Comedian Stephen Fry made a series of passionate comments about God during an interview with TV presenter Gay Byrne after he was asked “what would you say to God if you met Him face to face?”
With his outspoken stance on religion, Fry’s controversial comments sparked both outrage and support across the globe. But should they have? Was there merit in what he said, or just folly? Artefact discusses.
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By Yasaman Ahmadzai
“Bone cancer in children? What’s that about?” Stephen Fry asks. I should have expected this. The video, which was uploaded to YouTube last week, has already been viewed several million times. I think it’s great that this kind of thing gets aired in public; after all it gets people talking about God!
It has definitely publicised Fry’s values and humanist beliefs – which, though largely shared by millions of people around the world, rarely gets my attention. But the fair-weather Labour supporter and gay rights activist this time caught my awareness, as he discussed his views on God from the perspective of an atheist.
In reply I will discuss my views on God from my perspective – that of a Muslim.
Fry is a talented writer, he’s forceful, sharp, curious, and a fine actor. He has employed all of these riveting skills to promote his worldview, both religiously and politically.
What’s more, I felt his exploration of the highways and by-ways of the Plain English episode on BBC Radio 4 was beautifully written, and its twists and turns kept my headphones locked in.
It would seem to many of us that Fry is really someone who wants to believe in God, but is still looking for answers – answers that will satisfy his personal curiosities.
The subject of human illness has often been used to question the existence of God. In fact, that’s often the only argument that non-believers can think of, although there are countless arguments against the existence of God.
I believe that Fry’s questions are quite simple to answer. For example, he asks; if God is omnipotent then why can’t he create a world where all human beings always do the right thing and do not fall into evil or suffering?
What Fry fails to realise is that if God did the above, we would be deprived of the freedom to choose and according to my belief, that’s not something that God imposes on his creations.
Fry then asks; why do bad things happen in the world?
First and foremost, evil and suffering doesn’t happen because God is ‘evil’. God is not evil. The world is such that we don’t have all the answers – something scientists and saints all agree on.
But God has presented us with His vision. This world is a test and on this path of life, we’re going to find obstacles and difficulties.
In the difficulties that we endure, God is with us. If Fry could understand the concept of this life being a test, then he’d probably understand why evil exists.
The hardships that a person endures will not go unrewarded: “We will test you in fear, hunger, loss of wealth, life and fruit, but give glad tidings to the patient.” (Qur’an 2:155)
So the evil that people are suffering is a temporary matter. Think of it like a bad dream, upon waking there’s nothing there; it’s all over.
Likewise, this world is a test and given that you’ll find obstacles, there will be sufferings and there will be some hardship. At the end of it all, there’s a great reward awaiting those who have suffered.
God gave mankind free will and the freedom to choose between right and wrong. Inevitably, it’s the choice to do evil which is evil, and not the fact that God created it although this doesn’t mean that God is pleased with a decision to do evil.
So, “Bone cancer in children? What’s that about?” – I’m afraid, we don’t have all the answers. What I do know is that God does love his creation, and the ones who patiently endure the sufferings in this world will be greatly rewarded in the hereafter. It’s part and parcel of the test that God has given.
I guess Fry is entitled to mistake God in his frequently inaccurate sweeping statements. I wouldn’t expect Fry to be forward-thinking here, since he’s clearly comfortable with what he believes he knows.
We can believe in the Big Bang, but I’d believe in He who caused it to explode – God.
By Sebastian Moss
Siding with Stephen Fry in the debate over the existence of God is rather challenging.
That’s not because of any problems with his argument, but rather because his point was so eloquently made in such an exquisitely crafted way that there really isn’t much to say.
There really should be no debate left over the existence of an all-powerful God who created this flawed unjust world but is still supposed to be good.
Why would God make diseases for children? Why would God create indiscriminate natural disasters? Why would God randomly create us with the demand of us having to worship him, without even giving us any proof of his existence?
These are all obvious, easy questions that any anti-theist has posed, repeated, regurgitated and pointed out before, among a whole host of basic questions that religion cannot give an answer to.
Unless it is that God is an illogical arsehole, or doesn’t exist.
The idea that God created suffering instead of a utopia so that we have the choice of living a life with it or without it is utterly naïve and short-sighted.
This life is not ‘a test’ for the next world, and if it was, it would be an unfair one. Some people are born ill, unable to live a life – they have no choice.
Some people are born in war-ravaged countries and forced to become child soldiers – they have no choice. Some people are born in a society that will teach them a religion and give them no notion of any other religion, so they have no choice (they just have to hope they won the raffle for the right religion).
If a ‘good’ God actually wanted to test us (despite being all knowing and already knowing what we’d do), we would all have the same test, the same chances.
Vast inequality at birth is the clearest proof that we’re not all part of some completely good test of our worthiness.
Surely, any God that would think this broken method of testing his own creations was a smart idea should not be worshipped. If I knew the Abrahamic God was real, the last thing I’d do is worship him.
I don’t see myself as the most moral person, but I still think I’m better than Him. He created the very notion of suffering, He sat down and devised a bunch of birth defects, He patented cot death.
Making this argument in the West, as Stephen Fry did, is still somehow dubbed as controversial.
What Fry said was excellently expressed, but it was nothing new – nothing that shouldn’t already be seen as normal thought. His comment should not have made headlines.
In some parts of the world his comments would have been seen as even worse, with 59 countries declaring blasphemy a crime.
Some could say that it’s bizarre that religions that claim to be ‘the truth’ lead to nations that prevent any debate over the facts that make up the truth.
Some could say that is utterly idiotic. But I wouldn’t say that, because it could lead to me getting flogged.
From Charlie Hebdo to trending Fry hashtags, the debate over atheists’ views on religion will remain to be seen as a surprising and insulting to vast swathes of people.
I long for the day when it is not videos like these that ‘take the internet by storm’, but rather videos of nutcases spouting faith in an invisible magical talking sky-beard of doom that shocks YouTubers.
If you share my belief, maybe you would like to join me in a prayer?
Featured image by Maurice Haak via Flickr