Just think about the cruelty of a human trafficker. A man (or woman) who kidnaps innocent women and children and turns their lives into a living hell. A few years ago the journalist Ross Kemp interviewed a ruthless human trafficker in Bengal, in India. This is what Mr Khan said:

“I’ve been trafficking for seven years. I’ve trafficked three to four thousand girls. We go to poor communities, often Muslim or tribal and we look for real beauties. The girls are auctioned and go to the highest bidder. £8500 was the most I got for a girl. I have sold girls as young as 12. If the girls try to run away or if there’s any trouble, then the girls are killed and buried. I’ve killed about 400 girls. I’m telling the truth.”

How do we make sense of the cruelty of such men?

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) argued that cruelty is a good thing. He proclaimed that God is dead. Humans are just animals; the lives of most humans are worthless, wretched and insignificant. The masses are expendable. Only an elite group of superior artists and philosophers matter. He stated that evolution is cruel and so the elite must follow nature’s laws of brutal exploitation. He gave his full support to human trafficking when he wrote: “Slavery belongs to the essence of culture.” Nietzsche was against shortening the length of the working day in Basel. He was a proponent of child labour, noting with approval that the city permitted children over the age of twelve to work up to eleven hours a day. 

Would Khan enjoy reading Nietzsche?

Some religions teach that cruelty can only be understood in terms of the laws of karma and reincarnation. The victims of human trafficking deserve their cruel fate because they were moral monsters in previous lives. In 1999 Glenn Hoddle was sacked from his job as England manager for outlining his view that disabled people are getting their just deserts.

How would Khan respond to the idea that he is delivering karmic justice?

The teachings of the Tibetan Book of the Dead are worth pondering. Some Buddhists maintain that the cruel deeds of Khan are completely illusory. We think that his victims exist as distinct individuals but this is profoundly wrong. The world and everything in it is a projection of our minds. There is a paradox here in that there are no minds, no bodies and no selves that can suffer abuse, despair and neglect.

Are Khan and his many victims illusions?

Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen is a well-known expert in Psychiatry. He insists that cruelty is fundamentally a failure of empathy. Brutal people, like Khan, lack appropriate feelings of compassion. This lack of empathy is caused by having ‘a chip missing in their neural computer’. In short cruelty is caused by glitches in the brain. We should notice that by reducing evil to a brain defect, Baron-Cohen is also obliterating goodness. You cannot praise a kind person nor can you blame a cruel one. This materialist view can be stated pithily: ‘My brain made me do it!’.

Would Khan agree with the honoured professor?

Pantheists offer us an intriguing perspective on cruelty. Pantheists do not acknowledge a personal God who can forgive sins. These mystical types (e.g. Carl Jung) believe that everything is divine. God is the Universe and the Universe is God. Pantheists hold that cruelty is just a part of the divine plan. The Infinite One is both cruel and loving. This divine force field is both good and evil.

Would it ease Khan’s conscience to know that the dark side of God is on his side?

Perhaps it is time to revisit New Testament teaching on cruelty. Scripture tells us that there is a battle raging between two kingdoms. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness (Col 1:13). Satan, the prince of cruelty, has invaded God’s good creation. His mission is to destroy men, women, children, animals, trees, flowers, mountains and the oceans that God has created. The devil is in love with cruelty and he recruits men like Khan to follow him. He cannot force them to do his bidding but he is highly skilled in nurturing many rebellious humans to practise cruelty on a full time, commercial basis. To be honest he is doing quite well in this bold venture.

However, the New Testament cries out very loudly to those who have ears that Jesus is Lord. He owns the world (Col 1:16). He loves people. He is a divine person (one member of the Trinity). He can forgive sins (Mark 2:5). He has conquered death, decay, slavery, cruelty and the devil. This Christian gospel would undoubtedly vex and challenge Khan. He is urged to repent, believe in Jesus, get baptised and forsake his lucrative and callous profession.

Humans should carefully consider these six ways of looking at cruelty and join Jesus in His mission to eradicate cruelty from the universe. One day the earth will be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9). Cruelty and slavery in all its many forms will be no more (Rev 21:1-4).

If you would like to know more about slavery and how understanding it can help us in mission and discipleship do consider taking our brand new RealityBites course Slave Chronicles and Dangerous Beliefs: Discipling Others through Creative Storytelling.

Mark Roques

Mark Roques

For eleven years Mark taught Philosophy and Religious Studies at Prior Park College, Bath. As Director of RealityBites since 2005, he has developed a rich range of resources for teachers and is a popular speaker at educational conferences in the UK, Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Mark is the author of three books, including the Religious Education textbook The Good, The Bad and The Misled, and his innovative approach has led him to appear on television (Channel 4) and radio.