Friday, 30 January 2015

Not Totally Disagreeing with Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry is in the news again, then.

On this occasion for telling an Irish TV presenter that God is evil, mean-minded and stupid.

And I think he's got quite a point. A lot of the evidence is in his favour.

Stephen Fry envisages a situation where, contrary to his theological beliefs, he is in fact at the Pearly Gates in front of the Great Judge, and decides to take God to task:
"Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?  I'll say: bone cancer in children, what's that about? How dare you how dare you create a world where there is such misery that's not our fault? It's utterly, utterly evil."
To which, if it happens, the likely response from God - if God were capricious, mean-minded, and stupid - would be "because I made the rules up. Now go back as a tapeworm" If God really were like that, it would be no good telling God so - because there is no higher court to appeal to. If God really is evil, then that's how things are, and the best thing to do at the Pearly Gates actually would be to grovel and hope things didn't get worse. Thomas Hardy reflects on our ability to make God kinder than the evidence warrants and says: 
“Human beings, in their generous endeavour to construct a hypothesis that shall not degrade a First Cause, have always hesitated to conceive a dominant power of lower moral quality than their own; and, even while they sit down and weep by the waters of Babylon, invent excuses for the oppression which prompts their tears" -- Return of the Native
They didn't, of course. Or, at least, not exclusively. While weeping by the waters of Babylon, the Children of Israel were also calling blessings down upon anybody who smashed their enemies' children on a rock. But if you're holding God to a higher standard, then God isn't really God. If God has let you down compared to an absolute standard, then God is merely another creature, subject to judgement like ourselves.

Maybe that's why some Gnostics came up with the idea of the Demiurge. The fallible little god who makes the world, getting it wrong because the Demiurge isn't the real God. Or maybe there's an inferred difference between the god who wants Isaac slain, as opposed to the God of Jesus Christ. The god who made the dodo, not the one who resides in sublime glory among the blessed ones. Maybe this earth was just made by a lesser god.

To which the Hebrews said "no".  There's only one God. And that God - although we bow down to our Creator - can also be held to account on account of the divine nature. Take a psalm like number 74:
God, why have you turned away from us for so long?
    Why are you still angry with us, your own flock?
Remember the people you bought so long ago.
    You saved us, and we belong to you.
And remember Mount Zion, the place where you lived.
God, come walk through these ancient ruins.
    Come back to the Holy Place that the enemy destroyed.
The Jewish people have never been strangers to calling God back to God's own nature. Their appeal - in a bold way - is this. "God, you have left us down.  You've let the Covenant you have given to us down.And, do you know what? You've let yourself down." That's some nerve, right there, but combined with the faith that God will - somewhere, somehow . respond.

So I'm not totally disagreeing with Stephen Fry. This world is beautiful in places, awesome - in the real sense - at times. Some of us respond by imputing goodness and love to a perfect creator.

But I also want to say to God, so what about a child with bone cancer?  What about a child that never saw the light of the sun? The woman raped in an African civil war or the orphans of Syria? How can you stand by and watch and doing nothing?

And I guess I end up with the odd, unsatisfactory resolution that, though God is great and God's purposes are loving - yet somehow God actually is acting like an irrational gambler. That the bad things of this world are, in God's eternal arithmetic, a downside worth taking on in the short term. That somehow, in a way I can't understand, an eternity of God's presence is worth a finite amount of pain. It's even possible that, through God's free love and no goodness of his own, a complaining, ranting Stephen Fry will somehow one day be caught up in the bliss.

It's only through volcanic activity that life is on this planet. It's only because stars have died that I can write these words. It's only because creatures die that this world is not littered so tight that none of us can move. To scream at God because a child has cancer is totally reasonable. God has let us down - again. These are God's laws, this is God's universe. To have made a world where this could happen - is total recklessness. There's death, destruction and pain written into this world from beginning to end - and the pain seems to be a precondition of the life. Maybe that's how it is. Maybe that's not how it should be, but I lack the full picture so maybe I can't judge.

At the depths of human pain and misery, amongst the lowest that you can go, is a man in the prime of life - a young man, an intelligent one, one who can hold his own in debate against the best-educated they can throw at him. Flogged to within an inch of his life. Nailed through the hands and feet, and left to die on a pole, naked in the sight of anyone who passes by. And the reckless maniac of a God who created this cruel and hideous universe says "that's my boy". And that boy responds, "so why have you forsaken me?"

So why?


  1. Okay you actually made me weep.

    1. Aw, you're an old softy as well as devilishly handsome, Eddie.

  2. Why indeed. CS Lewis (The Problem of Pain) had a try at answering that one but I don't think even convinced himself.

  3. And we're told that we're made in the image of God ........???

  4. And stamping our little foot at God is certainly going to help. More argument and me me me.
    Is it God's fault we mess up? We pollute, make war, live where it's dangerous and then want God to come in and clean up our chaos without us making changes. It isn't God's will that we are sick or suffering or hurt and people shouldn't talk like that. Open your eyes. Look how when bad people do bad things how the good people come in and do good. Look how miracles happen every day.

    1. The hands of God at work ....
      After the recent, very destructive fires here in South Australia, a couple of people did question the presence of God in all this - but his presence was apparent - dressed in protective clothing and hi-vis jackets, or bringing van loads of food, donating shelter and fodder ... Like David said - miracles happen every day.

  5. I think it might be something to do with microcosm and macrocosm ... Something to do with Mandelbrot and fractals. It might make sense if we could get far away enough from it. That's my hope and faith.

    1. ah, Mandelbrot and the Fractals. What a great kids TV show that was.

  6. Stephen Fry is following the example of Job in asking God why he made the world so unfair. God's answer, as I recall, was along the lines of: if you're so clever, tell me how you would have done it better!

    1. My favorite "answer": Canst thou draw out Leviathan with an hook?


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