Stephen Fry’s “Mean-Minded” God: Christianity, Suffering, and the Story of Easter
Let me be clear on this, I do very much like Stephen Fry. He’s a fiercely intelligent person, has fought for worthy causes and is a brilliant host of QI. His quick wit was portrayed brilliantly by his quote about Piers Morgan (I’ll leave you to search for that one). However, I was disappointed (though not surprised) by his response to the question of how he’d greet God in heaven: “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I would say”. He misses the point and casually misrepresents the Christian faith in one stroke.
There’s no doubt that people of faith are often on the back foot. It’s far easier for an atheist to have a snappy soundbite and to win rounds of applause in a Question Time-style debating format. It’s easy to view the New Atheist position as a comfort zone, and there are many notable proponents of it, such as Richard Dawkins and the aforementioned Fry. However, the New Atheist position is often under-examined. Andy Walton makes some very astute observations in his article on the subject.
He notes the ignorance of the atheist bus campaign spearheaded by Richard Dawkins (who later admitted that he wanted to reword the slogan), which noted there’s “probably no God”, so “stop worrying and enjoy your life”; Walton points out that sufferers of brutal regimes in North Korea and similar places, who cling to the hope of the resurrection, can hardly live by the maxim of that bus campaign. It’s easy to get into all sorts of arguments about faith, and the faith versus atheist debate is very much a hot potato.
However, let’s get back to Stephen Fry. The point he made, whilst worded provocatively, is always a tough question to battle as a Christian, and often repeated; why allow suffering? I remember a Christian Union speaker dealing with this question back in 2012 brilliantly. In short, the speaker noted that a world without God would still have suffering and pain, only that kind of world wouldn’t have a rhyme or reason for it. There would still be awful cases of injustice and suffering, only it’d be a “hard luck” scenario, with no hope of ultimate justice. As another CU speaker noted last year, we also make a philosophical error if we assume that a perfect world, made via the ‘click of the fingers’ approach which atheists often chide God about, would include us in it.
I confess (no pun intended) that the above summary wasn’t particularly eloquent, but I feel that John C. Lennox’s “Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are missing the target” tackles these kind of thorny issues brilliantly. He sums up a counter point to Fry well in the book: “God could have removed the potential for hatred and evil at a stroke by creating us as automata, mere machines doing only that which we were programmed to do. But that would have been to remove all that we ourselves value as constituting our essential humanity…We would not wish our children to be degraded to machines. Nor will God similarly degrade human beings” (p.148). That doesn’t sound like a God who is “evil” and “monstrous” to me.
I couldn’t help but ask for Peter Hitchen’s point of view on this. I share theological, not ideological, convictions with him (some would argue that the two are indistinguishable, but that’s for another day). At any rate, he was a sport for replying:
“@LibDemBen: I didn’t know @Stephenfry had met God. I’d be interested to see the Almighty’s version of the encounter.”
Naturally, there were some responses to him on this, and he made another dry (but still humorous) response:
“Ah, well, obviously RTE should try to get God on the show next week, for the balance.”
Some people on my side of the political spectrum may recoil in horror at the thought of me agreeing with Peter Hitchens on something, but that’s the beauty of fellowship and a shared goal. Conversely, I share some political opinions with Stephen Fry (and noted atheist Dr Evan Harris is a Liberal Democrat), but obviously we differ on belief. I can’t truly do the Christian side of the argument justice, and it’s certainly a good sermon topic. However, I can’t think of a better story to counter Stephen Fry’s accusations than the Easter story; that of God coming to Earth in human form and being made to be the lowest of the low and crucified, for the sake of those who despise(d) Him.
(Read more from LibDemBen at his blog Views from the Centre-Left)