Sunday, 1 February 2015

Stephen Fry’s eternal prospects are not looking good but it is not too late for him yet

Stephen Fry is a 57 year old English celebrity comedian, actor, writer, presenter, and gay rights activist. 

He has 8.6 million twitter followers, a personal fortune of $30 million (£20 million) and recently ‘married’ a 27 year old man

He is also, not surprisingly, a committed atheist and an outspoken critic of Christianity, Christian ethics and the church. 

By his own admission, he doesn’t like God much at all.

In fact this week in an interview for Irish television he denounced God as ‘utterly evil, capricious and monstrous’.

The video and full text of the interview can be viewed here but given Fry’s popularity the clip has had huge interest with over 2 million views on you tube even before it was broadcast.

Fry is asked by veteran Irish TV presenter Gay Byrne what he would say to God if he died and had to confront him.

In his imaginary conversation with God, Fry says he would tell him:

‘How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?’

‘ I would say: “bone cancer in children? What’s that about?” Because the God who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, utter maniac. Totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him?! What kind of god would do that?’

‘Yes, the world is very splendid but it also has in it insects whose whole lifecycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. They eat outwards from the eyes. Why? Why did you do that to us? You could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable.’

‘It’s perfectly apparent that he is monstrous. Utterly monstrous and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him, life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living in my opinion.’

Fry’s insect illustration is not original but actually borrowed from fellow atheist and celebrity naturalist David Attenborough. But what are we to make of his outburst?

Let me offer some reflections.

The problem of evil - how an all knowing, omnipotent and benevolent God can allow evil and suffering – is not new but has exercised the greatest philosophical and theological minds for centuries. During this time the number of Christians on the planet has increased astronomically suggesting that most do not see it as an insuperable barrier to faith.

Attempted answers to the problem are called theodicies. I’ve tackled it before on these pages giving some of the major arguments – namely that we live in a fallen world, that God has given men and angels free will and that the mystery of suffering needs to be understood through the eyes of faith and in the light of the future. 

Fry’s argument is that certain kinds of evil – for example cancer and parasites in children – are not the consequence of direct human action and that therefore God must have caused them. If God exists, he ought to intervene either to prevent them or cure them. In fact Fry goes further than this to suggest that God ‘could easily have made a creation in which (they) didn’t exist’ and is therefore personally responsible for evil and suffering.

But in so doing he makes at least three incorrect assumptions.

First, Fry appears to assume that God created the universe with evil and suffering already in it. But the Bible teaches, and Christians believe, no such thing. God created the universe without evil and suffering, but also gave both angels and human beings free will either to accept or reject him. Many angels under the leadership of Satan, and all human beings, chose to rebel. As a consequence of this unilateral breaking of relationships the whole world changed and both evil and suffering entered it.

Whether it is human suffering as a result of natural disasters, wars, broken relationships, injuries or disease, all is a consequence of this cosmic rebellion. As the apostle Paul puts it – the whole creation is ‘in bondage to corruption’ and has been ‘groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now’. (Romans 8:19-22). God remains sovereign and uses suffering to achieve greater good – CS Lewis has called it his megaphone to rouse a deaf world – but he did not introduce the evil that led to it.

Second, Fry seems to assume that he is in a position to judge which suffering has been caused by God, and which suffering could be eradicated by him without destroying the human and angelic agents responsible for it. In fact none of us are in a position to know the answer to either of these questions. These are mysteries that are unfathomable for us as mere human beings.

When the biblical character Job loses his property, children and health as a result of hostile human interventions and seemingly natural disasters, and demands an explanation from God, he receives no answers. God simply asks him four chapters worth of unanswerable questions. God’s reasons are beyond Job’s ability to understand. He is instead expected to trust God on the basis of what he knows of his character, and to understand that all will be put right in time, either before or after Job’s death.

Again the apostle Paul: ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… for we know that for those how love God all things work together for good’ (Romans 8:18, 28). And again, ‘what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’. (1 Corinthians 2:9). God is going to put all things right and create a ‘new heaven and new earth’ where there shall be no death, no mourning, no crying nor pain (Revelation 21:1-4). 

Fry, judging by this video he recorded for the Humanist Association, also seems to assume that this life is all there is; and that Christians believe in a disembodied - as opposed to an embodied - existence in eternity. Both these beliefs run directly counter to the teaching, and indeed the bodily resurrection, of Jesus Christ. I'm afraid that I'm with Jesus here. 

Third, Fry seems not to understand why God doesn’t bring this intervention now. But the apostle Peter is very clear that ‘the Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). Given that God’s promises are only for those who love him, and not for those who have chosen to persist in rebellion, his final intervention will mean only judgement and banishment for rebels. This is because evil and suffering cannot be eradicated without removing the angels and human beings who are personally responsible for it.

The story of the Bible is one of God working out a rescue plan, initially through his dealings with the Jewish people and finally through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in order to save human beings from judgement and restore them to a trusting and loving relationship with himself. As Paul made clear, God has overlooked ‘times of ignorance’ but ‘now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead’ (Acts 17:30-31).

The apostle John summed this up in what is the best known verse in the Bible, ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). But he then goes on to say in the very next verse, 'Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in him is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.'

So in answer to Fry, God created the world without evil and suffering. These entered the world as a result of angelic and human rebellion. God has organised a rescue plan both to eradicate them and to rescue any human beings who respond in repentance (turning from their rebellion) and faith (trusting obedience). He has prepared a new world for them where everything will be perfect. He has made this possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who paid the price for our rebellion on our behalf (1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:3,4).

Christians are reformed rebels, who have responded to God’s command to repent and believe and as a result have received forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Now they await with great anticipation the new world that is coming. As a result they love God and are doing what they can to encourage others to follow suit.

Fry by his own admission does not love God. He is rather an unreformed rebel who has thus far refused to repent and believe. He may, like Job, have questions for God. Which of us doesn’t? But he should be careful making judgements when he is not in possession of all the facts. On the day of judgement it will not actually be Fry who is asking the questions, or making the judgement calls. He will be flat on his face before the creator of the universe, like the rest of us. He should therefore take more care in what he says and does.

We see the patience and mercy of God in the very fact that he allows the world to go on – with all its attendant evil and suffering – with unrepentant rebels like Fry (and the devil himself) still in it. Fry, like all unbelievers, still has an opportunity to turn, but the offer will not be there for ever.

As an actor Fry will understand that when an actor dies the play is over for them. Likewise Fry’s chance of redemption will end with his death, or Christ’s return, whichever comes sooner. And if he doesn’t take it, but persists in his rebellion, then he will be overthrown, completely, utterly and finally. 

It won’t be pleasant.

It may be too late for many but it’s not too late yet for Stephen Fry. Yes God is really that gracious and merciful.

I wonder what he will do? 

At this very moment his prospects don’t look good – but then every Christian will testify that theirs didn’t look good either, before they repented and believed.


  1. A bit judgemental, what? You can have no idea of how far God's mercy extends towards Stephen Fry. Jesus told us not to judge. You should not be judging him, that is upto God. Why don't you call on Fry to repent anyway, instead of writing blog posts about him?

    1. It is not a case of me judging Stephen. The Bible already makes it very clear where he currently stands: 'Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in him is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.' (John 3:17)

      As I make clear though in the blog it's not too late for him yet.

      He made his comments publicly so they are therefore open to public comment. And with respect to calling him to repent, I have already done so.

  2. CS Lewis is held by many to be the premier Christian apologist of the 20th century. Unless one is morbidly naive, or has yet to encounter the counterarguments to Christianity in particular and theism in general, I find this evaluation of Lewis to be painfully naive. I honestly cannot see where his appeal lies.

    The Problem of Evil is an insurmountable one for Christians (and all other theists who believe in a perfectly loving, all-powerful and all-knowing god). There have been intense and motivated efforts over the past two millennia to defend such a position rationally, and they have all failed. Miserably. Utterly. And in many cases, dishonestly. On page 40, Lewis blames his own failings for being unable to understand god's reason for allowing and causing evil. He states "...since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction." Stripped of his rhetorical sleight-of-hand, Lewis was essentially saying that god's love is compatible with, and even requires, the infliction of pain. Heaping dollops of pain, no less. This is Stockholm Syndrome of gargantuan proportions.

    Some approaches involve invoking an unknown "greater good" defense (which throws god's omnipotence under the bus. An omnipotent deity could simply actualise a desired goal without needing to use suffering as a "middle man"). Attempts to shift the problem by asserting that human happiness is not the goal of life (but knowing god is) removes the omnibenevolence and omnipotence of god (if you love someone, you don't want them to suffer. It really is that simple). On page 104, Lewis concedes that not everyone suffers equally. He does not give a reason for this, and indeed, admits that our puny human minds cannot understand why god would allow some to live decades in comfort and luxury while others suffer for months or years on end. To quote Lewis himself: "The causes of this distribution I do not know; but from our present point of view it ought to be clear that the real problem is not why some humble, pious, believing people suffer, but why some do NOT (emphasis Lewis', in italics). Our Lord Himself, it will be remembered, explained the salvation of those who are fortunate in this world only by referring to the unsearchable omnipotence of God."

    1. I think the flaw in your argument is in your assumption that,'if you love someone, you don't want them to suffer. It really is that simple'.

      Real love recognises that some suffering may be necessary for a person's greater good. Ask any parent. Love does not mean always giving people what they want. In fact on occasions that may mean great disservice.

      As for Lewis' mystery in your final paragraph (why some live in comfort and luxury for decades whilst others suffer for months or years) see Psalm 73. It all comes out in the wash eventually.

    2. Paternalistic tyranny is incompatible with love. You may think that video games are a waste of time, but they generally contain gargantuan quantities of reading, making them an invaluable education tool.

      And if there is free will in heaven, the necessity of suffering to obtain a greater good is nonsensical. Also, consider this: your god already knows what is good and what is evil, without having to suffer in order to do so. Why couldn't he create beings who already knew right from wrong without having to suffer first?

  3. That's not an explanation. Lewis is falling back on the ancient and ubiquitous appeal to ignorance. God's mysterious ways are beyond us. Well, by that "logic," he could send all Christians to hell and everyone else to heaven, and Lewis, by his own admission, would just have to suck up an eternity of torture.

    The old canard of free will is often invoked. Unfortunately, free will is meaningless unless everyone has an equal amount of it. This is undeniably NOT the case. Not everyone is given the same lifespan, physical strength, mental acuity, political clout, financial resources, and so on. Lewis is pontificating from the luxurious confines of his residence, funded by conveniently gullible sheep. This has certainly damaged his ability to empathise with the billions who live on less than a dollar each day. Or the thousands who starve to death every time the Earth completes a full rotation.

    Lewis also, perhaps unwittingly, advocates a social Darwinism in which the rich and physically powerful are able to murder, rape and steal from weaker individuals (and are therefore less able to exercise their own free will to prevent their own suffering). Lewis worships a cosmic pedophile who revels in granting freedom to abhorrent individuals while getting his jollies from seeing the most vulnerable suffer and die in agony (only to get thrown into even more torture in the Christian vision of hell).

    Lastly, a loving god would take away free will from those who would willingly surrender it in return for a life without suffering. Funnily enough, Lewis seems to believe in a heaven without suffering but with all the bells and whistles of freedom. So why not create that universe from the get-go and stick with it? Why create a universe with even the possibility of corruption? It certainly is not something a perfect god would do. Then again, a perfect god would not blackmail beings he supposedly loves for eternal worship.

    1. You are starting to lose it now Winston. You were doing OK in your first post above. The fact is that we do not see things from God's perspective and are not in a position either to know why he allows what suffering he does, nor judge how much suffering is necessary to achieve his ultimate objectives.

      It boils down to a matter of trust based on God's revealed character in Jesus Christ. That's good enough for me and I'm happy therefore to live with a little mystery.

    2. Argument from ignorance, as well as blind trust. Religion is Stockholm Syndrome writ large. It would appear to me that you are running out of ideas, especially since you are already falling back onto the "trust me, trust god" tactic of last resort.

      And if 36 hours of torture in hell is enough to pay for our sins, I suppose we atheists won't be spending eternity there after all.

  4. While Lewis is usually a good writer, capable of spinning yarns to attract the attention of children and young teenagers, he also assumes that there is a deep, overriding purpose behind suffering. This purpose is so important that it is more critical to his god to NOT end suffering now, but to let things run their "natural" course until his plan is complete. In service of this goal, he creates a short story that is akin to an essay on theistic evolution, and how man is ultimately responsible for the Fall and his own corruption. If god knows everything, including the future, then he orchestrated the fall (and everything else) before setting his plan into motion. Arguing that god exists outside of time is a lazy copout, nothing more.

    As a 'loudspeaker' for the Christian god, pain has done more to drive people away from him than anything else. An all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good god would not allow any suffering, even in the service of a so-called "greater good." And if such a god desires suffering for a greater good, then it would follow logically that his followers should cause suffering to convert more people. After all, that is god's best tool for getting our attention, is it not? Fortunately, CS Lewis and most Christians today do not follow this logic to its end point. Those who do open hospitals and hospices and waste money on bibles rather than food (explaining why only 25% of tithes go to benefit indigent people around the world). CS Lewis realised this, which is why he asserted, in chapter 7, that while evil acts can lead to "greater" goods such as pity and compassion, the individual who commits evil is not justified simply because positive benefits will flow.

    The hypocrisy here is glaringly apparent when Lewis moves on to depict his god as using good men as "sons" and evil men as "tools" to achieve his goals. Such an obvious double standard is patently hypocritical and serves to do little except expose Lewis' advocacy of divine fiat for what it is - blind obedience (which is the antithesis of sound moral reasoning).

    His childishly puerile attempts to justify hell are perhaps the only thing worse. According to Lewis' theology, pain is used by god as a teacher, a "flag of truth in a rebel fortress" (p. 122). This obviously misses the point - an omnipotent god would not need to use pain. If a tri-omni deity knows good from evil without needing to suffer, why couldn't he have simply created humans who were likewise omniscient? This is yet another obvious point that is glossed over by a highly overrated apologist.

    1. God has chosen not to override the human will but gives people the freedom to disbelieve in and disobey him. But such rebellion cannot go on forever. In order to rescue his people God needs eventually to judge and destroy their enemies. This he does reluctantly after exercising great patience and mercy. But the axe will eventually fall. I urge you Winston to repent and believe until it is too late. Don't delay.

    2. Unless he wishes to do it for his greater glory. Then free will gets tossed into the furnace along with all the other sinners (but only for 36 hours).

      And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go. Exodus 4:21

      And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. Exodus 7:3

      And he hardened Pharaoh's heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said. Exodus 7:13

      And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses. Exodus 9:12

      And the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him. Exodus 10:1

      But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go. Exodus 10:20

      But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let them go. Exodus 10:27

      And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land. Exodus 11:10

      And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD. Exodus 14:4

      And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel Exodus 14:8

      I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour. Exodus 14:18

      Why should I worship because of afterlife blackmail? If god never punished anyone, would you still worship him, even knowing that you would receive eternal bliss anyway?

  5. Thank you for your work. This is really useful - I will share it in response to many friends who have linked to Mr. Fry's youtube link on facebook.

  6. Thank you for sharing this! I have written my response to Stephen Fry's commnets also:

  7. What is this 36 hour thing that you're banging on about, Winston? Where does the Bible talk about 36 hours? As for free will, come on matey - surely, it has to be an all or none thing. One cannot give it to some folk and take it away from others. That wouldn't make sense.

    1. Jesus was only "dead" for 36 hours. He died and was resurrected on the third day.

      So it seems that god's eternal wrath isn't so everlasting after all.

  8. Why does everybody blame God. Nobody mentions the devil/satan. Evil is not an unorganized chaotic force. It too has a plan and a leader. God provides a way for us to battle against the devil with prayers and to protect us from his schemes by keeping us on the right path when we ask for repentance. God provides a way out from evil. Much of the evil and suffering in the world is caused by people themselves. Greed and corruption in governments not giving funding to the poorest in their nation to protect from e.g. malaria, not providing for education and medical care. A murderer always has the choice to murder or not. Yes the environment is filled with dangerous animals and horrendous parasites. Even In this country we have a nasty parasite in our water tank. If you are a contact lens wearer you will have been advised to never ever rinse your lenses in tap water. If you did and then wore them you too could be at the mercy of this very nasty parasite that gets inside your eye. Fortunately in this country we are educated and have access to the treatment to help you destroy the parasite. As to why the parasite exists in this world perhaps a scientist has the answer. It may form part of the food chain and be integral to the survival of another animal. Most animal/insects have a purpose. Just because they might not be good for us humans doesn't mean they aren't part of God's plan. Suffering sickness of any sort is a massive debate so I won't comment now.

    1. If god is more powerful than Satan, then he is only running amok because god wants it to happen.

    2. It was our choice to disobey God and let evil into the world and yes God is all powerful but if he took over the world that would be by force. God Will not force people to worship him. Likewise evil led by the devil doesn't appear to be able to take over the world either. Both work through us to win the battle for hearts and minds. We caused the disruption by our disobedience in the garden of Eden and it is through us that it has to be put right. So when evil has the upper hand it is because we aren't praying enough or coming against it in other ways e.g. aid. I say prayers for my children everyday and I would say they are relatively trouble free because of it. If children were to say the Lord's prayer in school everyday as they used to I believe our society would be very different.

    3. No, according to your religious dogma, two people disobeyed god, and countless billions must suffer the consequences.

      Makes sense under the larger umbrella of Christianity, especially since the whole religion is built around punishing the innocent (Jesus) to pardon the guilty.

  9. The whole religion is based on 2 main commandments 1) to love God and no other God's and 2) to love your neighbour. Not about punishing the innocent at all. There was no Christianity when Jesus was put to death by the Romans. That came after and was built up under real duress. Many Christians died in horrible ways in the very early years. They were innocent but it was not other Christians that put them to death.


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