK to yourself that your neighbours ox looks damn good and you wish you had it is not justice.

And we hope it applies in all situations, but of course it doesn’t in many situations…

@ Hamza – you don’t have an argument. You fall into the trap everyone who has written this or believes does which is you create this imaginary figure and try to define it in vague and unintellectual terms which just bares out the lack of knowledge on this topic. I’m not saying you aren’t intelligent, just not clued into how logic works.

Otherwise you could say something equally useless like “well, God is beyond us and we can’t know Him so I’m just talking to you in general terms, but God is actually eternally good and full of love”. Well then, how do you know all this? If God is beyond our understanding then we don’t understand Him and can’t make assumptions as to whether He is good or not, especially when He has asked for the murder of an entire community save the prepubescent virgin girls (today we would call it comfort women for paedophiles) – great Zoltan? I think not!

Bugalugs said...

@ Hamza, well, first I would ask “who created you Zoltan? What gives you the right to tell me what is good and what’s not? What’s to say you aren’t lying to me? As a parent I created my children and provide them everything they need (and more) and I don’t demand subservience, kneeling, praying and the prostration by them in my presence? If you are a loving creator why are you so jealous and mean?”

@ Hamza: ”… Zoltan looks down on the universe…. Instead of just destroying the human race, Zoltan sends down messages to the humans on how to live peacefully…”

Bugalugs: Well, you could have done that for Adam?!?! Nope, instead we get eternal suffering because of the actions of our ancestor.
And you are an absent parent, of course if you leave kids alone for a long time they will go at each other – I mean you are omnipotent and DIDN’T read the Lord of the Flies?!?!

“Instead of destroying everyone” – hello, didn’t you do the flood?!?!”

And the “instructions” you gave to desert dwelling bronze age idiots when you could have (a) given it to all people WW for consistency, (b) had the different instructions agree on something (REALLY not one for consistency), (c) actually provide a comprehensive document of morals and real world explanations rather than just tell us how to carve up cattle, rape, murder, commit genocide, infanticide, incest, slavery… and you wonder what happened??!?!? You REALLY are an idiot Zoltan!

@Hamza: “…Zoltan looks down and sees that some humans are trying to hurt… the humans who have followed Zoltan's advice. How would you feel if you were Zoltan?...”


Bugalugs: So this omnipotent being who is so kind and full of love is a social retard and bad parent? Why WOULD you follow this nut job if he existed?!?


@ Hamza: “You can cause your child to be born, but you create him/her out of thin air. Zoltan created us, as a human race, and I think it's fair to say that the hurt we cause to Zoltan by mocking him and not believing his message deserves retribution. In court if someone commits a crime, they are punished. That is our modern day justice system, and we call it fair.

How can we turn around and say that justice does not apply to all situations?”

Bugalugs: Yes you do – I mate with my wife (in my case I’m married) and voila! Le Baby! Where did that come from?!?! I could tell you in detail and no religious book can – because they didn’t know how it happened back then (although presumably an omnipotent being did so either Zoltan is hiding it from us or there is no Zoltan)

Justice is about the punishment that fits the crime – burning in eternal hell not because you HAVE a slave, but because he/she doesn’t get up after three days after a good beating (within 3 days and you’re all clear) is not justice. Burning in eternal hell forever because you THINK to yourself that your neighbours ox looks damn good and you wish you had it is not justice.

And we hope it applies in all situations, but of course it doesn’t in many situations…

@ Hamza – you don’t have an argument. You fall into the trap everyone who has written this or believes does which is you create this imaginary figure and try to define it in vague and unintellectual terms which just bares out the lack of knowledge on this topic. I’m not saying you aren’t intelligent, just not clued into how logic works.

Otherwise you could say something equally useless like “well, God is beyond us and we can’t know Him so I’m just talking to you in general terms, but God is actually eternally good and full of love”. Well then, how do you know all this? If God is beyond our understanding then we don’t understand Him and can’t make assumptions as to whether He is good or not, especially when He has asked for the murder of an entire community save the prepubescent virgin girls (today we would call it comfort women for paedophiles) – great Zoltan? I think not!

Johaun Guillory said...

I agree with the question "is anything cruel to a believer?"

People choose what to believe and omit the horrors and crimes out of these books. Because they feel they are serving a force greater than themselves, they give up common sense on what's right and wrong.

In the modern era, we don't need to plagued by this anymore. All this doses is draw lines between man and stops us from really having peace. Look at Iran and Israel today?!