Letter to Stephen Fry: You've created a Straw God


The latest celebrity 'I hate God' piece has hit the fan, and, as expected, millions of words have been blogged and spoken in response. I've read lots of them, the best being that of my fellow columnist on Christian Today, Dr Krish Kandiah; the worst was Giles Fraser's piece in the Guardian, whose claim that God did not really exist but was just the name for our 'respect for the planet' is just atheistic hogwash dressed up as spirituality. And I guess the most amusing was from Russell Brand:

The following is a letter I wrote to Stephen Fry after watching the whole moving RTE interview:

Dear Stephen,

Wow. What's it like to have millions of people follow your every tweet and hang on your every word? Must be tough. Seriously. And it must be gratifying, for both you and the RTE programme makers to have had such a response to your latest interview. In case you got lots of angry messages questioning every aspect of your character because you questioned the character of God, I apologise. Personally, I didn't feel anger, just a deep sorrow, which is still with me. On the off chance you might actually read this I thought I might dare to point out why your position does not really work.

1) You create a straw God. You are wrong in your understanding of the Christian God. Way wrong. Russell Brand says you are wrong because you are too literalist. In reality the problem is that you have not been literalist enough. You are not arguing against what the Bible says – you are arguing against what it does not say. You ask, "Bone cancer in Children what's that about? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault?" The simple answer to that question is He didn't. He created a world in which everything is good. Christians believe that there was subsequently a Fall which changed everything; that the whole creation now groans and is burdened because of the entrance of evil into the world. You will regard that as unscientific nonsense. Fair enough. But please don't then attribute your conflation of your understanding of the Christian God with your understanding of how evolution works, as somehow being what we believe. You have set up a straw god, one we don't believe in either. 

2) The analysis is simplistic. If you are really interested in 'theodicy' and the problem of evil then you need to approach it at a slightly more sophisticated and intelligent level. The straw man god, you set up is backed up by some emotive language, which when you actually stop and think about it, does not really make sense. You state that God could easily have made a creation in which suffering did not exist. Indeed. But it could not have included humanity. If I were God I could have made a world in which you experience no pain, no broken relationships, no sorrow and none of that existential angst in which you seem to delight. I could have made you as a chair. The chair I am sitting on right now is not plagued with worries about health, concerns about purpose or even the existence or non-existence of a chair-maker. What if the price for love, good, and beauty is that there also has to be hatred, evil and ugliness? There is much I could write about this but have a look at this earlier article.

3) You contradict yourself. In the interview you state that you believe in mankind and then go on to say that you would prefer the Greek gods because "they didn't pretend not to be human, in their appetites, capriciousness and their unreasonableness..they didn't present themselves as being all seeing, all wise, all kind all beneficent." So your definition of human is that we are capricious, unreasonable and driven by our appetites. Yet you have faith in humanity! Your complaint about God is that he is not human – that he is all seeing, all wise, all kind and all beneficent. Or at least your complaint is that he claims to be these things but your misunderstanding of creation means that you are judging him as a human. Your position is, to say the least, confused.

Forgive me for this but can I point out one other contradiction – earlier in the interview you said "I'm intolerant of anything that tells mankind how to think" and yet that is precisely what you are doing. You are telling us how and what to think about God.

4) A Selfish Being "The God who created this universe is totally selfish...we have to spend our life on our knees thanking him? What kind of God would do that?" It is of course a deeply unattractive quality in human beings when we seek the praise and adoration of other humans and when we almost become an idol. And we do set up our human idols far too much.

But what if there was a God who was all-powerful, all knowing, all beautiful and all love? Would He not by definition, be worthy of our worship and praise? The truth is you won't bow down and worship God because you think there is no one worthy of such worship. Ironically in this attitude you are once again proving the Bible right in what it says about human beings – our hubristic, arrogant, proud and disdainful attitude. It's not that God is selfish, it's that humans are so self-centred we cannot see beyond ourselves. Incidentally you seem to have the notion like the late great Bertrand Russell that you will stand on the day of judgement and judge God as an equal. That's not how it will work. Before him every knee will bow, including yours. And you will not be making any accusations on that day, as you realise just how wrong you got this. It's not that you will say to God "how dare you?" it is that you will fall on your face and cry out "how dare I? – what a foolish thing to do!" My own prayer is that you come to that realisation before you actually meet your Maker.

5) A Surprising Admission. Thanks for your confirmation of what I often say about atheism. "Atheism is not just about not believing there is a God, but on the assumption there is one, what kind of God is he?" Atheism is really a faith. A set of beliefs. You believe that you have the ability and the right to sit in judgement upon God. You believe that you can tell him what He should be and what He should do. It's not just that you don't believe in God, it's that you hate Him – especially the God you think (wrongly) the Bible teaches.

6) A Sad Solution. Saddest and most contradictory of all was your solution to the problem of God and evil. "The moment you banish him, your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living in my opinion". I remember you when you were the Rector of Dundee University. You came to this wonderful city in the same month I did, October 1992, and you will be pleased to learn that you are generally regarded as one of the best rectors we ever had. What I remember though is how sad you were. I loved your humour, your wit and your intelligence and wide reading, but there was a depth of sorrow within you. After reading your The Fry Chronicles and Moab is My Washpot, I came to understand why. I'm sorry but your life has by no stretch of the imagination been 'simpler, purer, cleaner and more worth living' because you rejected God. Even in the RTE interview you explained a little of why you took cocaine – that you were not a party animal and felt alone. I'm afraid that you are a walking contradiction of your own philosophy.

7) The Saviour. I hope all the above does not come across as too 'defensive'. The questions you pose are not new and are something that many of us have thought about over many years. In my life as a human being and my work as a Christian minister I continually come across the reality of evil, suffering and pain. I experience it myself. The trouble is not so much the existence of evil, as what can be done about it. If you take God out of the equation you still have the suffering, pain and apparent meaninglessness. Evolution still provides you with the worm that burrows through children's eyes. What's your answer and solution – apart from suck it up and see?

For me there really is an answer. And it is not so much a series of philosophical propositions or the 'eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die' hedonistic angst. My answer is in a person. I keep coming back to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He came to defeat the forces of darkness. He came to redeem and to save the world. Ironically in your tirade against the God of the Bible you have demonstrated one clear truth – that the world is really in need of redemption and salvation. The bottom line is that you have no Saviour (neither you nor I can save ourselves, never mind the world), but God so loved the world that he gave his Son. Many of us have experienced what that means. Have you got anything better?


David Robertson